Driving smoothly along Regent Street on the way to the Palladium in a Rolls Royce, a gift from the Car Association to the Queen in her Silver Jubilee year of 1977, they must have seen some of the rioting students. Probably they were a little tense. But they can’t have expected an actual assault. It is not impossible that they heard one or more students shouting “Off with their heads!”
In any case, during the split second of the assault, they probably thought of nothing. Of course, they knew that between 1840, when Victoria was just twenty-one and newly pregnant, and 1882 when she was twenty years widowed and still in mourning, seven attempts were made on her life. They had of course also heard of Archduke Ferdinand and his lady in Sarajevo in 1914. It is doubtful that they considered the Dr. Johnson’s quote relevant: “Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”
Between Charles the First, whose head was cut off, and this Charles there was only one other namesake, Charles the Second, who died in his bed after saying, “You must pardon me, gentlemen, for being a most unconscionable time a-dying.” If our Charles was asked which of his two predecessors’ fate he would prefer, he would probably, but not certainly, choose Charles the Second.
That question was unlikely to have occurred to him during that split second.
But if any images flashed through his and Camilla’s minds at all it’s likely to be that of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette on their separate ways to the guillotine on the Place de la Concorde.
In fact, surely there is no crowned head, or future crowned head, anywhere, in whose dreams that scene does not occur in one form or another.
One question remains: did any of the students shouting “Off with their heads!” think of himself as the Lord High Executioner?
The Internment series has been extended to six videos. Number five is posted at YouTube.