In His Own Words: Impressions of European Royalty

Aug 30, 2013

Theodore Roosevelt felt a bit out of his element while serving as the special ambassador for the United States at the funeral of King Edward VII. Apparently, serving as President of the United States doesn’t prepare someone to navigate the intricacies, resentments, and myriad levels of European royalty.

Theodore Roosevelt in the procession of King Edward VII's funeral

Theodore Roosevelt in the procession of King Edward VII's funeral, May 20, 1910. From the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs collection.

“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 bear skins, 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 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 ultra-montane, 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 father 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 be 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 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; and they had a delightful row over the matter, as complicated and involved, and as utterly childish, as the rows in Washington, when it used to be a matter of no small engineering skill to have Dewey, Cannon, Frye, and the Chief Justice, all dine at the White House and yet never meet – the speaker of the House, the President of the Senate, and the Chief Justice each pointing to the Constitution as giving him precedence, while my beloved Dewey triumphantly based his own claims on the number of guns fired for him when he went aborad [sic] ship. With a fine sense of military subordination, by the way, the good Admiral insisted that he would walk behind the Secretary of the Navy, but ahead of all the other Cabinet officers; and several of the latter went ahead of the Naval Secretary, this meant that Dewey would have been sandwiched in to a kind of Dodo race.

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 car. The archduke was much pleased at his success, and rode next the engine in purple splendor; and all went well until dinner time, 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 [sic], he had to wait 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 himself 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 while taking to!’”

Posted by Grant Carlson on Aug 30, 2013 in History  |  Permalink  |  Comments (1)  |  Share this post

Mark Alan Smith said,

The TR account sounds as if a World War was already in the offing but no one knew it yet.

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