GEN-MEDIEVAL-L ArchivesArchiver > GEN-MEDIEVAL > 1996-10 > 0845859175
From: John Yohalem <>
Subject: Numbering kings (Was: Who was Sven F...)
Date: Sun, 20 Oct 1996 20:52:55 -0400
> 3. Harald I or II, like many medieval monarchs, never put a number in
> front of his name, and such numbers are generally assigned for the
> convenience of modern historians, who do not always agree on what
> number to assign. <snip> I don't
> know that any of the Danish kings named Harald ever used a number
> during their own lifetime, so my guess is that there is no "official"
> numbering. [Which brings up an interesting question: If none of the
> previous kings having that name used a number in their lifetime, and
> historians disagree on how many there were, how does a new king of the
> name choose a number? Coin flip? Vote of the people? It doesn't
> actually have to be the right number, as the kings of Sweden named
> Charles will attest to. ;-) ]
> Stewart Baldwin
Which brings up a question that has fascinated me lately and which no one
on alt.talk.royalty seems to be able to answer: When did monarchs start
taking numbers? Or, to be even more precise, when did a monarch assume the
numeral "I" for the first time? I presume numismatists might know best....
In Denmark's case, I believe Gorm's reign is seen as the equivalent of
William the Conqueror in England, when everyone and everything goes back to
square one to start over. Thus the later Edwards of England, though proud
of their relationship to St. Edward the Confessor, started numbering with
I. But Edward I did not take any number in his lifetime; I believe no
English king ever has used the number "I" -- correct me, if you know of a
coin or seal of George I that does. Similarly, French kings did not until
There are two places it may have started: when Frederick III, elector of
Brandenburg, became King Frederick I of Prussia in 1701; his son then
became Frederick William I instead of Elector Frederick William II. Does
anyone know if either of them used the I? How about Wilhelm I?
The other place is the end of the century, when Paul Petrovich became Tsar.
His 3-year-old daughter, Anna, later Queen of Holland, once asked him why
he was called Paul the First. He answered, "Because there was no tsar named
Paul before me," which begs the question.
After Paul came Napoleon, and then everyone started doing it, including (to
my great disgust) a pope in 1979. The Emperors of Austria were, all four of
them, "I" -- except in Hungary, where Ferdinand and Karl were both "IV."
Nowadays even highly respectable dynasties like the Bourbons of Spain do
Any notions on the first person to use a "I"?
It says a great deal about the psychology and historical consciousness of
monarchs -- plainly they had begun to read history and consider their
appearance in it.
Jean Coeur de Lapin