Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

60 of History’s Strangest Royal Epithets

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Some figures from history lead such remarkable (or notorious) lives that they earn themselves an epithet that remains in use long after their death. More often than not these nicknames are used either to encapsulate a leader’s personality or appearance, or else to sum up the events or legacy of their time in power—but either way, there’s no guarantee it will be complimentary. In fact for every Catherine the Great there’s an Ivan the Terrible. For every William the Conqueror there’s a Vlad the Impaler. And for every Richard the Lionheart there’s an Albert the Peculiar. Sixty of the most bizarre—and in some cases the most unflattering—epithets from history are listed here.

1. ALBERT THE PECULIAR was Duke of Austria from 1395-1404. He was also called “Albert the Patient,” and “Albert the Wonderful.”

2. ALBERT WITH THE PIGTAIL was the father of Albert the Peculiar, and Duke of Austria from 1365-95.

3. ALEXANDER THE POTBELLY was Prince of Suzdal, in western Russia, from 1414-17. Other holders of the same title included “George Longarm,” and “John the Strongbow.”

4. ALFONSO THE DISINHERITED was too young to take the throne when his father Crown Prince Ferdinand of Castile died in 1275, and so instead he was taken into the care of his grandmother. Nine years later the vacant throne was claimed by a usurper, and Alfonso was left with no choice than to renounce all of his family’s claims before he was even old enough to rule.

5. ALFONSO THE SLOBBERER was King of Galicia from 1188-1230. He apparently earned his nickname because he foamed at the mouth when enraged.

6. ANNE, THE QUEEN OF BEES, aka Anne Louise Bénédicte, was Duchess of Maine in France from 1692-1736. She became known as “Queen of Bees” after founding her own chivalric order, The Order of the Honey Bee, in 1703.

7. ANTIGONUS THE ONE-EYED was a close friend of Alexander the Great, who made him ruler of Phrygia in the 4th century BC. He lost one of his eyes in battle defending his kingdom from a brutal attack by Persia.

8. ARCHIBALD THE GRIM was the 3rd Earl of Douglas and Lord of Galloway, Scotland, from the mid 1300s until his death in 1400.

9. ARCHIBALD THE LOSER was the son of Archibald the Grim, who served as 4th Earl of Douglas from his father’s death until his own death in battle in France in 1424.

10. BERENGUER-RAMON THE FRATRICIDE was an 11th century Count of Barcelona who earned his unappealing nickname when rumors began to circulate that he had been involved in his twin brother’s death in a hunting accident in 1082.

11. BERNARD THE HAIRY-FOOTED was a 9th century Count of Auvergne. If not a genuine reference to his feet, his nickname might instead have been inspired by some family crest or emblem.

12. BOLESŁAW THE WRY-MOUTHED was Crown Prince of Poland from 1102-38. Bolesław “had a mouth slightly bent on one side,” according to one 15th century description, although “this did not mar his face, and even added some charm to it.”

13. BOLKO THE STRICT was a 13th century Prince of Germany. His father was Bolesław the Bald, and his brother was Bernard the Lightsome.

14. BROCHWEL THE FANGED, or Brochwel Ysgrithrog, was a 6th century ruler of Powys in central Wales. His epithet ysgrithog means “fanged” or “tusked,” and probably refers either to his large or prominent teeth, or to his aggressive, short-tempered personality.

15. BURMUDO THE GOUTY, King of Léon from 984-999, suffered from such a bad case of gout towards the end of his life that he couldn’t ride his horse and had to be carried everywhere by his courtiers.

16. CADAFAEL THE BATTLE-DECLINER was ruler of the Welsh Kingdom of Gwynedd from 634-56. He earned the nickname “Battle-Decliner” by abandoning his ally, Penda of Mercia, the day before a decisive battle against the Kingdom of Northumbria in the mid 7th century.

17. CHARLES THE FAT—aka the 9th century Holy Roman Emperor Charles III—is just one of a number of ancient rulers known by the epithet “the Fat,” along with Alfonso I of Portugal, Conan III of Brittany, and Henry I of Navarre.

18. CHILDERIC THE IDIOT was King of the Franks from 743-751. No one is quite sure what he did to earn the epithet “the Idiot,” but seeing as he ended his reign by being deposed and consigned to a monastery, it may be nothing more than an attempt by his successors to tarnish his name.

