William of Orange was also called William the third, one of the descendants in the same family was again called William the third.

Is this common in history? are there any more cases where this happens?

  • 9
    @Tematinator Regnal numbers often don't make sense. The first king of Sicily was Roger II. The second king of Sicily to be named Frederick Sicily called himself Frederick III. Edward Longshanks is called Edward I of England, ignoring Edward the Elder, Edward the Martyr, and Edward the Confessor. Two sons of King Gustav I of Sweden are called Erik XIV and Charles IX because they believed in a bunch of fictional Swedish kings named Erik and Charles. And so on.
    – MAGolding
    May 16, 2019 at 17:14

7 Answers 7



In your case there was a man William who was William III, Prince of Orange, Stadtholder of the Netherlands, and King William III of England (1650-1702) and there was another man known as William III, King of the Netherlands (1817-1890). They were two different members of the same dynasty who were both the third William to hold their position but those were different positions.


To make a long story short, in many cases regnal numbers are all messed up.

As far as I know the practice of giving rulers regnal numbers originated in western Europe, and the practice of giving those regnal numbers in the form of Roman numerals clearly originated in western Europe and spread around the world.

And for most rulers in history the regnal numbers were assigned by historians centuries or millennia after those rulers lived. Various European kings began to use official regnal numbers about 1500 to 1700.

In the middle ages it was very rare for a western European king to use an official regnal number.

Karl Knutsson Bonde was a Swedish noble who became King of Sweden three times (1448-57, 1464-65, & 1467-70) and King of Norway 1449-50. He was the first King of Sweden to have a regnal number, being described as Charles II on his wife's tombstone in 1451. And he actually was the second Swedish king named Karl or Charles.

But in 1554 the Historia Omnibus Gothorum Sueorumque Regibus (History of all Kings of Goths and Swedes) by Johannes Magnus was published with thousands of years of fictional history of fictional kings of Sweden. So King Charles Vasa (r. 1604-1611), accepting that false history, called himself Charles IX instead of Charles III, making Charles II Charles VIII, and so on.

Charles IX's brother Erick (r. 1560-68) had set an example by calling himself Erik XIV instead of Erik VII. So the Regnal numbers of all Swedish kings named Erik or Charles are historically inaccurate.

Who was king of Sicily before Roger II? Roger I? Nope. Count Roger II of Sicily made himself the first King of Sicily but he is not listed as King Roger I because that might get him confused with His father Count Roger I of Sicily.

Frederick, king of Sicily from 1295-1337, called himself Frederick III. But there was only one previous king Frederick of Sicily, who reigned from 1198-1250. Since that previous King Fredrick was better known as Emperor Frederick II, Sicilian King Frederick II called himself Frederick III. The next King Frederick of Sicily ruled from 1355 to 1377 and never used a regnal number, but is known to modern historians as Frederick III.

Edward Longshanks, king of England, reigned 1272-1307, his son Edward of Caernarfon r. 1307-1327, and Edward of Windsor r. 1327-1377. Edward of Windsor's oldest son was Edward Prince of Wales (1330-76), whose oldest son was Edward (1364-1371) - the last two Edwards never ruled but they could have been expected to. So during the reign of Edward of Windsor from 1327-77 it became the practice to informally call Edward Longshanks Edward the First, Edward of Caernarfon Edward the Second, and Edward of Windsor Edward the Third whenever they needed to be distinguished.

This informal numbering became official in 1547-53, during the reign of Edward, son of Henry VIII, whose title was:

Edwarde the Sixth, by the Grace of God, King of Englande, France, and Irelande, Defender of the Faith, and of the Church of Englande, and also of Irelande, in Earth the Supreme Head


And that ignored the previous reigns of Edward the Elder, King of the Anglo-Saxons (r.899-924), Edward the Martyr, King of England (r.975-978), and Edward the Confessor, King of England (r.1042-1066).

As this extremely brief discussion shows, the regnal numbers of rulers are often weird and mixed up, so expecting them to always make sense is not realistic.

Added 05-18-2019

The first western European rulers to use official regnal numbers were the Holy Roman emperors and the popes.

The numbering of the popes is rather confusing and messed up because there were a number of times when two or more persons claimed to be pope at the same time. So the medieval papal curia eventually began began making official lists of all the men in the past it considered to be popes. And papal claimants not considered to be rightful popes were considered antipopes.

