“ The Queen is dead. Long live the King!” In seven short words, the title of Sovereign is transferred in an instant. The seventy-year-long second Elizabethan age passes into history, and a new Carolean era begins.
Things that will change
Nor is this the only change. Within the hierarchy, the titles of Prince of Wales and Duke of Cornwall have been handed to the King’s elder son, William. While, in these early days, folk are finding it difficult to call Charles ‘King’, they won’t have the same difficulty referring to ‘Prince William’.
Change to stamps and coins
The greatest change, however, will be constantly with us, in our pockets and wallets and on letters and documents requiring stamp duty. And this on two counts. The first will be far less obvious for the youngest among us. Apart from changes in design, especially on 50p coins, and a few changes in the portrait of the monarch, our coinage is of one kind.
With the accession of Charles and the introduction of coins bearing his portrait and inscription, we shall once again have money from the reign of more than one monarch circulating together. This will strike some as strange, but for those of us who grew up before the Decimalisation of the currency in 1971, it will be quite normal.
“Only the names have been changed…”
In those days, because no radical alteration had been made to our coins, we had coin of the realm that represented every monarch from Queen Victoria up to Queen Elizabeth II. With one notable exception: the Queen’s uncle David, who ascended the throne as King Edward VIII.
However, he abdicated in favour of his brother Albert before he was crowned. The Royal Mint did strike some coins bearing Edward VIII’s likeness, but few were ever issued. A very small number escaped into circulation, but they are now in the possession of very wealthy collectors.
The greatest change in our coinage will be the fact that, according to established tradition, King Charles will face the opposite way to his late mother. It would seem that this tradition was established by his royal namesake, Charles II. The newly restored monarch decreed that his portrait should turn its back on the usurper Oliver Cromwell, who had decapitated Charles’ father, the first Charles, and then had the temerity to issue coinage bearing his own likeness.
Perhaps we should mention our stamps in passing. This will be brief. The portrait on our stamps always faces left. There is, however, one fact worth noting, which has nothing to do with the accession of a new monarch. Because the United Kingdom invented the postage stamp, British stamps are unique in the world in that they are not required to show the name of the country which issued them.
English or Latin?
This brings us to the other great change. Take a coin – any coin – and examine it closely. Read the circumscription on the obverse (that is to say the words around the Queen’s head). It will say something close to “elizabeth . ii . dei . gra . reg . fid . def”. The only word that appears to be in English is the late Queen’s name. The rest is Latin.
Because Latin is hardly ever taught in school these days, let us remind ourselves what these strange abbreviations stand for. After the name come three abbreviations representing the words, ‘Dei Gratia Regina’. In English this is ‘By the grace of God Queen’. The next two abbreviations stand for ‘Fidei Defensor/ Defensatrix’, in English ‘Defender of the Faith’.
Queen Elizabeth’s father, George VI, her uncle, Edward VIII, and all her forebears before them, all had their name inscribed in Latin. In actual fact so did our late Queen, since there is no distinct Latin form of Elizabeth.
The Latin form of George is ‘GEORGIVS’, of Edward, ‘EDWARDVS’, and the Latin for Charles is ‘CAROLVS’. If you’re worried by that ‘V’, it’s a reminder that the Romans did not distinguish between ‘u’ and ‘v’. So, the question is, will the new King use the Latin form of his name on coins issued in his reign, or will he break with tradition and opt for the English?
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