19. COLOMAN THE BOOK-LOVER, or Coloman The Learned, was king of Hungary from 1095-1116.

20. CONOMOR THE ACCURSED was a 6th century leader of Brittany. He was such a notoriously violent and temperamental ruler that some of his subjects apparently believed he was a werewolf.

21. CONSTANTINE THE DUNG-NAMED was the nickname of Constantine V, the Byzantine Emperor from 741-55. The Latin epithet Copronymus, “dung-named,” was unsurprisingly bestowed on him by his many enemies.

22. DOMNALL THE SPECKLED was the freckle-faced ruler of Argyll in Scotland from 629-42. He’s also a distant ancestor of Kate Middleton.

23. ERIK THE PRIEST-HATER, aka King Erik II of Norway, earned his nickname as his reign from 1280-99 was characterized by a persistently fraught relationship with the Church.

24. ERIK THE SHORT-CHANGER was Erik V, King of Denmark from 1259-1286. He was widely known at the time as Klipping, a Danish epithet referring to the medieval practice of “clipping” coins to devalue them.

25. EYSTEIN THE FART, Eystein Halfdansson, was an 8th century king of Norway. The epithet “Fart” is usually taken to mean that he was a busybody or loudmouth, although no definitive explanation has yet been found.

26. FEODOR THE BELLRINGER was one of the sons of Ivan the Terrible and Tsar of Russia from 1584-98. His nickname “Bellringer” is thought to be a reference to his strong Orthodox faith, but there are numerous folktales of him traveling across Russia ringing bells in every church he came across.

27. FERDINAND THE BOMB was King Ferdinand II of the Two Sicilies, who ruled from 1830-59. He earned the Italian epithet re bomba, “The Bomb King,” when he ordered the shelling of a Sicilian town believed to be a stronghold of antimonarchist separatists, despite its large civilian population, in 1848.

28. FERDINAND THE FICKLE was king of Portugal from 1367 until his death in 1383. Also known as Ferdinand The Handsome, he was the son of Peter The Cruel and grandson of Alfonso The Brave.

29. FREDERICK THE BITTEN was apparently bitten on the cheek by his mother when he was just a baby. He served as Margrave (a medieval title equivalent to marquis) of Meissen in Germany from 1291-1323.

30. FRUELA THE LEPROUS was king of Asturias in northern Spain from 910 until his death from leprosy in 925.

31. GARCÍA THE TREMBLER, García Sánchez II, was king of Pamplona in Spain from 994-1004. According to one account, “though a man of tried courage, he never prepared for battle without visibly trembling from head to foot.”

32. HAAKON THE CRAZY was a Norwegian earl who died in 1214. The epithet “the Crazy” doesn’t mean “mad” or “foolish” but rather “wild or “frenzied,” and probably refers to his fighting technique.

33. HALFDAN THE BAD ENTERTAINER, also known as King Halfdan the Mild, was the son of Eystein the Fart. His nickname apparently refers to his habit of paying his soldiers generously, but providing them with little food or entertainment.

34. HARALD THE LOUSY ruled Norway as King Harald I for almost 50 years from 872-930. He is better known as “Harald Fairhair,” but is also referred to as “Harald Tanglehair” and “Harald the Shockhead.”

35. HENRY THE IMPOTENT was king of Castile from 1454-74. His nickname probably refers to his disastrously ineffectual reign, although some accounts have since suggested that Henry was genuinely impotent, if not secretly homosexual.

36. IVAYLO THE CABBAGE, also known as “Ivaylo the Swineherd,” was a Bulgarian farmer who led a peasants’ revolt in the late 13th century and proclaimed himself Emperor of Bulgaria in 1278. He was overthrown the following year and assassinated.

37. IVAR THE BONELESS was a 9th century Viking leader. Although some accounts claim his nickname was a reference to impotence, a more likely theory is that he was an incredibly swift fighter and was able to move quickly and effortlessly in battle.

38. JOAN THE LAME ruled as Queen of France while her husband, Philip IV, fought in battles during the Hundred Years’ War. Fiercely intelligent yet ruthless and austere, by all accounts she was hugely unpopular among the French people, who apparently saw her physical deformity—probably nothing more than a curvature of her spine—as a mark of the Devil.

