Giving the Monarchy a bad name...

The first recorded surname of Derbyshire comes from the reign of King John

King John who earned the nickname 'Lackland' - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Delving into the past with Chris Hallam.

Some kings have been so bad that they have disgraced their name forever.

Take King Stephen. Today it seems strange that there was ever even a King Stephen. It doesn’t sound right, does it?

But there was. He was one of the grandsons of William the Conqueror and ruled in the 12th century (1135-54), although to say 'he ruled' is a bit of an overstatement.

His reign was an unmitigated disaster dominated by a long period of a civil war (known as ‘the Anarchy’) with his cousin Matilda. That’s why he is known as Stephen and not Stephen I. There was never a Stephen II.

No one has ever felt the need to call another king John (1199-1216) either.

John, who is often associated with the legend of Robin Hood, was the worst of both worlds: a villain and a tyrant while simultaneously hopeless, losing so many territories that he soon earned the unimaginative nickname ‘Lackland.’

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Eventually, the barons rose up against John and forced him to sign the Magna Carta. So, something good did come out of his reign even if he himself cannot really take any credit for it.

I wonder if there will ever be another King James? The last one was James II (1685-88).

He was also known as James VII of Scotland as there had already been five kings of Scotland before James VI also became James I of England in 1603.

At any rate, James II’s reign was blighted by religious turmoil resulting from his decision to convert to Roman Catholicism. Eventually English Protestants invited the Dutch William of Orange to overthrow him.

James fled on his approach but later attempted to recapture the throne unsuccessfully.

William III and his wife Mary (James’ daughter) ruled jointly as a result of this ‘Glorious Revolution.’ But there has been nothing ‘glorious’ about James II’s short reign.

Richard III (1483-85) is an odd one. Traditionally, he has always been seen as a complete villain, an evil power-mad hunchback who murdered the princes in the Tower.

There is also a sizeable body of opinion which argues Richard has been extremely hard done by and its certainly true Tudor propogandists such as Shakespeare certainly did their bit to blacken Richard’s reputation.

Perhaps they were too successful? Whatever the truth of the matter, there have certainly been no more King Richards in the centuries since.

Henry VIII (1509-47) would doubtless like to have been remembered primarily for his military successes and for his youth as a vigorous and scholarly renaissance man.

As it is, we tend to remember him mostly as the tyrant who had six wives. Hardly surprising really.

What about the queens? Due to the sexist nature of the old Act of Succession, there have been fewer queens than there have been kings.

All the queens have had the names, Anne, Elizabeth, Mary or Victoria.

The reigns of Victoria and Elizabeth have been so successful that it would be surprising indeed if there was not a new Elizabeth III or s Victoria in the years ahead. Anne and Mary II are both remembered as quite sad figures, however. In their case, I’m not so sure.

Of course, the reign of ‘Bloody Mary’ (1553-58) went so badly, that it would have ordinarily ensured that she would be both the first and last Queen Mary.

As it is, chance intervened to put another Mary on the throne in 1689. Sometimes people become monarchs unexpectedly, which ensures the name returns no matter how undistinguished the last

monarch with that name was. Hence why Henry VII still became king despite the disastrous reign of Henry VI and Richard III followed in the footsteps of the terrible Richard II.

As for Charles, William and George we can probably assume there will be more kings with these names this century.

However, did Edward VIII irretrievably tarnish the name of ‘King Edward’ by choosing to abdicate in 1936? Ultimately, only time will tell.