In a family with two children, the terms “oldest” and “youngest” are black and white, apples and tornadoes. I am the oldest of two, the older brother who acted like an heir to the throne in high school and then like the off-the-hook kid brother in an extended Peter Pan near-adulthood, both of which must have presented my kid sister with unique challenges.
Family order and the psychological effects of being sibling number one or being sibling number nine is a favorite topic for many commentators simply because we all carry around with us the expertise of being a member of a family. (Being adopted can sometimes make these concerns even more unique or sometimes prove them to be universal, anyway. Being an only child can, too.) I will never know what it is like to be the younger sibling. (There should be a support group for us; I am a member of quite a few already as it is.) My sister will never know what it is like to be the oldest—unless our septuagenarian parents do something rather odd in the near future, such as murder me and then manufacture or otherwise acquire a new child. But my parents are not royals, and my family does not live in a “Game of Thrones”-type world in which something like that might very well happen over brunch next Sunday.
In a royal family, sibling order is truly defining. Sibling number one is the heir to a throne, any throne, and everyone else is tied for not-first. Every person born into a royal system has a job to do that they are born into; the first (and sometimes, only) job requirement is to be born. Not one successful royal on this planet has failed to be born—yet. In well-entrenched royal families, all of the other siblings (and cousins and extended cousins and all the myriad not-firsts, the “soblings”) have duties to perform and fiefdoms to fief over. Each one is number one in his or her own respective well-defined and limited roles and traditions, which usually require them to wear remarkable costumes. And then, in turn, all of their first-borns are the heirs and chief inheritors of whatever their specific fiefdoms include.
In America, the world of Big Business, we sometimes see something similar transpire with corporations and inheritances, but not as often as the soap operas (and the news programs that can seem like soap operas) depict.
Of course, the impending growth of the British royal family, the one that inspired today’s question, would be of no interest to us had it not been for the fact that in 1936 the then-king, Edward VIII, decided to quit and cede the crown to his younger brother. The WordPress Daily Prompt for September 9, asks, “A second #RoyalBaby will soon be joining the Windsors in England. Given the choice, would you rather be heir to the throne, or the (probably) off-the-hook sibling?” Edward VIII’s younger brother could have been an “off-the-hook” kickabout, but, per his royal training, he proved to a quite capable king (whatever that means), George VI. (This is a good thing, as many historians—not some, many—have found and shown evidence that Edward rather liked Hitler and his plans and would not have opposed a Nazi-governed Great Britain. The government under his younger brother appointed him governor of the Bahamas to keep him out of Europe for the duration of the Second World War.) The current royal family is George VI’s; his daughter is the queen and his grandson is the current heir, Charles; William is Charles’ first-born, and since William and Kate have already produced his first-born, the new baby is William’s potential gadabout, layabout, off-the-hook kid royal.
In the House of Aldrich, my not-at-all-royal house, I am the first-born but I spent much of my adulthood as the Failure in Waiting, so I have lived versions of both answers to this question. One of my larger contributions to my sibling’s adult life (she is only two-and-a-half years younger than me, so we have shared many experiences in life and sometimes she has a clearer memory of my life than I have) has been as an signpost warning her against venturing where I did. Perhaps my providing an example of how not to live has been a version of being a dutiful older sibling; now that my life is a bit clearer and happier, perhaps I am filling that role better now.
But we’ll never be royals.
The WordPress Daily Prompt for September 9 asks, “A second #RoyalBaby will soon be joining the Windsors in England. Given the choice, would you rather be heir to the throne, or the (probably) off-the-hook sibling?”