By James Evans
So, the royal baby is now born, and the frenzy of media speculation turns to the undisclosed, and perhaps as yet unchosen, name. Of course, I have no say in the matter, and rightly so! Although I went to the same school as Prince William, Eton College, I didn’t know him at all, and I certainly didn’t teach him anything he knows… Naming their baby is the special prerogative of parents, and I only wish that there was less pressure on the Cambridges, and fewer people trying to influence them. In case they are looking online for some inspiration, however, I offer them the benefit of my humble suggestion that the baby be named ‘James’.
Most royal babies rejoice in a long string of names, just as they rejoice in a long string of titles. As far as the public are concerned, however, it is the given name, the name, one presumes, that the Prince of Cambridge would use as monarch, that generates the most interest. The presumption that the given name would become the regnal name is not always, in fact, borne out by history. Two kings who reigned in the twentieth century, Edward VII and George VI, were both called Albert. Clearly they felt that the name was inappropriate for a British monarch. In fact, there have been remarkably few male regnal names on the British, as opposed to English or Scottish, throne: William, Edward, James, Charles and George. This situation suggests a distinct lack of wriggle-room for the Cambridges; if they follow the tradition, James stands out as the only one of these which has not been used for an immediate heir or monarch in recent memory. Of course, they could break with tradition. I would have no problem with an Alexander I (IV of Scotland), for example…
But there are nevertheless compelling reasons to go for James. Firstly, James is a good ‘Christian name’. James is derived from Jacob, a key figure in the Book of Genesis, and was also the name of two of the Twelve Disciples. Although the United Kingdom rejoices in many different faiths, and Prince Charles has stated that he would prefer to be known as ‘Defender of Faith’ rather than ‘Defender of the Faith’, the monarch’s role as titular head of the Church of England remains an important one. It is a role that Queen Elizabeth II takes incredibly seriously, and the strength of her personal faith has helped her to lead a life of remarkable service to her people.
Then there is the history of those kings that have borne the name James. Seven kings of Scotland have held the name proudly, two of whom also reigned in personal union over the rest of the British Isles. A James III (and VIII of Scotland) would be a reminder of the importance both of Scotland and of the personal union of crowns. Scotland has played a formative role too in the lives of the young royal couple. Had they not been at university together in St Andrews, they might well never have met; also, Prince William will doubtless have visited the Balmoral Estate on many occasions and retains the Bowes-Lyon heritage of his great-grandmother Elizabeth.
In fact, the name ‘James’ could serve as an important bridge between England and Scotland. In changing the law to allow royals marrying Roman Catholics to inherit the throne, steps were taken to move beyond the sad history of James II (VII), deposed in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 for his conversion to Roman Catholicism. The attempts of his descendants, ‘The Old Pretender’ and ‘The Young Pretender’ to take the throne in 1715 and 1745, and the way in which resistance to Hanoverian rule was brutally ended after Culloden in 1746, are amongst the darkest days of internal British relations! A new Prince James would be symbolic of the way in which Britain, and its constituent countries, has moved on to a new reconciliation, a reconciliation which, Alex Salmond has assured Scots, will continue under a union of crowns even if Scotland chooses political independence.
But the name of James I and VI has an even stronger historical suit. A man often maligned by jealous contemporaries, in his person union and his cautious politics, James stabilised the difficult relationship between England and Scotland, having emerged from the challenges of his child-rule in Scotland. James became the patron of Shakespeare’s theatre company in 1603, henceforth known as ‘The King’s Men’. James was himself a noted author, producing the Basilikon Doron, a treatise on government, and he sponsored the King James Bible, still one of the most important texts in the English language. Also, for all the rumours about his homosexual or homoerotic relationship with ‘Steenie’, the first Duke of Buckingham, James and his wife, Anne of Denmark, were fruitful, with Charles I surviving to take the throne and one line of his daughter Elizabeth’s descendants becoming the Hanoverian rulers of Britain in the eighteenth century, lineal ancestors of the current royal family.
Moreover, under James’ rule much of the important early settlement in the New World took place. Jamestown, Virginia, was established in 1607, and the Plymouth Colony of the Pilgrim Fathers was founded in 1620. It would seem very appropriate, therefore, for a potential Commonwealth head to be called James. Elizabeth II never forgets her duty to the Commonwealth and the sixteen states for which she is still Queen. Her presence at the Lord’s Ashes test was partly a celebration of her role, and I was incredibly embarrassed when TV cricket commentator Mark Nicholas suggested to Aussie cricket captain Michael Clarke that it would be pretty special for him to meet the ‘Queen of England’! The Prince of Cambridge would do well to follow the example both of his great-grandmother and of the ‘wisest fool in Christendom’; naming him ‘James’ might just encourage him to do that.