Double trouble: Prince Harry (left) and his elder brother the Prince of Wales bedded Beryl Markham. They are pictured on the cruiser ‘Enterprise’ in 1935
After their new baby has settled, Harry and Meghan are said to want to take a short ‘secondment’ to Africa, combining their jobs as Commonwealth ambassadors with charity work and a role promoting British interests.
Indeed, some believe that a break from the glare of the social media spotlight that the couple have attracted in recent months will be of great benefit. But whatever the Sussexes do, and however long they’re gone, all we can hope is things go better than the last time a Prince Harry was sent to Africa.
He was Henry, Duke of Gloucester, uncle of our Queen and the third son of George V. Also known as Harry, he was — as we shall discover — a bit of a nincompoop.
Like the present-day Harry, he was a dedicated Army officer who was shunted out of his dream job because of his birth.
Like the present-day Harry, he struggled to find a role to satisfy his own ambitions.
But his Africa jaunt was an extended holiday for two princely brothers, with a bit of flag-waving thrown in to justify a leisurely three-month stay on the continent.
His companion on this ill-fated expedition was his fun-loving eldest brother Edward, Prince of Wales (the future Edward VIII).
Neither realised, as they set off on the P&O liner Kaisar-i-Hind in September 1928, what the consequences would be — the furious resignation of a senior courtier and the bruising of two royal reputations.
And, much more damagingly, a pregnant married woman who had bedded them both, angrily demanding redress.
At 34, Edward was a sophisticated man of the world — used to the slavish attentions of women eager to bed him. His sex appeal in those pre-Abdication days was unparallelled — and he took full advantage of it.
The same could not be said of Harry, who more than one acquaintance described as ‘stupid’. Sent to Cambridge University to drill some of the nation’s history into his foggy brain, he caught 50 mice in traps as a hobby instead of paying attention to his tutors. ‘A splendid bag’, he wrote proudly to his mother the Queen. Though 28, Harry was still a novice when it came to women.
And on arrival in Kenya, those over-sexed Happy Valley wives who didn’t throw themselves at Edward settled for the younger brother — who, while not the sharpest tack in the box, at least had good looks, a muscular frame and great skill on horseback.
Through the dizzying onslaught of garden parties, balls, receptions and dinners staged by the thirsty expatriate community, Harry suddenly discovered how appealing he was to the rapacious local women. ‘There are some very nice people,’ he observed after his first few days, ‘and some very much otherwise.’
Falling into the latter category, perhaps, was the untameable Beryl Markham, the 26-year-old wife of a rich English aristocrat, Mansfield Markham.
Beryl Markham, the first person to fly the Atlantic solo from east to west, was the untameable wife to English aristocrat Mansfield Markham and she met the two princes at the opening ball at Nairobi’s Muthaiga Club
‘She wore trousers with men’s shirts and audaciously left the top buttons open — she took no care to hide herself,’ reported the local doctor.
Later, Beryl would become world-famous as the first person to fly the Atlantic east to west. But at this time she was no more than a successful horse-trainer among the White Mischief community.
She and the two princes met at the opening ball given at Nairobi’s Muthaiga Club.
‘A tremendous competition took place for Edward’s attention,’ recalled one English resident about their trip. ‘His entourage were often kept waiting for several hours while he took his pleasure with a certain blonde.’
The blonde, according to her biographer Errol Trzebinski, was Mrs Markham.
Within hours of the princes’ arrival, she ‘had established herself incontestably as one of the inner circle’. When Prince Harry presented himself to her, instead of lowering herself in the customary bob of a curtsy, she threw her arms in the air and cried: ‘Hello there!’
‘From that moment,’ observed her friend Ginger Birkbeck, ‘the Duke became besotted.’
Initially, though, Beryl had eyes only for the big prize — the Prince of Wales.
British-born author and adventurer Markham is shown with her her plane in 1936. Prince Harry was said to be besotted by her
‘The Duke is being a pest. How can I get rid of him?’ she complained, trying to bat him away like a tsetse fly.
In the end, though, to settle the problem, she bedded them both. According to Errol Trzebinski, Mrs Markham catered to the Duke’s needs in a room at the Muthaiga Club, while attending to Edward at a nearby bungalow, specially lent for the purpose.
A hard day’s work as a royal horizontale might involve a trip to both establishments within hours. Soon the brothers went big-game hunting. The plan was that each should take a separate safari, heading in different directions, then finally the two teams should meet up.
To assuage both men’s sexual appetites, Mrs Markham shuttled between the two parties — a wearying task across miles of bush in a vehicle with wooden wheels. She certainly had the pluck as well as the social ambition.
Arriving at Harry’s group, staked out in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro, she discovered that he’d fallen hopelessly in love with her and was demanding she follow him back to England once the tour was over.
He made a pledge to meet her off the ship when she arrived. Mrs Markham agreed — then set off for the other safari.
‘Our gutsy lady was well able to cope with two or more affairs at the same time,’ drily observed another member of the party, Dr Bunny Allen. But though the future king was having the time of his life under the African skies and no request was denied him by his hosts, he was a dishonourable guest, ‘ditching any arrangement [in order] to seduce any personable female who crossed his path’.
His private secretary ‘Tommy’ Lascelles, a stiff-collared old-style courtier, was getting fed up with the brothers’ antics and with trying to cover for their absences.
