David Bruce: Royalty Anecdotes

• R’ Yonasan of Prague was a friend to the king, and the king asked him before setting out to war if R’ Yonasan could tell which of the two gates of the city he would use when he returned from war. R’ Yonasan said that he would not answer the question right now, because whatever gate he mentioned, the king could easily decide to go through the other gate. Instead, he would write down his answer, then seal it so that the answer could not be read, and after the king had returned to the city, he could break the seal and read the answer. The king agreed and carried the answer with him to the war. Returning from the war, the king decided to trick R’ Yonasan and not use either gate to enter the city; instead, he ordered that the wall be breached and a third gate be built, and he entered the city through that. After entering the city by way of the new gate, the king broke the seal and read a quotation from the Gemara: “A king may breach a wall to make a path for himself” (Bava Basra100b).

• In 1960, Senator John Sparkman, a Democrat from Alabama, was introduced to the Queen of Greece. He introduced himself as “Senator John Sparkman,” but a colleague told him he should have added the rest — “Senator John Sparkman of Alabama.” The Queen overheard and asked, “Oh, are you from Alabama?” After the Senator admitted that he was, the Queen said that she had met a young lieutenant recently, who had told her, “I’m from Alabama, honey.” Senator Sparkman said that the lieutenant should have added the rest — “I’m from Alabama, honey child.” For the rest of evening, everybody called the Queen of Greece “Honey Child.”

• The Quakers used to be persecuted in the early years of the colonization of America; however, King Charles II ended the practice by sending a Quaker as his envoy to America. Quakers believe in the equality of Humankind, so they don’t take their hats off before humans of high rank. The American Governor was so displeased by the Quaker’s not taking his hat off that he knocked the hat to the ground. However, as soon as he learned that the Quaker was the envoy of the king, he hurriedly picked up the Quaker’s hat — and took off his own.

• In a controversy between King George IV and Queen Caroline, who was accused of many infidelities, the Duke of Wellington supported the King. However, the populace of London supported the Queen. Once, several London workmen stopped the Duke’s carriage and said they would not let him pass until he said, “God save the Queen.” The Duke replied, “Well, gentlemen, since you will have it so, ‘God save the Queen’ — and may all your wives be like her!”

• While in Tunis, comedian Beatrice Lillie became ill with dysentery and was forced to miss a party with King George VI, who, it turned out, was suffering from the same illness. Later, the two finally met. Ms. Lillie explained why she had missed the Tunis party, and King George VI commiserated with her about the effects of dysentery. Later, Ms. Lillie’s friends asked what she and the King had been discussing. She replied, “Diarrhea.”

• Gerald Arpino met Princess Margaret on Oct. 27, 1977, at the Contemporary Dance Foundation Gala at the Hotel Pierre. He had always been told that British royalty are impeccable in their pronunciation, and so he practiced perfectly saying, “I — am — pleased — to — meet — you — Your— Royal —Highness.” The meeting went very well. Mr. Arpino was impeccable in his pronunciation, and Princess Margaret responded, “How d’ja’ do?”

• Quakers believe that all people are created equal, so they don’t remove their hats, even when before royalty. William Penn once visited King Charles I, and in accordance with Quaker custom, Mr. Penn kept his hat on in the presence of the king. King Charles I immediately took off his own hat. When Mr. Penn asked why he had done that, the king replied, “It is the custom of this place for only one man to wear his hat at a time.”

• When Marie, Queen of Romania, was growing up in England, a playmate of hers attended a children’s party at Buckingham Palace — home of the Prince and Princess of Wales. After the party, the little boy’s father asked if the Prince of Wales had spoken to him. The little boy answered, “Yes, he trod upon my toes and said, ‘I beg your pardon.’”

• While Peter Ustinov was playing the Prince of Wales in a movie produced in England, he sent a Hollywood executive this telegram: “Greetings to my loyal subjects in the colonies. P Ustinov, Prince of Wales.”

• Dionysus, the dictator of Syracuse, once criticized his son for acting inappropriately, but his son replied that Dionysus had never had a king for a father. Dionysus replied, “If you behave like that, you won’t have a king for a son.”

• Each time soprano Birgit Nilsson returned to sing at the Metropolitan Opera, general manager Rudolf Bing got on his knees before her. After he had been knighted, he kneeled again at her return to the Met, and she told him, “You do that much better since you practiced it for the Queen.”

