From Prince Charles to King George?

The Times and the BBC report that Prince Charles is considering taking the name George when (or rather if) he becomes king. The Times’ headline is the rather amusing “Call me George, says Charles”, which made me think this was another moan about declining manners: a lot of commoners call him Charlie, so maybe people “in house” call him George. But no, it seems there is speculation that he might take the third of his three middle names when he becomes king.

This is actually nothing unusual: four out of the six recent monarchs have taken a name other than their first when they take the crown. George VI (the present queen’s father) had the first name Albert (and was called Bertie within the family), while Edward VIII (who abdicated after a very short time to marry the American divorcee Wallis Simpson) was known as David, the last of his seven forenames, until he took the throne. Why couldn’t we have had a king David? Well, perhaps it sounded too Welsh, or too Jewish. (In any case, it would no doubt have been said that his behaviour did not do the name justice.)

The problem with Prince Charles becoming King Charles III is a kind of superstition that the name is unlucky, given that the name has been associated with unpleasant periods of the monarchy’s history. Charles I (1625-49) was an absolutist Catholic who ended up getting his head chopped off, and Charles II (1660-85) had three disasters (the plague, the fire of London, and a war with Holland) happen on his watch. And Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Scottish Catholic (Jacobite) pretender to the throne in the 18th century, is known as Charles III among his fans in Scotland.

Then again, were the earlier kings called Charles actually called Charles by their first names? And surely there have only been two kings called Charles; it’s not as if it’s that long a record of kings by that name who were bad, or had bad things happen to them or on their watch. It’s not as if Charles II started the plague or the fire. For that matter, the plague of London was nowhere near the worst outbreak of that disease in British history, and as for war, the two Jacobite uprisings, the US War of Independence, the 1811 war with America, the Napoleonic wars and the two World Wars of the 20th century all happened under the reign of kings called George!

As Muslims, we don’t care much for superstitions like these - in fact, we are encouraged to break them. I’ve been told that some shaikhs in India encourage Muslims to eat beef occasionally, even though it’s not the healthiest of meats, to break the Hindu anti-beef taboo, and there is a famous story about how Sayyiduna Omar (radhi Allahu ‘anhu) broke the superstition by which the Egyptians threw a girl into the Nile every year as a sacrifice of some sort to keep its level high. But in fact, the feeling that for Prince Charles to be called Charles III is somehow unlucky is a long-standing idea, and no doubt the royals don’t share our enthusiasm for walking under ladders to break superstitions. So they probably will foist on us a king with a name which, by their standards, is not very lucky at all.

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