Names of Thrones—of Kings and Queens
Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, Edward VII; why are the names Henry, Elizabeth and Edward followed by those weird symbols? What are those symbols and why do we use them?
A regnal name is the ‘reign’ name of a monarch (as I explained earlier, a king or queen). Popes also use regnal names—see below. Regnal names don’t have to be the monarch’s first name, although with English monarchs, they often are. For popes, regnal names generally are not even birth names.
Pop quiz: what does ‘monarch‘ mean?
Answer: ‘monarch’ means ‘king’ or ‘queen’. A monarch is ruler of a country by right of birth.
A person rules a country by right of birth because they were born into a particular family.
For example, our Queen, her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, is monarch because her father was King.Our Queen did not need to win any elections, nor did she have to lead a political party.
On the other hand, to become Prime Minister, Boris Johnson first had to become leader of the Conservative Party, and then that party had to win the general elections of 2019.
As shown above, a regnal number normally follows regnal names, to help avoid confusion. There’s little value, for instance, if we write “King George”, since it mightn’t be immediately apparent to which ‘King George’ we were referring, as there’ve been six (6) of them. There’ve been eight (8) Edwards and eight Henrys too. For this reason, we say “George the Sixth” (George VI) and Henry the Eighth (Henry VIII)—you know the one, the Henry with the overactive executioner and nervous wives.
We often write regnal numbers in Roman numerals. Except for popes, of whom there have been a relatively large number over the years, most regnal numbers stay under twenty (20), and thus only a few Roman numerals need concern us here.
Roman numerals in the range in which we are most interested use the symbols: I, V and X. These represent the numbers 1, 5 and 10.
So, Elizabeth II means Elizabeth 2.
George VI means George 6.
This will not be a tutorial on Roman numerals, but follow the link above if you wish to learn more about them. However, here is a quick guide of the numerals from one (1) to twelve (12):
About our royal family
Our queen was baptised Elizabeth Mary; therefore, she could have chosen her regnal name as Mary, but she chose to remain Elizabeth. Being that there was an earlier queen named Elizabeth I, our sovereign became Elizabeth II.
Queen Elizabeth II’s son, Prince Charles was baptised Charles Philip Arthur George, so he could become:
~ King Charles III
~ King Philip I
~ King Arthur II
~ King George VII
It’s up to Prince Charles to choose his regnal name upon his ascension to the throne.
Monarch – a gender neutral name for a person who rules by right of birth.
King – male monarch.
Queen – female monarch. Also, can be a consort. (A consort is a wife of a king, or the husband of a queen. Prince Philip is our Queen’s consort. Note that he does not bear the title of King. It is extremely unusual for a male consort to be given the title of King.)
Prince – son of a monarch.
Princess – daughter of a monarch.
Note: to complicate matters, the princes of Monaco are also monarchs. For example, the current monarch is Prince Albert II. The reasons for this aberration are historical; you can find out more about it here.
Names of Thrones—Piety, Papacy and Propriety
Jesus, who Christians claim is the son of God and even God Himself, often is addressed by name. On the other hand, his supposed servant, the Pope, is addressed by a host of titles, such as Your Holiness and Your Excellency. One would have hoped that it would be the other way round.
Upon ascending into office, popes take a regnal name, just like a monarch. This is hardly surprising as, in the days of yore, popes had as much political and military power as an emperor, never mind a king.
As soon as the new pope is elected, he is asked, “By what name shall we call you?” The new pontiff gives his answer and the senior Cardinal Deacon (or Cardinal Protodeacon) proclaims this name from the famous balcony of Saint Peter’s Basilica.
There has never been a pope named Peter II.
I assume that the omission is by design, to honour Saint Peter himself.
The last five (5) popes; birth and regnal names.
|Giovanni Battista Enrico Antonio Maria Montini||Paul VI|
Pope John Paul I was the first pope to have a two parts in his regnal name.
|John Paul I|
|Karol Józef Wojtyła||John Paul II|
|Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger||Benedict XVI|
|Jorge Mario Broglie|
I don’t know whether Pope Francis uses his regnal number officially.
We usually refer him to as Pope Francis,
not Pope Francis the First.
English and British Monarchs
You can find a comprehensive list of English and British monarchs and there regnal names and years here, or click on the image below.