Your RDA of Irony

English Hystery

Once upon a time, an English king had a stammer.  However, thanks to a decisive form of surgery, Charles I was cured.  That therapy happened on this day in 1649.

But some 350 years late, my friend Hal Gordon is still trying to save King Charles.  Hal has taken up fencing so he is ready to skewer entire regiments of Roundheads.  Unfortunately, time travel remains a challenge.  Hal’s first attempt transported him 750,000 years into the future where he found himself siding with the Morlocks.  (Well, Hal is a Republican.)

Even worse for Hal, it seems that Charles I defies rescue.  The Four Musketeers tried it in “Twenty Years After.”  (Actually, the sequel to “The Three Musketeers” came out just a year later.  Dumas had no problem with writer’s block; he had a staff of ghostwriters.)  The Musketeers think they have the rescue plan all worked out.  The real axeman is kidnapped and replaced by one of the Frenchmen; the others are hiding under the scaffold.  Somehow they will snatch the king, fight their way out of London and make it to the ship awaiting them in the Channel. 

Will they need a miracle?  As a matter of fact, they do have an omniscient power on their side:  Oliver Cromwell.  He knows exactly what they are planning and intends to let them succeed–up to a point.  Cromwell prefers not to be blamed for regicide, so he will let Charles escape–at least from England.  But, if the ship in the Channel should mysteriously explode before reaching France, Cromwell can’t be blamed for that.  (Only suspected.)

In any case, Charles should have survived the scaffold.  However, the Musketeers’ hopes, Cromwell’s scheme and King Charles’ neck are spoiled by Mordaunt, the thoroughly vindictive son of Lady DeWinter.  With his Oedipal devotion, Mordaunt is determined to kill everyone from the first novel.  He, too, disguises himself as an axeman and he gets to the scaffold ahead of the musketeer.   Now, if John Woo had worked for Dumas, there could have a great dueling scene between the two axemen.  But Dumas simply has Mordaunt kill the king; the author saves the climactic confrontation abroad the floating bomb in the English Channel. 

(You will be relieved to know that the Musketeers survive, and there is no vindictive grandson of Lady DeWinter in “The Man in the Iron Mask”.)

However, I digress–which is my usual means of communication.  But if Hal can travel back to the 17th century, so might someone else–not merely to spoil the rescue but to make “Paradise Lost” funny.

And now for a  factual account of this day’s history:

  1. Joan Stewart Smith says:

    Eugene, speaking of surgery and kings, did you know that Edward VII had to postpone his coronation due to an acute attack of appendicitis?

    Edward protested: “I have a coronation on hand.” His doctor replied, “It will be a funeral if you don’t have the operation.”

  2. Hal Gordon says:

    Joan — Did you ever see the marvelous 1975 TV series, “Edward the King”? It was based on the Philip Magnus bio. In the episode dealing with the king’s need to postpone his coronation for an immediate operation, the king storms, “I’m going to be crowned if I die in the abbey!” To which the doctor replies, “That is exactly what will happen, sir!”

    Eugene —

    Nobody could make “Paradise Lost” funny, but Robert Browning may have recruited some fans for Charles I with the following poem:

    Boot and Saddle

    Boot, saddle, to horse, and away!
    Rescue my castle, before the hot day
    Brightens the blue from its silvery grey,

    (Chorus) “Boot, saddle, to horse, and away!”

    Ride past the suburbs, asleep as you’d say;
    Many’s the friend there, will listen and pray
    “God’s luck to gallants that strike up the lay,

    (Chorus) “Boot, saddle, to horse, and away!”

    Forty miles off, like a roebuck at bay,
    Flouts Castle Brancepeth the Roundheads array:
    Who laughs, Good fellows ere this, by my fay,

    (Chorus) “Boot, saddle, to horse, and away!”

    Who? My wife Gertrude; that, honest and gay,
    Laughs when you talk of surrendering, “Nay!
    I’ve better counsellors; what counsel they?”

    (Chorus) “Boot, saddle, to horse, and away!”

    • Eugene Finerman says:


      I certainly remember the series and I share your enthusiasm. Timothy West gave a wonderful performance as Bertie, a man dismissed as an affable playboy who turned out to be a wise statesman. (Shades of Prince Hal, although Lillie Langtry was quite a different conquest than Agincourt.) The supporting cast included John Gielgud as Disraeli and Michael Hordern as Gladstone; that seems almost a surfeit of riches.

      But, for me, the most memorable and poignant episodes were the depiction of Bertie’s unhappy youth. The likable, good-hearted prince was brow-beaten and despised by his father. Yes, the exemplary Albert was a very unsympathetic father to a child who did not meet the highest standards. In distinct contrast to poor Bertie was his older sister Princess Victoria; the highly intelligent, diligent, serious-minded young woman was truly the offspring of Albert. And the Prince Consort adored her as much as he despised his oldest son. When Princess Victoria leaves England to marry Crown Prince Frederick of Prussia, Albert sobs. He is losing his favorite child, a friend and kindred soul. This complicated portrait of Albert is a remarkable feat by Robert Hardy, the finest performance in his long and admirable career. (He is now the devious but incompetent Minister Fudge in the Harry Potters series)

      Victoria was played by Annette Crosbie, who broke my heart as Catherine of Aragon in “The Six Wives of Henry VIII”. I remember a feature story about Ms. Crosbie at the time that “Edward VII” was being broadcast. Her youngest child didn’t quite understand the nature of acting and was upset to see her mother die on TV. (As if Victoria died young?!)


  3. Joan Stewart Smith says:

    Hi Hal, yes, I actually saw the 1975 ITV series (called “Edward VII” in the UK with Timothy West) a few months ago with my British mother-in-law. A great bonding experience! In fact, I first learned about the king’s appendicitis in the scene that you so described. That was meaningful because I’d just gone through that – the appendicitis, that is – not the coronation!

  4. Joan Stewart Smith says:

    Eugene, I agree that Robert Hardy was splendid as Prince Albert in that series. Annette Crosbie was a very convincing Queen Victoria.

    (As fond as I am of Queen Victoria, I turned to my British mother-in-law, who was watching the series with me, and said, “Thank heaven I don’t have a mother-in-law like that!”)

    I had some trouble when they switched from the young to the mature actors playing Alexandra and Bertie, but of course, how else could they have done it? No CGI in those days.

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