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.