There is no denying that life in the Middle Ages was rough. There were battles, poor living conditions, and sometimes you ended up with a name that stuck with you for the rest of history. Some men come by great names that cement their place in history, like William the Conqueror, Charles the Great, or even Vlad the Impaler (if you were into that sort of thing), but other times you got names like the men on this list. Men who would have gladly taken a name like Edward the Penitent or Fredrick the Bitten over the names they were given. Here are some of the strangest names of the Middle Ages and the men who earned them.
Constantine the Shit-Named
There are a few different translations of Constantine’s less than flattering nickname. Some put it as dung-named or other go with the more colloquial expression of shit head. But one of the most common associations is shit-named. The name came during his reign and was unlikely to be a name that you would have ever called the emperor to his face. Today his bizarre nickname is perhaps his biggest claim to fame.
Constantine was born in Constantinople in 718. He was the son of Leo III and began his reign in 741. At the time that his reign began, his brother-in-law, Artabasdos, and his forces attacked Constantine V. They defeated him at first and even took Constantinople where he was accepted at the new emperor. Constantine V refused to share his throne or relinquish it and therefore he retook Constantinople in 743 and secured his place as emperor.
Constantine V punished all of his opponents and rivals within the city with death or blinding. Then he decided to go even further to punish the followers of his brother-in-law. Artabasdos had attempted to usurp the throne largely because Leo III was an iconoclast and Artabasdos wanted to restore the veneration of images. During his own reign, Constantine V was an even more fervent iconoclast than his father and ordered that any images be destroyed. This led to Constantine V’s opponents, the iconodules, calling him Kopronymous or “dung-named” and they spread about the rumor that he had defecated in his baptismal waters.
For the rest of his reign there were no images allowed of the savior or even of saints. In addition to his iconoclast beliefs he was an able general and leader. He worked to increase the defenses of the empire and even undertook three campaigns on three separate fronts. It was during a campaign against the Bulgarians that he died in 775 and he was never able to garnish a nickname that withstood the test of time as well as the one granted him by his enemies.
Roland the Farter might seem like a derogatory name or one that a man would come by due to issues with stench or flatulence but Roland came by the name in a different way. Roland the Farter got his name because of his profession. He was a farter by trade and was one that gained the favor of the King.
He lived in the twelfth century in England and was the flatulist to King Henry II. He was professionally a jester but he was known for the trick that make him funny enough to be called before the King. Every Christmas he would be called to perform what was known as “Unum saltum et siffletum et unum bumbulum” or one jump, one whistle, and one fart.
While that may not seem like a very honorable profession, it apparently paid pretty well. A 13th century English book of fees reportedly noted the payment that was given to Roland the Farter in exchange for his yearly performance. He was given a stately manor in Suffolk and 30 acres of land. That made him a man of considerable wealth and while he did have to fart for the king, he at least got to live handsomely the rest of the year.
Being skilled in flatulence was a profession for many during the middle ages in Ireland and even in the 1600s in Japan. Saint Augustine made references to performers who could make their farts sound like singing. Today few other historical professional flatulists are known and it was likely the discovery of Roland’s pay that his name is known today.
Eric XI of Sweden’s rather unflattering nickname came out of no real fault of his own. He was born the son of Eric Knutsson of Sweden and Richeza of Denmark and he was partially lame. Which is the reason for part of his nickname. Eric was born after the death of his father and during the time between his father’s death and his birth John I of Sweden had taken the throne.
King John I died in 1222, which left an opening for the then six-year-old Eric to claim his rightful throne. Being that he was only six, he ruled with the help of a regent council led by his cousin Knut Holmgersson. As Eric grew older, Knut became co-regent until the boy king reached the age of 13. It was in 1229 that Knut overthrew his cousin at the battle of Olustra.
Being a boy king was likely difficult for young Eric and losing his throne in battle at the mere age of 13 would not have been easy either. Having a very obvious stutter did not help the boy present the strong presence of a king that he needed. After being overthrown, he fled to Denmark, which was under the rule of his uncle.
Knut was crowned King Canute II of Sweden in 1231 and died in 1234. The death allowed Eric to once again reclaim his throne and this time he held it until his own death in 1250. He never made a strong impression as King, likely seen as weak being both lame and speaking with a stutter, but he still managed to twice reclaim his throne even if he never could overcome his nickname.
James II of England was one of the most unpopular Kings in British history, which is probably the best explanation for his rather unsavory nickname. He was hated by both the British and Irish, both of whom he served as king. Given that he was such a poor ruler and was so hated, it is no surprise that he reign was relatively short.
James II took the throne in 1685 after the death of his older brother. His rise to the throne was not particularly celebrated by Parliament, who feared that he was both Pro-Catholic and Pro-French. He ended up having a child who was a Catholic heir, which only cemented the fear of the people that he would push Catholicism and desire an absolute monarchy. He fought against the Parliament for control and to push for greater power.
When nobles in the country were forced out of their offices and replaced by Catholics, they decided it was time to ask James’ Protestant daughter Mary and her husband William to take the throne. When it became clear that William was going to invade, James raised his own army. However, once William entered the country many defected, including James’ other daughter, because they were in favor of Protestant rule. James refused to stand up to William and instead fled to France in 1688.
In 1689, James went to Ireland because they had not renounced him as King in the way that Britain and Scotland had. He raised an army in Ireland and tried to reclaim his throne. At the Battle of the Boyne on July 1, 1690, he faced an army personally led by William. Once again James fled to France, deserting his Irish followers who were then slaughtered by William’s army. Because of his desertion and betrayal, the Irish gave James the unflattering nickname of James the Be-shitten, or James the Shit or Seamus an Chaca.