But over time various persons have been moved from the list of popes to the list of antipopes, or from the list of antipopes to the list of popes. And there are questions whether someone elected pope but never consecrated counts as a pope or not. And there are controversies whether some alleged popes ever actually existed. There was the famous legend of the female Pope Joan believed for many centuries, for example.

The numbers of popes named John are so messed up there is an article in Wikipedia about "Pope John numbering". To make a long story short, when Pedro Juliani became pope in 1277 and chose John as his throne name, he should have used the number XIX, but chose XXI by mistake. Thus there has never been a pope who called himself john XX. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope_John_numbering#John_XX1

In James Branch Caball's fantasy novel Jurgen: a Comedy of Justice (1919) there is a scene when Jurgen tries to enter Heaven, claiming to be Pope John XX. When told there wasn't a John XX, he asks how there could have been a John XXI without a John XX.

I note that both Antipope Baldassare Cossa in 1410-15 and Pope Angelo Guisseppi Roncalli in 1958-63 used the throne name John XXIII.

The official ideology of the Holy Roman Empire was that the emperors were the successors of the Roman emperors from 27 BC to AD 395, of the eastern Roman or "Byzantine" emperors from AD 395 to 797, and then of Charlemagne crowned in 800.

Modern rulers are listed by their personal names followed by the regnal number. But that isn't the case with the classical roman emperors.

For example Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius Valerius Claudius Augustus (r. 268-270) is often listed as Claudius II Gothicus, though his personal name was Marcus. Claudius I would presumably be Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (r. 41-54) whose personal name seems to be Tiberius.

Imperator Caesar Flavius Claudius Constantinus Augustus (r.407-411) was an usurper proclaimed in Britain in 407 who was recognized as a legitimate co-emperor by western emperor Honorius in 409. He is usually listed as Constantine III. His son and co-emperor Imperator Caesar Flavius Constans Augustus is usually listed as Constans II.

Eastern Roman emperor Heraclius Novus Constantinus Augustus (r. 641) is usually lasted as Constantine III, thus making two Roman Emperors Constantine III. Imperator Caesar Flavius Constantinus Augustus (r. 641-668) is usually listed as Constans II, thus making two emperors Constans II. Constans II is sometimes counted as Constantine III.

The last emperor in Constantinople is usually listed as Constantine XI (r. 1449-1453). But he is often called Constantine XII, counting Constantine Laskaris who may have been emperor for a day in 1204. Counting all co-emperors named Constantine, Constantine XI could be numbered as Constantine XVIII, counting all Constantines who were supreme rulers, Constantine XI could be numbered as Constantine XIV. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constantine_XI_Palaiologos2

Imperator Caesar Marcus Julius Philippus Augustus (r. 244-249) is usually called Philip the Arab, and his son and co-emperor Imperator Caesar Marcus Julius Philippus Severus Augustus is usually called Philip II, even though their personal names were both Marcus.

King of the Romans Philip (r. 1198-1208) is sometimes listed as Philip I but called himself Philip the Second at least once:

Philippus secundus divina favente clementia Romanorum rex et semper augustus


So presumably he counted Philip the Arab as Philip I.

From 962 the emperor of the Romans was also the king of Germany and of Italy or Burgundy, and from 1032 also the king of Arles or Burgundy. Since the three kingdoms had different rulers before becoming united with the emperorship it is possible for an emperor of the Romans to have different numbers as emperor, and as king of the three different kingdoms.

Because there were kings of Germany named Conrad and Henry before 962, German historians listed holy Roman Emperors named Conrad and Henry with their regnal numbers as kings of Germany, one digit higher than their true ordinal numbers as emperors, and those are the numbers those emperors are usually known as. You should subtract one from the regnal numbers of emperors named Conrad or Henry.

Someone elected emperor would take the title of Rex Romanorum et semper Augustus King of the Romans and always emperor/imperial, until he was crowned emperor in Rome by the pope, when he would take the title of Imperator Romanorum et semper Augustus Emperor of the Romans and always emperor/imperial.

If someone became king of the Romans when there was no emperor, he immediately gained all the powers of the emperor. If someone was elected king of the Romans during the lifetime of his father the emperor he didn't gain any power at the time but gained the full powers of the emperor as soon as the emperor died.

