Titles of Sovereigns
IN countries where despotism exists in all its force, and is gratified in all its caprices, either the intoxication of power has occasioned sovereigns to assume the most solemn and the most fantastic titles; or the royal duties and functions were considered of so high and extensive a nature, that the people expressed their notion of the pure monarchical state, by the most energetic descriptions of oriental fancy.
The chiefs of the Natchez are regarded by their people as the children of the sun, and they bear the name of their father.
The titles which some chiefs assume are not always honourable in themselves; it is sufficient if the people respect them. The king of Quiterva calls himself the great lion; and for this reason lions are there so much respected, that they are not allowed to kill them, but at certain royal huntings.
The king of Monomotapa is surrounded by musicians and poets, who adulate him by such refined flatteries as lord of the sun and moon; great magician; and great thief!
The Asiatics have bestowed what to us appear as ridiculous titles of honour on their princes. The king of Arracan assumes the following ones: “Emperor of Arracan, possessor of the white elephant, and the two ear-rings, and in virtue of this possession legitimate heir of Pegu and Brama; lord of the twelve provinces of Bengal, and the twelve kings who place their heads under his feet.”
His majesty of Ava is called God: when he writes to a foreign sovereign he calls himself the king of kings, whom all others should obey, as he is the cause of the preservation of all animals; the regulator of the seasons, the absolute master of the ebb and flow of the sea, brother to the sun, and king of the four-and-twenty umbrellas! These umbrellas are always carried before him as a mark of his dignity.
The titles of the kings of Achem are singular, though voluminous. The most striking ones are sovereign of the universe, whose body is luminous as the sun; whom God created to be as accomplished as the moon at her plenitude; whose eye glitters like the northern star; a king as spiritual as a ball is round; who when he rises shades all his people; from under whose feet a sweet odour is wafted, &c. &c.
Dr. Davy, in his recent history of Ceylon, has added to this collection the authentic titles of the Kandyan sovereign. He too is called Dewo (God). In a deed of gift he proclaims his extraordinary attributes. “The protector of religion, whose fame is infinite, and of surpassing excellence, exceeding the moon, the unexpanded jessamine buds, the stars, &c.; whose feet are as fragrant to the noses of other kings, as flowers to bees; our most noble patron and god by custom,” &c.
After a long enumeration of the countries possessed hv the king of Persia, they give him some poetical distinctions; the branch of honour; the mirror of virtue; and the rose of delight.
The Natchez lived in what is now south-western Mississippi. Arracan or Arakan was a Buddhist realm whose territory now falls in Myanmar and Bangladesh. I’ve mentioned Monomotapa (also called Munhumutapa) before. I don’t know where the kingdoms of Ava, Achem or Quiterva were.
¶ This article is lightly revised from its original in early (1790s) editions of the Curiosities. One of the anecdotes included in the piece’s earlier state has been omitted here:
The principal officers of the empire of Mexico were distinguished by the odd titles of Princes of unerring javelins; Hackers of men, and Drinkers of blood.