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Medieval kings and rulers often got nicknames. If you were lucky, you would be called the Good, the Great, or the Hammer (honourable mention goes to John II, Duke of Cleves, who got nickname the Babymaker for having fathered 63 illegitimate children). Those monarchs who didn’t perform as well might get the name the Bad, the Cruel, or the Mad.
However, a few men from the Middle Ages had rather unusual nicknames, and probably ones they really didn’t want. Here is our list of the top ten worst nicknames given to medieval rulers.
Alfonso the Slobberer
Alfonso IX, King of León and Galicia – he was a fairly successful ruler of the northern part of Iberia during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, managing to stay on the throne for 42 years. However, the North African scholar Ibn Khaldun noted that he was called Baboso or the Slobberer because he would foam at the mouth whenever he got upset.
Bermudo the Gouty
Bermudo II was another King of León and Galicia, ruling from 982 to 999. His campaigns against Islamic state of al-Andalus had some initial success, but Muslim armies eventually captured many of his most important cities and even sacked Santiago de Compostela in 997. Meanwhile, Bermudo suffered from gout, a medical condition that can cause severe inflammation of the foot, particularly around the big toe. By the last year of his reign, Bermudo’s gout was so severe he could no longer ride on horseback and had to travel around on a litter.
Constantine the Name of Shit
Constantine V was the Byzantine emperor from 741 to 775, but his harsh stand against the use of icons in the Christian church earned him many critics. They gave him the nickname Kopronymos, which means ‘Name of Shit’, allegedly because when Constantine was an infant be defecated in the baptismal font.
Haakon the Crazy
Haakon was the Earl of Norway and steward for the four year-old King Guttorm, making him the most powerful man in northern kingdom. When Guttorm died in 1204, Haakon tried to be elected the new king, but the Norwegian nobles voted against him as he was born in Sweden (this probably made him very upset). While he was normally quite sane, Haakon got his nickname “the Crazy” for his reputation on being frenzied in battle.
Henry the Impotent
Henry IV of Castile ruled the Spanish kingdom from 1454 to 1474, but he got to the throne he he was known for a royal scandal. When he was fifteen, Henry was married to Blanche II of Navarre. Thirteen years later, Henry sought a divorce, stating that they had never consummated the marriage. The Catholic church held a trial, where they confirmed Blanche’s virginity and received testimony from several prostitutes who explained that Henry’s sexual prowess was just fine, except when it came to his wife. The divorce was granted, and Henry married his cousin Joan of Portugal – she bore him one daughter (although later on his subjects had their doubts on whether he was the father) and then Joan spent most of her time having affairs with various lovers.
Ivar the Boneless
One of the great Viking leaders of the ninth-century, Ivar and his brothers commanded the Great Heathen Army that invaded England in 865, which established Viking-rule over much of the country. The sagas and chronicles about him give very different reasons on how he got the name Boneless: one poem even states he had no bones at all! In other accounts it was said that his men carried Ivar on a shield, which has led some historians to speculate he suffered from a genetic disease where he had brittle bones, or that he had lost use of his legs.
Ivaylo the Swineherd
Ivaylo was a just a simple peasant who worked as a swineherd, but in 1277 he led a rebellion against the Bulgarian monarchy. The Bulgarian emperor Constantine I went to do battle with the peasant army, but he was defeated and killed (supposedly by Ivaylo personally). A year later Ivaylo became the emperor, although his reign lasted until 1279. He tried to get his throne back with the help of the Mongols, but the local Mongol commander decided to accept a better offer and killed Ivaylo in 1281. He also had the nicknames Radish and Cabbage.
Jean the Poorest Man in France
John II, Duke of Alençon and Count of Perche, was fifteen when he fought at the Battle of Verneuil in 1424. There he was captured by the English and imprisoned for five years. To pay off his ransom of 200,000 saluts d’or, Jean had to sell off all his possessions, while another English lord took control of his duchy. When he was released in 1429, he was called “the poorest man in France”. However, he soon became good friends with Joan of Arc and served as one of her top commanders. She gave him a new nickname: The Fair Duke
King John of England is considered one of the least successful monarchs of the island kingdom (which is why there has not yet been a John II). When his brother Richard the Lionheart died in 1199, John inherited a powerful Angevin empire. Within a few years, he was completely driven out of Normandy by the French, and would soon be facing upheaval in England. By the end of his reign, John had signed the Magna Carta which stripped him of many of his royal powers. His lack of military success earned him the nickname ‘softsword’ from English chroniclers. Years before he became king, however, John’s own father Henry II gave him the nickname ‘Lackland’ when he realized this son would not be getting much of an inheritance compared to his older brothers.
Justinian the Slitnosed
Justinian II was the Byzantine Emperor from 685 to 695, and dreamed of conquests and enlarging his empire. However his draconian rule led to an uprising where Justinian was captured and deposed. His captors also cut off his nose, believing this mutilation would make sure that he could never become Emperor again.
However Justinian would regain the Imperial throne in 705 – he paid for an army of Bulgars and Slavs to sneak him into Constantinople by surprise. His second reign (705-711) was marked by Justinian now wearing a golden prosthetic nose and being an even worse tyrant. Eventually the Byzantines rose against him again, and Justinian’s own soldiers seized and beheaded him.
Top image: The Mutilation of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian II