London – A King In Soho

Few Londoners can tell you where a king lies buried in Soho. Shelley may have been thinking of him when he gave his mad invitation to the old lady in the Highgate bus, to “sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the deaths of kings,”but if so his knowledge is not shared by many people.

If I have made you curious, walk along Coventry Street from Piccadilly Circus, leaving Leicester Square, that “pouting-place of princes,”on your right, and turn up Wardour Street past Lisle Street and Gerrard Street that was fashionable in Charles IL’s day and where Dryden and Burke and Lord Mohun lived and where Johnson and Reynolds founded the Literary Club that still exists in another meeting-place. Then, crossing Shaftesbury Avenue, you will come to the old graveyard at the back of the church of St. Anne, which is now a playground and only open till four in the winter months and during the hours of service on Sundays. On the wall you will find a tablet to the memory of the unlucky Theodore, King of Corsica, who fled from France, a bankrupt, only to be seized on his arrival in London and flung into the Fleet prison. “Near this place,”runs the inscription, “is interred Theodore, King of Corsica, who died in this neighbourhood Dec. 11 1756, immediately after leaving the King’s Bench Prison by the Benefit of the Act of Insolvency. In consequence of which he registered his Kingdom of Corsica for the use of his Creditors.”To which Horace Walpole has appended the following stanza:

The grave, great Teacher, to a level brings Heroes and beggars, galley-slaves and kings. But Theodore this moral learned ere dead; Fate poured its lessons on his living head. Bestowed a kingdom, but denied him bread.

The kindly soul who bailed out fallen Majesty a fortnight before his death and then gave him decent burial, was, according to the verger of St. Anne, an Italian candle merchant from Old Compton Street, on the site of whose shop is now that excellent non-profiteering restaurant known as Le Diner Francais. But I prefer, with the Blue Book, to think that the Samaritan was a tailor, grown rich, perhaps, snipping the embroidered waistcoats of H.R.H. Frederick, Prince of Wales, when the latter squabbled with his royal parents and removed in a pettish mood to Leicester House hard by.

The only other interesting things I could find in this old church were the tomb of Hazlitt, immediately below King Theodore’s memorial stone,-the old wooden drain pipes, lately disinterred, that lie on the Shaftesbnry Avenue side of the church, and the tablet within, to the memory of “The Beloved Mother-in-Law.”

St. Anne’s was built in 1685, a significant year in the annals of this neighbourhood. It was the date of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, which sent the Huguenots flocking to London, to take up their residence here, and of the Battle of Sedgemoor, when the Duke of Monmouth, who had a mansion in the Square, used as his watchword the cry “So Ho! “and unconsciously christened the whole district.