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Throughout history many different nobles from many different countries have been given nicknames either by their loyal followers or their sworn enemies.
A lot of these royal monikers can be described as just plain unimaginative. Look at the history of the first two King Williams of Sicily, William the Bad, and his more fortunate son, William the Good. It can be safely assumed that these basic nicknames are hardly what those Williams would have chosen for themselves.
Surely every monarch dreams of earning and epithet so awe-inspiring it echoes down the centuries. Which one of them wouldn’t have envied the Louis XIV, The Sun King, or Edward, the Philosopher King of Portugal whose nickname is the platonic ideal?
However, even the most boring of nicknames could be described as extremely fortunate when compared to the names garnered by the following nobles through their tumultuous times.
Constantine V – The Dung-Named
Image source: Classical Numismatic Group
Constantine V’s reign was a thoroughly mixed bag of success and failure. He became Emperor of the Byzantines in the year 741, but his time on the throne began rather badly.
Family didn’t quite mean the same thing back then as it does now, and Constantine had a lot of relatives. Each one of them wanted the throne, but it was his brother-in-law that would usurp him first, almost immediately in fact.
Constantine was able to make a huge comeback and retake his empire, but maybe it would have been better for his legacy if he hadn’t.
Upon retaking Constantinople, Constantine did not like the way he found his city. He was a staunch opponent of iconography in Christianity, and there were pictures of Jesus everywhere. Angry, he destroyed them all.
Rome did not like that. The Pope broke ties with him and allied with the Franks instead. Constantine had lots of enemies, but unfortunately these enemies had some very loud mouths. Mouths loud enough to shout down the centuries that, at his own baptism, Constantine had defecated in the font of holy water.
This dubious sounding story earned him the eternal epithet Constantine the Dung-Named (Kopronymos), and that’s a clean translation.
Constantine VI – The Blinded
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This next Constantine was the grandson of the previous Dung-Named regent. He came to the throne aged just 9 years of age after his father (Leo IV) died of a fever aged 30. Clearly the young emperor was too young to actually rule so his mother, the Empress Irene, acted as his regent.
Irene also had immediate troubles, as she faced contention from the young monarch’s uncles. But Irene was a very strong woman, think like George R. R. Martin’s Circe only without the familial loyalty.
Despite her son becoming an adult, she refused to allow him to rule. What followed were years of unrest as the nation divided itself between supporters of mother and son. Finally in a position of power, Constantine proved himself an ineffectual and unpopular leader who took to having the eyes of just about anyone who disagreed with him put out.
Never one to be long ousted, his ferocious mother came back into the fray after years of plotting against her own son. In a twist of brutal irony, she had Constantine’s eyes viciously ripped from their sockets in the very room he had been born. He is still known only for this death, as Constantine the Blinded.
Henry IV of Castile – the Impotent
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A move away from the Byzantines brings us to Spain and perhaps one of the unluckiest nicknames of all.
Henry IV of Castile was married off to the daughter of a noble family named Blanca de Navarre when he was 15 years old. This marriage lasted for 13 long years before the two separated, under less than amicable circumstances. Henry had apparently never consummated the marriage, a fact which the doctor confirmed.
The young Blanca was not doubt relieved to be relieved of her husband (although she was ultimately poisoned by her own family so maybe not so much).
The poor king now faced insulting cries from all over his kingdom that he was unable to perform the most basic of male duties; he was not a real man.
As testament to the fact that things were very different 500 years ago, Henry called on the testimony of prostitutes to prove that he was in fact a virile young bachelor, a fact which many of them willingly corroborated.
Soon after Henry remarried and his new wife bore a child, which seemed to put all doubts to rest. Except it didn’t. It was common knowledge that the prostitutes had been bribed, and Henry even refused to acknowledge that the child was his own.
Nowadays there have been extensive studies which assign poor Henry just about every penile problem under the sun, describing his member as a fat, useless mushroom.
One thing is for certain though, Henry will forever be remembered for the one thing most men would prefer the world never to know. He was Henry the Impotent.
