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Another aspect of the evolution of monarchy is the development of Ordinal numbers or regnal numbers used to differentiate between monarchs of the same name within the same territory. This practice was also a latter development. Originally monarchs were know by their sobriquet, or nickname, that developed over time. Generally a sobriquet is given to you by others. For instance William I of England is more well known as William the Conqueror but prior to having that sobriquet he was known as William the Bastard due to his illegitimacy. Monarchs were also known by their territorial designations. For example, Henry III of England was also known as Henry of Winchester.

The Papacy was one of the first places where the practice of subscribing a Roman numeral to popes of the same name developed. As this practice spread to ruling monarchs it was used sporadically and did not become the standard practice until the mid twelfth century but in some cases it did not become tradition until as late as the 18th century. When one looks at the lists of monarchs from each particular country the usage of ordinal numbers is pretty consistent over-all but mistakes were made. For the next few days I will concentrate on different countries and their traditions on how the name their monarchs…and each country does not follow a specific standard. Today I will concentrate on England/Great Britain.

Whoever began numbering the kings and queen of England ignored centuries of royal tradition and began numbering the monarchs from the time of the Norman Conquest. There were kings of England for a few centuries prior to the year 1066. This either displays shortsightedness or it stresses the cultural and political significance that the Norman invasion had on England. But either way there is an inconsistency and they messed up one name. This has been a pet peeve of mine for a long time. Since the Norman conquest all of the old Anglo-Saxon names fell into diss-use except for one: Edward. Edward Longshanks, who ruled from 1272 until 1307 was named by his father, Henry III, after the last Anglo-Saxon king, Edward the Confessor.

Since the use of ordinal numbers had not come into common usage during the reign of Edward Longshanks, he was simply known as King Edward or King Edward Longshanks. It wasn’t until the successive reigns of his son and grandson, also named Edward, that Edward Longshanks became known as Edward I. But this was not accurate for there were three Anglo-Saxon kings named Edward prior to the Norman conquest. Therefore, Edward I was in reality the fourth King of England by that name and should have been called King Edward IV. This means that the most recent King Edward, Edward VIII, the Duke of Windsor, was in reality King Edward XI. Other examples of the inconsistency in all of this is the fact that there are some Anglo-Saxon kings that have been given ordinal numbers and some have not. Æthelred I (865-871) and Æthelred II (978-1016) are an example. In some lists Æthelred II is known by his sobriquet “the Unready.”

Since this is a rather large topic and I have written more, Part II on the history of ordinal numbers in Great Britain will be posted tomorrow. I don’t want to have these blog posts be too long. 🙂

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