With a natty, blue rucksack on his back, a smile on his face, and his body wrapped up against the cold in a quilted jacket from John Lewis, George Windsor looked like any other upper-middle-class British kid arriving for his first day at kindergarten.
Ever since Prince Charles and his brothers were sent off to the remote Scottish boarding school, Gordonstoun—legendary for its tough regime of cold baths and outdoor life and also the alma mater of Prince Philip (who was head boy)—there has been a realization that the school years are, perhaps, the only time royal children get a chance to live a life exactly like that of their future subjects.
Admittedly, it’s a life reflecting a small, upper-class subsection of their subjects, but it is still an experience closer to normalcy than nearly every other aspect of royal living.
Sending Charles and his siblings away to a proper school was one of the most revolutionary domestic acts of the young Queen Elizabeth.
She, herself, was educated along with her sister Margaret by private tutors in the schoolroom at Kensington Palace.
The isolation she felt from her subjects was said to be part of what motivated her to send her children to proper schools.
Sending the young royals off to school marked a significant break with a tradition of home schooling.
George VI, the Queen’s father, and his brother, Edward VIII, were educated by two legendary private tutors, Frederick Finch and Henry Hansell.
It was only when they were 13 that they left the confines of the royal schoolroom to attend naval college.
George allegedly came bottom of the class in the final examination. However, he was accepted into Cambridge University.
Edward attended Oxford for eight terms, but left without earning any academic qualification. (Education has historically been regarded by the British Royal Family as not entirely necessary.)
This oddly elitist and dumbed-down attitude can be traced back to the pernicious influence of George II, who ruled from 1727 to 1760.
Despite lending his seal and financial support to various institutes of learning, he had no time for education, personally.
He criticized his wife, Queen Caroline, for “dabbling in all that lettered nonsense.” He only ever read accounts of military history and considered any other book learning an effeminacy and a waste of time.
The crown passed to George II’s grandson, George III, who ruled from 1760 to 1820. George III was the first British monarch to study systematically.
Along with chemistry and physics, his lessons included astronomy, mathematics, French, Latin, history, music, geography, commerce, agriculture, and constitutional law. Sporting and other athletics, such as dancing, fencing, and riding, were also part of his education.
Intelligent, formally educated monarchs are hard to locate in British history. George IV was devoted to the good life and mistresses; he ended up an obese opium addict.
Victoria was deliberately isolated from other children, but was an assiduous reader and later a voluble diarist. Edward VII was offered an education by Victoria, but he was a dunce. George V found it impossible to learn either French or German, much to his parents’ exasperation.
Prince William is academically capable, but Prince Harry is said to be less so. Eton College was accused of cheating on Harry’s behalf (albeit without his knowledge) during his art A-Level.
Sarah Forsyth, a former art teacher at Eton College, won a case for unfair dismissal against the school. She said she had written the text to accompany the paintings the prince submitted for his A-level art project at the request of the school’s head of art, Ian Burke.
Perhaps, Prince George may break the royal mold and set himself apart as a scholar.
Exams are a long way off for George. But simply attending a regular kindergarten group is a huge step forward in the normalization of young royal lives.