Who is the best of all the kings and queens? Since science has not yet provided a way to have them all fight, there is only one true way to find out: see who has the most pubs named after them.
The monarchy has had a long association with the names of boozers. Even back when most of their customers were illiterate and pubs would distinguish themselves by the illustrations on their signs, there was a strong royal influence. The White Hart and The Red Lion have long been two of the most common pub names in Britain, both having been the symbols of British royals (Richard II and James I respectively).
But the true mark of respect is actually having a pub named directly after you: clearly, the more pubs that share your name, the better a monarch you must have been. So, let’s crunch those numbers!
To do this, I counted every pub sharing the name of a monarch on a big list of British pubs (e.g. beerintheevening.com). Sometimes there’s some ambiguity: for example, pubs called “The George” can refer to one of 6 different monarchs, or indeed St George from off of Game of Thrones. So I only counted pubs where it could be clearly determined which monarch is being paid homage to – say, if their face is on the pub’s sign.
For the same reason, I decided to elimate anything that wasn't a name. Lots of King's Head pubs were renamed from Pope's Head under prominent non-fan of Catholicism, Henry VIII, but not all, for example; and it's not clear if a Royal Oak built in the 19th century is a reference to Charles II, or just a generic pub name. So, all these got excluded. (Readers who disagree with this methodology are encouraged to angrily post about it on social media, so long as they include a link.)
The Top 5 British Monarchs (according to pub names)
5. George V – 8 pubs
George V was in power during the First World War, so likely benefited from boozers cashing in on a general air of patriotism. Notably, the King George V in the Kentish village of Brompton acquired the name after having all its windows smashed when war broke out in 1914 because it was originally called the King of Prussia.
4. George III – 14 pubs
He may have lost America, but he didn’t lose all the pubs! Somewhat surprising given that what most people remember about him is the going mad. And that he once issued a proclamation condemning excessive drinking (also “profane swearing” and “lewdness”). The most evil kind of boozing of them all, ‘tippling on the Sabbath’, could incur you a fine of 3 shilling and 4 pence. Miserable git.
3. George IV – 15 pubs
George IV was widely hated by just about everyone, apart from pub landlords, apparently. Possible explanations for his popularity with the latter include that he was
a) a massive pisshead;
b) according to Blackadder the Third he was actually the popular comedy character Blackadder (spoilers); and
c) happened to reign at the beginning of the British empire’s biggest period of growth.
The George IV pub in Brixton is now a Tesco, suggesting that any remaining respect is on the wain.
2. William IV – 61 pubs
William IV is a surprising runner-up, seeing as he reigned for less than seven years. But one of the first things he did as king was to sign into law the Beerhouse Act 1830, which enabled anyone who could scrape together two guineas to start selling beer.
The idea behind the law was that, if it was easier to buy beer, people would just have some nice relaxing ales instead of getting smashed up on gin the whole time, and all of Britain’s alcohol-related woes would be solved. Yes. Anyway, lots of the new landlords were so grateful for their new booze-selling opportunities that they named their pubs after him.
1. Queen Victoria – 208 pubs
And at number one, it’s the Empress With The Mostess… Queen Victoria!
Confession: I did not check absolutely every pub called Queen Victoria or The Victoria to make sure it was not e.g. named after Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg, Queen consort of Spain from 1906 to 1931, or Victoria, a medical training robot that simulates giving birth. But even if we discount half the pubs on the list, she’s still way in the lead.
Why’s she so popular in pub terms? Well, when she took the throne in 1837, Britain had a population of around 20m. By 1901, the population had reached 40m. No other monarch has reigned over such an expansion of population. And being Britain, those 20m extra people were in need of a lot more pubs: who better to name them after than their (usually) quite popular queen?
English rulers just outside the top five include King Edward VII (of potato fame), King Alfred (of being the first one fame), and Oliver Cromwell (of not being a king fame), all tied on seven pubs. Sorry guys, maybe you should have tried having longer reigns at times when they were building more pubs. Losers.
One monarch in particular stands out as having not one single pub named in her honour: Queen Elizabeth II. Poor old Liz, even Sweyn Forkbeard has a pub named after him, and he only ruled England for about five weeks in 1014.
Unfortunately for the Queen, the number of British pubs has been in decline ever since she got into power, so there just haven’t been as many opportunities to get one named after you. Still, she is getting that new tube line, so cheg on that, Forkbeard!
Ed Jefferson can be found on the internet at @edjeff.