The last of the royal Lionels: The peculiar names of would-be Kings

George might be the favourite name for the new royal, but how about a Eustace, Alfonso or Arthur? He wouldn't be our first.

Well, at least we now know that the next monarch but two will, in all likelihood, not be Queen Alexandra, Queen Victoria II or even Queen Elizabeth III. As anticipation mounts over which names the Cambridges are going to give to their firstborn, we can probably assume that they will eschew the wild and wacky in favour of a proper princely-sounding name. Having said that, who would have put a bet on Zara Phillips? The name Andrew raised a few eyebrows in 1960 when he became second-in-line to the throne too. Of course, it was the name of his long-dead Greek grandfather but none of the UK’s constituent parts had ever had a King Andrew, the only country with kings of that name being Hungary in the early middle ages.

As I write, the bookies have plumped for George as the favourite; after all the last Prince of Cambridge was a George, born in 1819 and whose statue in Whitehall was vandalised last year. His portrait used to adorn a pub my neighbourhood until the landlord replaced it with a picture of what can only be described as a pirate drawn by a 12-year old. George seems like a safe bet, particularly given the recent portrayals of the young Prince’s great-great-grandfather by Colin Firth and Sam West.

A look back over the last thousand years of British history, however, reveals a fascinating list of names of would-be Kings of England and Scotland, not to mention Princes of Wales and Kings of Ireland.  Naturally 1066 saw a major change in the nomenclature of English Kings; goodbye Offa, Egbert and Ethelred – hello the Franco-Norman William, Robert, Henry and Richard. Edward, Edmund and latterly Alfred would prove the only Anglo-Saxon survivors. Indeed Prince Alfred, later the Duke of Edinburgh and even later the Duke of Saxe-Coburg was second in line to British throne from his birth in 1844 until that of the future Duke of Clarence twenty years later. Prince Alfie, anyone?

Nobody should forget that maternal grandparents have often been responsible for some of the stranger names given to our young princelings. The bookies seem to have ruled out Michael, the name of the child’s grandfather, but then we already have a Prince Michael of Kent, so things could get a bit confusing. Incidentally he is the only British royal to be named after an American President: Michael George Charles Franklin after FDR. We should remember the more unfortunate of these names, and be thankful that history did not land us with a King Eustace or a King Alfonso, both definite possibilities at one time. Prince Eustace, eldest son of King Stephen, took his name from his maternal grandfather Count Eustace of Boulogne, who very nearly became King of Jerusalem when his younger brother, the reigning king died. Young Prince Eustace died aged somewhere between the ages of 17 and 25 (chroniclers are a bit vague), apparently a divine punishment for pillaging church lands in Suffolk. His tomb in Faversham fell victim to the dissolution of the monasteries and is sadly unmarked.

Odder still perhaps is the case of Prince Alfonso who stood to inherit the English crown from his father Edward (Longshanks) I from his birth in 1273 until his untimely death at the tender age of 10. In fact, his maternal grandfather’s name was Ferdinand, later canonised and railway-timetabled as San Fernando; Alfonso was the name of his mother, Queen Eleanor’s half-brother, the King of Castile and part-time King of the Romans. Little Alfonso was, indeed, the heir to the throne and Earl of Chester when his younger brother Edward was born in Caernarvon and proclaimed Prince of Wales at birth. Who knows whether Alfonso might have become as popular a name for an English King as Edward was to be?

Half a century later, we could have seen a King Lionel on the English throne, with all its Arthurian resonances. As the second son of Edward III, Lionel of Antwerp stood just behind the Black Prince in order of succession until the birth of the latter’s son in 1365. The widowed Prince Lionel then headed off to Italy to wed a Visconti heiress but died, possibly poisoned by his in-laws in the town where they now make Ferrero Rocher chocolates. He was the last of the royal Lionels.

We have, indeed, come close a couple of times to having a real King Arthur on the English throne. Young Arthur of Brittany should by right have succeeded his uncle Richard Lionheart when the latter fell foul of a stray arrow in Châlus. Instead of which Arthur ended his days in Rouen Castle imprisoned by his uncle John who may, or may not have thrown him into the Seine with a stone tied to him to make him sink. More recently, Henry VII tried to revive the Arthurian legend by giving his eldest son that name but as any student of Tudor times knows it was not to be as young Arthur died aged 15, only 4 months after his marriage to the Catholic Monarchs’ daughter Catalina (or Katharine of Aragon if you must).