In the time of Emperor Henry IV, who really was Henry III, his son Conrad was elected king of the Romans, and later deposed for rebellion against his father. Then in 1138 Conrad of Hohenstaufen became King of the Romans, usually listed as Conrad III, though he could also be counted as Conrad II or Conrad IV. When Conrad went on crusade in 1147 he had his son Henry Berenger elected Co-king.

The later King of the Romans Conrad IV could also be counted as Conrad III or Conrad V.

There were six Holy Roman Emperors named Henry: Henry II (I) (r.1014-24), Henry III (II) (r. 1046-56), Henry IV (III) (r. 1084-1105), Henry V (IV) (r. 1111-1125), Henry VI (V)(r. 1191-1197), and Henry VII (VI) (r. 1312-13).

Henry, son of emperor Frederick II, was elected King of the Romans in 1220 and deposed in favor of Conrad IV in 1235, and is sometimes called Henry VII or Henry (VII).

So depending on whether King Henry I of Germany, Henry Berenger, and Henry (VII) are counted, the Emperor usually called Henry VII could be counted as Henry VI, Henry VII, Henry VIII, or Henry IX.

There were only three emperors named Frederick: Fredrick I Barbarossa (r. 1155-1190), Frederick II Stupor Mundi (r. 1220-1250) and Frederick III (r. 1453-1493). But in 1314 Duke Fredrick I of Austria was elected rival king of the Romans and is sometimes listed as Frederick III. In 1400 nobles met at Frankfurt, complaining about King of the Romans Wenceslaus who seemed like "Bad King Wenceslaus" to them. Duke Frederick I of Brunswick-Luneburg was murdered when returning from that meeting, and there is a story that he was elected King of the Romans there. So possibly Frederick III should be listed as Frederick IV or Frederick V.

Students of German history also have a problem with the German emperors. Wilhelm (William) I (1871-1888) & Wilhelm II (1888-1918) were the only two German emperors and the only two kings of Prussia named Wilhelm. But Count William of Holland was elected King of the Romans in opposition to Emperor Frederick II in 1247. So the German emperors could have been called Wilhelm II & Wilhelm III.

Frederick, son of Wilhelm I and father of Wilhelm II, is also a problem, being the third king of Prussia and first German emperor named Frederick. If he is called Frederick I he can be confused with Fredrick I Barbarossa (r. 1155-1190), and if he is called Frederick III, as is the usual rule, he can be confused with Frederick III (r. 1453-1493).

So this brief discussion should show that not only is the numeration of many monarchs rather messed up, in some cases it would be nearly impossible to replace the present numeration with a totally correct numeration.

Added 1 Dec. 14 2019: Also see this question: https://historum.com/threads/who-numbered-louises-of-france.181819/4

  • 2
    Just curious whether it's considered acceptable in this forum to copy from other people's answers and add those examples to your own (the Henry VII example that I gave, for instance).
    – C Monsour
    May 22, 2019 at 2:13
  • @C. Monsour Are you assuming that I never new of the two different Henry VII's until your answer on May 16? Or are you assuming that your answer reminded me of the two Henry VIIs? In any case the examples I give are all more or less necessary to demonstrate my contention that the numeration of rulers is really messed up.
    – MAGolding
    Oct 1, 2019 at 18:51

Your example seems incorrect. William of Orange was William III of England, whereas the other was William III of the Netherlands.

William of Orange was also William III in the Netherlands, but as Stadtholderate under the House of Orange-Nassau, while the other William III you found was King of the Netherlands.

Lastly, as point out by LangLangC in the comments, the III part that's appended to the name is used by others to distinguish that person from others who had an identical name.

I'd stick my neck out and suggest that there are no examples of Regnal numbers that match two rulers unless you look at different polities (kingdoms, duchies, etc.) -- in which case there are plenty. In the specific case of the Netherlands, where they reset the numbering as the government form changed shape, there were also two William I and William II.

