Sunday, 13 July 2008

WILLIAM III and the Mole

What is the connection between William III (the William of William and Mary) and the mole (Talpa europaea)?

It never ceases to amaze me what useless information you can find in the most staid of books. The Dictionary of National Biography is one of the standard reference works in any library and is inclined at times to be pompous and boring. But it yielded this little morsel the other day....

"In popular folklore William III is supposed to have died after his horse tripped over a molehill. The incident for years after allowed Jacobites to toast the vanquishing creature as 'the little gentleman in black velvet'. Sadly for romance, the story is only partly true. William's horse stumbled on 21 February 1702 and the king broke a collarbone in the fall. However, he made a steady recovery from his injuries in the next couple of weeks, and was soon back conducting business, if not appearing in public. It was only on 5 March that the true cause of death - a pulmonary fever - became evident."

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