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  • Writer's pictureSarah von Allmen

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Week 28.

Updated: Jul 25, 2022

Week 28 – Character.

Although my immediate family stuck mainly to traditional names for their children, some more distant branches chose names which included well-known historical or contemporary characters. I’ve written previously about my husband’s distant cousin whose royalist leanings led him to name his children after various monarchs, emperors, and other noble figures, and although I can’t find anyone on my side of the family who went quite that far, here are three more modest examples.

Cecil Baden Palmer

Cecil was born in Shrewsbury on 10 September 1900 and was one of hundreds of children given names in honour of military leaders of the Second Boer War – in this case, Colonel Robert Baden-Powell.

After becoming the youngest colonel in the British Army at the age of 40 in 1897, Baden-Powell was posted to South Africa to maintain a mobile force along the frontier with the Boer Republics. However, he concentrated his forces and stores in a garrison at Mafeking which was immediately besieged by the Boers at the outbreak of war in October 1899. The subsequent siege lasted 217 days and the garrison held out in part due to Baden-Powell’s ingenuity and reconnaissance work. It attracted enormous attention in the media, not least because Lord Edward Cecil, son of the British Prime Minister, was trapped in the town. When the garrison was relieved, Baden-Powell became a national hero, and was promoted to major-general, although British military commanders were privately rather more critical of his tactics.

Cecil Baden Palmer’s parents were among the many who named their son in honour of “B-P”, and his first name is likely to be an illusion to either Lord Edward Cecil or his father, Lord Salisbury. Girls as well as boys were given one or other of the new major-general’s names, and among my distant relatives is Alice Baden Radford, born in Hale, Cheshire on 17 May 1900 – the day that Mafeking was relieved.

Ewart Gladstone and George Trevelyan Parfitt

We can be confidently assume that George Alford Parfitt, born in Trevethin, Monmouthshire in 1860, was a supporter of the Liberal party in general and its leader William Ewart Gladstone in particular. This may have been due at least in part to their introduction of the various electoral reforms which gave George the vote, although extending the franchise to women was still a long way off, so his wife Mary Ann Williams’ views had no official weight.

The couple’s first child was born in Newport on 11 March 1885 and given the name Ewart Gladstone Parfitt in honour of the politician who was then serving his second spell as Prime Minister. Gladstone’s second premiership, however, ended in ignominy soon afterwards due to his delay in sending an expedition to Khartoum where General Gordon and his force had been besieged for ten months – largely, it must be said, due to Gordon deciding to remain in Khartoum and administer the city instead of evacuating it as originally instructed. The mission arrived in Khartoum at the end of January 1885, two days after the besieging Mahdists overran the city and killed about 7,000 British and Egyptian soldiers (including Gordon himself), as well as 4,000 civilians. Gladstone was held largely responsible for the massacre and resigned as Prime Minister in June 1885. We can only presume that the Parfitts either didn’t share the majority opinion or felt that his achievements outweighed his failings. This wasn’t the end of Gladstone as a politician by any means: he regained the premiership briefly in 1886, before the Liberal party was defeated in that year’s General Election, and served a fourth term from 1892-1894, becoming the oldest British Prime Minister in history.

George and Mary called their second son Reginald Austin – names with no obvious political connection, although they may be allusions to lesser-known figures. There is no doubt about their third son, however: George Trevelyan Parfitt was born on 20 June 1889 and was clearly named after Sir George Otto Trevelyan, a prominent Liberal politician who twice served as Secretary of State for Scotland under Gladstone. Trevelyan was one of the principal advocates of extending the voting franchise, and strongly supported women’s suffrage.

King Charles Porter

My third and final case of a relative named after a contemporary or historical figure is far less clear-cut and involves considerable speculation on my part.

My relative William Porter and his wife Mary baptised 13 children in Culham, Oxfordshire between 1811-1837. All had perfectly ordinary names of the time, with the exception of their third son, King Charles Porter, baptised on 9 June 1816. “King” doesn’t appear to be a family surname: although I have yet to find a marriage record for William and Mary, her date and place of birth on census records suggest that her maiden name was potentially either Hall or Hitchman.

There were no obvious royal births or anniversaries in England in 1816, so where did the name come from? After researching other historical events of the year, I came up with an intriguing possibility.

James II, last Catholic monarch of England, was deposed in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, and the throne passed jointly to his Anglican daughter Mary and her husband, William of Orange, bypassing James’ son James Edward Francis Stuart, who was brought up in France after his parents took refuge there. Nicknamed the Old Pretender, he was recognised by Louis XIV as heir to the British and Irish thrones following his father’s death in 1701. He made several abortive attempts to reclaim the throne, moving to Italy after losing the support of the French court. After his failure, Jacobite hopes turned to his son, Charles Edward Stuart (“Bonnie Prince Charlie”), the Young Pretender, who led the uprising of 1745, but was roundly defeated and forced to flee back to France. This was the last active attempt to reinstate the Stuart dynasty, although the claim would be continued for several generations.

"Flora McDonald's Farewell to Bonnie Prince Charlie"

Charles had an illegitimate daughter Charlotte with his Scottish mistress Clementina Walkinshaw, and Charlotte went on to have three children with Prince Ferdinand of Rohan, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Cambrai. Their only son, Charles Edward Augustus Maximilian Stuart was known as Count Roehenstart (a pseudonym given to him in infancy which combined “Rohan” and “Stuart”) and he became a passive pretender to the British throne. He did little to advance his cause, but in 1816 he went to Scotland and England in an unsuccessful attempt to renew the Stuarts' pursuit of an old claim on the dowry of Queen Mary Beatrice of Modena, his great-great-grandmother.

Was this what inspired the Porters to call their son “King Charles”? I have no way of proving it, and the actual reason could of course be far more prosaic, but the secret romantic would very much like to think that there is a small possibility that the family remained true to the “king over the water”.

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