The Last Time A British Royal Testified In Court Was Over A Century Ago

The courtroom in Westminster Divorce Court in London, England, was packed with people hoping to see the heir to the British throne, Prince Albert Edward, Queen Victoria's eldest son, take the stand in what had become the trial of the century, according to "An Official Report of the Cause Célèbre Mordaunt V. Mordaunt, Cole, and Johnstone." The Prince of Wales, nicknamed "Bertie," appeared in court on Feb. 23, 1870, in the divorce case Mordaunt V. Mordaunt. The weeklong trial was full of salacious details of the love life of Lady Harriet Maurdant that the London papers joyfully printed daily, per "Palace and Hovel; Or, Phases of London Life."

Prince Edward's court appearance was brief and the lawyers in the case handled him with kid gloves. "Has there ever been any improper familiarity or criminal act between you and Lady Maurdant?" an attorney asked the prince, per "An Official Report of the Cause Célèbre Mordaunt V. Mordaunt, Cole, and Johnstone." "There has not," came the curt reply from the royal. It was a blatant lie from a serial philanderer. His answer helped doom Lady Maurdant to spend the rest of her life in a series of psychiatric hospitals, according to the Daily Mail.

Dirty Bertie

Harriett Sarah Moncreiff was born in 1848 to Sir Thomas Moncreiffe, a Scottish baronet, and Lady Louisa Hay-Drummond, per My Heritage. While still a teenager, she became part of the inner circle of the Prince of Wales and his wife Princess Alexandra, a Danish royal, whom Prince Edward married in 1863, per the Daily Mail. When Harriet married Sir Charles Mordaunt in 1866, Edward gave her a jewel-encrusted ring as a wedding gift and later gave her two ponies. When Charles came home early from a hunting trip to find the prince at his house, he shot the ponies in front of his wife. There was plenty of evidence the prince and Harriet had a long-running affair.

Following the birth of Harriet's child in 1869, who was born temporarily blind, which she believed was due to venereal disease, she confessed to her husband, per the Vancouver Sun. "I have been very wicked with the Prince of Wales, Lord Cole, Sir Frederick Johnstone, and others, and in open day," she told him (via "An Official Report of the Cause Célèbre Mordaunt V. Mordaunt, Cole, and Johnstone"). Charles filed for divorce even though he'd been pressured by the royal family to keep it quiet. Sir Thomas Moncreiffe, Harriet's father, pushed to declare his daughter insane in order to prevent the case from moving forward. The court found Harriet insane and she spent the rest of her life, 33 years, locked away.

A second court appearance

Prince Albert Edward again appeared in court, 20 years after the scandalous divorce case. The second trial, in the summer of 1891, was over a baccarat game, per The Tennessean. Sir William Gordon Cumming, an army officer, sued several of his friends who he alleged had slandered his name by accusing him of cheating at the illegal card game. The Prince of Wales, who had acted as the banker for the game, was again put on the stand. Unlike the first trial, his examination by the lawyers was longer and "evidently wearied him exceedingly, and made him extremely nervous," according to a contemporary account (via The Guardian). Cummings lost the case, and the scandal, unlike the previous one, tarnished the prince's reputation.

A decade later, in January 1901, Prince Albert Edward became King Edward VII following the death of Queen Victoria and would rule for nine years before his own death on May 6, 1910, per the BBC. And now, more than a century later, Prince Harry is expected to appear in the same court on June 6, 2023, to testify in the first in a series of court cases against British tabloids he alleges used illegal means to obtain information about him, per the Associated Press.