Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Weird But True: George II Robbed In Kensington Gardens

London truly is the city where anything can happen, no matter how bizarre, and where people accept it with perfect stiff-upper lip. The story of George II getting robbed in his own garden is a perfect example. Some believe this to be an 18th century urban myth, but the story was believed by the Royal family itself who apparently passed it down the generations.

The version that has come down to us was once told by King William IV, 70 to 100 years after the fact. It was recorded by the 19th century diarist Charles Greville who heard it secondhand at a dinner on December 13th, 1843:

(Lord) Duncannon in the evening told me the story of George II’s robbery in Kensington Gardens, which I had heard before, but remembered imperfectly. He was walking with William IV, he said, in Kensington Gardens, and when they got to a certain spot the King said to him:

“It was here, my Lord, that my great-grandfather, King George II, was robbed. He was in the habit of walking every morning alone round the garden, and one day a man jumped over the wall, approached the King with great respect, and told him he was in distress, and was compelled to ask him for his money, his watch and the buckles in his shoes. The King gave him what he had about him, and the man knelt down to take off his buckles, all the time with profound respect.

“When he had got everything, the King told him that there was a seal on the watch chain of little or no value, but which he wished to have it back, and requested he would take it off the chain and restore it. The man said: ‘Your Majesty must be aware that we have already been here some time, and that it is not safe for me to stay longer, but if you will give me your word not to say anything of what has passed for twenty-four hours, I will place the seal at the same hour tomorrow morning on that stone’, pointing to a particular place.
"The King promised, went back the next morning at the appointed hour, the man appeared, brought the seal, and then jumped over the wall and went off.
His Majesty never afterwards walked alone in Kensington Gardens.”

It’s unclear in which part of Kensington Gardens the event happened, or indeed how much of Greville, Duncannon and William IV’s imaginations shaped this story, but having lived in London for 12 years I don’t find it that hard to believe. After all, Buckingham Palace itself has been broken into several times, including the famous incident in 1979 when Michael Fagan made it all the way to the Queen’s bedroom. In 1838, a teenage intruder even fled the Palace with Queen Victoria’s underwear stuffed down his trousers. But that’s a story for another ‘Weird but True’ post…

George II in flashy robes: Is it any wonder he was a target for thieves?

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