Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Death of the Duke of York

HRH Prince Edward Duke of York, younger brother of Britain's King George III and a rear admiral in the Royal Navy was 28 when he went on a tour of the continent, going from Paris he headed toward Genoa where he planned to meet a beloved girlfriend. While at a party in Toulon he seemed to take sick and was advised to take rest but refused and inisted on going on his way. He left on August 29, 1767 against the advice of his retinue. Instead of going to Genoa by sea he proceeded overland and stopped in at the small Principality of Monaco. HSH Prince Honore III, who was in Normandy, rushed home to meet so high-ranking a guest which was a rather unusal honor for the isolated country. The Sovereign Prince pulled out all the stops to honor the Duke who stood tall and handsome in full uniform despite the extreme heat as the Monegasque honor guard saluted in his honor. However, the trip and all worsened his condition and he became feverish and Honore III had the Duke put up in his state bedchamber.

The Prince of Monaco provided the best care for the Duke he could, calling in local physicians and doctors from Nice but, lacking the medical facilities of Paris or London, little could be done. His condition rapidly declined and Honore wished to inform King George III but the Duke would not allow it. He himself finally dictated an apologetic letter to his brother, with whom he had grown apart since their youth, and he thanked Honore III for all of the care he had provided as well as the doctors who had attended him. On September 17 the Duke of York passed away and Honore III ordered full honors be given with a cannon shot every half hour and the Duke laid in state in his own bed with the room decorated according to the English customs of mourning with a black canopy over the bed which was placed on a raised dias in the middle of the room that was draped in black for the occasion.

The frigate HMS Montreal was dispatched to bring the King's brother home and Honore III ordered artillery salutes and waited himself by the landing as the coffin bearing the Duke's body and all of his attendants were taken aboard. The Royal Standard was dropped to half-mast and the Sovereign Prince ordered a salute of two more cannon shots from the ramparts of the fortress and two volleys from the Monegasque regiment drawn up in salute as the remains of the Duke of York departed Monaco. The room in which Prince Edward died in the Prince's Palace has been known ever since as the York Room and in thanks for the care given his brother King George III sent Prince Honore two of the Duke's best race horses and invited him to London as his guest to show his appreciation. Honore III was honored to go, hoping it might lead to a closer relationship between Great Britain and Monaco which was not to be, the King being very polite and correct but no more.

It was a sad occasion for Britain where the fun loving Duke of York was quite popular though quite a different character from his more reserved brother. It was sad as well for Monaco but also an occasion that drew a great deal of attention on the small principality and Honore III was very conscious of this, insisting that all proper protocol be followed exactly and showing both the hospitality of Monaco as well as all the pomp and ceremony the Monegasque could muster for the passing of the brother of the King of the largest colonial empire in the world.

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