Coincidentally: Noble Thoughts

Although Persian and English share no etymological roots, the word “bad” means the same in both. This should alert us to another coincidence involving speakers of those two tongues. During World War II, Prince Hamid Qajar, who died in 1988, fought in the British Royal Navy under the pseudonym David Drummond, serving on H.M.S. Duke of York at the Battle of North Cape. One evening the Ukrainian pianist, Lev Pouishnov, stayed on board during a concert visit to Scapa Flow. After dinner in the wardroom, Pouishnov showed the officers a gold cigarette case. Lieutenant “Drummond” produced an identical case from his pocket. Pouishnov dropped to his knee and kissed his hand. The pianist later confided: “That is the heir to the throne of Persia. His father gave me my cigarette case years ago after a concert.”

Tobacco figures in another royal coincidence. Corporal Augustin Fernando Munoz y Sanchez was the son of a tobacconist, but left that trade to become a royal guard. During an afternoon drive in 1833, Maria Cristina, Queen Regent of Spain as mother of King Fernando III, had a nosebleed. The corporal gave her a handkerchief. Months later, he was again in attendance when the her carriage skidded off the road in the Guadarrama mountains, and again he offered the queen a handkerchief. Soon they secretly married, and he was made a Grandee of the First Order and Duke of Riansares. In a strange juxtaposition, the Swiss Canton of Basel was divided the same year these two were joined.

In 1919, the year that Nancy Langhorn Astor, Virginia tobacco and land heiress, became the first woman to take a seat in the House of Commons, Princess Ayesha, daughter of the maharajah of Cooch Behar, was born. When she attained the diadem of Jaipur, she became the first maharani to sit in Parliament.

Here the tobacco connection with fades, but the royal coincidences perdure. In 1961 Hope Cooke of the United States agreed to marry the Maharaj-Prince Sikkim Palden Thandoup Namgal who became King of Sikkim in 1963, the year that Queen Margrethe of Denmark met her future husband, Count Henri de Laborde de Montpezat. And on the 125th anniversary of the Australian Parliament in 1975, the exiled King Leka I of Albania fell in love with Susan Cullen-Ward, daughter of an Australian sheep farmer.

A more elevated coincidence attaches to St. Elizabeth of Hungary (1207-1231) and St. Elizabeth of Portugal (1271-1336), for the saints were queens of their countries, matched each other in Franciscan solicitude for the poor, and were related: The Hungarian was a great- aunt of the Portugese. Neither smoked. Far different in spiritual expression was King George I of England, who spoke no English. In conversation with his prime minister, Robert Walpole, who spoke no German, he spoke Latin, although both opposed the Church of Rome. King George enjoyed a bit of angling, which gives a nice touch to the fact that a collateral descendant, James Ogilvy, son of HRH the Princess Alexandra, was attacked by a shark without incident in Bermuda in November 1997. Shortly thereafter, a sea gull dropped a rubber fish into his golf cart. This certainly was as strange as the eagle dropping a tortoise on the head of Aeschylus. Coming right on the heels of a shark attack, it was even stranger.

It is said that King Edward VII spoke with something of a German accent, which is not surprising given his unpleasant early home life. At the height of Hanoverian influence, in 1768 to be exact, in a quiet corner of an Essex garden an Auricula plant produced 133 blooms. Little remarked then by horticulturalists, we remember the plant for a different reason: The sum of 1768 and 133 is the year of Edward’s accession. Queen Alexandra, who loathed Germans because of her Danish blood, admired and cultivated the Auricula, apparently unaware of the phenomenon of 1768. She also permitted her husband one last cigar as he was dying, thus bringing our reverie full circle. In the final reckoning, even crowns are as ephemeral as rings of smoke. At least royal governors are spectacles more enjoyable than uncrowned heads of state who forbid their fellow citizens to smoke. This is so, notwithstanding the warning of actress Brooke Shields: “Smoking kills. If you’re killed, you’ve lost a very important part of your life.”


*Originally published in Crisis Magazine

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