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Answer 58. According to legend, the Duke of Clarence was ‘privilie drowned in a butt of Malmsey’ wine just inside that doorway.


There’s no evidence that it actually happened, but bizarre medieval legends often turn out to be true. Shakespeare dramatised Clarence’s death in his play Richard III:

Second Murderer: Look behind you, my lord.

First Murderer:     Take that, and that: [Stabs him.

                                   If all this will not do,

                                   I’ll drown you in the malmsey-butt within.

                                               [Exit, with the body.

The scene plays a lot better than it reads.

***

As Sir Arthur Conan Doyle tells it, Dr John Watson was walking along Baker Street on the evening of 20 March 1888 when he suddenly decided to visit his old friend Sherlock Holmes at No 221b:

SherlockHolmes‘His rooms were brilliantly lit, and, even as I looked up, I saw his tall spare figure pass twice in a dark silhouette against the blind… I rang the bell, and was shown up to the chamber which had formerly been in part my own.’

Watson was just in time. Holmes was expecting a very important visitor. The man appeared almost at once. He was a giant of six foot six, very expensively dressed, wearing a black mask that covered most of his face:

‘Heavy bands of astrakhan were slashed across the sleeves and fronts of his double-breasted coat, while the deep blue cloak which was thrown over his shoulders was lined with flame-coloured silk, and secured at the neck with a brooch which consisted of a single flaming beryl.

‘Boots which extended halfway up his calves, and which were trimmed at the tops with rich brown fur, completed the impression of barbaric opulence.’

Speaking in a heavy German accent, the man introduced himself as Count von Kramm, but Holmes wasn’t fooled for a moment. The man wasn’t von Kramm at all.

HISTORIC LONDON: X MARKS THE SPOT. Question 59. All right then. Who was Sherlock Holmes’s mysterious visitor?

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