- Historic Sites
A King’s Funeral
December 1954 | Volume 6, Issue 1
Some days after the funeral Mrs. Roosevelt and I were sent for separately to visit the Queen Mother, Queen Alexandra. I felt great sympathy for her. When Mrs. Roosevelt called upon her, her sister the Dowager Empress of Russia was there. Both were very friendly, and at the end of the call solemnly asked Mrs. Roosevelt if they could kiss her—Mrs. Roosevelt being half of New England blood is not of an expansive temperament, and endured rather than enjoyed the ceremony. With me the poor lady was most pathetic. With an almost childlike pathos, she kept telling me how she had hated to leave Marlborough House for Buckingham Palace when her husband became king, and now how she hated having to leave Buckingham Palace after having grown accustomed to it; and she was not only pathetic but a little gruesome about the death of the king. She was very emotional, and almost hysterical, repeating, “Yes, they took him away from me, they took him away from me. They left him with me for nearly ten days, and then they took him away from me.” Then with a sudden and total change of tone, and as if she were discussing something in which she had no personal interest, “You see, he was so wonderfully preserved. It must have been the oxygen they gave him before he died. It was most extraordinary. He was so well preserved.” And then suddenly changing back again, “But they took him away from me.” I did not know quite what to say. I felt sincerely sorry for her, and sincerely sympathetic with her; and yet hers was such a singular mixture of genuine grief with queer curiosity about the dead man’s being “Wonderfully preserved”—precisely the kind of emotion I have more than once seen displayed in some country village where a poor widow was divided between genuine sorrow for the loss of her husband and an alert and self-satisfied interest in the details of his death and burial.
On another occasion Mrs. Roosevelt and I took lunch with King George and Queen Mary. It was the day after the king’s birthday, and his presents were all on a table in the corner, and by it another table with a cake. They were thoroughly pleasant, homelike people—and I was much amused, by the way, to find that his sympathy went out to me because he knew that I had a horror of the type of American who wishes to hang around a foreign court, particularly the English court, and get social recognition. This is the type of American who, when wealthy enough—and the type is even more objectionable when wealthy than when poor—uses his money to marry his daughter to a foreigner of title, and it is a type which, unlike his father, he thoroughly abhors, I am glad to say. Toward the end of lunch the children came in. He was telling me about them in advance. “They are all obedient except John (the youngest). I don’t understand it. He is not obedient at all. Now you watch him when he comes in. He will go straight for that cake. You watch him.” In came the children, made their manners prettily, and then sure enough John, a nice, solid-looking little boy, made a beeline for the cake. The king turned to me with an air of pride in the way the event had justified the prophecy. “There, didn’t I tell you so? Now you listen to the way he answers me. He isnt like any of the other children. You just listen.” Then to John, “John!” John, “What?” The king, “Don’t say ‘What’ when I speak to you. Come here.” Turning to me, “Didn’t I tell you so? He is not obedient, and all the other children are so obedient.” John started solemnly towards us, and on the way he met a rather hairless little dog called “Happy,” which he stooped over and began to pat, at the same time saying something to his father. The latter turned to me with another smile of triumph. “Did you hear that ? ‘ ’appy is ‘airy!’ Not an h to him! I don’t know where he gets it from; it must be his nurse!”
I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in England. The men I met were delightful, and I felt at home with them. As a whole, they had my ideals and ways of looking at life. But the twenty-four hours I really most enjoyed not only in England but in all Europe, were those I spent with Edward Grey, the last twenty-four hours I was in England. He is very fond of birds, and I had been anxious to hear and see the English birds which I knew so well in the books. He took me down to the Valley of the Itchen, which we tramped along, and then motored to an inn near the New Forest where we took tea (having already eaten our lunch on a bank); and then tramped through the New Forest, reaching the inn on the other side of it about nine in the evening, tired and happy and ready for a warm bath, a hot supper, and bed.
Always yours, Theodore Roosevelt