Our most recent Prince Arthur, Queen Victoria’s third son, managed to outlive most of his contemporaries to be, barring the present Duke of Edinburgh, the longest lived British Prince, dying as Duke of Connaught at the age of 91. His name lives on, however, in the first names of both the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cambridge, so who knows, we could be in for an Arthurian revival. Incidentally, as well as his Irish Dukedom, Prince Arthur also bore an Irish name. When Queen Victoria visited Ireland in August 1849 she was in the first weeks of a yet unannounced pregnancy. Her condition did not pass unnoticed by an ancient Irishwoman who apparently touched the royal crinoline saying “Call him Patrick, for old Ireland, Ma’am”. Nine months later that’s just what the Queen did.

Perhaps its time to have a real King Arthur. Photograph: Getty Images.
BBC
Show Hide image

Would the BBC's Nazi drama SS-GB have felt half so resonant a year ago?

This alternate history is freighted with meaning now we're facing the wurst-case scenario. 

Would SS-GB have felt half so resonant a year ago? Though the clever-after-the-fact Nostradamus types out there might disagree, I can’t believe that it would. When it comes to the Second World War, after all, the present has helpfully stepped in where memory is just beginning to leave off. The EU, in the process of fragmenting, is now more than ever powerless to act in the matter of rogue states, even among its own membership. In case you hadn’t noticed, Hungary, for instance, is already operating as a kind of proto-fascist state, led by Viktor Orbán, a man whom Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, jokingly likes to call “the dictator” – and where it goes, doubtless others will soon follow.

The series (Sundays, 9pm), adapted from Len Deighton’s novel, is set in 1941 in a Britain under Nazi occupation; Winston Churchill has been executed and the resistance is struggling to hold on to its last strongholds in the countryside. Sam Riley plays Douglas Archer, a detective at Scotland Yard, now under the control of the SS, and a character who appears in almost every scene. Riley has, for an actor, a somewhat unexpressive face, beautiful but unreadable. Here, however, his downturned mouth and impassive cheekbones are perfect: Archer, after all, operates (by which I mean, barely operates) in a world in which no one wants to give their true feelings away, whether to their landlady, their lover, or their boss, newly arrived from Himmler’s office and as Protestant as all hell (he hasn’t used the word “degenerate” yet, but he will, he will).

Archer is, of course, an ambiguous figure, neither (at present) a member of the resistance nor (we gather) a fully committed collaborator. He is – or so he tells himself – merely doing his job, biding his time until those braver or more foolhardy do something to restore the old order. Widowed, he has a small boy to bring up. Yet how long he can inhabit this dubious middle ground remains to be seen. Oskar Huth (Lars Eidinger), the new boss, is keen to finish off the resistance; the resistance, in turn, is determined to persuade Archer to join its cause.

It’s hard to find fault with the series; for the next month, I am going to look forward to Sunday nights mightily. I would, I suppose, have hoped for a slightly more charismatic actress than Kate Bosworth to play Barbara Barga, the American journalist who may or may not be involved with the British resistance. But everything else seems pretty perfect to me. London looks suitably dirty and its inhabitants’ meals suitably exiguous. Happiness is an extra egg for tea, smoking is practically a profession, and
the likes of Archer wear thick, white vests.

Swastikas adorn everything from the Palace of Westminster to Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace is half ruined, a memorial to what the Germans regard as Churchill’s folly, and the CGI is good enough for the sight of all these things to induce your heart to ache briefly. Nazi brutality is depicted here as almost quotidian – and doubtless it once was to some. Huth’s determination to have four new telephone lines installed in his office within the hour is at one end of this horrible ordinariness. At the other is the box in which Archer’s mutinous secretary Sylvia (Maeve Dermody) furiously stubs out her fag, full to the brim with yellow stars.

When I first heard about The Kettering Incident (Tuesdays, 12.20am; repeated Wednesdays, 10pm) I thought someone must have found out about that thing that happened one time I was driving north on the M1 with a more-than-usually terrible hangover. Turns out it’s a new Australian drama, which comes to us on Sky Atlantic. Anna (Elizabeth Debicki), a doctor working in London, pitches up back in Tasmania many years after her teenage friend Gillian disappeared into its Kettering forest, having seen a load of mysterious bright lights. Was Gillian abducted by aliens or was she, as some local people believe, murdered by Anna? To be honest, she could be working as a roadie for Kylie, for all I care. This ponderous, derivative show is what happens when a writer sacrifices character on the altar of plot. The more the plot thickens, the more jaw-achingly tedious it becomes.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 24 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Brexit