Beyond Edward and Eleanor: Naming Your Medieval Baby

Beyond Edward and Eleanor: Naming Your Medieval Baby

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are expecting their second baby in April. Already the bookmakers are busy “predicting” the new baby’s name.  Oddmakers say a good old Tudor name is leading the pack for a girl – Elizabeth, and a Stuart name for a boy… James.

Young Edward VI by Hans Holdbien

Young Edward VI by Hans Holbein

The first queen to be named Elizabeth was Edward IV’s wife, Elizabeth Woodville, a commoner. But the name Elizabeth has popped up a few times prior to this Yorkist queen. The first was the youngest daughter of Edward II and second was a granddaughter of Lionel of Antwerp, second son of Edward III. John of Gaunt named a daughter, Elizabeth. And Edward IV also had a sister Elizabeth who married John de la Pole.

Elizabeth and Edward named their eldest daughter Elizabeth, who also became queen as wife of Henry VII. Henry VIII named his second daughter after his mother. She, of course, is the magnificent Elizabeth I.

As for James, that was a name popular with the Scottish Kings of medieval times, but didn’t make an appearance in the English royal baby name pool until James VI of Scotland became James I of England.

Both are still popular names among the royals with the Earl and Countess of Wessex naming their son, James, and of course the present queen is Elizabeth II.

So would you give your baby a Plantagenet or Tudor name? There are many to choose from. Here’s a list of our favorites.

The “Core” Medieval Names

In reviewing the names of kings, queens and their siblings, patterns do emerge. During this time period, royals tended to stay with the tried and true. Let’s start with the “core” names. These are names that pop up over and over again among the sons and daughters of the kings and queens during this 500 years of history.  Let’s start with the obvious:

Henry – William the Conqueror named his second son Henry. Henry’s daughter Matilda named her son, Henry II. Henry II named his eldest son Henry, who was known as Henry the Young King, but he died young. Then Henry’s other son, John, named his son, Henry III. Then the name went into hiatus for the next three generations. It wasn’t until John, Duke of Lancaster’s son Henry of Bolingbroke, defeated his cousin, Richard II that the name returned to royal use. Henry IV named his son Henry who named his son Henry. And then, Margaret Beaufort, great-grandaughter of John named her son Henry. He became Henry VII and of course had Henry VIII. Henry then disappears as a favored royal baby name to be briefly revived in the 1700s when one of George III’s brother was named Henry, Duke of Cumberland and Strathearn. And we don’t really see the name again until George VI’s, brother Henry, Duke of Gloucester, born in 1900 and Prince Harry born in 1984.

Edward – The story goes that Henry III was fascinated by Edward the Confessor, the Anglo-Saxon king defeated by William the Conqueror, and was later made a saint by the Catholic Church. It was a name that was not used by the Norman conquerors for their royal children, until Henry III named his first-born, Edward. And then it really took off, popular during both the Plantagenet and Tudor dynasties, with six kings named Edward. It’s a name that has stood the test of time as the Queen’s youngest son is Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex. The name appears to have come full circle as Edward the Confessor is considered to be the last Anglo-Saxon king of the House of Wessex. Perhaps Edward is the truest English name of them all.

Eleanor – The name comes in to Plantagenet history with the magnificent Eleanor of Aquitaine, wife of Henry II. The original spelling of Eleanor was Alienor.  Then nearly every king until Edward III names a daughter, Eleanor. Henry II and Edward I also marry Eleanors.  It is the ‘grande dame’ of Plantagenet names. Although rarely seen after Edward III, it did pop up in the Beaufort line.

Joan – Henry II and Eleanor introduced the name Joan to the list of Plantagenet baby names. Their youngest daughter, Joan, marries the King of Sicily first, and second the Count of Toulouse. Joan is the feminization of the name John and not surprising was quite popular with the Beaufort line created by John of Gaunt and his third wife, Katherine Swynford. They had a daughter Joan, who married Ralph Neville. A granddaughter of John’s named Joan married the King of Scotland.

