Sherlock Peoria: Sympathy for the King

 Okay, let’s get controversial.

The King of Bohemia takes a lot of heat, the latest form of which has been a meme calling him a douche. Everybody loves Irene Adler, even if they don’t want her to be Sherlock’s one true love, and, naturally, the one person who has a bit of a disagreement with Ms. Popular is somebody we just have to poop on, right? I mean, he was a royal, and you know how those pompous royals are. Poop on him and all his kind!

But I had this little notion . . . what if the King’s secret wasn’t what we always thought it was.

The common thought was that he had a sexy little romp with the singer, was sure she was still in love with him, and wanted to stop his marriage. But, this tale being related in that measured Victorian manner, we don’t really know that Wilhelm and Irene had a sexual relationship, now do we?

“Your Majesty, as I understand, became entangled with this young person, wrote her some compromising letters, and is now desirous of getting those letters back,” Holmes says. And how are those letters proven to be authentic? There’s a photo of Wilhelm and Irene together that shows they were close. Close.

But what if they were simply close, good friends, and the King was discussing his conflicts in his own sexuality, his desires versus expectations of him and his office? What if Irene was simply someone who supported the King’s true feelings about himself, to the point where she gently threatened to out him if he was going to marry out of a sense of duty alone, opposite his true nature? And the idea of the King and Irene once being close and kindred spirits brings up other questions.

“But she could not love him,” the King says of Irene’s match with Godfrey Norton. We assume it’s because the King thinks Irene loves him. But what if it’s because the Irene he knew, his kindred spirit, wasn’t someone who fancied men back in the day? Kindred spirits. But things change, and sometimes we can’t accept changes in our friends so easily. 

My point here is, while we have a story, we just might not have the true story.

Yes, the King is bad at disguise. Yes, he has all the issues of a spoiled royal. But is he really a bad guy?

Just look how easily he gives in to letting Irene Adler go at the end of the story. He doesn’t want to stay in contact with her because he harbors some great love for her. He trusts her assurances in the letter that she’s going to leave him alone. He sees some echo of his old trusting friendship with Irene in that letter from their correspondence past. Irene’s words are enough for him. That’s not the way a bad guy reacts.

The King might not be a smart guy. Or a smooth guy. But is he really that bad?

Part of the issue with Watson’s chronicles has always been that he’s a man of his era and holding back so much about himself and the people he and Holmes were dealing with. Yes, the King was a bit of a doof, but he’s also one of the best-dressed guys in the Canon. And soooo generous! Does he ask for any of his thousand pounds of gold and cash back? No. Does he give Holmes the ring right off his finger? Yes. Does he even give Holmes another very valuable snuffbox as a present after that? YES!

(Wait a minute . . . who was Wilhelm really in love with here? Side issue! Back to the thread.)

We’ve always known Watson probably wasn’t getting the Sherlock/Irene dynamic correct in his intro to this story. But what if there was a whole lot more going on here that Watson just didn’t want to pick up on, or admit to his readership? What if we were all just a little too quick to judge poor Wilhelm, as we all go fawn over the purdy lady as Watson so often does?

Milverton. Gruner. Roylott. There are some right awful sorts in the Canon. And occasionally Holmes even gets a baddie as a client, as with that retired colourman. But with Willie G.S. von Ormstein?

I’m not so sure any more.

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