• Tallulah Bankhead could be quite critical of royalty. Once while she was shown her suite at a hotel, she was told that the Duke and Duchess of Windsor had spent their honeymoon there. Ms. Bankhead felt the bed, then said, “Ah yes, it’s still cold.”

• At one time, the Pope was supreme in worldly affairs. At the coronation of King Henry VI of Germany, Pope Celestine III kicked the crown off the king’s head to demonstrate that he could both make and unmake kings.

• The King of Holland once attended a piano recital by Clara Schumann; afterward, he met her husband, the famous composer Robert Schumann, and asked, “Are you musical, too?”

• “When I sat next the Duchess at tea, / It was just as I knew it would be, /  Her rumblings abdominal / Were something phenomenal — / And everyone thought it was me.” — Anonymous.


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David Bruce: Royalty Anecdotes

• When he was in his 90s, British conductor Sir Adrian Boult was no longer able to walk, so if he ever needed to travel, his chauffeur would pick him up and carry him to and from the car. Once, Sir Adrian traveled to meet the Queen Mother in order to receive some documents from her. When Sir Adrian reached the Queen Mother’s residence, he decided that he didn’t want to get out of the car, so he said, “It would be better for everyone were the documents to be brought out to me.” No problem. The Queen Mother brought the documents to him, as well as some footmen with a table, a chair, and a silver tray bearing food and tea. The Queen Mother sat on the chair, Sir Adrian remained in the back seat of his car, and they proceeded to have tea together.

• The Danish nobility was not anti-Semitic. The synagogue in Copenhagen celebrated its 100thanniversary in the spring of 1933, and King Christian X of Denmark was invited to attend the celebration. However, Germany was becoming more and more anti-Semitic, and Adolf Hitler ordered the German citizens to boycott Jewish-owned and -operated stores. The chair of the Jewish Community told King Christian X that Jews would understand if the king decided not to attend the celebration, but King Christian X replied, “Are you out of your right mind, man? Now, of course, is when I will be coming.” So in Germany, Aryans boycotted Jewish-owned and -operated stores, while in Denmark, the king celebrated the 100thanniversary of the Copenhagen synagogue.

• Celebrity photographer Richard Young was in Tangiers, Morocco, to shoot Malcolm Forbes’ 70thbirthday party. The morning after the party, Mr. Young learned that his flight back to London has been delayed. He saw King Constantine of Greece walking to his private plane, so he called to him, “Good morning, sir. Is there any chance of a lift back to London? I’m delayed.” The king waved to him, but kept on walking. The captain of the plane then approached Mr. Young and said, “King Constantine would love to give you a lift to London, but sadly he is flying to Austria.”

• Very early in her career, opera singer Ernestine Schumann-Heink sometimes sang at the Cathedral in Dresden. Unfortunately, she made a disastrous error when the King and Queen visited the Cathedral. Ms. Schumann-Heink was so busy looking at them that she missed her cue, then became so nervous that she not only sang the wrong notes but also sang them off pitch. (The 77-year-old conductor, Karl Krebs, even hit her with his baton and whispered to her, “You damn little goose — you are ruining my whole Mass!”)

• Author and artist Edward Lear, of A Book of Nonsensefame, once gave a series of art lessons to Queen Victoria. Of course, coming from a family that had been royal for a very long time, she had many, many portraits and other works of art hanging in the palace. One day, she took Mr. Lear on a tour of the palace, showing him many of the works of art there. He was amazed at such a wealth of art and exclaimed, “Oh! Where did you get all these beautiful things?” Queen Victoria replied, “I inherited them.”

• In 1924, the Prince of Wales visited Fanny Brice’s apartment in New York. She told him, “Sit down, kid, and take off your shoes. While you’re relaxing, I’ll whip up a couple of smoked sturgeon sandwiches on rye with some marvelous pickles a guy on Delancey Street puts up for me.” The Prince of Wales told her, “Miss Brice, I thank you from the bottom of my heart,” then he took off his shoes.

• At Wimbledon, women tennis players customarily curtsy before the royal box. In 1972, Chris Evert played Australian Evonne Goolagong at Wimbledon. Immediately before they were to walk in front of the royal box, Chris had to ask Evonne, “How do you curtsy?” Evonne demonstrated, and Chris was able to follow the custom, thus averting a potential international crisis.

• Lotte Lehmann once sang an opera in Vienna before the head of a duchy. After the opera, she waited eagerly to hear what he had thought about her performance, but he only wagged his finger at her and said, “I watched you in the second act when you sat with your head resting on the gentleman’s knee, to see if you would move. … It was very good but you wriggled once.”

• Alexander the Great could be merciful. After he had defeated King Porus of India in battle and conquered his kingdom, Alexander asked him how he would like to be treated. King Porus replied, “Treat me, Alexander, like a king.” Alexander the Great did just that, allowing him to keep on ruling his kingdom and even giving him more land to rule.

• During Word War II, the citizens of Denmark managed to save nearly all of their country’s Jewish population by sailing them to neutral Sweden. The King of Denmark, Christian X, fully supported these rescue efforts, saying, “The Jews are a part of the Danish nation. We have no Jewish problem in our country because we never had an inferiority complex in relation to the Jews.”

• Voltaire was controversial and thought to be impious. Because of the attacks against him, he lived at Ferney, close to the border with Switzerland, where he could escape if necessary. While on her deathbed, Queen Maria Lecszinska wanted his impiety to be punished. However, her husband the King answered, “What can I do? If he were in Paris, I should exile him to Ferney.”

• In Utrecht, Holland, very few people came to see Anna Pavlova and her troupe dance on a bitterly cold day. Ms. Pavlova’s husband asked the manager of the theater why so few people were in the audience. The manager replied, “But my dear sir, you cannot expect anybody to be here — it is the first ice. Even the Queen of Holland herself will be skating!”

• Soprano Adelina Patti was beloved by royalty all over the world. Once, she was asked who was her favorite royal personage. She thought for a moment, then answered, “Well, the Tsar Alexander gives the best jewelry.”


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David Bruce: Royalty Anecdotes


Photo: Frotz Kreisler. By Ferdinand Schmutzer – Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Bildarchiv Austria, Inventarnr. LSCH 0431-B, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19039336

Fritz Kreisler was playing his violin before the Sultan and his Court in Turkey when the Sultan began to clap his hands. Feeling immensely flattered, Mr. Kreisler played on, and the more he played, the harder the Sultan clapped his hands. Finally, the Grand Vizier said urgently to Mr. Kreisler, “Do you wish to lose your head? Don’t you hear His Majesty clapping his hands?” Mr. Kreisler replied that indeed he had heard the clapping, but what of it? The Grand Vizier exclaimed, “What of it? Why, the Sultan is giving you the signal to stop!”

The most famous pharaoh of ancient Egypt is King Tutankhamon, who died at age eighteen after ruling for nine years. Although most Egyptologists regard him as a minor pharaoh, the discovery of his tomb ensures his lasting fame. On November 4, 1922, British archaeologist Howard Carter and his team of excavators discovered a tomb in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings. They began excavating it, and on November 26, Mr. Carter looked through a small hole in the tomb’s door. When his eyes became accustomed to the dark, he saw, “strange animals [works of art], statues, and gold — everywhere the glint of gold.” The man financing the archaeological dig, the Earl of Carnarvon, asked, “Can you see anything?” Mr. Carter replied, “Yes, wonderful things.” Of the many tombs of the pharaohs, this tomb is the only one to be found virtually intact. Inside was the mummy of King Tutankhamon and over 2,000 other objects, including statues, a throne, a cedarwood chest, and an alabaster vase. King Tutankhamon’s mummy was encased in several cases and coffins. The innermost coffin weighed 242 pounds, and it was made of solid gold and decorated with colored stones and enamel inlays. This dazzling archaeological find ensures the lasting fame of this minor pharaoh.

When Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu decided to become a nun, her brother Lazar, who had become an army officer for King Zog I, worried about whether she had made the right choice. She told him, “You will serve a king of two million people; I will serve the King of the whole world.” Years later, when his sister Agnes had become known to the world as Mother Teresa, he knew that she had made the right decision. He admitted, “It can be truly said that she is a commandant of a unit or an entire fleet. Her strength of will is unbelievable, like our mother’s.”

Comedian Rita Rudner once rented a house in the Kensington area of London, England. On her first morning in the house, she went to her terrace and looked out over the neighborhood, where she saw a group of horses sunning themselves. This sounds normal — but the horses were on the top-story balcony of a high-rise. No, this was not a drug-induced hallucination. The horses belonged to the Queen, and she kept them in this horses-only apartment building.

King Ming-su was unhappy, although he was very powerful, very rich, and without mercy. He asked the Buddhist priest Si-tien to help him find happiness, so Si-tien put something in his hands, then a short time later, he took it away. As long as King Ming-su had it in his hands, he was happy, but when it was taken away from him, he became unhappy again. He asked, “What was I holding in my hands that made me happy?” Si-tien answered, “The present moment.”

