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This article is based on "A royal baptismal name" by Norman Hidden, published in Family Tree Magazine, Oct 2004. It illustrates an interesting pattern of royal names used as forenames for children born in Hungerford.

In May 1645, when John Bunyan's youngest brother was baptised at the height of the civil war between parliament and the king, his father named him Charles. John Bunyan was a teenager serving in the parliamentary army. The radical historian Christopher Hill, in his History of John Bunyan and his Church, comments on this choice of name by Bunyan senior:

Surely a provocative gesture of loyalty when [his elder] son John was in arms against King Charles.

Photo Gallery:

charles i - triple image
charles i - triple image

Charles I, whose execution in 1649  may have increased the popularity of his name.

james i-04
james i-04

James I of England united two crowns and countries, but the reputation of his grandson James II ensured that all but ardent Jacobites shunned the name.

charles ii
charles ii

Charles II appealed across the religious divide, so the son of a Roman Catholic might be given his name as a result.

- Charles I, whose execution in 1649 may have increased the popularity of his name.

- James I of England united two crowns and countries, but the reputation of his grandson James II ensured that all but ardent Jacobites shunned the name.

- Charles II appealed across the religious divide, so the son of a Roman Catholic might be given his name as a result.


The suggestion that a baptismal name might be used to indicate politico-religious sympathies led me to consider whether this might have been the case elsewhere, and in particular in the parish of Hungerford, Berkshire, whose registers I edited some years ago.

That royalist sympathies were exhibited in the register I remembered from the triumphalism shown by parish clerk William Curtis following the restoration of Charles II when Curtis headlined his bishop's transcript of 1664 with an elaborately scripted banner screaming 'God Save The King'. This blazon of royalist support for a pro-Catholic king was all the more noteworthy because the vicar of Hungerford at that time was a moderate man, on good terms with Nonconformist dissenters. I remembered too, perhaps more pertinently, the entries relating to Jehosophat Kimber and his wife Jane.

Jehosophat and Jane had a succession of daughters, until at last a son was born and baptised James in 1711; another son followed in 1715 and he was baptised James also, although his older brother was alive. Fate positively smiled on the Kimber family now, for a third son was baptised in 1717 and he too, both older brothers still surviving, was baptised James. As if to cut through the confusion which this growing multitude of sons named James might cause, his father had him baptised 'James the Third', but it must have been perfectly clear to all the Kimbers' neighbours that the boys had really been named after King James I, King James II, and the 'King over the water', the exiled son of James II, [James Francis Edward Stuart, the Old Pretender], known to Jacobites as James III.

Jehosophat clearly had some explaining to do, and the vicar, who was a man of good sense, needed some justification to satisfy his ecclesiastical superiors if he were to allow such a tendentious entry in the register. The result was a beautiful British compromise which appears in the baptisms register as:

16 December 1717 James the Third (so named) the son of Jehosophat and Jane Kimber who had two sons of the same name before. NB This man once accidently [sic] met and conversed with the King and from thence named all his sons James.

Now: as to the name Charles. How much devotion did it inspire in apparently tolerant Hungerford during the reigns of Charles I and Charles II? Well, between the accession of Charles I to the throne in 1625 and his execution in January 1649 there are only three children baptised Charles in Hungerford; the first not until 1636; two others followed nearly 10 years later, both in the same climactic year, so desperate for King Charles's supporters, of 1645. After the execution of Charles in January 1649, however, use of the name increased considerably, as the following list may show.

12 September 1649 - Charles son of Francis and Emm Soper
2 June 1653 - Charles son of Isaac and Abigail Hamlyn
15 October 1654 - Charles son of William and Margaret Shadwell
15 March 1656 - Charles son of Charles and Francis Cannon
12 August 1659 - Charles son of Isaac and Abigail Hamlyn
5 February 1662 - Charles son of Robert Patie
29 May 1662 - Charles son of William and Jane Curtiss
10 August 1662 - Charles son of William and Mary Dyer
8 February 1662/3 - Charles son of John and Ursula Langfield
7 December 1665 - Charles son of John and Mary Morris
6 May 1666 - Charles son of Charles Noone
11 August 1667 - Charles son of Thomas Ellerton
22 November 1667 - Charles son of Evan Sumpter
4 October 1672 - Charles son of John Polhampton
9 December 1673 - Charles son of Charles Noone
23 March 1683/4 - Charles son of Joseph Mackrell
21 February 1684/5 - Charles son of Charles Hamblin

Of course, the choice of a name might well depend upon other considerations than that of an expression of loyalty or respect for the monarch. At one time religious devotion, especially when combined with birth on or close to a particular saint's day, could lead parents, Anglican and Catholic, to name children after the saint in question. Later, the Puritans chose not so much saints as 'saintly' qualities such as Obedience (only for girls, though!). The chosen Christian name, however, more frequently arose from familial considerations. Traditionally, at least one son in the family might be given the name of the father or the grandfather; even more likely was that a child would be given the name of his or her godparent.

In the instances of boys baptised Charles in Hungerford between 1649 and 1684/5, the baptism in 1656 of Charles, the son of Charles Cannon, followed the death of Charles Cannon 'the elder' in 1655 and might clearly have seemed to result from a desire to commemorate a recently deceased grandfather. However, on several occasions over the years Cannon père had fallen foul of parliament's hardline policy with relation to religious Nonconformity, which Charles II opposed, and it is just possible that this might have influenced him.

In another instance, the possibility of a royalist bias in choosing the baptismal name is stronger. Robert and Abigail Kimber, parents of Charles Kimber, baptised on 16 January 1644/5 were Catholics and they appear as 'Papist recusants' in 1662, 1663/4 and 1668. Their names are usually linked with those of the Curr family, the most prominent local Catholic family, who ruined themselves in their unyielding devotion to the old faith. All such families looked to Charles II as their one great hope of relief. Another family which exemplifies a determination, for whatever reason, to have the name Charles retained within their family was the Noone family. Thus Charles Noone had a son baptised Charles in 1666; that son dying shortly after birth, another Charles was baptised in 1673. Once again, it might well be argued that this was a typical example of the preservation of a 'family' name. The same family tradition, however, does not occur in the baptisms of the two sons of Isaac and Abigail Hamlyn during the period of the Commonwealth; some other influence seems to have prevailed, for when the first Charles, born in 1653, died, a second son born in 1659 was duly named Charles. The name Charles was not a traditional family name, Isaac's father being Anthony Hamlyn.

The Hungerford sample is, of course, too small to be conclusive. Even where the name Charles is used, any politico-religious sympathies of the parents are not easy to uncover, but are most likely to be found through wills, parish churchwardens' presentments, and the diocesan Act Books. The incident concerning the baptism of the three sons of Jehosophat Kimber, however, surely suggests that Jacobite sympathies were involved.

When James II came to the throne, four Hungerford families named their sons James in the first two years of his reign. His subsequent unpopularity, however, resulted in no further boys being baptised James in the parish for 15 years after 1688, when James II fled to France.

It would be an interesting experiment in local and genealogical research if this limited survey of politico-religious influence on the choice of Christian names, undertaken in the single parish of Hungerford, could be extended to provide a larger field and more definite conclusions.

See also:

- "Surname in Spelling and Speech", Norman Hidden. Berkshire Family Historian, Dec 2007