The Queen and Corbett

Watching Windsor Castle, tintinnabulating wedding cheer and razzmatazz, not so long ago, made history down the ages come alive, for Windsor blazons the saga of a wide spectrum of monarchs — some merry, some not so, some frail, some felonious, or with kinks that have not gone unrecorded through the centuries. 

There’s this incident which dates back to the reign of Edward III. While dancing in the ballroom of this castle with Joan, the Countess of Salisbury, her garter slipped off. Spontaneously, the king stooped to pick it up. As expected, or not, this gesture generated lewd jests and when the persiflage turned to crude laughter, the king lambasted them in French: Honi soit qui mal y pense (shame on him who thinks evil of it).

With guffaws reaching a crescendo, especially as a brazen one among the sozzled, snatched the garter and passed it around, the king declared imperiously that very soon they would see the garter advanced “to so high an honour and estimation as to count themselves happy to wear it.” And indeed, it did. The Order of the Garter was considered the most noble order of chivalry in Europe.

As the meaningful Service ended with the congregation belting ‘God Save the Queen’, and all eyes focused on Her Majesty, my husband reminded me of a memorable incident recorded by Jim Corbett, which I had read about years ago and recalled but faintly.

When Elizabeth, princess at that point of time, visited Africa with the Duke, she landed first at the Royal Lodge, Sagana, 20 miles from Nyeri, where Jim Corbett had his Tree Tops. During their visit to Tree Tops, both royalty and retinue were treated to the most captivating jungle drama, as animals large and small, predatory or herbivore, converged toward the salt lick within 10 yards of the foot of the ladder that led up to the machan.

Fascinated, the princess captured it all on her camera, sometimes even walking towards the elephants! After almost 20 memorable hours of wild-viewing, the princess and the Duke returned to the Royal Lodge to learn that her father, the king, had passed away. 

In the register maintained at Tree Tops, Corbett, after mentioning the names of the distinguished visitors, the animals seen and incidents witnessed, comments: “For the first time in the history of the world, a young girl climbed onto a tree one day, a princess, and after having what she described as her most thrilling experience, she climbed down from the tree the next day a Queen… God bless her.”

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