Numbers and the Monarchy

Right… quick question for you… Name the English King who is famous for having six wives… Ok. It’s an easy one but I’ll give you a second to think about it. Ok… you done? Well the answer was Henry VIII. A simple enough question and one I’m going to follow with another question: How many kings called Henry were there before him? Now I’m willing to bet that most of you have just got that question terribly, terribly wrong. Now my money is on that you said there were 7 kings of England called Henry before him as he was Henry VIII. Well yeah, ok, he was Henry VIII and that’s what he was crowned as… But the answer is wrong due to a fundamental flaw in the British Monarchy that was introduced following the Norman conquest and then continually made worse ever since. And now I’m going to explain why.

We all know the story. In 1066 Edward the Confessor died and Harold Godwinson took over as King. But then William of Normandy (And a Viking as well but we’ll leave him out of things for the time being) decided he wanted to be King and came over the channel and kicked Harold’s arse at the battle of Hastings. And at some point (somewhere between the conquest and the reign of Edward III, it isn’t clear where exactly) the nobility decided to use the French system of naming monarchs, by numbers.

I’m sure most of you were taught in school the facts of Hastings and then just left hanging with a sort of  ‘and everything was fine and all the people lived happily ever after… more or less…’ vibe. I know I was. They didn’t teach me anything about the Saxon kings who all had monikers (Like the magnificent, the martyr, the hairy footed) They didn’t mention the harrying of the north, the dismantling of the culture or the fact that much of the English populace were enslaved into the diabolical feudal system. Feudalism got a mention but it wasn’t mentioned in a slavery sort of way. I’m sure most other children in England got  ‘everything was fine thereafter’ and the conquest was made out to be a ‘good thing’ rubbish. (Question is though… When did England stop being a conquered nation?)

Now you’ll accept that the numbering would have worked had the names of the Saxon kings not been repeated. Approximately two hundred years after the conquest we get Edward I, who was technically Edward IV as there had been three Edwards under the old Saxon kings. But, you see, the Norman/Plantagenet kings didn’t consider their Saxon predecessors in most cases.  They considered themselves superior so effectively from 1066 onwards the Saxon kings were never really kings at all (in the eyes of the aristocracy at least. The only exception to this appears to be Edward the Confessor who was idolised by some of the Plantagenet kings (like Edward III and Henry III) but even then, Edward III was never Edward IV (or even VI). He was still Edward III.

But Edward I also did something terrible, something that further complicates matters- He conquered Wales, killed the native princes and locked the heir to the Welsh throne in a cage in Bristol Castle. But he was Edward I and Wales had never had a prince Edward so technically he would still be Edward I in Wales… All fine. The same with Edward II and III… But then we hit the same problem of them there Normans deciding that the rulers of nations prior to conquest weren’t actually in charge so we get Richard II. This is despite the fact that Richard I had never been king in most of Wales, except a bit of the south and along the borders. It only gets worse as the numbering system continues unabated, ignoring Wales, with Henry IV, V and VI when Wales never had the first three Henrys… In fact when you look at the numbers it’s like Wales doesn’t even exist, and all thanks to them pesky Normans.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here as I’ve just told you a slight lie. Remember at the beginning when I said Henry VIII wasn’t the eighth Henry? Well he was the ninth, Technically. This is down to those damn Normans and their numbering system again. Henry II (Who really was Henry number two!) decided to crown his son Henry as king before he himself died, again, this was in the French fashion. So he was crowned but then died before his father. But he was still technically King.

So you would assume he was Henry III… Well no. Because that title goes to the actual Henry III who took the throne after King John, or technically King Louis as the French invaded us in 1216 and then were sent packing before being routinely ignored, even though Louis was still declared King and ruled as such over a part of the country for a short while.  But anyway, because of this younger, junior king, Henry III is technically the fourth, and so on.

So ok, besides nine Henrys instead of eight and an extra three Edwards and a few kings who weren’t rulers of Wales what’s the problem? Well that really starts in 1603 when we add Scotland to the mix. James VI of Scotland also becomes I of England and uses both numbers. Fine in terms of both England and Wales as they had never had a James. Scotland also got to retain him as James VI. And James II does the same… And Charles the I and II are both also ok… So you’d assume everything was fine from then on?