  • William of orange was also the leader of the Netherlands right? or rather the region which is now known as the Netherlands May 16, 2019 at 11:25
  • 5
    @Termatinator The Stadtholders of the House of Orange Nassau were technically elected civil servants & generals, not monarchs. The system of Regnal numbers therefore did not apply (there was also a Count William III of Holland in the 14th century, but again - since he was just a count - Regnal numbers didn't apply). May 16, 2019 at 11:41
  • 1
    BTW, I sometimes heard it as "George Bush II." and then there are a few people like en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_McCain More to the point cabinets or administrations are often numbered (Like de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kabinett_Merkel_II de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kabinett_Cleveland_II). May 16, 2019 at 13:16
  • 1
    @DenisdeBernardy I can't think of any. Unofficially, the George Bush example quoted by LangLangC is an example of informal public usage, but I'd suggest that "Dubbya", or "George H" & "George W" are more common. Another instance is Pitt the Elder & Pitt the Younger, again, with no Regnal number. May 16, 2019 at 16:20
  • 1
    @DenisdeBernardy Perhaps the best examples are the two William Pitts who were the Prime Minister of then-Great Britain. They are usually distinguished as Pitt the Elder and Pitt the Younger, as one was the son of the other. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Pitt,_1st_Earl_of_Chatham May 16, 2019 at 23:07

You might want to consider Denmark and the House of Estridsen:

1. Valdemar the Young or III was co-ruler with his father Valdemar II from 1215 to 1231. Valdemar the Young

is sometimes referred to as Valdemar III for example his tombstone reads in Latin: Waldemarus Tertius Rex Daniae, Filius Waldemari Secundi "Valdemar the Third, King of Denmark, son of Valdemar the Second". Although Valdemar III is more commonly used to denote a later king, Valdemar of Schleswig.

enter image description here

Source: fynhistorie.dk

The popular Valdemar died when he was 21 or 22 after being shot in a hunting accident. He was succeeded by his brother Eric IV. He, in turn, was succeeded by another brother, Abel, from whom Valdemar III Eriksøn was descended (see below).

2. Valdemar III Eriksøn (who was also Duke Valdemar V of Schleswig) was King of Denmark as a minor from 1326 to 1329 with his uncle, Gerhard III of Holstein-Rendsburg, as regent. He replaced the unpopular Christoffer II who had been ousted by Gerhard III and other powerful nobles in 1326, but further rebellions led to the removal of Valdemar III and the reinstatement of Christoffer II in 1329.

Valdemar III Eriksøn, who reigned until the age of 15, was a descendant of King Abel of Denmark (reigned 1232 to 1252). Abel was a son of Valdemar II and half-brother of Valdemar the Young or III (see above).


There were two Henry VII rulers as kings of Germany, the first of whom co-ruled with and pre-deceased his father. He is often referred to as Henry (VII) to distinguish him from the later Henry VII, much admired by Dante.

Some kingdoms do not number crowned kings who co-ruled with their fathers but never in their own right. Thus, Henry II of England's son Henry is never referred to as Henry III or Henry (III), but only as Henry the Young King. (Perhaps it helps that "young king" rhymes with "atheling".)

As another example, popes sometimes intentionally duplicate a supposed predecessor's number to indicate they don't consider that person actually to have been pope. The most recent example of this is John XXIII, whose very choice of name clarified the official position on the Pisan line of supposed popes during the Great Western Schism over half a millennium earlier.

Going back to Germany, there were three monarchs of Germany named Frederick III. The first was a 14th century king who co-ruled with and predeceased his cousin, and his number was then ignored by the 15th century Frederick III. And finally in the 19th century we have another Frederick III of Germany because this Germany traced its political roots and king numbering not to medieval Germany but to Prussia.

  • 3
    @C Monsour Calling them kings of Germany is inaccurate. The title of Henry (VII) from 1220-1235 was Heinricus dei gratia Romanorum rex et semper augustus "King of the Romans and always Emperor/Imperial". The title of Henry VII was also King of the Romans from 1308-1312 and Henricus divina favente clementia Romanorum imperator semper augustus "Emperor of the Romans and always Emperor/Imperial" from 1312-1313. eurulers.altervista.org/emperors.html
    – MAGolding
    May 16, 2019 at 17:25
  • You are right that "king of the Romans" is more official, but Germany was one of the constituent kingdoms, so I don't think it's actually inaccurate to say "king of Germany".
    – C Monsour
    May 16, 2019 at 18:20
  • Kind of like being President of Rhode Island? I suppose in a technical sense it is true, but it is very misleading. What about "President of Newark"? If someone were listed by that title, I think it would be misleading.
    – MCW
    May 16, 2019 at 18:40
  • No, not like that. Look up "Kingdom of Germany" in Wikipedia for a complete discussion.
    – C Monsour
    May 16, 2019 at 22:14
  • @Mark C. Wallace Would you object to calling Elizabeth II queen of England simply because she is queen of the United Kingdom of which England is a constituent kingdom? It's more like that.
    – C Monsour
    May 17, 2019 at 2:24

