Thousands of people watched the funeral parade of King Edward VII.
The POTUS and the King
The nearly eight years Theodore Roosevelt spent as President coincided with the reign of Edward VII (1841-1910) of England. TR was only 42 when he became POTUS; The King acceded to the throne when he was nearly sixty.
The King had spent more than four decades as the Prince of Wales during the 63-year reign of his mother, Queen Victoria. Despite a well-deserved reputation as a rakish playboy, he surprised most people by honing his natural good nature and pleasant disposition into some serious diplomatic skills.
Naturally the new President was eager to solidify a growing close relationship with the once-Mother Country. The President and the King began a cordial and regular correspondence. Personal visits (at that time) were not according to protocol.
Deciding that their affinity should be cemented with a handshake, King Edward VII invited Theodore Roosevelt (after his presidential retirement) to pay him a visit. Now only fifty years old, TR planned a year-long safari in Africa, and intended to make rounds among several European countries on his way home. A nice visit to London, especially quartered at Buckingham Palace, was the capstone on that agenda.
It is hard for any President to surpass a term or two in the White House. Nevertheless, the former President wished to give his chosen successor, William Howard Taft a little breathing room, so TR-the-naturalist (one of his many serious interests) planned a mega hunting trip in East Africa, under the auspices of the Smithsonian Institution. Not only did he agree to send specimens back to the Smithsonian for research and educational purposes, he had committed to sending regular articles to several newspapers, magazines and publishers.
He and his son Kermit, and a supporting cast of hundreds, hunted, wrote, camped out and had the time of their lives.
Once the expedition ended, Edith Roosevelt met up with her husband in Europe. Now clean, comfortably bedded and back in civilization as it were, he embarked on another “good will tour” – this time to take a bow in the great capitals on the continent, planning to end his travels in London.
Shortly before the Roosevelts were to visit London, King Edward VII died unexpectedly. He was only sixty-eight.
Roosevelt, in Germany at the time, received a cable from President Taft.
To Theodore Roosevelt, American embassy, Berlin:
I should be very glad if you would act as special ambassador to represent the United States at the funeral of King Edward VII. I am sure the English people will be highly gratified at your presence in this capacity, and that our people will strongly approve it. Have as yet received no official notice of the date of funeral, but it is said it will take place on the 20th of this month. Please answer. (Signed) “WILLIAM H. TAFT.”
From Berlin, on May 10, TR sent a one-word response: Accept.
The announcement that former President Roosevelt would attend as the special representative of the United States was indeed received with great satisfaction by the British public. He was, by this time, was the most famous living American.
Europe’s Uncle Bertie
Funeral processions and all the related obsequies for royalty are very different from those of mere mortal citizens. For a British monarch, the traditions go back for centuries, and are literally written in stone.
They also do not happen quickly, especially since the King’s death was unexpected and no pre-preparation had been undertaken. Heads of state from all over planned to attend. After all, most of them were relatives. Queen Victoria had nine children, all married with progeny, and the continent was filled with royals and near-royals who claimed close kinship with the extremely popular monarch. The splendor and assemblage surpassed anything ever before seen – including Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee a dozen years earlier.
It was the largest gathering of European monarchy to ever take place, with representatives from 70 different states. It would also be the last grand parade of royalty. Within five years, Europe would be in the flames of The Great War (WWI) and four empires would collapse.
The arrangements to house and feed this enormous assemblage was daunting by itself. It is claimed that the food bill alone was well into the millions of dollars (in today’s money). And each head of state and relative came with a retinue. And horses. And all required appropriate shelter and feeding. The meets and the greets, the bowing and scraping, the visiting and the being visited, and the protocol of who was to follow whom, and who stood beside whom was challenging in itself, trying to please and placate and gratify the massive egos involved.
The March of the Kings….and Grand Dukes….&c….And Theodore Roosevelt
Nine Sovereigns attended the funeral of King Edward VII: King Haakon (Norway), Tsar Ferdinand (Bulgaria), King Manuel II (Portugal and the Algarves), Kaiser Wilhelm II (Germany/Prussia) King George I (Greece), King Albert I (Belgium), King Alfonso XIII (Spain), son-and-now-King George V (United Kingdom) and King Frederick VIII (Denmark). The only major monarch who did not attend was Tsar Nicholas II (Russia), who sent several personal emissaries. All were closely related to the late King.
Then there were a dozen close relatives and in-laws, all Royal Highnesses, Imperial Highnesses and Serene Highnesses. Followed by thirty-nine Grand Dukes and Princes (also related), and another twenty-five not-quite-so-close relatives, with varying degrees of title. All wore their country’s finest uniforms and decorations, ribbons and insignias. And hats.
And this doesn’t even count the “female” relatives!
Then there was Theodore Roosevelt, wearing plain daytime formal clothes, and carrying his coat. It was a bit much for the former Rough Rider.
He later grumbled privately, “If I met another king, I should bite him,”
Los Angeles Herald, Volume 37, Number 223, 12 May 1910
Dalton,, Kathlen – Theodore Roosevelt: A Strenuous Life – 2004, Vintage
Morris, Edmund – Colonel Roosevelt – Random House, 2010