Margaret – Henry III introduced Margaret as a name fit for a royal princess when he named his third daughter Margaret at the end of the thirteenth century. She would marry Alexander of Scotland. Edward I also named a daughter Margaret as did Edward III. Edward IV had a sister Margaret. Henry VII named his elder daughter Margaret after his mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort. Margaret Tudor also married a King of Scotland.

Mary – If Edward is the quintessential name for an English royal boy, then Mary must be the classic name for an English girl. Before Henry VIII, the Plantagenets and Tudors were Catholic. And to name a girl Mary is to honor the mother of Jesus. Stephen named his only daughter Mary. She married the Count of Flanders. Edward I named a daughter Mary who later became a nun.  Edward III had a daughter Mary as did Edward IV. Henry VII named his youngest daughter Mary. Her great-niece was named Mary, Queen of Scots. Henry VIII named his eldest daughter Mary. She became Mary I, the first female to rule England as Queen. Mary continued to be a popular name for a princess to the present day with Princess Mary, daughter of George V and aunt to the current Queen.


“Fallen out of Favor” Medieval Names

These royal names were popular for a short time and then disappeared from Plantagenet baby names. It’s ironic too that the two names on this list are the Conqueror and his wife.

William – This is the name of the current Duke of Cambridge and future King of Great Britain, but William did not stay in favor for very long during the Plantagenet and Tudor times. There was of course, William the Conqueror and his son William Rufus (who died mysteriously with an arrow while hunting). Then there was William the Atheling, nephew of William Rufus, who tragically drowned on The White Ship, leaving his sister Matilda to fight a decades-long war with her cousin Stephen. Henry II had a brother named William who became Count of Poitou, who also had a son named William. Henry II named his eldest son, William, but he died as a child. And then you really don’t see William pop up as a favored royal name until The House of Hanover in the 18th century.

Matilda – She was the wife of William the Conqueror. They had 10 children, the last one was named Matilda but she disappears from history. William and Matilda’s granddaughter was named Matilda. She married Geoffrey of Anjou and gave birth to Henry II. Henry II had a daughter named Matilda, who married the Duke of Saxony. While the name may have carried on among the lesser royals, it hasn’t been a top-tier royal name since Henry II.

The “Bad Boy” Royal Names

These names became ‘tarnished’ by the actions of the last monarch to hold the name, and they’ve never been given to an eldest son since.

Richard – This royal name lost favor after Richard III and his defeat at Bosworth Field. But Richard had been a great royal name once. The first King Richard was a legendary character also known as the Lionheart. Richard II, the only child of Edward the Black Prince had lost his crown to his cousin, Henry of Bolingbroke, so no one was naming princes Richard for a while. Richard, Duke of York, named his third son Richard, the aforementioned Richard III. And Edward IV named his second son, Richard, Duke of York, one of the two missing Princes in the Tower. Since it was Henry Tudor who had defeated Richard, the Tudors certainly weren’t going to name any of their children Richard. This name has faded from royal popularity and there’s never been a Richard IV. Today, there is a cousin to the Queen, HRH Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester, but he is 23rd in line for the throne and doubtful ever to be crowned.

John – In England’s history, there has been only one King John. And he was bad enough, that there has never been another. John’s son, Henry III, named a son John, but he died as a child, so did Edward I’s son John. Edward II had a son, John, but he died at 20. John was certainly fading away, but then Edward III named his fourth son, John, who became the great Duke of Lancaster. His son, Henry IV named his third son John, Duke of Bedford. The name was popular for three generations of the Beauforts, John of Lancaster’s children with his third wife, Katheryn Swynford, but they were not princes.  John fades from popularity as a princely name, turning up again when George V named his youngest son, John. Sadly, the boy was an epileptic and kept hidden away. He died at the age of 13 in 1919.

Henry – The name is repeated here, simply to point out that after Henry VIII, there’s been no Henry IX. Henry popped up three or four times after the Tudors as a princely name, with the latest being HRH Prince Henry Charles Albert David of Wales, or as he’s best known as – Prince Harry, younger son of Prince Charles.


Always a Prince, Never a King!

