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Jul 28, 2006 12:09 am

The Man Who Would Be King

In 1931 Anthony Hall, a former Shropshire police inspector, created consternation at Buckingham Palace when he spoke to large audiences across the West Midlands making his claim to the British throne. On one occasion he announced that, "The King is a German, a pure bred German ... I want to become the first policeman to cut off the King's head."

The story unfolds in correspondence to the Home Office and the Palace released today at the National Archives. Hall traced his ancestry to Thomas Hall, the bastard son of Henry VIII, who died in 1534. To add to his claim to the throne, he argued that the real James I of England had been murdered as an infant and his remains lay in a coffin in Edinburgh Castle. His place was taken by an "impostor and changeling," James Erskine, whom he dubbed"goggle-eyed Jim."

King Anthony proposed to pay off the national debt while simultaneously building millions of homes for the working classes, providing free hospitals and dental treatment, and electrifying the railways. The houses would be of Tudor robustness and a stateliness fitting to the dignity of the first nation of the world. A serious effort would be made to popularise portrait painting. A ministry of pleasure would revive public pageants and encourage the manly sports of wrestling and boxing. And it would be an offence to sell beer that was not made with pure malt and hops.

In an open letter to George V on February 2, 1931, Hall first made his claim to the throne and asked the King to relinquish the"Imperial Crown." The Chief Constable in Birmingham raised the issue in correspondence to the Home Office on July 6, 1931.

On July 13 Sir Clive Wigram, George V's private secretary, became involved, suggesting that a stop should be put to Hall's"effusions." He suggested to the Home Office:"Would it not be possible to keep him under observation with a view to his final detention in an Institution, without actually putting him in prison?"

Unfortunately for the King, two doctors refused to certify him as insane. Walter Jordan, who examined him on July 25, said he was"unable to get facts definitely indicative of unsoundness of mind." He concluded that his claim to the kingship was a case of a sort. Hamblin Smith, a prison doctor, said that he was also unable to certify Hall.

Hall was arrested and tried for using"quarrelsome and scandalous language." He was fined £10 and bound over to keep the peace with a surety of £25 or the alternative of two months' imprisonment with hard labour.

On August 12, Hall delivered his swansong in the Bull Ring before disappearing from Birmingham."The police tried to get me certified insane and sent to prison for life," he said."Yes, without trial too . . . Well, people, I am going away for a while, but I shall be back later. Goodnight my friends, you may be my subjects one of these days."

Hall is believed to have died in 1947 leaving no male heirs.

Read the full story here, here, and here, from which I have liberally borrowed to write this account.

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David T. Beito - 7/28/2006

Too bad that Hall and the Emperor Norton could never get together to compare notes