Origins of sayings #1 – Everyone wants a piece of him

Charles 4 Comments

A number of popular sayings derive from death and funerals. 

One such is the saying ‘Everyone wants a piece of him’. 

This is a surprisingly ancient saying dating back 800 years. Here’s how it happened. 

When Richard I (Lionheart) died, his entrails were interred in the central French town of Chalus, where he died in a skirmish with a rebellious baron; his body reposes at the Fontevraud Abbey, beside his father Henry II and later his mother Eleanor of Aquitaine; and his heart, wrapped in linen, pickled for posterity and placed in a lead box, was sent on to the Cathedral of Rouen. 

When one of the king’s senior barons enquired whether this was really necessary, he was told that Richard was so celebrated and widely loved that ‘everyone wants a piece of him’. 

The practice endured into the early part of the twentieth century. The body of Thomas Hardy was buried in Westminster Abbey, but his heart was buried in Stinsford churchyard in his beloved Casterbridge. You may have heard the story that a cat spotted his heart awaiting casketising on a table, and ate it. No truth in that at all. 

And no call these days for dismemberment of the eminent dead, it seems. 

Next: ‘the final nail in the coffin.’ 

NOTE TO EMBALMERS: You may be interested to read the just-published scientific analysis of the substances used to embalm King Richard I’s heart here


  1. Charles

    Relics were big business, attracting pilgrims to a church and so aiding the local economy. Sometimes they were faked: there are enough wood splinters from Christ’s cross to build a big house. Rather than cutting out Richard I’s heart I thought they used that of a lion instead.

  2. Charles

    This might seem to contradict some of my feelings around embalming, but personally I would like my heart to be cut out and kept wrapped in linen in some suitably ornate box, my fear would be that my wife might not treat it with the reverence I would like. For think read deserve..
    I think the idea of symbolic heart extraction marvellous. I would do it for a client, under the eagle eye of a sympathetic skilled mortician like NIcky from Torquay, just as I would be honoured to deal with the bones of a funeral pyre burnt funeral.

  3. Charles

    I believe that the royal family of Austria (or Hungary or whatever the Empire was when it last had a king) traditionally had their hearts removed (after death!) and placed in a cathedral in Viena while the rest of the body was buried elsewhere. This is hopelessly vague…I appologise…its being one of those weeks (yes, already! or I’d go and look it up before spouting rubbish.) The interesting thing is that the last living heir was still alive when we were in Viena in 2011 and the guide told us that his heart would be placed there in due course. I believe that this has now happened so the practice continued up to at least 2011.
    I will now stop being vague and go away 🙂


  4. Charles

    Such vagueness we could do with more and more of, Jenny.

    How very interesting. Macabre and beautiful all at the same time.

    I think it was not either/or, but both. It was the empire of Austria-Hungary.

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