Prince Harry is no longer in country, as news of his deployment to Afghanistan leaked out despite a brokered blackout deal with the international press. There were fears that the Prince, third in line to the throne after his father Prince Charles and elder brother William, would be a target for the Taliban. Once again, Matt Drudge leaked the story.
The British Royals have an honorable tradition of military service - Prince Andrew flew helicopters in the Falklands and the future George VI served as a 20-year-old midshipman during the Battle of Jutland. Prince Harry, a Cornet with the Blues and Royals in the Household Cavalry, may take some small comfort in the fact that there is historical precedent for insurgents targeting heirs to the British throne while on military service. My ancestor tried it during the Revolution.
Col. Matthias Ogden, elder brother to my direct ancestor Aaron Ogden, was back in New Jersey at the head of his regiment after the victory at Yorktown. It was then that he proposed a daring scheme to Washington to capture Prince William Henry, 16-year old son of George III and then serving as a midshipman with Admiral Digby in New York.
Ogden's plan required a dark rainy night and four whaleboats with muffled oars. Leading a small force consisting of a captain, subaltern, three sergeants and 36 men, they would cross from the Jersey shore and land at a wharf not far from the Hanover Street lodgings of the Admiral and the Prince. They would seize Prince William Henry and the Admiral and withdraw to the boats, with a rearguard to keep the enemy clear until all were embarked.
It was the sort of audacious plan that would have appealed to Benedict Arnold, with whom Col. Ogden had marched to Quebec at the start of the war and later served with on Lake Champlain. It also appealed to Washington, who wrote:
The spirit of enterprise so conspicuous in your plan for surprising in their quarters, & bringing off the Prince-William Henry & Admiral Digby, merits applause; and you have my authority to make the attempt in any manner, & at such a time as your own judgment shall direct.
I am fully perswaded, that it is unnecessary to caution you against offering insult or indignity to the persons of the Prince, or Admiral should you be so fortunate as to capture them; but it may not be amiss to press the propriety of a proper line of conduct upon the party you command.
In case of success, you will, as soon as you get them to a place of safety, treat them with all possible respect, but you are to delay no time in conveying them to Congress, & reporting your proceedings with a copy of these orders.
Given at Morristown this 28th day of March 1782.
Note Take care not to touch upon the ground w[hi]ch is agreed to be Neutral – viz from Raway to Newark & four miles back.
Contingency is the bane of the bold stroke. Washington wrote Ogden on April 2nd;
"After I wrote to you from Morris Town, I received information that the Sentries at the doors of Sir Henry Clinton's quarters were doubled at Eight O clock every night from
the apprehension of an attempt to surprize him in them. If this be true it is more than probable the same precaution extends tends to other personages in the City of New York, a circumstance I thought it proper for you to be advertized of."
Nothing then came of the plan, though in later life when the US Minister to Great Britain had occasion to show Washington's letter authorizing his boyhood capture to King William IV, the sovereign remarked;
"I am obliged to General Washington for his humanity, but I'm damn'd glad I did not give him an opportunity of exercising it towards me."
One imagines that the Taliban would not have been so humane, though I doubt Mr. Drudge had the Prince's health and well-being in mind when he leaked the story. Loose lips, old chap.