39. JOHN THE MAD, Count of Rietberg in Germany from 1552-62, earned his nickname became of his violent and confrontational character.

40. JUSTINIAN THE SLIT-NOSED was a tyrannical Byzantine Emperor who was deposed in a rebellion in 695 and had his nose sliced off as a punishment by his usurpers. When he reclaimed the throne in 705, he had the nose replaced with a solid gold replica. He remained in power 711, when he was again overthrown and eventually killed in battle by his own soldiers.

41. LLYWELYN THE LUXURIOUS was a 14th century Welsh prince. Quite how he earned his lavish nickname is sadly unknown.

42. LOUIS THE DEBONAIRE succeeded his father Charlemagne to become Holy Roman Emperor in 814 and ruled until his death in 840.

43. LOUIS THE GOOD-FOR-NOTHING was King Louis V of France, who reigned for just one year and died with no heir to succeed him in 987. Medieval historians called him qui nihil fecit—or “he who did nothing.”

44. LOUIS THE STAMMERER was King Louis II of France, the great-great-grandfather of Louis the Good-for-Nothing. He reigned for just two years from 877-879.

45. LOUIS THE UNAVOIDABLE was the nickname of Louis XVIII of France, who spent much of his reign in the late 1700s and early 1800s either in prison or in exile during the French Revolution. When Napoleon was finally defeated in 1815, Louis was the “unavoidable” choice to return and reclaim the throne.

46. MANUEL THE SAUSAGE-MAKER was Count Manuel Francisco Domingo Godoy, Prime Minister of Spain from 1792-1797 and 1801-1809. Born in an area of central Spain known for producing sausages, Godoy’s epithet is probably also a crude reference to his long-term affair with the Spanish Queen, Maria Luisa.

47. MICHAEL THE CAULKER was the Byzantine Emperor Michael V, whose father – before becoming an admiral in the Byzantine navy – had been a professional caulker, employed to ensure that ships were unfailingly watertight. Michael reigned for just four months from 1041-1042, until he was deposed, arrested, blinded, castrated, and imprisoned in a monastery.

48. OLAF THE TITBIT was king of the Isle of Man from 1112-1143. His Norse epithet bitlingr, meaning something like “titbit” or “morsel,” was predictably a reference to his height.

49. PEPIN THE SHORT was the father of the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne and King of the Franks from 751-768.

50. PIERO THE UNFORTUNATE was ruler of Florence for two years from 1492-1494. Abandoning an alliance with France in favor of one with Naples, Piero lost control of the city when the French invaded, then was ousted from power when the people revolted and plundered the Medici Palace. As if that weren’t unfortunate enough, he eventually drowned crossing a river while fleeing from a battle in 1503.

51. RHYS THE HOARSE was a 13th century Welsh prince, known as a fierce warrior who played several other leaders against each other in order to further his own interests.

52. SANCHO THE CAPED is said to have gained his nickname from his habit of wearing a capelo or leather-trimmed cape as a child. He ruled as King Sancho II of Portugal from 1223-1247.

53. ULICK OF-THE-HEADS, aka Ulick Burke MacWilliam, was a 16th century Irish earl. He earned the Gaelic nickname ­na-gCeann, meaning “of the heads,” by collecting together all of the heads of his enemies' soldiers who had died in battle.

54. VASILY THE CROSS-EYED was Grand Prince of Moscow from 1434 until he was overthrown the following year by an alliance of forces loyal to his brother Dmitry and his cousin, Vasily II. He was subsequently blinded and banished from the Kremlin.

55. VSEVOLOD THE BIG NEST was Grand Prince of Vladimir in eastern Russia from 1177-1212. The nickname “Big Nest” is a reference to his family – he and his wife Maria had at least fourteen children.

56. WILFRED THE HAIRY was a 9th century Catalan nobleman and Count of Barcelona. According one medieval description of him, Wilfred was “hairy in places not normally so in men.”

57. WILLIAM THE BASTARD is the less well known nickname of William the Conqueror, the illegitimate son of the Duke of Normandy who led the Norman Conquest of England in 1066.

