Three cheers for whoever came up with the title of Prince Harry’s new autobiography, Spare. It’s punchy — and it evokes a sense of sadness. Is this how Harry has always felt? Like a disposable spare part?

The "heir and the spare" describes the first in line to the throne and the "reserve" monarch. It may sound cruel — and perhaps it is — but as soon as hereditary systems were established, queens and kings recognized that to ensure continuity and stability for their monarchy, it was necessary to have a healthy male heir and one...

Three cheers for whoever came up with the title of Prince Harry’s new autobiography, Spare. It’s punchy — and it evokes a sense of sadness. Is this how Harry has always felt? Like a disposable spare part?

The “heir and the spare” describes the first in line to the throne and the “reserve” monarch. It may sound cruel — and perhaps it is — but as soon as hereditary systems were established, queens and kings recognized that to ensure continuity and stability for their monarchy, it was necessary to have a healthy male heir and one in reserve should the eldest one die — which they often did.

Spares throughout history have struggled to define their role. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing; many have lived intriguing lives. At the end of the seventeenth century, Prince Philippe of France, the younger brother of Louis XIV, spent his time — God forbid — having fun. He was a major patron of painters, designers, composers and playwrights — and even lived in an openly same-sex relationship. Spares get fame and fortune, without the day-to-day responsibility of being in charge.

Then look at Princess Margaret. The sister of Britain’s late Queen led a life many would lose a limb for. Craig Brown’s biography of Margaret, Ma’am Darling, claims that she would wake at a respectable 9 a.m. before enjoying breakfast in bed, where she would partake in two hours of “reading newspapers in bed while listening to the radio and chain-smoking.” If that doesn’t sound appealing enough, she would then lounge in the bath, ran by her lady-in-waiting. Next, to the dressing table, where she would spend an hour in hair and make-up before slipping into clean clothes. (She could never wear something twice).

At 12:30 p.m. the princess appeared downstairs for a vodka pick-me-up, before spending the early afternoon tucking into a four-course lunch with the Queen Mother, “served in an informal manner in silver dishes” alongside half a bottle of wine.

Self-destructive? Maybe. Princess Margaret was rarely seen without a drink or cigarette in hand, but the life of a spare doesn’t sound all too bad.

There are also, if desired, opportunities to make your own role. Look at Princess Anne, King Charles III’s sister, who was third in line to the throne at birth. She is now known as one of — if not the — most hard-working royal in the British royal family. The Princess Royal often logs over 400 public events a year, overtaking her siblings, and is known for her no-nonsense, straight-talking attitude.

Prince Harry may have a particularly depressing view of his past, but he has never really been a spare, in the historical sense, where the back-up was disdained or ignored. He was beloved in Britain; his naughty tendencies made him far more likable, and even relatable, than his brother William. In 2018, an Ipsos Mori poll named him the most popular member of “Team Windsor”, with nearly a quarter of people surveyed across twenty-eight countries.

While Harry’s “truth” may emerge in his memoir, the real truth is that the only person that ever viewed him as a spare is himself. For the rest of us, he provided some comic relief to the stuffy, outdated institution that is the monarchy. There could be a more apt meaning to the title of his book, though: in British slang, “going spare” means becoming very angry or upset.