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Alastair Windsor was a great-grandson of Queen Victoria through his father, and a great-great-grandson of Victoria through his mother. Although born a prince, he was stripped of his royal titles while still a toddler, after the regulations were tightened up. Alastair went into the army, and died during World War II on active service, in unconventional circumstances. He had been sent to Canada as aide-de-camp to the Governor General, who was a relation of his. Both his regiment and the Governor General had rejected him as incompetent, and he fell out of a window while drunk. It can get very cold in Canada, and Alastair succumbed to hypothermia overnight. Alastair is the Anglicised form of Alasdair, a Scottish form of Alexander. Alasdair Mòr Mac Dòmhnaill is the ancestor of the Clan MacAlister. I think Alastair very handsome, and in a country where Lachlan and Hamish are common, it doesn’t seem out of place. If the alas at the start bothers you, it can also be spelled the more common Alistair.
Although there had been many English kings before him, Athelstan the Glorious was the first ruler of all England, and the first who can be called king of the English. He was the grandson of Alfred the Great, and like his grandfather, had a reputation as a man of great intelligence and justice. His household was a centre for learning, he created the most centralised government England had yet had, maintained social order, encouraged literature, was an unbeaten military leader, and a key player in international affairs. He gets rave reviews from medieval historians, and even foreign writers of his time were eager to sing his praises. He is a king worthy of admiration, yet while the name Alfred was successfully revived and is still used now, Athelstan went out of use after the Norman Conquest, and remains extremely rare. Just doesn’t seem fair, does it? Athelstan is the modern form of the Anglo-Saxon name Æþelstan, meaning “noble stone”; it was very common amongst Anglo-Saxon royalty and nobility, and there are quite a few other kings with the name. I admit it does seem a little unwieldy, but it comes with the nickname Stan.
August was the second name of Prince Ernst August, a great-great grandson of George III and cousin of George V. As a member of the Hanoverian family, he was born a prince of Britain and Ireland, but during World War I, anti-German sentiment convinced the British royal family to strip the titles from their German relatives. However, the Hanoverians didn’t consider themselves bound by British rules, and continued to call themselves princes and princesses. To this day, the Hanoverians ask the British monarch for permission to marry, like other royals. It’s a bit of an odd situation. Prince Ernst was the last reigning monarch of the House of Hanover, and his marriage to Princess Victoria of Prussia the last large gathering of European royals before World War I broke out – he was very much the end of an era. August is the German form of Augustus, a traditional middle name in the Hanoverian royal family which continues to be handed down. You can also see August as after the month, in which case it can be given to both sexes.
Axel was the final middle name of Prince Georg Wilhelm Ernst August Friedrich Axel, the son of Prince Ernst August. He married Princess Sophie of Greece and Denmark, who was Prince Philip’s sister. The name Axel is the medieval Danish form of the Hebrew name Absalom. In the Old Testament, Absalom was a son of King David, staggeringly handsome and extremely charming. He rebelled against his father; it’s a pretty awful story involving incest, rape and murder, and not one of the most uplifting parts of the Bible. Absalom was killed when he got his head stuck in a tree, which is meant to be very ironic for some reason. To me the ironic part is his name means “my father is peace”, and he went to war against his father. Axel is not a popular name in Australia, but I feel as if it will be in a few years, based on how frequently I see it in birth notices – it is #164 in Victoria. Its use seems to be influenced by singer Axl Rose, whose stage name is famously an anagram.
Edmund the Magnificent was half-brother to Athelstan the Glorious, and his successor to the throne. He only ruled for a few years before he was murdered, but in that short time he had important military victories in the north, established peace with Scotland, began reviving the monasteries and helped restore Louis IV to the throne of France. His great-grandson Edmund Ironsides fought valiantly against the Danes, and although ultimately defeated by King Canute, was a skilled and inspiring leader. Edmund is an Old English name meaning “rich protector”, and it was common amongst Anglo-Saxon royalty and nobility. Saint Edmund the Martyr was a King of East Anglia killed by the Danes, and was the patron saint of England until Saint George got the gig – there is a movement in East Anglia to reinstate him. Unlike many other Anglo-Saxon names, Edmund remained in use after the Conquest (probably because of the saint), and was even used in the royal family. It’s surprising how rare this name is compared to classic, popular Edward, but it’s a very handsome and noble one. Narnia fans will know it as the name of the treacherous Pevensie brother, who redeems himself and becomes a king of Narnia. Edmund “Ted” Gyngell is a recent celebrity baby, sometimes called Edmund the Magnificent after his namesake.
