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A King’s Funeral

July 2024
15min read
When King Edward VII died in 1910 President Taft appointed his illustrious predecessor, Theodore Roosevelt, as special representative of the United States at the funeral. It was one of the last great gatherings of Europe’s royalty before World War I toppled many of the monarchs from their thrones.
This remarkable account of the occasion was written by Roosevelt to a friend, David Gray, with strict instructions that it must not be made public until the chief personages had passed from the scene. It has been selected now by the editor of the Roosevelt letters, Elting E. Morison, along with two other long T. R. letters, for publication in a volume entitled Cowboys and Kings. The following text omits certain passages not relating to the royal funeral.

--The Editors

October 5, 1911 Oyster Bay

For nobody’s eyes but yours

Dear Gray:

Here goes for a painfully inadequate effort to meet the request which you so solemnly made “in the name of the Gods of Mirth and Truth.”

Having been wired that I was appointed Special Ambassador, I felt of course that I must serve. Knowing the sweet reasonableness, not merely of Congress but of the general public, in such matters, I never accepted a dollar either directly or indirectly for my services, and declined to take advantage of the privilege proffered me of taking in my belongings free of duty. This did not make any difference, however, so far as Congress and the public were concerned; for at intervals since then Congress has at times proposed to investigate me to find out how much of the public money I spent, and to this day I am occasionally reproached with having taken my belongings in free—you doubtless remember Cloudberry’s remark, of which I am so fond, about “the infinite capacity of the human brain to withstand the introduction of knowledge.”

Most of the time we were in England we were guests of Arthur Lee, sometimes at his London House, and sometimes at his country place, Chequers Court. Arthur Lee had the most delightful parties imaginable at Chequers to meet us. just the right people—Balfour, Alfred Lyttelton. Oliver—who wrote The Life of Hamilton —Kitchener, Roberts and Lady Roberts, and a number of others.

The only man I did not like was Kitchener. He suddenly attacked me on the subject of the Panama Canal, saying that it was a great mistake not to have made it a sea-level canal. I at first answered in a non-committal way, but he kept on the subject and in a very loud voice repeated that it was a great mistake, that it was very foolish on our part, not to have had it a sea-level canal, and lie could not understand why we did not build one. I said that our engineers on the ground reported that there were altogether too many difficulties and too few advantages in a sea-level canal, to which he responded: “I never regard difficulties, or pay heed to protests like that; all I would do in such a case would be to say ‘I order that a sea-level canal be dug, and I wish to hear nothing more about it.’” I answered, “If you say so, I have no doubt you would have given such an order; but I wonder if you remember the conversation between Glendower and Hotspur, when Glendower says, ‘I can call spirits from the vasty deep,’ and Hotspur answers. ‘So can I, and so can any man; but will they come?’” I think he did not entirely understand the quotation, and he reiterated that he would have ordered it to be a sea-level canal, and would have listened to no protests from the engineers. By this time I thought I might as well end the conversation, and I told him that Colonel Goethals who was actually digging the canal was in my judgment the very best man in the world for the job, and the man whose opinion was best worth taking, that Goethals had never seen the Sudan, just as he, Kitchener, had never seen Panama, and that I would trust the opinion of Goethals rather than Kitchener as to Goethals’ job in Panama just as I would trust the opinion of Kitchener rather than Goethals if Goethals should criticize Kitchener’s job in the Sudan.

Balfour, Lyttelton and Oliver were three of the most charming men whom I ever met. At first Balfour talked merely on general subjects; but I happened to make the remark that I had “never demanded of knowledge anything except that it should be valueless,” which for some reason or another proved the key to unlock his intimate thoughts, and from that time he spoke of everything of the closest possible nature.

I dislike Winston Churchill and would not meet him, but I was anxious to meet both Lloyd George and John Burns, and I took a real fancy to both. John Burns struck me as having a saner judgment, Lloyd George being very emotional; but of course Lloyd George was the most powerful statesman I met in England, in fact the man of power. As regards internal politics, I was much more in sympathy with them than with Balfour and Lyttelton; but, taking internal and external politics together. Edward Grey was the man to whom I was really drawn.

I was really too much driven while in England to enjoy things as I otherwise would have done, but I liked my visits to Oxford and particularly to Cambridge. The Cambridge students greeted me just as the students of our own colleges would have greeted me. On my arrival they had formed in two long ranks, leaving a pathway for me to walk between them, and at the final turn in this pathway they had a Teddy Bear seated on the pavement with outstretched paw to greet me: and when I was given my degree in the chapel the students had rigged a kind of pulley arrangement by which they tried to let down a very large Teddy Bear upon me as I took the degree—I was told that when Kitchener was given his degree they let down a Mahdi upon him, and a monkey on Darwin under similar circumstances.