Alfonso VI of Portugal – The Mad Glutton
Image source: Scanned by Pedro Cardim
Most monarchs unfortunate enough to be landed with an awful nickname for the rest of history at least have the good fortune to only be landed with one. Alfonso VI of Portugal however, was such a spectacularly awful ruler that he managed to acquire one both before and after his name.
He was Mad King Alfonso the Glutton.
What could Alfonso have possibly done to deserve such a bad reputation? The answer is just about everything.
At first some of his peculiarities seem like trivial fun, like his habit of wearing seven coats and four hats at a time, or refusing to go to church and so taking mass in his bed. However there is no doubt he was an evil and sinister human being.
When he was young he would kill and torture animals for pleasure, and when a little older he would arrange illegal dog-fights inside the royal palace. He went into the streets at night and randomly attacked law-abiding citizens. He frequented nunneries to rape the nuns.
There are many more examples of his heinous nature, but that is enough to paint a picture of the type of man he was. More than deserving of his double-moniker: The Mad Glutton.
Juana of Castile – the Mad
Image source: Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien
The daughter of Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon, a political marriage which had successfully united the Spain under one banner, Juana was destined for greatness.
She was possessed of great beauty (although the picture may suggest otherwise), extraordinary talent and a name which would turn the head of any potential suitor in Europe.
However she was also in possession of a rather unique temperament. Although her royal sobriquet is not so unique, she is known as one of the many ‘Mad’ regents that have ruled Europe through the ages, how she came to earn such a name is certainly a story worthy of note.
Juana was married to the perhaps also erroneously named Philip the Handsome (his portrait is here for you to decide yourself). The only son of Emperor Maximilian I, Philip was also a royal prize. Their first meeting was love at first sight.
Despite not even sharing a language, they demanded to be married on the spot. Immediately afterwards they retired to the bedroom to consummate.
For Juana at least it was love, for Philip she was just another conquest. She would fly into fits of jealousy at his unfaithfulness but never cease to love him. After years of unhappy marriage Philip died young, aged just 28. However Juana was unable to let him go.
Rumours abounded that the mad queen slept with Philip’s corpse every night for months. Although these are unconfirmed, she certainly did have his coffin opened in public multiple times, and was seen to profusely kiss the dead man’s feet.
Her crazed jealousy endured, and she would travel with the coffin only at night, avoiding all other women (even nunneries!) in her quest to preserve her husband’s fidelity, at least in death.
Ivan VI of Russia
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In the case of Ivan VI it is not so much his nickname that was unlucky as the fact he was ever named Tsar in the first place. He has been known as the Infant Tsar or the Vegetable, but neither moniker has really stuck. The reason this man makes the list is because of his circumstances, perhaps one of the most truly unfortunate people to ever have lived.
Crowned ‘Autocrat of All the Russians’ aged just two months old, Ivan was ousted from his throne just one year later. He was then placed into isolated confinement by his cousin, the new Empress Elizabeth.
Ivan grew up in solitary, spending the next twenty years being moved from place to place in secret. His mental and social development was understandably severely retarded, and he became to most accounts an idiot, “bereft of understanding and human intelligence”.
It seems that the young royal was at least a little aware of his identity, always referring to himself as Gosudar (Sovereign). Although it was forbidden that anybody else know his name, let alone position, the name of the ‘nameless one’ was eventually discovered. Those who learned his name plotted to free the young Ivan and place him on the throne.
During their ill-fated attempts, the unfortunate Ivan was murdered by his guards, who had long ago received orders to do so should anybody try to break him out of his confinement.
As such poor Ivan makes the list not for being unluckily nicknamed, but for being so unluckily named in the first place. A name so cursed that he spent his entire life alone, and when it finally came to light (his name, for he reportedly never saw the sun), it could only result in his death.
Charles IX of France – the Snotty King
Charles IX came to the throne aged just ten years old, and is another king on the list unfortunate enough to have been born to a power hungry mother, another power hungry Catherine.
This Catherine was the true force in the land and everybody knew it. She would handle all domestic and foreign policy, reading messages and dispatches before the king and ‘advising’ him in such a capacity that Charles was never known to make a decision alone.
