Tuesday 19 May 2015

Eating King Louis XIV's heart: a curious history


Dean Buckland of Westminster 
(1784–1856, blink and he's gone) claimed to have eaten his way through the animal kingdom, including eating mole, bluebottle, panther, crocodile and mouse. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society, twice president of the Geological Society and kept a menagerie of animals, including snakes, eagles and monkeys, at the deanery. While dining at Lord Harcourt's house at Nuneham in 1848 he was shown a silver locket containing an object resembling pumice stone. He popped the object in his mouth, perhaps to try and find out what mineral it was, and swallowed it. It was in fact part of the mummified heart of Louis XIV of France which had been taken from the royal tomb by a member of the Harcourt family. 

The New York Times for 4 December 1910 says:
One day at Nuneham [Archbishop Harcourt, obit 1847] was exhibiting [the heart] to his guests at dessert. It had been reduced by age and embalming process to the size and appearance of a small nut. It was passed around the table for exhibition. When it reached Dr. Butler [sic], Dean of Westminster, renowned not only for his zoological knowledge, but also for his extraordinary absence of mind, he without thinking what he was doing swallowed it, washing it down with a copious draft of the Harcourt port. That was the end of the royal heart of Louis XIV, the most powerful monarch of his time, and which thus disappeared down the maw of a famous English divine at Nuneham.

Augustus Hare tells a different version, which I read many years ago in a Victorian collection of anecdotes whose name escapes me.

Talk of strange relics led to mention of the heart of a French King preserved at Nuneham in a silver casket. Dr. Buckland, whilst looking at it, exclaimed, 
‘I have eaten many strange things, but have never eaten the heart of a king before,’ 
and, before anyone could hinder him, he had gobbled it up, and the precious relic was lost for ever.” The heart in question is said to have been that of Louis XIV. Buckland was followed in this bizarre hobby by his son Frank.

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