58. WILLIAM THE SILENT was Prince William I of Orange, ruler of the Netherlands from 1544-1584. His nickname apparently derives from an anecdote in which, while on a stag-hunt with the King of France, William remained so silent that the French king unknowingly explained all of the details of a secret pact with Spain, presuming that William knew all about it. The Dutch national anthem, Wilhelmus—the world’s oldest—is dedicated to him.

59. WŁADYSŁAW THE ELBOW-HIGH was the short-statured king of Poland from 1320 until his death in 1333.

60. ZENO THE HERMIT was a courtier of the Roman Emperor Valens from 364 until the Emperor’s death in 378, when he retired to a cave near Antioch in southern Turkey. He remained there in total isolation until his death, 36 years later.

Mental Floss
How Jeremy Bentham Finally Came to America, Nearly 200 Years After His Death
Mental Floss
Mental Floss

One day toward the beginning of March, an unusual object arrived at a New York City airport. Carefully encased in a foam-padded, specially built wooden chair and strapped in with a bright-blue sash, it was the stuffed skeleton of one of Britain's most famous philosophers—transported not for burial, but for exhibition.

"We all refer to him as he, but the curator has corrected me. I need to keep referring to it," says University College London conservator Emilia Kingham, who prepared the item for its transatlantic voyage.

The stuffed skeleton belongs to the philosopher Jeremy Bentham, who died in 1832. But for well over a century, his "auto-icon"—an assemblage including his articulated skeleton surrounded by padding and topped with a wax head—has been on display in the south cloisters of University College London. Starting March 21, it will be featured in the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition "Like Life: Sculpture, Color, and the Body (1300–Now)," marking its first appearance in America.

While the auto-icon has sometimes been seen as an absurd vanity project or memento mori, according to Tim Causer, it's best understood as a product of Bentham's trailblazing work. "I would tend to ask people to reckon with the auto-icon not as macabre curio or the weird final wish of a strange old man," says the senior research associate at UCL's Bentham Project, which is charged with producing a new edition of the philosopher's collected works. Instead, "[we should] accept it in the manner in which Bentham intended it, as a sort of physical manifestation of his philosophy and generosity of spirit."


Engraving of Jeremy Bentham by J. Posselwhite
Engraving of Jeremy Bentham by J. Posselwhite

Bentham is best known as the founder of utilitarianism, a philosophy that evaluates actions and institutions based on their consequences—particularly whether those consequences cause happiness. A man frequently ahead of his time, he believed in a world based on rational analysis, not custom or religion, and advocated for legal and penal reform, freedom of speech, animal rights, and the decriminalization of homosexuality.

His then-unconventional ideas extended to his own body. At the time Bentham died, death was largely the province of the Church of England, which Bentham thought was "irredeemably corrupt," according to Causer. Instead of paying burial fees to the Church and letting his body rot underground, Bentham wanted to put his corpse to public use.

In this he was influenced by his friend and protégé Dr. Thomas Southwood Smith, who had published an article called "Use of the dead to the living" in 1824. Smith argued that medical knowledge suffered from the limited number of bodies then available for dissection—the Crown supplied only a handful of hanged criminals each year—and that the pool of available corpses had to be expanded to allow surgeons more practice material, lest they begin "practicing" on the living.

From his earliest will, Bentham left his body to science. (Some scholars think he may have been the first person to do so.) But he also went one step further. His last essay, written shortly before his death, was entitled "Auto-icon; or, farther uses of the dead to the living." In it, Bentham lambasts "our dead relations" as a source of both disease and debt. He had a better idea: Just as "instruction has been given to make 'every man his own broker,' or 'every man his own lawyer': so now may every man be his own statue."

Bentham envisioned a future in which weatherproofed auto-icons would be interspersed with trees on ancestral estates, employed as "actors" in historical theatre and debates, or simply kept as decoration. The point, he felt, was to treat the body in terms of its utility, rather than being bound by superstition or fear.

"It was a very courageous thing to do in the 1830s, to ask yourself to be dissected and reassembled," Causer says. "The auto-icon is his final attack on organized religion, specifically the Church of England. Because Bentham thought the church had a pernicious influence on society."