Within the Roman/Byzantine empire there were:

Disputable because one may claim that these were two distinct political entities, or that the Western Roman Emperor was a usurper. Also Roman/Byzantine imperial names are a complicated matter - e.g. Caligula would have been known as "Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus" during his reign.


An addendum as regards William III (of England)...his number as used in the Netherlands before he became King of England referred to the Principality of Orange; which was an enclave within France and not very big, but was a sovereign, independent state nonetheless. He was also officially William II of Scotland (there had been a previous King of Scotland by the name of William-William the Lion)

As regards this question, there are several states where the regnal numbering has been 'reset', this was the case in the following German states:

Saxony - where there was an Elector Frederick Augustus III and a subsequent Frederick Augustus III, not to mention the Frederick Augustii who reigned as Kings of Poland and as Duke of Warsaw (where they used a different regnal number)

Bavaria - where the number was reset when the ruling electors became kings in 1805, Wurttemberg (likewise), Baden, not to mention the two Reuss states where the ruling prince was numbered not by his predecessors, but by what generation of the family he was, and what order in the family he was (all male members of the house were called Heinrich), but even though they officially ruled under these numbers, they are really more personal numbers than regnal, strictly speaking.

Oddly enough, Hannover seemed to follow the British pattern. That is George III of Great Britain didn't become King Georg I of Hannover when Hannover became a Kingdom in 1814 - he just remained Georg III and thus his successors Georg (IV), Wilhelm (IV) and Georg (V) were all titled by the British numbering, despite there only ever having been three Kings of Hannover by the name of Georg, and one by the name of Wilhelm.

Brandenburg/Prussia also reset the numbering when the Electors became King-Elector Friedrich III of Brandenburg became King Friedrich I of Prussia in 1701 (although I suppose you could argue one numeral was in right of Brandenburg and the other in right of Prussia).

There are other examples of resetted numerals. The first four Obrenovic Princes of Serbia were officially Milos Obrenovic I, Milan Obrenovic II, Mihailo Obrenovic III and Milan Obrenovic IV (the number referring to the surname), then when Milan Obrenovic IV promoted himself to King; he became Milan I. His son and successor was King Aleksander I, then after the overthrow of the Obrenovic dynasty and their replacement with that of the Karadjordjevic. Aleksander Karadjordjevic did not become Aleksander II of Yugoslavia; the Obrenovic numerals being ignored (or perhaps reset if Yugoslavia was considered a separate polity and not simply a renaming of Serbia). Montenegro likewise reset the numbering when the rulers promoted themselves from Vladika to Prince in 1852.

There are other examples of regnal numbering that don't make any sense at all. For example, the Savoy Kings of Sardinia and Italy didn't number themselves by the number of Kings, but by the number of rulers of Savoy - so we have King Vittorio Emanuele II of Italy in 1861, not the First. However his son and succesor, Umberto, didn't call himself 'Umberto IV' when he became King of Italy (as he would have if he had followed the Savoyard numbering), but numbered himself as Umberto I. But his son, Vittorio Emmanuel, numbered himself as III when he became King of Italy, and didn't adopt a separate number for Albania when he became King of Albania under Mussolini's auspices in 1939, and just to mess things up even more, his son, Umberto, followed the numbering of his grandfather and reigned briefly in 1946 as Umberto II.

To confuse matters even more, Christian X of Denmark was also (quite separately) King of Iceland, as Kristjan X, but he had no separate numeral for Iceland. Elizabeth II also does not have a separate number as Queen of Canada, Queen of Australia, Queen of New Zealand, etc. etc., despite being the first Queen Elizabeth of those states.


In Portuguese history you find two Filipe II. One was Filipe II of Spain and Filipe I of Portugal, and the other was his son, Filipe III of Spain and Filipe II of Portugal.




Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.