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Was Prince Frederick of Wales really Killed by a Cricket Ball and Does it Matter?

September 24, 2013

William Makepeace Thackeray quotes this timeless elegy to the very mortal memory of the hapless Prince Frederick:

“Here lies poor Fred who was alive and is dead,

Had it been his father

I had much rather,

Had it been his sister

Nobody would have missed her,

Had it been his brother,

Still better than another,

Had it been the whole generation,

So much better for the nation,

But since it is Fred

Who was alive and is dead,

There is no more to be said”

These verses are expressive of the profound veneration which the British royal family tended to inspire in the eighteenth century (and much of the nineteenth century).

Yet Fred was different in a number ways.  Like most royals in most times and in most places, he grew up in a profoundly dysfunctional family incapable of generating the kind of unconditional love that cements the most basic biological ties that the rest of us take for granted.   He was the first of the Hanoverians to pretend to be English.  His own parents hated him and wished him dead, but many other people were rather fond of him.  A significant part of his Anglophile PR campaign involved the sponsorship of cricket matches.  Sometimes he would even play himself.

His death in 1751 at the young age of 44 was recorded as the result of a burst abscess in the lung.  This has, in turn, been attributed to the delayed effects of being hit at close range by a cricket ball.

I suppose there is some stuff I could look up that could confirm or deny this story.  Its plausibility could be tested by dating the probable occasion of the injury the gestation of the abscess.  The anatomical probability of such an injury causing such an abscess is also something that could establish the degree of probability also.

However, I have no intention of applying myself to any of this research.  I refuse to look any of this up.  The reason?  Some stories are just “too good to check”.  More interesting than discovering whether or not Fred was killed by a cricket ball is the fact that so many people (myself included) love the IDEA of Fred being so dispatched because the whole idea of the very first Hanoverian to proclaim their Englishness being killed by a cricket ball is just too perfect, too delicious, too elegant, to be allowed to withstand empirical verification.

Picture the scene.  Prince Fred, the voluble close fielder.

“Yah – ich bin ein Englander.  Not like mein vater… was ist…?”

Thud.

There is no more to be said.

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