Many popular names of Plantagenet princes were often given repeatedly to the younger brothers of Kings. These names were never given to the eldest son … and there never has been a king with these names. Will William and Kate follow tradition and pull these princely names for their second-born son?

Thomas – Edward I introduced Thomas as a princely name with his second marriage to Margaret of France. Thomas’s older brother was Edward II. Edward III named his youngest son, Thomas. John of Gaunt also named a Beaufort son, Thomas.

Edmund – Henry III named his second son Edmund, after naming his first son Edward. Edward I named his last son, Edmund. Edward III named his fourth son, Edmund. Richard, Duke of York named his second son Edmund, again after naming his first son, Edward. Edmund was killed at the Battle of Wakefield which led to his older brother being declared King Edward IV. Edmund also fades after the Middle Ages as a princely name.

Geoffrey – When Matilda was forced to marry the young Geoffrey of Anjou, who would have guessed that from this despised union, the mighty Plantagenet dynasty would spring forth. It was Geoffrey who actually gave the dynasty its’ name Plantagenet for the yellow broom he would wear upon his hat. Yet, there has never been a King Geoffrey. Matilda named her second son, Geoffrey, after her husband, but named her first son, Henry, after her father. Henry II named his third son, Geoffrey. And that was it for the name Geoffrey.

The Royal Wives Club

Many of the kings of England married women from the continent. The kings were after all Normans and quite continental themselves.  Naturally, princesses are often named for their mothers. Here are a few of our favorites:

Anne – Richard II married Anne of Bohemia. Richard III married Anne Neville, the Earl of Warrick’s daughter

Blanche – John of Gaunt married Blanche of Lancaster. John’s son, Henry IV, named a daughter Blanche, after his mother.

Cecily – Richard, Duke of York married Cecily Neville, the granddaughter of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford. She was the mother of Edward IV and Richard III. Edward named one of his daughters, Cecily.

Isabella – King John married two Isabellas. Edward II married one, as did Richard II.

Katherine – John of Gaunt married his third wife and former mistress, Katherine Swynford. But when he was married to his second wife, Constance, he named his daughter by her, Katherine. Henry V married Catherine of Valois.  And Henry VIII married three Katherines.  The future King of England, William, has married one as well who will one day be known as Queen Catherine.

Philippa – Edward III married Philippa of Hainault. Their son, Lionel, named his daughter Philippa. It is through this Philippa that the Yorks make their claim to the throne. Edward III’s other son, John, named a daughter Philippa. She married the King of Portugal. John’s son, Henry IV named a daughter Philippa, after his sister and grandmother. This Philippa married the King of Denmark.


“One and Done” Medieval Names

These names appear very seldom on the royal family tree. They pop up on minor royal lineages now and again, but weren’t given to the sons and daughters of kings. For instance:

Stephen – This name was not popular among the royals after the civil war between Stephen and Matilda.  After his death, the crown went to Matilda’s son, Henry. Afterwards, no one was keen to name a royal prince after the loser, Stephen.

Eustace – son of Stephen. He died before his father and his name went with him.

Arthur – Henry VII named his eldest son after the legendary King of Camelot hoping to unite Britain and conjure up a mythical aura for the Tudor dynasty. Unfortunately Arthur died shortly before his 16th birthday and the name never really caught on as a royal first name, although it is a middle name of both Prince Charles and Prince William.  There was one other medieval Arthur, the son of Geoffrey, Duke of Brittany, third son of Henry and Eleanor. His Uncle John is rumored to have had the boy killed to cement his own claim to the throne.

Lionel – He was the second son of Edward III. He died young before his father and before his elder brother, Edward the Black Prince. He had one daughter, Philippa, named for his mother. It is through Philippa that Richard, Duke of York, claimed the throne from Henry VI. The name Lionel is not seen again

George – This name is very rarely seen in medieval royal names. There is George, Duke of Clarence, younger brother of Edward IV, but he technically wasn’t a prince when he was born to Richard, Duke of York. His brother, Edward, had a third son and called him George, but he died at the age of two. George didn’t really become popular until the Hanoverians in the 1700s. Today, we have the adorable Prince George of Cambridge.