Ragnar Hairy-Pants was a Viking leader and legendary hero in the 9th century. Much of what is written about him is a mixture of truth and fantasy about his life and exploits. The story behind his name is evidence that as he was called Ragnar Lodbrok, or Ragnar “Hairy Breeches” because of the pants he wore while battling either a poisonous serpent or a dragon.
Ragnar Lodbrok was the son of the Swedish King Sigurd Hring. He is also believed to be the father of famous Viking heroes Ivar the Boneless and Bjorn Ironside. While there is debate about who Ragnar Lodbrok really was, there are some reliable sources that suggest that he lived and that at least some of his legendary exploits were real.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which is considered to be a reliable source, confirms that Ragnar Lodbrok was a warlord who raided France and England. It also reported that his deeds significantly impacted the 9th century and that he ruled as King of Denmark due to being a relative of a Danish King. French accounts report how he raided the country with his sons and even attacked Paris.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says that Ragnar met his end after his ship washed ashore on the coast of the Kingdom of Northumbria, which had suffered many times at the hands of Ragnar. In retaliation, King Aella of Northumbria captured Ragnar Hairy Pants and threw him into a pit of snakes. Ragnar swore that his sons would avenge him and they did, killing King Aella in 866.
Alfonso IX was the King of Leon and Galicia during the 12th century. Despite his rather unfortunate nickname, he was a leader that promoted modernization and democratization in his kingdom. His nickname comes from the fact that he at times was subject to fits of rage in which he would foam at the mouth.
He took the throne after the death of his father in 1188. He tried to be good to his people by founding the University of Salamanca. He summoned the first parliament reflecting the full representation of the people that had ever been seen in Western Europe. Alfonso also took part in the Reconquest which covered the area of the Extremadura.
What Alfonso the Slobberer is more remembered for today, other than his nickname, was the fact that he was often at odds with the Pope due to his marriages. His marriage to his first cousin was declared null by the papal legate for consanguinity. He was even excommunicated by the Pope after he invaded Castile with the use of Muslim troops. He further angered the church when he married his first cousin once removed in order to bring unity to Leon and Castile. This marriage was declared invalid by Pope Innocent III, but the pair stayed together for six years and had five children.
His problems with the Pope had little effect on him as his own clergy supported him. When he died in 1230 it brought together the two Kingdoms of Castile and Leon, as his son Ferdinand III of Castile was already sitting on the throne of Castile. Ferdinand’s mother convinced Alfonso’s older daughters to renounce the throne and therefore allow Ferdinand to be crowned King of Leon as well.
Ivar the Boneless was a famous son of Ragnar Lodbrok and was even less lucky in the nickname department than his father. No one is exactly sure where the Viking got the strange nickname from. There are some who believe it was due to a physical deformity that made it seem like he was without bones. It was said that he was cursed by his mother, Ragnar’s third wife, who was known to be a sorceress. There is a theory that the name was poorly transcribed by a medieval scribe and was meant to be “Ivar the Hated.”
The sagas do tell that Ivar had some sort of a deformity and that he was lacking bones, but it is unclear how bad the deformity was. It seems unlikely that he would be able to be a successful Viking conqueror if his deformity left him without the ability to move. However, the sagas do tell of his wisdom, cunning, and unmatched mastery of strategy and tactics.
Ivar was the leader of the Great Heathen Army in 865 that invaded the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy in order to exact revenge for the death of Ragnar Lodbrok. The sagas say that at first Ivar did not defeat Aella and sought reconciliation asking for only as much land as could be covered with an ox hide. Then he tore the ox hide into so many fine strands that it was able to envelop a mighty fortress.
The next year Ivar and his army invaded Northumbria and captured Aella. Together with his brothers he murdered the King and then continued to invade more of what is now known as England, including Mercia and York. All historical records for Ivar stop in 870, which many believe is the date of his death. He told his men to bury him in a place that was exposed to attack and he would ensure that no one would succeed. This proved true until William I of England dug up the burial mound, found that the body of Ivar had not decayed and ordered that it be burned. It was only after the body was burned that William was successful.
Louis V of France comes by his nickname in the most obvious way; he did nothing. His father started preparing him to be king from a young age and used his son to the advantage of the Kingdom. In 978, he started to be associated with the government despite being only 12 years old. The following year he was crowned co-King with his father.
When Louis V was just 15 his father married him to the 40-year-old Adelaide-Blanche of Anjou in order to cement Carolingian royal power in the southern part of the Kingdom. The marriage was short-lived because the two could not get along. They kept separate rooms, traveled separately, and only spoke in short conversations in public. As Louis V was only 15, they never consummated their marriage. She eventually left him during a visit to Aquitaine and went back with her family after only two years of marriage. She did not produce a single heir for Louis V.
Louis V became the undisputed king in 986 after the death of his father. Having already been crowned for nearly 10 years, there was no dispute over his taking the crown. At the time there were two groups in France that had different ambitions for the future of the Kingdom. One wanted to renew friendly relationships with the Ottonian dynasty, and the other wanted to continue expansion to the east and the recovery of Lotharingia. There was also a dispute between the elected kings of Louis V’s father and it was all put on the young monarch’s shoulders at once.
Louis V vacillated between the sides and refused to take any strong stance on the issues that were presented to him. He died from a fall while hunting just a year after taking the throne which prevented him from making any lasting impact with his reign. Since he had no heirs the throne was taken by his uncle and the Carolingian dynasty ended.