I had another funny experience, on this occasion with the editor of The Times . A number of editors were invited to meet me at lunch. The first five or six spoke to me with the utmost solemnity, and by the time the editor of The Times had come up. I felt that the occasion had grown too funereal, and so I said to him, “It does not seem to me that you and I ought to waste our time in talking of merely frivolous subjects, and I should like to discuss with you the possible outcome of the controversy between Mr. Johnson and Mr. Jeffries.” He looked at me perfectly solemnly, muttered something, and went on. Some months afterwards Sydney Brooks wrote me that this same editor had remarked to him after the Nevada prize ring fiasco that he had always been much puzzled by my remark, and thought I must have been laboring under some delusion because he did not know whether I referred to Dr. Johnson or Ben Jonson, and to Lord Jeffreys or the editor of the Quarterly , and anyhow they were not any of them contemporaries, but he was now much struck by the coincidence that a Negro and a white man who possessed the names I had mentioned had been engaged in a prize fight in America, and it was such an odd coincidence that he really thought he would have to write to me about it!

There was much that was both amusing and interesting in connection with my being special ambassador to the funeral of poor King Edward. All the special ambassadors were, of course, treated with much ceremony and pomp, and I was given a special carriage of State and a guard of six magnificent grenadiers in bearskins, who lined up and saluted me whenever I left or entered the Embassy, while the bugler sounded off—or whatever the technical expression is. Whitelaw Reid [American Ambassador to Great Britain— Ed. ] is thoroughly at home in all such matters, and was both dignified and efficient, and Harry White and my two special aides. Lord Cochrane and Captain Cunninghame R.N., accompanied me on all my formal calls. Not only all the kings I had met, but the two or three I had not previously met, were more than courteous, and the Kaiser made a point of showing his intimacy with me and of discriminating in my favor over all his fellow sovereigns. The only man among the royalties who obviously did not like me was the Archduke Ferdinand, who is an ultramontane, and at bottom a furious reactionary in every way, political and ecclesiastical both. All of the special ambassadors were either sovereigns or princes of the blood royal, excepting Pichon, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, and myself.


The night before the funeral there was a veritable wake,—I hardly know what else to call it. King George gave a dinner to the special ambassadors in Buckingham Palace, the palace in which the dead king his lather was lying in state. There was some seventy of us all told. Each man as he arrived said some word of perfunctory condolence to the king our host, and then on with the revel! It was not possible to keep up an artificial pretense of grief any longer, and nobody tried; and it was precisely like any other entertainment. The king sat in the middle of one side of the table, and the Emperor opposite him, and the rest of us were arranged elsewhere without as far as I could judge much attention being paid to rank. I sat with Prince Henry of Prussia on my right hand, and on my left a tall, shambling young man in a light blue uniform, whose card proclaimed him to lie the Prince of Cumberland, or Prince Somebody of Cumberland, I forget which. For lack of other subjects of conversation, I said to him that although his title was English, yet that he himself seemed to be German; and with a melancholy glance at the very vivacious Emperor, who was diagonally opposite us, he answered that he ought to be Prince of Brunswick and King of Hanover, and would be “if it were not for him,” nodding his head to indicate the Emperor. I felt like suggesting to him to relieve his feelings by throwing a carafe at the usurper.

As soon as I entered the room the Bulgarian Czar came up to speak to me, and to thank me for various things I had done for the Bulgarians, a people who have always interested me and in whom I have always believed. He is a very competent fellow, but with some unattractive traits, and at the moment all the other sovereigns were angry with him because he had suddenly christened himself czar instead of king, which they regarded as bumptious. Moreover he had had an intricate row about precedence with the Archduke Ferdinand on the way to the I funeral. The Archduke Ferdinand does not like Bulgaria or its czar, and insisted that as the heir apparent to a real and big empire he was entitled to precedence which the Czar of course flatly denied.


Well, the Czar and the Archduke came to London on the same express train. The Czar’s private carriage was already on it, and the archduke had his put on at Vienna. Each wished to have his carriage ahead of the other, but the archduke triumphed and had his placed nearest the engine, the Czar’s carriage coming next, and then the dining carriage. The archduke was much pleased at his success, and rode next the engine in purple splendor; and all went well until dinner lime, when he sent word to the czar saying that he should like to walk through his carriage to the dining saloon, and the czar sent back word that he could not! Accordingly, breathing stertorously. he had to wail until a station came, get out and get into the dining saloon, and after eating his dinner wait until another station was reached, get out again, and pop back into his own carriage. This struck all his brother royalties as a most serious matter, and the German Emperor had heatedly sided with the Austrians. Accordingly, while I was talking to the Czar, the Emperor suddenly walked up to us, thrust himsell in ahead of the Czar, turned his back square to him and said to me: “Roosevelt, my friend, I want to introduce you to the King of Spain”; (then with a sudden ferocious glance over his shoulder at the Czar) “ he is worth talking to!”

