Q&A: War Prince, Peace Prince, or Athletic Prince? What’s the world he lives in?

Should a crown prince character learn how to fight? On one hand, learning to fight could be seen as ‘we expect the crown prince to be put in a situation where he would need to fight’ which would mean his guards have failed. On the other hand, learning to use weapons could be treated more like a sport to build dedication, endurance, confidence, etc. Then again, I’ve seen references to princes fighting in history so I’m not sure how this should be handled/explained if I want a fighting prince.

Depends.

The only rule for the conqueror throughout most of history is you can have it if you can take it, and it’s only yours if you can hold onto it. The idea of kings and princes being insulated from combat is one which we come out of England at the end of Henry VIIIs reign and into the Elizabethan era, but it’s worth remembering that Henry VII took the crown by force. The word Normans comes from Northmen, and the original province of Normandy in France was given over to raiding Vikings led by a man called Rollo by the Frankish king under the agreement that they would protect the Frankish coast from other invaders. Many a king, prince, and nobleman has been created by simply having the biggest and baddest raiding force. In the Middle Ages, the king was expected to lead his forces into battle.

You know Richard III from Shakespeare’s eponymous play? The real one was killed on the battlefield by Henry VII, Elizabeth I’s grandfather at the end of the War of the Roses.

William the Conqueror, Henry II, Richard the Lionheart, Henry V, Edward the Black Prince, Empress Maude, Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Owain Fawr, Llewellyn the Great, Robert the Bruce,  Edward IV, Richard III, Henry VII, and the list goes on.

You don’t have to justify it. History supports the conqueror prince and the conqueror king, and situations where the prince had to be able to fight because he was expected to lead his men into battle. If he couldn’t then someone else, a brother, a cousin, another nobleman, or even some nobody could swoop in and take the crown from him. You’ll find history is littered with instances like this.

So, here’s the real question: what kind of crown prince and setting are you imagining?

Is this the Fairy Tale Crown Prince? For all his trappings, the fictional fairy tale Crown Prince is post Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. He carries the aesthetics, but he’s not based on the warrior princes of Medieval Europe. This is the beginning of the modern era. When most people think about monarchies in terms of fairy tales, they’re essentially imagining Catherine the Great’s Russia without the guns. These are codified nations with standing militaries and treaties, which only go to war with each other frequently instead of constantly. Where the Crown Prince would be educated in the ways of the military, even be expected to serve in a ceremonial role, but never sets foot on the battlefield’s front lines. Similarly, this is also when the local nobility starts transitioning from warlords you need to appease to general rich dudes whose ancestors were great at killing people that you still need to appease.

The above is the Crown Prince you seem to be imagining.

Outside the Merchant Prince, who controls his kingdom through trade, the warrior Crown Prince is an auxiliary commander under his father or, in cases where the king is weak, the true commander of his countries forces. He’ll be landed in his own right as an earl or a duke with a province to rule over, his own vassals, lordlings, and young knights who strive to be in his service. He’s surrounded by followers and advisors with his own household and a vassal to his father, the king. He’s unlikely to be just sitting around spinning his heels until he takes the throne, unless he’s got a father who is very controlling about what powers he has access to.

This Crown Prince may seem appealing, but the world he exists in is cutthroat, rough and tumble. There’s none of the stability provided by the Treaty of Westphalia, which is the unnamed factor seen in modern fairy tale kingdoms. The chances of him fighting to keep his crown or simply fighting on the battlefield at some point in his life is a certainty rather than a maybe. He has to know how to fight and he has to be damn good at it or else it will end badly for him. This includes if he’s living in a world under the medieval warfare rules where there’s the possibility ransom. Kings, princes, warlords, and leaders are always priority targets on the battlefield. Everyone wants to kill or capture them because that ends the battle/raid/war.

They’re not just rich guys, they’re expected to be leaders of men. If they can’t do that, and they’re not supported by excellent nobles then they lose the crown, lose their land, or lose their empire. As has happened with many an unfortunate prince throughout history.

Even if you’re going for the type of Crown Prince seen in fiction and post-Westphalia, military service is often considered traditional and is expected. A modern example is our current British royal family, many of them have served in the British military in some capacity whether they saw combat or not; this includes Elizabeth II.

However, the question of whether your character should learn to fight or not is heavily dependent on the kind of setting they live in and the social expectations their role places them under. The legacy of his family, the number of generations they’ve held onto their throne. Then, there’s the question of who he is versus who he expects to be, the boy versus the prince and the man versus the king. He might be expected to be good at fighting, but he might not want to be. Is it necessary for him to be a skilled combatant? Or can he rule without the need for those skills? Does he want to be good at fighting? Does he enjoy it?

These are the sorts of questions that only you, the author can answer. The situation, the politics, and the world your character live in all affect the role he has inherited.

So, start sorting out that world. Pick a period in history where princes fought. Learn everything you can about that time period, and why they behaved the way they did.

Do you want an athletic prince? Do you want a warrior prince? Or both? Both are fine. Does your prince live in a war time or a peace time? Which of the two does he long for? Quiet or conquest? If he isn’t bound to a parliament or some other body of government his nobles use to control him then he has the power and resources to make either happen.

Ultimately, the decision is up to you.

– Michi

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