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Why the next King James would be James VIII and ‘first’ King Alexander, Alexander IV

King James VI became King James I of England in 1603, creating the personal union between the English and Scottish thrones.

King James VI became King James I of England in 1603, creating the personal union between the English and Scottish thrones.

The British Monarchy was formed when King James VI of Scotland inherited the throne of England in 1603. Prior to that, Kings and Queens of England and Scotland had reigned separately. When King James came to the throne of England, he became known as King James I & VI (the first of England and sixth of Scotland).

From 1603 until 1707, England and Scotland’s thrones remained in ‘personal union’ because the King/Queen of England also was the King/Queen of Scotland – the thrones were linked, but not through law. Where applicable, Monarchs held two regnal numbers – one for England and one for Scotland. For example, King William III was known as King William III & II because whilst he was the third King William of England, he was also the second King William of Scotland.

When the 1707 Act of Union was passed, the Kingdom of Great Britain was created and the practice of two separate regnal numbers being used stopped, coincidentally, for the next few reigns at least, the regnal numbers of Kings and Queens of Britain matched that of Scotland.

Little was heard of the debate from thereon in until the reign of our present Queen when Scotland said because there had never been a Queen Elizabeth of Scotland, the new Queen should be known as Elizabeth I & II, not just Elizabeth II. This debate was risen in Parliament in 1953 and special measures were explained by the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill (which we’ll come onto in a minute).

Because of this disagreement over the regnal numbering of our Queen, Scotland still refuses to refer to her as Elizabeth II. On Scottish postboxes, for example, it would ordinarily display the Royal Cypher, though because that displays the symbol ‘EIIR’, just the Crown of Scotland is displayed on postboxes and other places which would ordinarily carry the Royal Cypher.

English postbox (left) proudly displays the complete royal cypher with EIIR. Scottish postbox (right) displays just the Crown of Scotland.

English postbox (left) proudly displays the complete royal cypher with EIIR. Scottish postbox (right) displays just the Crown of Scotland.

In fact, this disagreement was so ferocious that the argument is referred to as ‘The Pillar Box War’.

Now, back to how this was settled. On 15th April 1953, Hansard (the document that records what was said in Parliament) recalls that Churchill says, “It would be reasonable and logical to continue to adopt in future whichever numeral in the English or Scottish line were higher. Thus if, for instance, a King Robert or King James came to the throne he might well be designated by the numeral appropriate to the Scottish succession.”

To put this into basic terms, Kings and Queens of the United Kingdom will, in future, be known by whichever numeral is higher in England or Scotland. For example, if another King James came to the throne, he would be the third King James of England but the eighth King James of Scotland, thus he would be known as King James VIII of the UK. But, if there were for example another King Henry, he would be the first King Henry of Scotland but the ninth of England, making him King Henry IX of the United Kingdom.

In Effect

In effect, though, it so happens that for the next few generations at least, the numerals for Kings of the UK either match in England and Scotland, or the English numeral is higher. For example, Prince Charles should become King Charles III, there have been 2 Kings Charles in England and Scotland – Prince William should become King William V, where  there have been 5 King Williams of England and 4 of Scotland, and Prince George should become George VII, where an equal number have reigned over England and Scotland.

Unless Prince George’s heir is named James or Robert or another name of previous Kings of Scotland, the effect of this arrangement may not be felt for hundreds of years, however.

photo credit: lisby1 & Alison Christine/tillwe via photopin cc

  • Bill Foley

    Very well done. I do find it odd that it was in the reign of Elizabeth II that this became controversial. There doesn’t seem to be much controversy over Edward VII and Edward VIII even though there had not been any king Edwards in Scotland, although some claim Edward Balliol was a king of the Scots very briefly.

    • Tim Roll-Pickering

      I think that says more about the growth of Scottish nationalism in the post war years than anything else.

  • royalmusings

    Super nice job. Happy to help

  • A Passer-by

    Possibly, newborn Prince George of Cambridge will be George VIII rather than VII. Prince Charles can pick his other name “George” as his regnal name referencing his maternal grandfather and avoiding the “dark” history of the Charleses. If he chooses George, he will be George VII and Prince George will be George VIII.

    • neuralwarp

      They held this discussion when trying to choose a design a flag for Great Britain. Some thought the English theme should be dominant because England was larger and more populous. Others thought the Scottish theme should dominate because Scotland was older than England.

  • A Passer-by

    I think the rule suggested by Churchill should be revised. The separate title (King/Queen of Scots) and regnal name & number for use in Scotland should be revived, and the number for England should be used outside Scotland even when the number in England is lower. The reasons are below:

    i. Not a few Scots didn’t want to obey Churchill’s rule. Their tradition is worthy to be respectful.

    ii. Scots are only 8.5% of the population of the UK. If a new King named Alexander ascends to the throne, he should be Alexander VI according to Churchill’s rule. I think it’s unnatural to follow the minority.

    iii. The number of supporters of Scottish independence has been grown. If a new King named Alexander ascends to the throne, he should be Alexander VI according to Churchill’s rule. After then, if Scotland becomes an independent country, his regnal number in the rest of the UK will be very ridiculous because his number matches independent Scotland. Although we can’t affirm Scotland will be independent, we have to prepare it.

    iv. The monarchy has retained separate royal coat of arms and motto only for use in Scotland, so I think it’s also possible to revive separate royal title and regnal number regardless of Scottish independence.

    If The Crown follow my opinion, current Queen Elizabeth II will be Elizabeth (I) as Queen of Scots. Meanwhile, the former kings whose numbers didn’t match in Scotland will cause problems. They’re William IV, Edward VII and Edward VIII. I suggest posthumously grant separate numbers for use in Scotland to them, so they’ll be William III, Edward I and Edward II as Kings of Scots. (Although there was a Scottish King named Edward (Edward Balliol), but many Scots has considered him a puppet of the English, so I didn’t count him.) Thus, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, will be William VI as King of Scots and if a new king named Edward ascends to the throne, he’ll be Edward III as King of Scots.

  • ummagumma

    I believe that the Prince or Princess about to ascend the throne can use ANY Regnal name, so the present Prince Charles, should he wish, could be King James VIII, if he ever reigns.

    • Amanda

      In theory, I think you’re right. Prince Charles could choose any Regnal name he wants – it just so happens that past monarchs have typically chosen one of the names they were given at birth. The speculation is that he’ll either keep Charles because the country has known him as Charles for so long – or choose to become George VII. (Both out of respect for his grandfather/great-grandfather… and to stay away from association with King Charles I, who was beheaded.) Clarence House has denied that any decision has been made one way or another, though, so we’ll have to see what he does end up choosing when the time comes. Hopefully, that won’t be for many more years to come. HM has been an excellent monarch. The longer she can reign, the better.

      • REJimenez

        “it just so happens that past monarchs have typically chosen one of the names they were given at birth”

        Actually, the last king’s name was Albert, and he took the regnal name of George…..

        • Royal Central

          “One of the names” – one of Albert’s names was George, he became George VI.

  • vetusta ecclesia

    There is no need for the first monarch of any name to have a regnal number. It is ascribed post mortem when the name appears again. For example Pope Francis is just that, not Francis I

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