Rulers in Europe have been naming themselves from the same small pool of names for thousands of years, and many dynasties do not shy away from giving future successors the same name as their parents and ancestors. Therefore, curious repetitions occurred, such as having sixteen French kings named Louis, and sixteen Roman popes named Benedict. For ease of discernment, however, dynasty members and title holders were, and still are, denoted by whether they were the second of their name or the third, so on and so forth. A ruler’s place in the long line of their namesakes is usually denoted by a Roman numeral, such as King Louis XVI or Pope Benedict XVI. These numbers, interestingly, become more complicated when a monarch rules more than one realm, as different kingdoms naturally have differing lists of past rulers, resulting in different Roman numerals for the rulers of the respective realms. As an example, let’s take a look at the case of Ferdinand “the Catholic” of Aragon.
Ferdinand the Catholic (c. 1452-1516) was born a prince of the Kingdom of Aragon, as his father was King John II (1458–1479) of the region. King John set up his son as the king of Sicily in 1468 (making him Ferdinand II of Sicily), and also arranged for Ferdinand to marry Isabella of the Kingdom of Castile, which neighbored Aragon. With Ferdinand’s help, Isabella succeeded in becoming Queen of Castile in 1474, paving the way for Isabella’s husband to eventually be called King Ferdinand V of Castile. Next, when John II died, Ferdinand succeeded to the throne of his father, becoming King Ferdinand II of Aragon. During his reign, Ferdinand later conquered the Kingdom of Naples in 1502, becoming King Ferdinand III of Naples. Finally, after the death of Queen Isabella in 1504, Ferdinand remarried in 1506 to Germaine de Foix, a member of the Navarre royal family. Ferdinand subsequently annexed the Spanish lands of the Kingdom of Navarre and technically could claim to be called King Ferdinand I of Spanish Navarre. Yet, as a piece of the Kingdom of Navarre remained autonomous in France, and as the new lands were incorporated by Ferdinand into his preexisting kingdom titles, Navarre is usually not added to Ferdinand’s list of kingdom titles. In summary, that one man was Ferdinand II of Sicily and Aragon, Ferdinand V of Castile, Ferdinand III of Naples, and perhaps Ferdinand I of Spanish Navarre.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Court Reception of Columbus, attributed to Henry Schile (c. 19th century), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the Smithsonian).