At the London Palladium, comedian Peter Sellers told the audience that he was a quick-change artist who would show them what Queen Victoria had looked like when she was a just a lad. He disappeared for a few moments, then reappeared dressed in unlaced Army boots, a corset, a wig, and a fake beard, while carrying a stuffed crocodile. He then told the audience, “I’d like to be the first to admit that I do not know what Queen Victoria looked like when she was a lad.”

Following a concert in Manchester, Sir Thomas Beecham saw a woman he realized that he had met before, although he couldn’t remember where and he couldn’t remember who she was. Unable to get past her without her seeing him, he remembered that she had a brother, and so he went to the woman and asked about her brother and whether or not he still had the same job. The woman replied, “He is very well — and he is still King.”

At one time, mistresses were accepted. When King Edward VII died, his wife, Queen Alexandra, sent to his mistress, Lily Langtry, a box of handkerchiefs monogrammed with Lily’s initials. The handkerchiefs had been collected one by one from the Royal bedroom as Lily had carelessly left them behind. Not only were the handkerchiefs carefully laundered, but the Queen enclosed a letter of sympathy about her and Lily’s mutual loss.

Although he was a very fine pitcher, Dizzy Dean consistently mangled English, despite which he became a broadcaster after retiring from major league baseball. Once, a schoolteacher complained to him, “How can a network allow you to appear in front of a microphone when you don’t even know the King’s English?” Dizzy replied, “But, Ma’am, I do know it. In fact, I also know the Queen’s English.”

William Allen, a Quaker, was invited to have tea with Emperor Alexander of Russia. Mr. Allen tasted the tea, discovered that it was sweetened with sugar, and told the emperor that he could not drink it, as sugar was then harvested by slave labor. Emperor Alexander ordered unsweetened tea for Mr. Allen.

Sufi master Shemsu-’d-Din, aka Shems, tutored a very stupid but very handsome prince. He was so successful that the prince succeeded in memorizing the entire Quran. The prince’s accomplishment made people suspect that his tutor was a saint, so Shems slipped away quietly and went elsewhere.

Early in her career, soprano Frances Alda sang the part of the Princess in Marouf at the Metropolitan Opera. When someone asked why Ms. Alda should be given the part of the Princess, James Huneker replied, “There are two excellent reasons why Alda should sing the role. Her right and left legs.”

During the “Popish terror” of 1681, English citizens were very angry at Catholics. Thinking that Nell Gwynne was King Charles II’s Catholic mistress, they surrounded her carriage, but she was able to save herself by pointing out, correctly, “Good people, let me pass. I am the Protestant whore.”

When William Faulkner was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, Mississippi resident John Cullen wrote to the King of Norway suggesting that the award presenters serve Mr. Faulkner some opossum meat and collard greens. The king sent back a very nice reply.

Sir Cedric Hardwicke was knighted by King George V, who was hard of hearing and who had to ask for his name at the knighting ceremony. Mishearing Cedric Hardwick’s name, King George told him, “Rise, Sir Samuel Pickwick.”


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David Bruce: Royalty Anecdotes



As a world-famous British ballerina, Margot Fonteyn sometimes met royalty. Once, she met 15-year-old Princess Margaret. While shaking hands, Ms. Fonteyn started to lose her balance, but Princess Margaret steadied her both “expertly and unobtrusively,” causing Ms. Fonteyn to think, “They must be trained for this from childhood.” Princess Margaret once told Ms. Fonteyn after a ballet gala that was televised: “I must be careful what I say about the programme while the TV cameras are running. Deaf people can often lip-read from the screen.”

When Queen Hatshepsut ruled ancient Egypt, it was the world’s most powerful nation. When her father, Thutmose I, died without a male heir, she married her half brother, as was common in Egypt’s royal family then, and they ruled Egypt together. Her husband, Thutmose II, died after ten years of marriage, and his son by a concubine became Pharaoh Thutmose III. He was still a child, so Queen Hatshepsut became regent of Egypt. However, after seven years as regent, she named herself the King of Egypt. Because males dominated ancient Egyptian society, and because she wanted to reassure the ancient Egyptians that the kingship was in good hands, Queen Hatshepsut made sure artists portrayed her as a man. Ancient Egyptian works of art show her wearing the false beard that pharaohs wore, and they show her without breasts. She was also called “His Majesty,” although ancient scribes sometimes referred to her as “His Majesty, herself.” Most Egyptologists give her high marks because during her twenty-year reign Egypt was both prosperous and peaceful.

