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The forgotten tale of England’s King Louis

Prince Louis (Getty Images)

Last time I correctly predicted that Prince William’s son would be named George, possibly the only accurate forecast I’ve ever made.

This time I thought they might go for Alfred, since it’s about time there was a revival for Anglo-Saxon names – but it will happen, trust me, it’s in the ether. In fact, Albert would have been a more obvious choice, a traditional family name in the House of Windsor, shared by Victoria’s husband as well as Edward VII and George VI. Instead they’ve gone for Louis, presumably a tribute to Prince Philip’s beloved uncle Earl Mountbatten of Burma, murdered by the IRA in 1979.

All royal names run in families, and Mountbatten’s maternal grandfather the Grand Duke of Hesse was one of several Louis’s in that house. Louis is one of William’s middle names.

But it is, of course, a name better associated with 19 kings of France, from Charlemagne’s son in the 9th Century to the rather less effective Louis XIX, who reigned for just 20 minutes in 1830.

And today the true king of the regicide state pretender to the throne is another Louis, although as much as I love a lost cause I suspect the odds of seeing him crowned at Reims in the footsteps of Clovis are on the long side.

However, it’s little known that England was once ruled by a King Louis. After King John had gone back on all his promises made to the barons in 1215 (an agreement later known as Magna Carta) a number of them had invited the king of France’s son Louis to become king, who claimed the throne through his wife, a granddaughter of Henry II. While John was in the north Louis arrived in Kent unopposed and at St Paul’s was proclaimed king, had the backing of most of the barons and controlled two-thirds of the country.

However, King John then died of dysentery and entrusted the great knight William Marshal to defend his nine-year-old son Henry and the now septuagenarian regent promised to carry the boy on his shoulders. People thought it unfair to blame the young boy for his father’s sins and besides which the French in London had made themselves unpopular, and as John Gillingham put it, “done nothing except drink all the wine in the city and then complain about the ale” when that ran out. Marshal defeated the French and their English supporters, and ‘King Louis’ was wiped from the historical record. (You can read all about this in 1215 and All That.)

But anyway, if there is another royal baby, and as a father of three I imagine they must be worn out by now, put money on Alfred, or Athelstan, or Elfrida. I haven’t made a prediction only to given up on it when it turns out wrong.