The King of Spain, by the way, was worth while talking to. I was much impressed by him. He at first thanked me for having behaved with such courtesy and consideration to Spain while I was President, and I told him of course that I had simply done my duty, for which I deserved no thanks, and that anyhow it was a real pleasure for me to do anything I could for Spain. He then said, looking me straight in the face, “I am glad to meet you, Mr. Roosevelt, I have admired your public career, and I have also admired your military career, though I am sorry that your honors should have been won at the expense of my countrymen.” I bowed and said: “Your Majesty, I have always borne testimony, and I always shall bear testimony, to the gallantry and courage your countrymen showed in battle: although frankly I cannot speak as highly of their leadership.” To which lie responded: “I should think not! I should think not! but I am glad to have you speak thus of the courage of the soldiers.”

The unfortunate Prince Consort of Holland was at the dinner. He came up and began to talk with me, but the Emperor pounced on me again for some purpose, paying not the slightest heed to the wretched Prince George, who drifted off with fat meekness, and evidently was not regarded as of the slightest consequence by anyone. The King of Denmark, a nice old boy, alter greeting me introduced his brother, the King of Greece, also a nice old boy, but a preposterous character as a king. He was feebly clamoring that something ought to be done for Greece, in Crete and in Thessaly by the Powers, and on a later day saw me for an hour begging me to say something for Greece against Turkey, and repeating his complaints and requests over and over and over again, in response to my equally often reiterated statement that it was not a matter with which I could possibly interfere or about which I could possibly say anything.

Among those present at the dinner were various representatives of the royal family of France, all of whom came up and were more than polite, partly on the strength of my having met the daughter of the Come de Paris, the wife of an Italian duke, at Naples—a really charming woman, who had hunted in Africa, and got our Ambassador to bring me out to tea—and partly on the strength of the Come de Paris’ presence with the Army of the Potomac. I think the consideration they were shown at the funeral was one of the reasons why Pichon was irritated. He is a queer looking creature at best, but on this particular evening anger made him look like a gargoyle. His clothes were stiff with gold lace and he wore sashes and orders, for I was the only man present in ordinary evening dress. He had all along held me as his natural companion and ally, because we represented the two republics, and were the only people present who were not royalties. Before dinner he got me aside and asked me in French, as he did not speak English, what colored coat my coachman had worn that evening. I told him I did not know; whereupon he answered that his coachman had a black coat. I nodded and said Yes, I thought mine had a black coat also. He responded with much violence that this was an outrage, a slight upon the two great republics, as all the Royalties’ coachmen wore red coats, and that he would at once make a protest on behalf of us both. I told him to hold on, that he must not make any protest on my behalf, that I did not care what kind of coat my coachman wore, and would lie perfectly willing to see him wear a green coal with yellow splashes—“ un paletot vert avec des taches jaunes ,” being my effort at idiomatic rendering of the idea, for I speak French, I am sorry to say, as it were a non-Aryan tongue, without tense or gender, although with agglutinative vividness and fluency. My incautious incursion into levity in a foreign tongue met appropriate punishment, for I spent the next fifteen minutes in eradicating from Pichon’s mind the belief that I was demanding these colors as my livery. However I think it had the effect of diverting him from his own woe, and nothing more happened that evening.

But next morning when at eight o’clock, in evening dress, I turned up at the palace to go to Windsor, I found Pichon Availing for me more angry than ever. He was to go in the same carriage with me, and walking hastily up, and his voice shaking, he pointed out the very gorgeous-looking carriage in which we were to go and said that it was an outrage, that all the royalties had glass toadies and we did nut. As I had never heart! of a glass coach excepting in connection with Cinderella, I was less impressed by the omission than he was; and he continued that “ces Chinois” were put ahead of us. To this I answered that any people dressed as gorgeously as “ces Chinois” ought to go ahead of us; but he responded that it was not a laughing matter. Then he added that “ce Perse” had been put in with us, pointing out a Persian prince of the blood royal, a deprecatory, inoffensive-looking Levantine of Parisian education, who was obviously ill at ease, but whom Pichon insisted upon regarding as somebody who wanted to be offensive. At this moment our coach drove up, and Pichon bounced into it. I supposed he had gotten in to take the right-hand rear seat; as to which I was totally indifferent, for my experience at the White House had given me a horror of squabbles over precedence, and the one thing upon which I had insisted with our Ambassadors was that I should sit or walk or stand whenever any of my hosts wished me to. But Pichon was scrupulous in giving me precedence, although I have no idea whether I was entitled to it or not. He sat on the left rear seat himself, stretched his arm across the right seat and motioned me to get in so that “ce Perse” should not himself take the place of honor! Accordingly I got in, and the unfortunate Persian followed, looking about as unaggressive as a rabbit in a cage with two boa constrictors.

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


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