Emmanuel was the final middle name of Francis Albert Augustus Charles Emmanuel of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, otherwise known as Prince Albert. He married his cousin Victoria, who was the heir to the British throne at the time. Victoria had the choice of two cousins to wed, and chose Albert as the most handsome and charming. Queen Victoria was devoted to Albert, and he was a great support to her, holding quite a bit of power behind the throne. A progressive and liberal thinker, he helped bring in many reforms, set the example that monarchy must be above politics, and made a huge success of the Great Exhibition of 1851. He died while only in his early 40s, and Queen Victoria was devastated. She wore mourning for the rest of her days and withdrew from public life. Emmanuel is a Hebrew name meaning “God is with us”; the Old Testament gives the name in a prophecy, and the New Testament attached it to Jesus Christ as the Messiah. The name was common amongst European royalty, but less often used in Britain. In Australia it’s possibly best known as a surname, from guitarist Tommy Emmanuel.
Eustace was the eldest son of King Stephen, and a great-grandson of William the Conqueror. Stephen had become king of England in a rather controversial way. After the heir to the throne had drowned in a disastrous shipwreck, Stephen had himself declared king by popular acclaim and was speedily crowned before anyone knew what was happening. The Empress Matilda had been next in line, but she was only a woman, and Stephen thought he should rule instead. Matilda didn’t agree, and their subsequent battle for power threw England into a state of anarchy for nearly two decades. Stephen had Eustace declared his co-king, but the church refused to ratify this, and nearly everyone was greatly relieved when the teenaged Eustace unexpectedly died. Generally perceived as rather a blot, his welcome demise allowed peace negotiations to go ahead. Even more conveniently, Stephen died the following year leaving Matilda’s son, Henry II, as ruler. Eustace is the English form of Greek Eustachios, meaning “rich crop”, a name chosen for himself by a 2nd century Roman general and martyr who had been born Placidus, and is known as Saint Eustace; because of him, the name was common during the Middle Ages. This is another name from The Narnia Chronicles, because Eustace Scrubb was a rather annoying character who, like the saint, was converted from his previous beliefs. Hardly anybody seems to like the name Eustace, and even C.S. Lewis made fun of Eustace Scrubb’s name.
Prince Leopold was a son of Queen Victoria, named after his great-uncle, Leopold I of Belgium, who had helped arrange the marriage of Victoria and Albert. Leopold’s birth is famous because his mother used chloroform during labour, giving the royal seal of approval for women to seek pain relief during childbirth. Prince Leopold inherited the family condition of haemophilia and also had mild epilepsy; he became a patron of the arts, literature and chess. He knew Alice Liddell, famous as the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice books (one of which revolves around chess), and some believe he considered marrying her, although others say it was her older sister Edith who was his intended wife. Queen Victoria arranged for him to marry Princess Helena of Waldeck and Pyrmont, a distant cousin. Leopold’s marriage was happy, and he and Helena had a daughter named Alice, but he died as a result of haemophilia after only a few years. He passed away just before his son Charles was born. Alice inherited the haemophilia gene, and passed it on to her son Rupert, who also died young. Leopold is a Germanic name meaning “bold people”; it was common amongst German royalty. This rather grandiose name has popular Leo as the nickname.
Magnus was a son of King Harold II and Edith the Fair, or Edith the Gentle Swan, sometimes (wrongly) called Edith Swan-neck. Harold and Edith were married in a traditional manner known as handfasting, and although Edith was regarded as Harold’s wife by regular people, and their children as princes and princesses, the clergy saw her only as his mistress because they hadn’t wed in a Christian ceremony. Harold did have another wife, also called Edith, but this was a marriage of political convenience, and not a love match as it was with Edith the Fair. According to legend, after Harold was killed at the Battle of Hastings, only Edith the Fair could identify his body by markings she knew, so Harold was able to have a Christian burial. Magnus is a Latin name meaning “great”; Magnus Maximus was a 4th century Western Roman Emperor who became important in British folklore and Welsh legend, and is part of the mythology of King Arthur. There are several saints named Magnus, and it was a traditional name in the royal families of Norway and Sweden. The name is often thought of as Scottish, and one of the Saints Magnus was from Scotland. This is a great name, rich in history and legend, strong and interesting, and a good alternative to Max.
Prince Octavius was the thirteenth child of King George III, and doted upon by his adoring parents. At the age of four, he was inoculated against the smallpox virus, and as vaccination was still in its experimental stages, became ill and died, the last member of the British royal family to suffer from smallpox. The sudden death of the tiny prince caused his family immense grief, and during his later bouts of madness, King George even had hallucinations about Octavius. What made it harder for them was they had lost Octavius’ younger brother Alfred in exactly the same way six months previously. Octavius is a Roman name coming from the Latin for “eight”; Octavius was the eighth son of King George III. Octavius seems very hip – fresher than Atticus and Orlando, with a distinct feel of its own. It would be a good choice for an eighth child or grandchild, or someone born in August (the 8th month) or October.
POLL RESULT: People’s favourite names were August, Magnus, and Alastair, and their least favourite were Octavius, Athelstan and Eustace.
(Picture shows a portrait of Prince Albert and his royal family by Franz Xaver Winterhalter)