Simanaitis Says

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A ROYAL WAY WITH WORDS

OVER THE years, the English royals have been generally an entertaining lot. A book in my collection offers proof of this.

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The Oxford Book of Royal Anecdotes, by Elizabeth Longford, Oxford University Press, 1989. Both www.abebooks.com and www.amazon.com list it.

Elizabeth Countess of Longford, 1906 – 2002, had a long career of chronicling the royals. Her book Victoria RI is one of the standard biographies of Queen Victoria; The Royal House of Windsor brought matters of the current royal family up to the book’s 1974 publication.

The Oxford Book of Royal Anecdotes begins with the Celts and Britons, A.D. 61 – A.D. 500, specifically Boudicca (says Longford, “The ‘Warrior Queen’ has one advantage over other early rivals for fame: she was unquestionably real.”) and Arthur (about whom she offers less substantiality).

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Ethelred, ruling 979 – 1016, undeservedly inherited the title “The Unready.”

I always wondered what Ethelred the Unready was unready for. He inherited the throne when his half-brother was murdered in 979. Ethelred was only 10, or maybe 13, at the time and that alone would seem to qualify him for royal unreadiness. But the fact is his title is all a misunderstanding.

Ethelred’s given name is a compound of æðele, meaning “noble,” and ræd, meaning “advice.” Not a bad moniker. However, his adversaries—and there are always some, right?—called him the Old English equivalent of “Noble advice, no advice,” Æthelred Unræd, which got mistranslated in time into Ethelred the Unready.

True, he wasn’t ready for Danish invaders Sweyn and son Cnut. But then who was?

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King Cnut, ruling 1016 – 1035. He of the wet feet.

Cnut also goes by the modern name Canute. He’s the one who set up his throne in the rising tide and said, “I command you… not to flow over my land, nor presume to wet the feet and the robe of your lord.”

Cnut changed his tune henceforth. Reports Longford via Henry of Huntingdon, the king humbly never again wore his crown of gold.

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King George III, ruling 1760 – 1820, “well intentioned but ill-prepared,” says Longford.

There are plenty of royals in between, but let’s move to the time of the American Revolution and two relatives of George III (who brought new meaning to “the family tree” by conversing with one).

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Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, wife and queen of George III. Portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1789. She refused to buy it; what can we learn from this?

It’s said of George’s wife, Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, that her nose was not her best feature. Reports Longford, when her British subjects first saw her, they shouted “Pug! Pug! Pug!”

“Vat is dat they do say—poog? Vat means poog?” she asked.

The quick-thinking Duchess of Ancaster replied, “It means, ‘God bless your Royal Highness.’ ”

Now there’s a duchess who knows her royalty.

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Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, published in six volumes between 1776 and 1789. Image from www.baumanrarebooks.com.

George’s brother, Prince William of Gloucester, set a low mark in gratitude when being presented the second volume of Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: “What? What? Another damned, thick, square book! Always scribble, scribble, scribble, eh, Mr. Gibbon?”

Little did Gloucester know there were four other volumes to come (likely not dedicated to him, however).

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Queen Victoria, ruling from 1837 to 1901, gave her name to an era. This 1859 portrait is by Franz Xaver Winterhalter.

With regard to Queen Victoria, Longford is able to dispel a myth: “The Journals are full of the phrase ‘I was very much amused,’ but there is no documented record of her saying ‘We are not amused’ ”

Not that she wasn’t aware of propriety. When told that one of her maids-in-waiting was afflicted with rheumatic pains in the legs, Queen Victoria responded that when she came to the throne, young ladies “did not use to have legs.” ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2014

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