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Last week in my post about the titles and styles of the Dutch Sovereign I asked a question concerning the name and future numbering of a King Willem of the Netherlands. This is a follow up to that blog entry.

Willem-Alexander, King of the Nertherlands

Here was my question: What will another King Willem of the Netherlands call himself, assuming he just uses his first name only? Will he be Willem IV or possibly Willem V? I also wondered why King Willem-Alexander didn’t call himself Willem IV of the Netherlands? After doing some research and discussing the topic with some Dutch monarchists I found some answers.

King Willem-Alexander was born on April 27, 1967 the eldest son of future Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and her diplomat husband, Claus van Amsberg. He was christened with the names Willem-Alexander Claus George Ferdinand; and became Prince of Orange as heir apparent upon his mother’s accession as queen on April 30, 1980.

Although he publicly went by the double name Willem-Alexander, he is called Alexander within the family. The King himself stated that his name has always been Willem-Alexander and that it would feel wrong for him to be called just Willem prior to being king, or Willem IV after coming to the throne. In earlier interviews he did acknowledge that there were options to what he could be called once he mounted the throne but he never publicly stated what his name would be as king.

His Majesty the King of the Nertherlands

Simply his options were:

Willem IV Alexander
Willem IV

These were different combinations of his given names. Theoretically he could have chosen a completely different name altogether. I don’t think he had to stick with options stemming from his list of given names. However, he opted for Willem -Alexander since that has been his legal first name since birth.

Double names, such as Willem-Alexander, do have a rich tradition among European Royalty, reaching its peak of popular usage in the 18th and 19th centuries. Prussia is a prime example of how double names were handled when numbering single and double names that were closely related.

For example, the first Prussian king, Friedrich I, was succeeded by Friedrich Wilhelm I, then came Friedrich II, Friedrich Wilhelm II, III and IV, and then (after Wilhelm I) there was Friedrich III. In other words, the names Friedrich and Friedrich Wilhelm were regarded as different and separate regnal names and thus were treated differently.

What is also interesting to note is that both Friedrich III and his son Wilhelm II were publicly known by the double names Friedrich-Wilhelm prior to them succeeding the throne. However, within the family the future Friedrich III was known as “Fritz” while his son, the future Wilhelm II, was known as “Willy.” When they came to the Prussian and Imperial thrones they chose as their regal names that which reflected how they were known within the family.

Friedrich III, German Emperor & King of Prussia
Wilhelm II, German Emperor & King of Prussia

Sweden is another excellent example of how similar names were treated, specifically with the names Carl and Gustaf. We’ve seen kings named Carl, the notable Carl XII for example. We’ve seen kings named Gustaf, Gustaf V is an example. We’ve also seen double names used uniquely. Unlike the Prussians who have regarded the names Friedrich and Friedrich Wilhelm as different and separate regal names, in Sweden the first name was treated as the primary name and the regal number was placed in the middle of the name not at the end.

This resulted in names such as Gustaf II Adolph, Carl X Gustaf, Carl XIV Johan, Gustaf VI Adolph and the current king, Carl XVI Gustaf. If the succession to the Swedish Crown had not been altered to absolute primogeniture then the next King of Sweden would be Carl XVII Philip.

King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima of the Netherlands.

It could be theoretically possible for the sovereign of the Netherlands treating Willem and Willem-Alexander as different regnal names as was done in Prussia. This would mean that there could be a Willem IV, or a Willem-Alexander II, at some point in the future, and that the current king is not counted as Willem IV, even though he has not taken that regal name and number.

However, Willem-Alexander wanting to be known by his given names are not the only reasons he chose this option. From this article I found online by The Guardian, published on April 30, 2013 when Willem-Alexander came to the throne, I learned that being called Willem IV could open himself up for ridicule.

King Willem-Alexander does not wish to be called Willem IV, he says, because he doesn’t want to be labelled with a number. It has been suggested that his real motive is to avoid being called “vier” (four) because it rhymes with “bier” (beer), which would make the temptation to call him “Willem Bier”, following his previous nickname “Prince Pils”, almost irrestible. His father, Prince Claus, was so committed to informality that he became famous for his condemnation of tie-wearing. He first made his feelings known at an awards ceremony for African fashion designers, when he announced his contempt for this “snake around my neck” – a statement that has since become known as “The Declaration of the Tie”. LB

There is also another reason Willem-Alexander didn’t want a regal number attached to his name….he seems to detest them.

In an interview Willem-Alexander made a rather degrading comment that the regal numbers remind him of farm animals. He stated that “Willem IV stands next to Bertha XII (a cow) in the pasture.” It seems that the king feels that numbering a Dutch Monarch is the same as numbering cattle.

HRH The Princess of Orange

This does create a problem in the future. How could a sovereign of the Netherlands now be known by a regal number with that image in their minds? The heiress to the throne is the Princess of Orange, Princess Catherina-Amalia, and her father’s remarks makes it very difficult for her to choose an already existing name for her eldest child from the list of the Dutch sovereigns, should she ever have one.

These names include Willem, Wilhelmina, Juliana, Beatrix, Willem-Alexander or her own, Catherina-Amalia. Since any of those names would require a regnal number if used again, it would open them up for criticism or ridicule with every television channel or news organization in the Netherlands repeating her father’s comment on how Willem IV (or any name requiring a regular number) “stands in a pasture next to Bertha XXII.”

There hasn’t been a Monarch of the Netherlands with a regal number since the death of King Willem III on November 23, 1890, 128 years, 10 months, 15 days ago.

Since the reign of Queen Wilhelmina the tradition within the Dutch Royal family has been to pick a name with a familial connection but one that does not require a regal number. Now one cannot rule out the possibility of there being a Willem IV or Willem-Alexander II (or even a Wilhelmina II or Beatrix II) but that is unlikely to occur in the near or foreseeable future.