LONDON -- Newlywed Princess Diana did, it seems, shoot a deer. But how and when and how well she shot it ballooned into a teapot tempest Monday.
The League Against Cruel Sports lodged a protest against the 20-year-old wife of Prince Charles, alleging she 'gut-shot' a stag during a honeymoon hunt. The deer died a lingering death and had to be tracked 'a considerable distance' before a marksman finished it off, the League said.
Not true, said Buckingham Palace and guests at Balmoral, the queen's private Scottish estate, where Diana and Charles, 32, have been ending their long honeymoon.
'We are not denying or confirming that the princess took a shot at any deer,' a palace spokesman said. 'What we are stating as being untrue is the incident described by the League Against Cruel Sports.'
'We are completely shattered that the fairy-tale princess with the sweet smile and kind heart had shot and wounded a deer,' said the League. 'I'm sure millions of people will be shocked at Princess Diana's actions,' Executive Director Richard Course said.
Despite denials, the League's accusations made the front pages of at least three British newspapers. Cartoonists had a field day.
The Daily Mirror said it was 'common knowledge' around Balmoral that the princess, firing from 300 yards, hit the stag 'in the stomach. The animal, cruelly wounded, sank to the ground. The princess was too overcome to finish it off. ... The princess is said to have fainted when the corpse was disemboweled before being taken away.'
The Mirror also said in a shocked editorial: 'Hunting and killing animals for fun is barbaric and members of the royal family should take no part in it.'
But the Sun newspaper's front-page report said everyone was haring after the wrong stag.
Princess Diana was not on the hunt when a deer was only wounded by a first shot, it said. It quoted a Balmoral guest as saying:
'It is quite unfair to suggest that she caused a stag agony by injuring it. It is true the princess did shoot and kill a stag, but that happened about two weeks ago' and the crack-shot princess made a 'clean' one-shot kill.
'Prince Charles would not allow anyone to even handle a gun unless he or she was a good clean shot,' it quoted another guest as saying.
Apart from its denial of the League Against Cruel Sports account, Buckingham Palace refused to enlarge on the incident.
'To do so would be to break the rule that we do not go into detail about activities on the royal estates during the royal family's time away from public duties,' a spokesman said.