Err no… William III… Scotland had only had one William, England two and Wales zero. So it doesn’t work. Mary II was ok as England/Wales and Scotland had all had one each. Then everything is more or less fine (with the exception of William IV) until the son of Queen Victoria decides not to impinge on his father’s memory and calls himself Edward VII… As the First Edward to rule Scotland. And then for a brief period in the thirties there’s Edward VIII. So in all there have been Eleven Edwards and only eight with numbers (or eight, total, in Wales) and only two in Scotland.

Which brings us to the present queen… Elizabeth II… Now I read somewhere that when she became Queen the Scottish nationalists complained that they had never had Elizabeth I and Elizabeth II wasn’t Elizabeth II… Apparently the end result was that, in the future, if there has been a previous king/queen with that name whichever country has the higher number takes precedence. If there ends up being an Alexander, for instance, they will be Alexander IV (Despite being Alexander I in England and Wales)

And it gets even worse if you take the 1707 Act of Union into account, because then you get the all encompassing King Of Great Britain and Ireland (Don’t get me started on Ireland… This’ll just get more confusing if I do!) Which doesn’t reset the numbers, when really it should have done. So William IV would have been the I etc…

One day (presumably) Prince William is going to become king and then we are going to get a whole mess on top of our heads. Now William can take any of his given names as a title. William (In which case he’d be William III/IV or V…) Arthur (Which would be a real pain in the arse as the other King Arthur is legendary… Would he be Arthur I or II?) Philip  (The husband of Mary I was technically king…Or as an act of parliament declared that he took all of his wives titles, queen. So then we could end up with either Philip II or I…) And then Louis… (Yeah… He won’t but still… He’d either be Louis II or I…)  And as William is descended from the whole blinking lot of them you have a real nightmare on your hands. And if Scotland ever gains independence and keeps the monarchy… Well you work out how much of a mess there will be.

And as for the singular monarchs like Queen Victoria, John, Stephen or Anne… If anybody else takes the throne with their name they immediately become, say, Victoria I instead of just Victoria, when they were never known as the I… Elizabeth I was never known as the I until the second came along. The whole thing is a very confusing, very bad, convoluted mess all thanks to the intricacies of British history and them damn pesky Normans and Stuarts.

As far as I see it, the only solution is to scrap the numbering system all together, effective immediately. Or failing that at Charles’s coronation (Where apparently he will become George VII.) Why not go back to the old Saxon way and just give them a nickname? It would certainly make it easier for children learning their history as they’d be able to identify them all in an instant. A number says nothing but a nickname says it all. After all, a lot of other countries had this. Wales had this to some extent and so did Scotland (for a while.) Even England once had this. I’ve come up with a list from William the Conqueror… I’ve added the disputed ones as well because Nicknames make them easier to include (marked by a – ) and I’ve also put their current number to make it easier to find them elsewhere if you wish.

William the Conqueror (I)

William the Red (II)

Henry the Lion (I)

Stephen the Warrior

-Eustace the Wicked

Matilda the Empress

Henry the malevolent (II)

-Henry The Young

Richard the Lionheart (I)

John the Bad

-Louis the French

Henry the Tall (III)

Edward the Slayer (I)

Edward the Weak (II)

Edward the Chivalrous (III)

Richard the Gold Heart (II)

Henry the Merciless (IV)

Henry the Invincible (V)

Henry the Pious (VI)

Edward the Popular (IV)

Edward the Lost (V)

Richard the Black Heart (III)

Henry the Greedy (VII)

Henry the Powerful (VIII)

Edward the Sickly (VI)

-Jane the Short

Mary the Bloody (I)

– Philip the Spaniard

Elizabeth the Pure (I)

James the Obscene (I/VI)

Charles the Devil (I)

(- Oliver the Commoner, Lord Protector)

Charles the Fun (II)

James the Vile (II/VII)

William the Dutch/ Mary the Loyal (III and II)

Anne the Sorrowful

George the German (I)

George the Angry (II)

George the Mad (III)

George the Obese (IV)

William the Sailor (IV)

Victoria the Regal

Edward the Lusty (VII)

George the Stern (V)

Edward the Unwise (VIII)

George the Sad (VI)

Elizabeth the Wise (II)


And just to be awkward let’s carry on… .

George the Eternal (Prince Charles… Eternal because he’s the longest serving heir presumptive)

William the Eagle ( Prince William… First King in the RAF!)

George the Grumpy (Prince George… Taking a wild stab in the dark here!)


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