I want to tell you a story. It’s a true story. Not mine, admittedly, but true nonetheless.
It’s about a man, a man who wanted to be king, who would be king, king of a land not originally his own. This man, he wanted to be a good king. Wanted to make a good impression, and earn respect and trust from his new citizens. Wanted his name, Louis – The King of Holland, to be known and spoken of for years to come.
But there was a problem, there’s always a problem for guys like this, and for this guy the problem was his brother. You see Louis’ brother was a real big deal, a king in his own right, and a conqueror. A man whose name was already known across the globe, and feared. There’s even a good chance you already know of him.
His name was Napoleon.
As you might have expected, it was Napoleon who acquired for Louis his new stewardship. You see, Napoleon felt that the Batavian Republic, as it was then known, was too independent for his liking, and, being the man that he was, decided to replace it with the Kingdom of Holland, and place ol’ Louis on the throne, having him serve as nothing more than a French prefect of Holland. Big brothers, what are you going to do?
However, as you and I both know, Louis had other plans. Small plans, admittedly, and well meaning, but plans Napoleon would be none to pleased about. Plans, in fact, that would lead to conflict and strife between the brothers, with Napoleon eventually forcing Louis’ to abdicate the very throne he’d given him.
All comes later, though. The story I’m telling you today comes right at the start of Louis’ rule.
While big brother was off paving the way for his eventual monarchy, Louis was learning all he could about his his soon to be adopted country, making every effort so that when the time came he would be sure to impress his new citizenry. He decided that he needed to show the Dutch people that he was one of them, and that even though he was of French descent he would always but the needs of the Dutch first. Before he could do all that though, he needed to learn their language.
Of course, it couldn’t be just he who learned Dutch. His wife, Hortense, would need to learn the language to if she were to be their queen. His court, chosen by Napoleon and made entirely of frenchmen, must also learn Dutch.
Lessons began immediately, and equally as immediately, problems began to sprout. The first came from Hortense. You see, she already didn’t think much of her husband, their marriage being more one of necessity, and while she had gone along with her husband’s ideas thus far, he soon found her breaking point when one night in the quiet of their bedchamber Louis told her that once they were ensconced on the throne he planned for them to renounce their French citizenships. Hortense flat out refused. Refused to renounce, refused to learn Dutch, refuse to even stay in Holland for a minute more than she had to.
Louis, however, despite being understandably crestfallen, pushed on. Which is where the next problem comes in, because Louis was having trouble with the language. For all his good intentions they unfortunately didn’t make him one lick smarter. Certain people, you see, spoke of Louis as having a touch of the “lunacy”, which is probably all you need to know about the scope of his mental faculties. He was a good man, and for the most part capable, just flighty and restless. The kind of man who would later change his capital city a dozen times over, sometimes in a matter of weeks, and, well, a mind like that can have a spot of trouble with the necessary discipline of learning a new language.
Time was running thin and the date of his ascension was fast approaching, but Louis, goal firmly planted in his mind, continued with his studies as best he could. It was just the kind of guy he was.
Inevitably and eventually, as all days much, his day came; the day when he’d address his new people for the first time. A podium was erected, proclamations were made, and the Dutch people arrived to meet their new king.
Louis was nervous, as you’d expect. He had a speech, and it was a good one, short and simple, beginning with the most basic of statements, ‘Ik ben Louis, Koning van Holland.’ I am Louis, King of Holland. If he said nothing more than that, then all would be well.
He stepped up. Cleared his throat. Thought of his wife. Thought of his brother. Felt fear rise in his belly. Looked out at the gathered crowd, his people, and felt determination push that fear back down. He opened his mouth, and said;
‘Ik ben Louis, Konijn van ‘Olland.’
Close, but wrong, because what he said was, ‘I am Louis, Rabbit of Holland,’ and from that day to this that’s how he’s been remembered, as Louis, The King of Rabbits.
Thanks for reading