Nicknames have always been popular. Children are occasionally given cute nicknames such as “Peanut” or “Bunny”. John Wayne was called “The Duke”. People with ginger hair are sometimes called “Red”. Nicknames also shorten a person’s given name – “Liz” is frequently used for Elizabeth, or as in the case of Queen Elizabeth I, “Good Queen Bess”. The leader of a sports team is often called “Coach”. A military Sergeant is regularly called “Sarge”. Nicknames are not always particularly flattering. “Fatso”, “skinhead”, and “four eyes” fit into this category. “Nerd”, once an unflattering term for a person interested in science, has become acceptable over the years.
The medieval nicknames given to rulers and the higher-ups that associated with royalty pulled no punches. Viking nicknames especially would not be considered appropriate today, but they sure were fun! Here are six nicknames you won’t believe!
6. King Harald the Fine Haired a.k.a.“Harald Hair-pretty”
As the first King of Norway, Harald was considered a national hero. He founded a Viking dynasty that lasted throughout the Viking Age. When Harald was a boy, his father died after the sled in which he was riding fell through the ice. When Harald was made King of Vesthold, many Viking warriors had no intention of following a ruler who wasn’t yet able to grow a manly Viking beard. When the warriors tried to overthrow him, Harald played his trump card – his father’s military advisor, Duke Guthorm. The two prepared for war and vanquished all enemies of the crown.
When Harald grew to manhood, he decided to take a bride. Princess Gyda of Hordaland was not impressed with a king of such a tiny kingdom. At that point, Harald proclaimed he would neither comb nor cut his hair until he ruled all of Norway. During the next ten years, he defeated king after king until only a small group of Norwegian rulers remained.
At the Battle of Hafrsfjord, about 880 A.D., Harald’s army used their ships as battering rams against the enemy and boarded their ships. After surveying his victory Harald the Tangle-Haired decided it was time to cut his floor length bird’s nest of hair and beard and adjust his name accordingly. Princess Gyda decided he was now socially acceptable to marry. So did Svanhild, daughter of Eystein Earl, Åshild, daughter of Ring Dagsson, Snøfrid, daughter of Svåse the Finn, Snefrid Snasesdatter, and Tora Mosterstong. He took all of them as either wives or concubines. It’s good to be the king.
5. Charles the Silly
Charles VI of France originally went by the name Charles the Well-Loved. He slowly descended into insanity after a mysterious illness in 1392. He suffered delusions that caused him to deny he was king, attack his servants, and run around the castle thinking his enemies were chasing him. He destroyed furniture, believed he was made of glass, and insisted metal rods be put in his clothes so he wouldn’t break. He stopped bathing and refused to change his bedclothes.
His wife, Isabeau, became so fearful that she moved to Vincennes, surrounded herself with her own personal zoo, and gained so much weight she had to be wheeled around in a chair. The once beautiful Queen was now “The Great Sow”. Silly was a bit tame considering everything that happened.
4. Frederick the Bitten
Frederick was the son of Albert II, Margrave of Meissen, a.k.a. Albert the Degenerate, and Margaret of Sicily. Margaret was descended from two Holy Roman Emperors and felt she deserved the respect of her husband, degenerate or not. When she discovered her husband’s dalliance with her lady in waiting, Kunigunde of Eisenberg, she packed up and left. Before she left the palace, however, she bit her son on the cheek, hence his nickname, Frederick the Bitten. It is believed she did this in her grief for having to part from her son, but it sounds more Klingon than Sicilian.
3. Ibrahim the Mad
Ibrahim was born in Istanbul, Turkey, to Ottoman Sultan Ahmed I and Sultana Kösem. He was kept in a windowless room to protect him from his brother, Murad IV, who had already killed Ibrahim’s remaining brothers. At the age of 23, he was proclaimed Sultan due to the death of his brother, but he refused to leave his room until his mother coaxed him out.
When he did take power, he filled his harem with virgins and discarded them afterwards. He lined his walls, beds, and clothes with sable fur and took whatever he pleased from local shops. Upon hearing a rumor that one of his concubines had been disloyal, Ibrahim threw one of his frequent tantrums and had his entire harem tortured. All 280 of the slim beauties were put into sacks and drowned in the river. Only one survived because her bag came loose. When his own son, who he had originally thrown into a pool as an infant for being too sickly, cracked a joke that his father didn’t care for, Ibrahim stabbed him in the face.
The best story, however, is that during one of his travels he observed a young cow and decided to search for a woman with the same qualities. He had gold replicas of the cow’s private parts made and sent out all over the land until Sechir Para (Sugar Cube) was found in Armenia. Sechir Para weighed about 300 pounds, and Ibrahim couldn’t get enough of her. He eventually made her Governor General of Damascus. Skipping the gym can be a good thing.
2. Louis the Universal Spider
Louis XI of France was a paranoid and angry little man who refused to behave himself. He revolted against his own father, Charles VII, who, although he forgave him, eventually had to banish Louis from the court because of his constant instigation of intrigue and his criticism of Charles’ mistress.
He married without the consent of his father and took up with his father’s sworn enemies.
His meddling and conspiracies all over France earned him the nickname “The Universal Spider”, referring to the web of intrigue he had spun. Even Niccolò Machiavelli called Louis “shortsighted and imprudent for abolishing his own infantry in favor of Swiss mercenaries”. Sir Walter Scott called him “purely selfish” and concerned only with “his ambition, covetousness, and desire of selfish enjoyment”.
In Victor Hugo’s novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame, it is Louis who orders Esmeralda’s death. It’s probably a good thing there was no social media at the time.
Constantine V was an Emperor during the Byzantine period. During his reign, his enemies referred to him as Kopronymous, meaning “dung named”, because it was rumored that he defecated into the baptismal water during his baptism.
Here is another story from us: Totally bizarre Illegal things in Medieval Europe
If someone spoke the nickname in his presence, they probably didn’t live very long.