Monday 18 October 2004
Bugger Bognor, How's the Empire?
The King replies, Bugger Bognor, and
Not exactly the ideal last words of a benevolent
monarch, especially to the ears of the residents of Bognor Regis. So, naturally, The
London Times duly reports that the late Kings final words were, How is the
Empire?, thus ensuring that British subjects the world over believed that
even on his deathbed the Kings final concern was for the well-being of the
Clearly, the business of royal last words is a
difficult one. Being royalty, their final words are not only eagerly anticipated
often more so than those of other public figures, theyre also held to a higher
standard. While its acceptable for the rest of us to say ridiculous things like,
Im coming to play catch with you, Fido, or Remember to water the
plants, royalty are expected to make profound or significant statements, preferably
regarding their successor or their earthly realms.
James V of
But such a resonant dying phrase is generally the
exception, not the rule. Among my favorite royal last words are those that are either so
mundane they are insightful or so ridiculous they are funny. Marie Antoinette, Queen of
France, takes the cake (no pun intended) for her polite apology, Monsieur, I ask
your pardon. I did not do it on purpose, when, on ascending the scaffold, she
accidentally stepped on her executioners foot. For a woman who was considered vain
and frivolous, this was certainly a very humble dying statement. On the side of the
ridiculous is the Roman Emperor Gaius Caligula, who, after being stabbed repeatedly by his
own Praetorian Guards, shouted
in vain, I am still alive!
With so many dying words, its no surprise to
run across royals whove said the same thing at different times. Perhaps the best
example of this is when an injured or dying person, in an attempt to appear brave, claims,
It is nothing. Both Henry IV of France in 1610 and Archduke Franz Ferdinand in
1914 said those exact words just before dying following assassination attempts.
Of course, royal history has passed down to us a
plethora of pious dying words, especially from the days when only God and the Roman
Catholic Church had authority over kings. When Charles V of
Other royals are more concerned with the comfort
of those around them.
Which brings up the issues of multiple accounts
and versions of a particular royals last words. Anne Boleyns last words, for
example, are often said to have been, The executioner is, I believe, very expert,
and my neck is very slender. Those words, however, were actually spoken the day
before the execution. Her very last words were, Oh God, have pity on my soul.
Others spoke very few last words, but those few take an amazingly high proportion of
variations. Versions of Napoleon Bonapartes last words include: France, the
army, Josephine; Chief of the Army; and, simply, Josephine....
Similarly, Henry VIII said either, Everything is gone - kingdom, body and soul!
or, All is lost. Monks, monks, monks! The bottom line here is that the
numerous versions of a dying royals last words are often derived from the interpretations
of the equally numerous individuals that so often surrounded them in their dying moments.
But even when the last words are confirmed, there
are those that are all too often taken entirely out of context especially
historical context and, as a result, exceedingly misunderstood. Consider Queen
Its nice to think that we will all manage to at least say something coherent when its our time to say goodbye to this mortal world, but, as if dying werent difficult enough already, a royal on the verge of death is expected to say something profound. Quite a responsibility, especially when you consider that an entire royal legacy can be overshadowed with the wrong last words. Which brings us back to George V. Another account of his dying words makes Bugger Bognor sound positively philosophical. It seems that, after receiving a shot of morphine, the Kings very last words were, God damn you. I wonder what The London Times would have made of that?
Until next week,
- Tori Van Orden Martínez
Previous Royal Scribe columns can be found in the archive
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reproduced without the authors permission. The 'Royal Scribe' column is ©2005 Copyright by Tori Van Orden Martínez who
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This page was last updated on: Monday, 18-Oct-2004 09:08:59 CEST