The Strange and Secret History of Royal Wills
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The making of one’s last will and testament is an ancient incident of human mortality. It is often of interest to those left, and as royalty exercises some kind of fascination, no matter what one’s affiliations, the making of royal wills is that much more interesting. After all, kings and queens and other royal personages had much more to leave: kingdoms and treasures. They could, or they tried to, exercise power even after death. The great County historian, John Nichols (1745–1826) when compiling his classic work (and indeed, the only work) on royal wills, in 1780, prefaced it with the words of the great king of Poland, John Sobieski, who, asked in his last extremity to make a will, said: “The misfortune of royalty is that we are not obeyed when we are alive; and can it be expected we should be obeyed after we are dead?”1 Sobieski died in 1696, having reigned for 22 years. His contemporary, Louis XIV, who, coming to the throne as a child, subsequently reigned for 72 years, dying in 1715, was also pragmatic about the making of royal wills, saying that “it was a kind of counterpoise that because kings had been obeyed in their lifetimes, their wishes were ignored when they were dead”.