A Royal Welcome

(“The other person to be informed was the game keeper. “)  

Are you as bemused as I at the volume of media coverage constantly lavished on the British royal family? Even upon random cousins who are about eleventeenth in line for the throne? And, oh, let me remind you, it’s not even our throne.

Nearly 40 years ago I observed this phenomenon up close in the home country. I was teaching a cluster of clinics near the English–Scottish border. One of my hosts was a Three Day Team rider married to Timmy, a minor nobleman, who happened to the MFH of the Morpeth Hounds in Northumberland. Their residence, a fortified manor house, had been in the family since the 1200s.

Penny, the rider, was a former Carnaby Street model who took the whole nobility thing with a heavy grain of salt but knew not to turn down “a good ride.” With a twinkle in her eye, she told of her star struck maid arising early to stand at the grade crossing in their tiny village to wave at Her Majesty’s private train as it blasted through at about 90 mph on its way to Edinburgh.

Timmy, the hunt master, elaborated on the esteem in which the Royals were held, especially by “the common people.” On one occasion Prince Charles was to join them in the hunting field. As an aside, Charles was admired as a bold rider who would fearlessly ride down to any five bar gate. Presumably the NHS offered fairly good rates for princes.

The news that the Prince would attend the hunt was held close to the vest so as not to clog up the roads and fields with throngs of enthusiastic sightseers, but as a courtesy the principal landowners would be notified that he would ride over their properties. The other person to be informed was the game keeper. He was to “stop the earths”—fill in the foxes’ holes so their quarry would not go to ground but give the Prince a good run. As Timmy tells the story, not much past dawn on the morning of the meet as he galloped through the rising mist, the Prince at his flank, they came upon the game keeper in his Wellies and his best Sunday suit standing all alone in his field at rigid attention to honor Charles’ passing.