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Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Sherlock Holmes Among the Royals

Royalty in Baker Street -- The King of Bohemia

The passing of Queen Elizabeth II, the only British monarch in most of our lifetimes, has me thinking about Sherlock Holmes and royalty.

We all know that Holmes shot a patriotic V.R. in bullet holes on the wall of his flat at 221B in honor of Victoria Regina, the “certain gracious lady” who honored him at Windsor with “a remarkably fine emerald tie pin” for his efforts in the Bruce-Partington affair. (Hilton Cubitt went to London for her Diamond Jubilee in 1897.) 

Holmes also had many royal clients, most memorably the King of Bohemia—whoever he was. Since there is no such monarch, the man’s true identity has always been a ripe field for speculation. Edgar W. Smith and William S. Baring-Gould, among others, believed him to be the future King Edward VII.

Certainly, Victoria’s playboy son is “The Illustrious Client” in the story of that name, where the armorial bearings upon a brougham revealed his identity to Watson. The same phrase is used by James Holder to describe the individual (clearly a royal wastrel) who gave him “one of the most precious public possessions of the empire” as security for a loan.

The “King of Bohemia” was engaged to the daughter of the King of Scandinavia (Norway and Sweden), who engaged Holmes’s services at least twice, according to “The Noble Bachelor” and “The Final Problem.”

Moving down the royal family tree, John Clay—murderer, thief, smasher, and forger—was the grandson of a royal duke. After that, the royal connections to Baker Street thin out. Six busts of Napoleon were involved in a crime spree, Watson lived on Queen Anne Street, and Charles Augustus Milverton was the king of blackmailers.

But Sherlock Holmes, called “Il re dei detective” (the king of detectives) in one Italian text,  was never much impressed by family and titles. Perhaps the monarch that meant the most to him was the queen bee and her royal jelly. After all, the magnum opus of his later years included Some Observations upon the Segregation of the Queen.

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