The dubious history of the name "King Charles"

Kking charles iii, who ascended the throne on Thursday, has chosen to rule with the name he was given at birth. But being a British king comes with baggage.

Charles I, born in 1600, had a tumultuous reign that ended with his execution 49 years later. Meanwhile, he provoked civil war and erased the notion of an all-powerful monarchy – or indeed any monarchy at all in the 11 years since his beheading outside the Banqueting House in London.

Charles II, his son, chose to hide on the European continent for what became known as the Interregnum, moving from country to country to avoid the long reach of Oliver Cromwell, the Puritan leader who led the rebellion against his father. He returned only after the republic collapsed amid internal discord. The Restoration period in England began when Charles II took the throne in 1661.

But it was a diminished monarchy. The Civil War was about whether the sovereign of England ruled with absolute power.

Unlike his father, Charles II chose not to insist on this, and the “jolly monarch” did remembered most for his hedonism, many lovers and deathbed conversion to Catholicism. His name lives on in the King Charles Spaniel, which descended from the spaniel breeds he bred.

Portrait of King Charles II of England, 1653. Oil on canvas.  (Cleveland Museum of Art, Elizabeth Severance Prentice Collection)

Portrait of King Charles II of England, 1653. Oil on canvas.

Cleveland Museum of Art, Elizabeth Severance Prentice Collection

At 73, King Charles III is the oldest British monarch to ascend the throne in its thousand-year history. His seven decades as heir was also the longest wait. As Prince of Wales, Charles has had plenty of time to decide what name to take when the throne becomes his – naming yourself is one of the absolute powers that remain. And he had several names of his own to choose from: The late Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip named their firstborn son Charles Philip Arthur George.

In fact, reports have emerged seven years ago that the man who would be king was inclined to go with George VII – a tribute to his grandfather, born Albert and known to his family even after he took the throne, as Bertie. “It wouldn’t be just a tribute to his grandfather,” former Buckingham Palace spokesman Dickie Arbiter told the BBC in 2005, “but a kind of loving memory of his late grandmother, whom he absolutely adored.”

And like The times of London, celebrated this year, under Christmas Eve title “Call me George, suggests Charles”, avoiding Charles III would also “avoid unpleasant associations with some of the bloodiest periods in the history of the monarchy”.

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