She even insisted they sleep in the same room, which may have been one of the reasons Charles died without an heir.
Charles was described as a sickly and rat faced child, who was prone to childlike fits of rage when he did not get his own way (or his mother’s way as the case may have been). All of these factors contributed to his lasting epithet, Charles the ‘Snotty King’.
For the king who authorised the terrible St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of up to 70,000 Protestants throughout France however, perhaps simply being known as a snotty brat is not so bad after all.
Eric XI of Sweden – the Lisp and the Lame
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Eric XI of Sweden was the last King of the Swedish royal family known as the house of Eric, which used this rather amateurish and yet strangely disconcerting coat of arms featuring two lions with human-ish faces.
This heritage made Eric XI, Eric Eric, which is a little silly but not the unfortunate sobriquet for which he has made this list. That honour goes to the title he was posthumously given in the oldest surviving Swedish chronicle, also called Eric (or Erikskrönikan).
Very early in the Eric Chronicle it is written that this particular “King Eric was lisping in his talk / Limping was, as well, his walk”. Ironically, as a man with a lisp, this short couplet would have been extremely difficult for the poor old King to pronounce.
Although Eric wasn’t the strongest King Sweden has ever had, he certainly wasn’t the weakest or least interesting. However it seems he never did anything in his life more worthy of being remembered than having a lisp and a limp, and so forever will have the double-moniker of Eric the Lisp and the Lame.
Bermudo II of Leon – The Gouty
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Bermudo of Leon lived over 1000 years ago, and he is still remembered primarily for his nickname, won through his long term battle with what was known as ‘Rich Man’s Disease’, but what we know today less flatteringly as Gout.
Bermudo was not a particularly effectual King, and he lived for just 43 years before the disease killed him. He did not die gracefully either. His gout became so inflamed that, in the final months of his life, he was almost completely incapable of autonomous movement. Riding a horse was a physical impossibility for him, and he had to be carried everywhere in a litter.
Bermudo had the misfortune of ruling at the same time as Almanzor, an extremely intelligent and powerful man whose de facto reign over the Caliphate of Cordoba marked the height of Muslim rule in the Iberian Peninsula. Perhaps it is for this reason that he was never able to distinguish himself as anything more than a gouty old man, and will always be remembered as such.
But when it is considered that during their reigns, Almanzor oversaw the razing to the ground of Leon, the very city Bermudo had been named for, it is not surprising a new name had to be found for him. Bermudo the Gouty fit perfectly.
King John Lackland the Softsword
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The English King John was one of the weakest monarchs the millennium old lineage that Island nation has seen. Despite ruling 800 years ago not a single King John has followed him onto the throne. In fact he was so bad that he essentially ended the name’s use in the English Royal Family.
King John was not a wise or strong man. He was not helped by the fact that his brother was Richard the Lionheart, famed for his prowess and bravery. John’s first terrible nickname (for a king at least) was given to him at a very young age, and so for most of his life he was known as John Lackland, for the obvious reason that he lacked any land.
John’s father, Henry II, tried his whole life to rectify this situation, but just about everything John touched seemed cursed. By trying to transfer the Duchy of Aquitaine from Richard to his brother Henry provoked a civil war. When he sent his youngest son to rule Ireland instead, John returned after just a few months a bitter and ineffectual failure.
King John is most famous for signing the Magna Carta, a treaty which is heralded as the beginning of human rights in the modern world, but for the King who signed it was nothing less than a disaster. Miraculously however this was not even the worst treaty (for him at least) John was forced to sign.
15 years before the Magna Carta, in 1200 AD, John signed the Treaty of le Goulet. This treaty gave the French the lands of Berry and Gisors along with £20,000 and John’s fealty to the French King.
That doesn’t seem like a fair deal, but what would John receive in return?
It turns out only recognition as the heir to the throne of England – a throne which he had already sat on for over a year.
This apparent weakness garnered him the nickname Softsword. So with two monikers contemporary to his rule, John had to sit on the throne knowing everyone thought of him as Lackland King John the Softsword, hardly a glorious name, and definitely not compared to his brother the Lionheart.