My daughter likes to read history at Cracked. She’s a list type of gal, so this post is for her.
Many rulers in history had descriptive nicknames, especially during the early middle ages. At that time in Europe you couldn’t turn around without running into a Charles or Ferdinand or Edward or Louis or Henry. So they could be called “great” or “lame” or “pious” for identification purposes.
However, those descriptors from the past don’t always mean what we think they mean. Over the years, the meanings of words can change, leading to a lot of debates between historians. Also, some of these nicknames were assigned at a later date. Just like with politics today, reputations can depend on public relations skills.
Some nicknames are silly (Alfonso the Slobberer), some are mean (Charles the Fat). It’s easy to laugh without learning about the truth of the name. If nothing else, these names give us something to research.
Ivar the Boneless
Speculation about nicknames can be as interesting and fun as the nickname itself. Ivar was a leader of the Great Heathen Army that invaded England in 865. He disappears from the historical record in 870, so his ultimate end is unknown. Also unknown is the origin of his nickname. It may have meant that he was impotent. It may have meant that this great warrior was so physically limber that he seemed boneless. Another theory is that he had what we know today as “brittle bone” disease. Whatever the explanation, this nickname pretty much guarantees that Ivar will be long remembered and discussed.
Edward, the Black Prince
This nickname isn’t as interesting as some, but I’m including Edward because he’s an example of someone who didn’t receive his nickname until long after he died. Also, he is familiar to many today from the 2001 movie “A Knight’s Tale”. The Black Prince is the man who saves William from the stocks in return for a favor earlier in the movie.
Edward (1330-1376) was the eldest son of King Edward III of England. He died after a long illness, before his father’s death, and never became king. Even though the first record of Edward being called the Black Prince is from the sixteenth century, about 150 years after his death, the reason for the nickname is still not clear. The best guess is that it is in response to his brutality against the French, but it appears that brutality was exaggerated. It seems someone wanted to tarnish the memory of Edward.
Henry the Impotent
Henry IV of Castile (1425-1474) reigned for twenty years with constant intrigues, power struggles and attempts to build and retain alliances. It’s possible that Henry was called “impotent” because he was ineffectual as a ruler.
But…Henry was married at 15 and then 13 years later sought a divorce on the grounds of non-consummation. An examination of his wife showed her to be a virgin. There was testimony from prostitutes that Henry was not impotent. Did Henry bribe the prostitutes for their testimony? Henry remarried and had a daughter with his second wife, but as wife number two then had two other children with another man, there were doubts about the paternity of Henry’s daughter.
Just three more examples of all the research that can keep historians and other researchers busy for years.