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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: July 2020

Chapter 8 - Names and Numbering

from Part II - A Sense of Dynasty


This chapter deals with the ways dynastic consciousness was expressed in naming and numbering practices. It was very unusual for a medieval dynasty to have a name. Dynastic labels such as Plantagenet and Capetian are modern constructions. Ruling dynasties with hereditary surnames are exceptional, the main cases being in Ireland and Byzantium after the eleventh century. However, dynastic identity was expressed in the choice of personal names, some of which were so characteristic of a family that it is often assumed that anyone bearing them is likely to be a member. The term “Carolingian”, derived from the recurrent dynastic name “Charles” is analysed as an example. New names were introduced into dynasties through marriage and through free choice of names for younger sons. Examples of a conscious change of name usually have political significance. Numbering of monarchs began with the papacy and spread slowly and unevenly. The systems of numbering always imply a starting point and a claim to continuity. Examples analysed in detail here include the Holy Roman Emperors, the post-Conquest kings of England and the kings of Leon-Castile. The conclusion is that “a number for a monarch is far from a neutral tool of chronology”.