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Why Cambridge University has been luckier for queens in class than kings in waiting

As Prince William begins his studies at Cambridge University, he might want to avoid looking at the academic careers of some of the other kings to be who have attended the institution. For while heirs to the British throne have made it their seat of learning of choice for over 150 years now, it’s not necessarily provided them with the easiest time of their royal lives.  Far more successful have been the queens who have links to Cambridge Uni. As Prince William settles into his ten week bespoke agricultural management course, he might prefer to look to them for happy academic endings.

St John's College, Cambridge - where some of Prince William's courses will be taking place.

St John’s College, Cambridge – where some of Prince William’s courses will be taking place.

Edward VII, William’s great-great-great-grandfather, wasn’t the first British royal to attend the university but he was the first heir to the throne to finish his studies there. And his mother, Queen Victoria, might have wished he hadn’t bothered.  Albert Edward, Prince of Wales went up to Trinity College in 1861 to read history.  But that same year, the future king also spent some time training with the Army and during that period, rumours of a relationship with actress Nellie Clifden reached his parents at Buckingham Palace. His father, Prince Albert, went to Cambridge to talk to his son about his behaviour even though the Prince Consort was unwell at the time of the trip. The experience didn’t help his fragile health and Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha died two weeks later leaving Queen Victoria bereft and in mourning for the rest of her life. Edward’s university career ended soon afterwards.

Edward’s own son and heir, Albert Victor, also attended Cambridge following in the family footsteps by going up to Trinity in 1883. He spent two years there and, like his father, combined his time studying with military training.  This king in waiting was excused any exams and left the university in 1885, without obtaining a degree but his death in 1892 from flu meant that the University would have to wait before it could claim to have educated another British king.

The unexpected accession of George VI in 1936 in the wake of the Abdication Crisis put another alumni of Trinity on the throne of Great Britain.  This future king was just a spare to the heir when he went up to Trinity in 1919 to study history, economics and civics for a year. The heir, big brother Edward, had gone to Oxford but his decision to give up his crown to marry Wallis Simpson meant that Cambridge won this particular university challenge.

George VI’s grandson, the present king in waiting, kept up the Windsor link to Trinity College Cambridge and spent three years there before becoming the first heir to the British throne to obtain a degree. Charles, Prince of Wales graduated with a 2:2 in 1970 and can now add B.A (Hons) Cantab after his name. His littlest brother, Edward, also went to Cambridge but instead attended Jesus College where he, too, gained a 2:2.  

Prince Charles graduated with a 2:2 from Cambridge.

Prince Charles graduated with a 2:2 from Cambridge.

But queens have had, arguably, far more success with Cambridge University. The current monarch of Denmark, Margrethe II, attended Girton College in 1961 spending a year there studying prehistoric archaeology.  The then Princess Margrethe had only just been named heiress presumptive of Denmark after a change in the law which gave succession rights to women. Her time at Girton, which then only accepted female students, was part of several years of study around Europe that formed part of her preparation to become her country’s queen regnant.

Margrethe’s accession in 1972 meant she became the first Cambridge student to become a queen in Europe in the 1970s.  On November 2nd 1975, the accession of Juan Carlos as king of Spain made his wife Sofia his consort and gave the country a Cambridge alumnus as its Queen. Sofia, Princess of Greece, spent time studying at Fitzwilliam Hall before her engagement and marriage.  Along with her husband, Queen Sofia is now a Fellow of Fitzwilliam which became a College in 1966.

While the number of royal women to have attended Cambridge is smaller than the total of princes and kings, they’ve arguably enjoyed more success after their education. Perhaps Prince William should spend some time studying their paths to a degree at his new home to make sure his ten weeks go well.

photo credits: .aditya. and The Great Photographicon via photopin cc

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