Diggory Hadoke reveals the eight royals he would include in an all-star shooting team
Fieldsports have long been a passion of British monarchs and their families. But who are the best royal Shots?
Shooting-obsessed monarchies the world over have been customers of our best gun and rifle makers, seeking the very finest sporting kit with which to engage their preferred quarry. If we were to construct a historic line of royal Guns for an all-star team, it might look like this.
The top eight best royal Shots
1.Maharajah Duleep Singh and sons
The resident of Elveden on the Norfolk-Suffolk border, the last king of the Sikhs was brought to England as a 15-year-old. His sons Victor and Frederick were both fine Shots and took part in shooting the record bag of 10,807 partridges and 5,771 pheasants at Highclere in 1895. The Maharajah himself held the record for shooting grouse over dogs at his Scottish estate Grandtully. The family all owned Purdeys, Prince Victor being gifted his pair of hammerguns at the age of 15.
2. The Maharajah of Patiala
Born in 1891 in the Punjab, the Maharajah of Patiala became a fierce supporter of the Raj and a great sportsman. He visited Britain to shoot grouse in Scotland and driven pheasants and partridges in Norfolk, as well as being a keen stalker, once ordering 250 rounds of .318 ammunition for a stag shooting holiday. He was described as “a rather quick Shot and therefore may require a larger number of cartridges than is usual” by an agent ordering for him. His Westley Richards bill in 1925 was almost £6,000, revealing his passion for buying guns and shooting.
3. King Edward VII
‘Bertie’ or ‘Tum Tum’ as he was variously called, Prince Albert Edward was at the centre of the social shooting scene during the heyday of the sport. He was an avid sportsman who owned guns by Westley Richards, Purdey and Stephen Grant, among others and was a very keen, but not top-rank Shot. However, his enthusiasm for the sport did a great deal to cement its popularity at the very highest levels of society which is why he makes the list of best royal Shots.
4. King George V
Edward VII’s son was a better shot than his father, once ranked in the top six in the country. He had a strange style of shooting, holding his front arm straight down the barrel, which may have helped him find incomers and going away birds but is prone to impeding your swing to the right. King George was one of several top Shots of the age to forego the supposed benefits of hammerless guns when they emerged, preferring to shoot his Purdey hammerguns until his death in 1936. He was also a keen big game hunter but only had one real taste, as part of a 1911 hunt organised by the Nepali Prime Minister. The King alone shot 21 tigers and at least two rhino on that shikar, over the course of 10 days.
5. King Edward VIII
King George’s eldest son inherited his father’s passion for the outdoors. As Prince Edward, he travelled all over the Empire and made the most of his sporting opportunities, notably in Nepal and India in 1921 and in East Africa in 1930. Having bagged numerous specimens of all the dangerous game and demonstrated a cool head and somewhat reckless nature, he was alarmed by the widespread tourist slaughter of Africa’s game from vehicles and campaigned thereafter to control hunting better and preserve the great hunting areas for future generations. He once wrote in his journal that shooting an elephant “seems as unthinkable as to want to hurt an old gentleman from the alms house”.
6. Archduke Franz Ferdinand
The Archduke’s presence on an English pheasant shoot once came close to averting World War I, when he was almost shot by accident. Like many European sportsmen, he frequented British gunmakers. Among his battery was a pair of Stephen Grant 16-bore hammer ejectors with, unusually, Jones under-lever operation. He was apparently an accomplished Shot. The story of his short-lived escape from death relates to an episode at Welbeck in December 1913, when one of his loaders fell over in the snow and discharged a gun, both barrels loosing their load within a few feet of the Archduke’s head.
7. Kaiser Wilhelm II
A gifted Shot, Wilhelm won prizes for his rifle shooting. A nephew of King Edward VII, he was an occasional, but unpopular, guest at Sandringham before World War I. The two men did not get along. However, his most notable exploit was as the target, rather than the shooter. In 1890, he was watching Annie Oakley in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show when ‘Little Sure Shot’ asked for a volunteer to risk his life by putting a lighted cigarette in his mouth, which Annie would attempt to shoot out. The Kaiser put up his hand, lit a cigar, placed it in his mouth and Annie coolly blew the ash off with a Colt .45. After Germany started World War I, Annie Oakley wrote and asked the Kaiser for a second shot. He did not reply.
8. The Duke of Sussex
Prince Harry formed a duo with his brother that his mother dubbed ‘the Killer Wales’, such was their love of shooting. Also a keen stalker, Harry owned a pair of Purdey stalking rifles, which he sold in 2019 in response to his wife’s disapproval of shooting. He has also missed recent grouse shoots and the traditional Boxing Day shoot at Sandringham. The current incarnation of Prince Harry might not take his place in the line, but five years ago he would have been a top performer. Newspapers once reported the exploits of kings and princes in the shooting field with admiration. Today, the press is overwhelmingly negative and aggressive in its attacks on the royals any time their shooting activities are mentioned or witnessed. The pressure on Prince George will be even greater unless he is afforded the protection from press intrusion his father and uncle were following the death of Princess Diana. Will the next generation of royalty be as wedded to fieldsports as previous generations? Only time will tell who will make the list of best royal Shots in the years to come.