James M. Barrie once attended a birthday party for three-year-old Princess Margaret Rose, the daughter of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of England. About her favorite present, Mr. Barrie asked, “Is that your very own?” Princess Margaret immediately placed it between Mr. Barrie and herself, and said, “It is yours — and mine.” Later, the princess said about Mr. Barrie, “I know that man. He is my greatest friend — and I am his greatest friend.” At the princess’ birthday party, she spoke some words that Mr. Barrie liked so much that he told her that they would appear in his next play. In addition, he told her that he would pay her a royalty — she would receive a penny each time the character spoke her words on stage. Later, King George VI wrote Mr. Barrie and joked that unless he paid the princess her royalties, he would have his lawyers contact him. Mr. Barrie immediately set about acquiring a bag of bright new pennies to present to the princess.

Ramachandra Pratap Singh is a prince in Dolapur in India, and he will grow up to be a maharaja, or king, like his father. One day, the young prince had an annoying dream. He dreamed that he was attempting to ride a bicycle, but no matter how much he pedalled, he didn’t go anywhere. A crowd gathered and laughed at him. Eventually, a green-eyed girl in the crowd asked why a prince such as himself wanted to ride a bicycle. When Ramachandra answered that he wanted to have fun, the green-eyed girl said to him, “Didn’t you know that princes and kings have every power on earth except one — the right to have fun?” This dream worried Ramachandra — until his father played a joke on him and showed him that kings and princes can have fun.

During the French Revolution, King Louis XVI tried to escape in disguise as a valet from imprisonment, but a revolutionary named Jean-Baptiste Drouet saw through his disguise, recognized him, and told the people of Varennes that the king was trying to flee through their town. The townspeople stopped the King’s coach, but they wanted to be sure that in fact the King was inside. Therefore, they brought an old man who had often seen the King before to come look at the man who claimed to be a valet. The old man looked at the man, then knelt. King Louis XVI knew that he had been recognized, so he admitted, “I am indeed your King.” Shortly afterward, he was condemned to die at the guillotine.

On April 10, 1896, a Greek named Spyridon Louis won the marathon race at the Olympics held in Greece. He had trained by running after his mule as he carried water from village to village. After winning, he became famous, but he declined to take advantage of his celebrity even though his fellow Greeks offered him such things as free dinners and free haircuts. However, when King George I of Greece asked if there was anything he would like to have as a reward for winning the marathon, he replied, “Yes, please, a cart and a horse so I won’t have to run after my mule any more.”

King Christian X of Denmark was a good person. Although Denmark capitulated quickly when invaded by Germans during World War II, the Danes resisted the Holocaust by removing almost all of Denmark’s Jewish citizens to neutral Sweden, where they were safe. Adolf Hitler admired the non-Jewish citizens of Denmark and once suggested to King Christian X that the governments of the two countries be combined into one government. King Christian X replied, “I have given your suggestion much thought. But at my age, I think I am too old to rule over two countries.”

Child actress Vera Beringer played the lead role in Francis Hodgson Burnett’s play version of Little Lord Fauntleroy in London. At the conclusion of the opening night performance, Ms. Hodgson threw Vera a bouquet of roses and exclaimed, “Bless the child, and she did not forget a single word!” Later, Vera was able to meet some members of the royal family. She wasn’t sure whether to curtsey because she was a girl or bow because she was dressed as a boy. As it turned out, she didn’t have to do either because Prince Edward and Princess Alexandra kissed her.

When Gonxha (Agnes) Bojaxhiu announced her intention to become a nun, her brother Lazar, a soldier, reacted with disbelief because his sister was a vivacious young woman. But Gonxha replied that Lazar was proud to be serving a king who ruled over a few million subjects, while she would be serving the King of the entire world — God. Later, Gonxha became better known as Mother Teresa.

In 1642, the Puritans closed the theaters in England. By the time they reopened 18 years later, the boy actors who had played the roles of women had grown up and no apprentices had been available to learn to take their places. When theater-friendly King Charles II wanted to see a play, he was forced to wait until the man playing the Queen had finished shaving.

Magician Herrmann the Great once performed for Czar Alexander III of Russia, who respected brute strength. The czar took a deck of playing cards, tore them in half, then asked Herrmann the Great if he could do better. Herrmann the Great took the torn halves of the playing cards, set them on top of each other, then tore them in half again.

“Everyone likes flattery; and when you come to Royalty, you should lay it on with a trowel.” — Benjamin Disraeli.


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