He was enraged when Edward started a ding-dong with Lady Delamere, later famed for her part in the White Mischief trial that followed the murder of the Earl of Erroll.
The continued breaches of protocol by his royal bosses upset Lascelles and he resigned.
He wrote to his wife (and several biographies confirm the reason for his decision) saying this was prompted by the Princes’ conduct — principally Edward’s — both sexual and in failing to meet their princely duties.
But soon the trip was abandoned for another reason. The brothers’ father, George V, was seriously ill. Both princes headed home independently.
Mrs Markham followed Prince Harry by sea and, as promised, he was waiting for her when she disembarked at Tilbury.
Once he’d set her up in a suite at the Grosvenor Hotel, conveniently close to Buckingham Palace, Mrs Markham confessed to Harry that she was pregnant.
Married and with no hope of divorce, in the mores of the time this was a colossal scandal.
But Harry, besotted, blissfully risked his reputation and continued the affair, sneaking into the hotel by a side entrance and climbing the service stairs to her suite.
Pictured are four of the five sons of King George V in 1935. Left to right: Prince George, Duke of Kent, Edward, later King Edward VIII, Prince Albert, later King George VI and Prince Henry. In the end, though, to settle the problem, Mrs Markham bedded both Prince Harry and the Prince of Wales
Ginger Birkbeck recalled: ‘People naturally assumed with the duke always dancing attendance on her, in and out of her suite, even going to the nursing home the day the child was born, that [the child] was his.’
There was, of course, one big problem. Mrs Markham was still married and for 16 months the birth of her son, Gervase, went unregistered — a breach of the law. The excuse given was the child was not expected to live, but the more likely explanation is to be found in what happened next.
As soon as she had recovered from giving birth, the child was shipped off to live with his grandmother. Mrs Markham returned to her suite in the Grosvenor and Harry moved in with her.
The head of the family, Sir Charles Markham, got to hear of the prince’s involvement with his sister-in-law and exploded in rage. His brother, her husband Mansfield, had discovered a cache of love-letters from Harry, and the cat was out of the bag.
Sir Charles threatened to blow the affair with Harry wide open, citing him as the co-respondent in divorce ‘unless the Duke took care of Beryl’.
In an odd pincer movement, the baby’s grandmother arranged to have Beryl Markham presented at Court — in order to bring pressure on Queen Mary to acknowledge the mother of her grandchild.
The Markhams then employed heavy-duty divorce lawyers who told the Royal Family that they had two days to settle before they triggered the action.
Queen Mary summoned Sir Charles Markham and it was pointed out unequivocally that ‘one simply could not cite a Prince of the Royal Blood in a divorce petition’. Beryl’s husband, Mansfield Markham was also summoned and the Queen did not even invite him to sit down. ‘He was lectured for over five minutes before being curtly dismissed,’ according to Errol Trzebinski in The Lives Of Beryl Markham.
Mansfield later said he felt he’d ‘been treated like dirt’ — but he won the day.
A sum of £15,000 (£1million today) was placed in a trust fund, and an annuity paid to Mrs Markham’s bank account from 1929 until her death in 1986.
Nobody said at that time that the child, Gervase Markham, was not Prince Harry’s. But, it turns out, he wasn’t.
‘Most people,’ observed an old Africa hand when the news got out, ‘can count up to nine. But not, apparently, that fool the Duke of Gloucester’. Indeed, it does not take a genius to do the maths.
Gervase was born on February 25, 1929. The earliest that Harry and Mrs Markham could have first enjoyed sex together was around October 4, 1928 — a mere 4½ months earlier.
In confirmation that the child had not been prematurely born, her friend, Ginger Birkbeck, later reported that as early as July 1928, Mrs Markham had been seen by a Dr Tennant in Nakuru who confirmed her pregnancy.
It had been a giant hoax — one which Beryl Markham had played her part to the full. No doubt there were those in the Royal Family who suspected as much but the priority was to hush the matter up.
For the rest of 1929, before her return to Africa, she hopped back into bed with Harry’s brother Edward.
Meanwhile, poor besotted Harry was whisked away out of trouble. Within a month of the child’s birth, he was sent to Japan to present the Order of the Garter to the young Emperor Hirohito.
On his return, ‘the Duke was moved about with pawn-like accuracy for the next three years as a precaution against [any further involvement] with Beryl’, wrote her biographer.
Prince Albert is shown with his brother, Prince Henry and Commander Greig in Cambridge. Harry, besotted, blissfully risked his reputation and continued the affair with Mrs Markham, sneaking into the Grosvenor Hotel, conveniently close to Buckingham Palace. Mrs Markham confessed to Harry that she was pregnant
And with not much grace, he allowed himself to propose marriage to Lady Alice Montagu-Douglas-Scott, daughter of the very rich Duke of Buccleuch.
As for Beryl Markham, she finally found fame with her epic solo flight across the Atlantic in September 1936. Her personal life remained in pieces with a string of broken relationships.
And Prince Harry’s ‘baby’? He remained in the charge of his real father Mansfield Markham, who had divorced Beryl, and was educated at Eton and Oxford before joining the Guards.
Gervase died in a car crash in France aged 42.
How royal times have changed. If this Prince Harry, and Meghan, do embark on a sojourn in Africa, it would be to dedicate themselves to charity work, helping secure clean water supplies for impoverished children . . . and posting photos of themselves on Instagram.