GEORGE Cullen (Letters, September 12) says that he “still insists” that the Queen is Elizabeth I because she is the first of that name to be queen of the UK. He can insist all he likes, but he is wrong. Even though she is the first monarch of that name since 1707, she is Queen Elizabeth II both north and south of the Border. The issue has even been to court. In MacCormick v Lord Advocate (1953) it was ruled that the use of the numeral “II” was a correct use of the royal prerogative and hence valid in Scots law.

The matter of “regnal numbers”, as they are called, does not just involve the British monarchy. The first general principle followed in constitutional practice is that a new ruler can use whatever name and regnal number he or she chooses. Thus, the new Pope in 1958 styled himself John XXIII, even though he was, in fact, not the 23rd Pope named John. Alphonso, who became King of Spain in 1874 styled himself Alphonso XII even though the previous 11 had been kings of Castile, not Spain. Victor Emmanuel II of Piedmont became the first King of Italy in 1861 and retained the “II”, even though to most of Italy he was, obviously, the first of that name.

The second general principle followed is that where regnal numbers become disordered due to separation or amalgamation of states, the higher number should be used. Thus, when Iceland became a separate monarchy in 1918, King Christian X of Denmark became Christian X of Iceland, not Christian I.

The situation regarding the British monarchy was clarified under George V. The Statute of Westminster 1931 converted the Dominions into new sovereign states, yet provided that the “higher number” practice would apply. The next king therefore became Edward VIII of New Zealand, not Edward I. The next was George VI of Canada, not George I. And the next was Elizabeth II of Australia, even though she is the first queen of Australia with that name. She is Elizabeth II in all the independent Commonwealth countries that retain the monarchy.

Special consideration was given regarding Scotland when Elizabeth came to the throne. The details can be found in the record of Prime Minister’s Questions in April 1953. Though he was careful to say that he could not bind future monarchs, Prime Minister Churchill announced that he and the Secretary of State for Scotland had devised a formula based on the “higher number” practice. Regnal numbers would be tallied for English monarchs from 1066 and for Scottish monarchs from 1306. The higher number would be applied. Thus, any future UK monarch adopting the name James, Robert or David would be advised to follow the Scottish regnal numbers. Hence, a future King James of the UK would be styled James VIII, not James III.

For now, though, our queen is Elizabeth II, even in Scotland. The current succession would be Charles III, William V and George VII. However, any of these might choose to be King Robert, James or David on accession and then the rest of the UK will be expected to follow a Scottish regnal number.

Russell Vallance,

4 West Douglas Drive, Helensburgh.