The use of nicknames or epithets to describe a royal or a local ruler was quite common until recent times. Before pictures were easily accessed, or in places where the first name was repeatedly used for consecutive rulers, a nickname was a useful way to distinguish one person from another. Sometimes these names were chosen by the bearer themselves, sometimes they were gained through a courageous or kind act and other times the names were given hundreds of years later by historians.
Many of these names are impressive and created in order to show praise or thanks to a ruler, for example Peter the great or Lorenzo the magnificent. On other occasions an epithet was simply to show where a person came from; such as Catherine of Aragon or Christian of Brunswick and then there were names given based on appearance, like Philip the handsome.
Unfortunately, many rulers missed out on being called ‘the great’ and ended up with an insulting or weird nickname. The following are a selection of the strangest:
1. Juana the mad
Juana was Queen of Castile and León until she was forcibly locked away because of an apparent mental illness by her father and later son. After being imprisoned for most of her life, Juana’s mental state grew rapidly worse, she became known as Juana la Loca which means the mad.
2. Vasily the cross-eyed
Vasily Kosoy was Grand Prince of Moscow in the early 1430s in the midst of civil war. He was overthrown by his cousin and brother and later blinded whilst in prison, which means he is also known as Vasily the blind.
3. Charles the silly
Charles VI was King of France until 1422. During bouts of insanity he believed that he had no wife or children and that he and other people were made of glass and could shatter at any time, he even had iron rods sewn into his clothes to stop himself from breaking.
4. Séamus an Chaca (James the shit)
After the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland in 1690 when James II of England and Ireland and VII of Scotland was defeated by William of Orange, he was known as Séamus an Chaca or James the shit by the Irish who believed he had betrayed them.
5. Lugaid ‘son of a dog’
Lugaid, the High King of Ireland apparently reigned in around 200 AD. He was known as the son of a dog because he reportedly suckled from a greyhound as a baby.
6. Archibald the loser
Following on from his father Archibald the Grim, Archibald was the 4th Earl of Douglas in the early 15th century.
7. Alfonso the slobberer
Alfonso VI was King of Galicia and León until 1230. He earned the nickname ‘babosa’ or ‘the slobberer’ because was prone to fits of rage which resulted in him foaming at the mouth.
8. Conan the fat
Conan, The Duke of Brittany until 1148 was an ally of King Stephen of England during his war with Empress Matilda. He gained his nickname due to his large size.
9. Piero the gouty
Piero di Cosimo de’ Medici was Lord of Florence until 1469. He suffered so badly from gout that he was too unwell to work most of the time and when he did it was often from his bedroom. Piero’s illness led to the seat of government being moved to the Medici Palace.
10. The universal spider
Louis XI of France was king in the mid 15th century. Louis was always involved in sneaky plots and was known as the universal spider because his enemies believed he was spinning webs of conspiracies and lies.
11. Childeric the idiot
Childeric was the last Merovingian King of the Franks. Whilst he was often an absent ruler, leaving the work to the mayors of the palace, there is no evidence for why he was called an idiot. It is likely that once he was deposed by Pepin the short, the nickname was given to blacken his name.
12. Louis the good for nothing
Louis V of France reigned for only a year in 987. He was known as he who did nothing or the good for nothing because of his short reign and because he left no heir to succeed him.
13. Pepin the hunchback
Pepin was the son of Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne. Pepin was disinherited by his father, which may have been because of his deformity. After revolting against his father, Pepin eventually ended up living out his days as a monk.
14. Ivar the boneless
Ivar Ragnarsson was a Viking ruler in the 9th century. The reason for his nickname; the boneless is disputed. Some people believe it is because he suffered from a condition which meant that he had cartilage where bone should be in much of his body, whilst others think it was a joke about his lack of interest in romance.
15. Henry III – Prince of Sodom
As the fourth son of Henry II of France, Henry was never supposed to be king of France and instead accepted the elective Polish-Lithuanian crown. Henry had to return to France to become King, after the death of his brother Charles IX. Henry was believed to be a homosexual and often dressed in women’s clothing which earned him his rather blunt nickname.
16. The ruiner of families
Malatesta II Malatesta was Lord of Rimini, he was known as Guastafamiglia or the ruiner of families because he was at the head of so many massacres and assassinations. After assisting Pope Innocent VI in suppressing the Romagna, Malatesta retired.
17. Frederick III- Arch-Sleepyhead of the Holy Roman Empire
Frederick was the first Habsburg Holy Roman Emperor. He was called the arch-sleepyhead and mocked for being an inefficient ruler of his Imperial lands because he focused on his hereditary lands.
18. Bertha Broadfoot
Bertrada of Laon was the wife of Pepin the short. Her nickname was broadfoot or goosefoot as she supposedly had a clubfoot. As there is no evidence for this, some historians believe it was because she was seen as link between the human and spirit world as clubfooted people were presumed to be during the Middle Ages.
19. Ivalyo the lettuce
In 1277 Ivalyo started a peasant uprising in Bulgaria. He was a poor farmer who decided to revolt against the Tsar. The revolt was a success and for two years he ruled as Emperor, before being forced into exile. He was known as the lettuce or cabbage because of his humble farming background.
20. William the bastard
William is more famously known as William the Conqueror, the first Norman king of England. His other nickname; the bastard was given because his father Robert, Duke of Normandy was not married to his mother Herleva, his mistress. William’s status as an illegitimate child caused him much difficulty when he succeeded his father’s Duchy.