Next month, on April 21st 2016, Queen Elizabeth II will celebrate her 90th birthday. So will a largely supportive country, most of whose population cannot remember a time when she was not Queen. At some point, of course, they will also see the succession, when the crown passes to her son Charles. Will we therefore have to get used to hearing the phrase “King Charles the Third”? There are some compelling reasons why not.
Forget the numerous tabloid claims that the Monarchy will “skip a generation” or that the Queen will “pass on her crown to William”. It won’t and she can’t. If Charles is alive the day his mother dies, he becomes King; the doubt surrounds whether he will be crowned “Charles III”. Charles was christened “Charles Philip Arthur George”: he could chose any of these names, or even another name entirely, as his “regnal name”.
There have been two King Charleses, both arrogant, tyrannical Stuart monarchs who ensured the 17th Century was one of the most turbulent and unstable in British history. The first was beheaded and the second sired at least 13 children, not one of whom was legitimate.
We have never had a King Philip, but France and Spain have had several, who spent much of their reigns enthusiastically waging war against Britain.
King Arthur only ever existed in legend – the sort of legend which has been developed in recent years into the fantasy world of “Game of Thrones”: hardly the model of sober respectability expected of a modern king. Moreover Camilla would suffer by comparison to the beautiful and courtly Queen Guinevere.
So we are left with George. Of the nine kings since the current Royal dynasty came to the throne, six have been Georges. Charles’ grandfather, George VI, is well regarded by historians: staid, unimaginative and dull. Charles shares these qualities and is highly likely to share the name too.
Whatever Charles’ regnal name turns out to be, it is already known to a select few. There are preparations to be made: coins to be minted, cyphers designed, stationery printed. Finally – and decisively in my view – you cannot find a bookmaker in the country prepared to take a bet on “George VII”. If you can, put your shirt on it.