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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.

Odds on baby names.
Perhaps its time to have a real King Arthur. Photograph: Getty Images.

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.