Sketch of Jeremy Bentham's corpse laid out for dissection
"The Mortal Remains" of Jeremy Bentham laid out for dissection, by H. H. Pickersgill

There was only one man Bentham trusted with carrying out his last wishes: Smith. After a public dissection attended by eminent scientific men, the devoted doctor cleaned Bentham's bones and articulated the skeleton with copper wiring, surrounding them with straw, cotton wool, fragrant herbs, and other materials. He encased the whole thing in one of Bentham's black suits, with the ruffles of a white shirt peeking out at the breast. He even propped Bentham's favorite walking stick, which the philosopher had nicknamed "Dapple," in between his legs, and sat him on one of his usual chairs—all just as Bentham had asked for.

But not everything went quite according to plan. The philosopher had asked to have his head preserved in the "style of the New Zealanders," which Smith attempted by placing the head over some sulfuric acid and under an air pump. The result was ghastly: desiccated, dark, and leathery, even as the glass eyes Bentham had picked out for it during life gleamed from the brow.

Seeing as how the results "would not do for exhibition," as Smith wrote to a friend, the doctor hired a noted French artist, Jacques Talrich, to sculpt a head out of wax based on busts and paintings made of Bentham while alive. Smith called his efforts "one of the most admirable likenesses ever seen"—a far more suitable topper for the auto-icon than the real, shriveled head, which was reportedly stuffed into the chest cavity and not rediscovered until World War II.

The preserved real head of Jeremy Bentham
Jeremy Bentham's preserved real head
Matt Brown, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Smith kept the auto-icon at his consulting rooms until 1850, when he donated it to University College London, where Bentham is often seen as a spiritual forefather. It has been there ever since, inside a special mahogany case, despite rumors that students from Kings College—UCL's bitter rival—once stole the head and used it as a football.

"His head has never been stolen by another university," Kingham confirms. Causer says there is reason to believe the wax head was stolen by King's College in the 1990s, but never the real head. The football part of the story is particularly easy to dismiss, he notes: "We all have human heads, and kicking them doesn't do them much good, particularly 180-year-old human heads. If anybody kicked that, it would disintegrate on impact, I think." (Kingham also notes that the real head is not decomposing, as is sometimes claimed: "It's actually quite stable, it just doesn't look like a real-life person anymore. The skin is all shrunken.")

Another beloved myth has it that the auto-icon regularly attends UCL council meetings, where he's entered into the record as "present but not voting." Causer says that's not true either, although fiction became reality after the auto-icon graced the council meetings marking the 100th and 150th anniversary of the college's founding as a nod to the legend; it also attended the final council meeting of the school's retiring provost, Malcolm Grant.


Jeremy Bentham's auto-icon
Thomas Southwood Smith and Jacques Talrich, Auto-Icon of Jeremy Bentham. UCL Culture, London

Bentham always wanted to visit America; Causer says he was "a big admirer of the American political system" as the one most likely to promote the greatest happiness for its citizens. But before he could accomplish in death what he failed to do in life, UCL had to mount a careful conservation operation.

The first step: a spring cleaning. The conservation team at UCL removed each item of clothing on the auto-icon piece by piece, holding carefully to the delicate areas, like a loose left shoulder and wrist, where they knew from previous x-rays that the wiring was imperfect. After a detailed condition report and an inspection for pest damage (thankfully absent), the team surface-cleaned everything.

"The clothes were quite grubby because the box that he's sitting in, it's actually not very airtight," Kingham says. A vacuum with a brush attachment took care of surface dirt and dust, but the inner items required a more thorough clean. "We determined that his linen shirt and also his underwear could do with the wash, so we actually washed those in water. It was quite exciting saying I've been able to wash Jeremy Bentham's undies." The wax head was cleaned with water and cotton swabs, and occasionally a little spit, which Kingham says is a common cleaning technique for painted surfaces.

Kingham's team rearranged the stuffing around the skeleton, plumping the fibers as you would a pillow. The stuffing around the arms, in particular, had started to sag, so Kingham used a piece of stockinette fabric to bind the area around the biceps—making them look more like arms, she says, but also reducing some of the strain against the jacket, which threatened the stitching.

But the most labor-intensive part of the preparation, according to Kingham, was devising a customized padded chair for the auto-icon's transport. Their final creation included a wooden boarded seat covered in soft foam that had been sculpted to hold the auto-icon lying on its back, knees bent at a 90-degree angle to minimize stress on the pelvis—another weak point. The auto-icon was bound to the chair with soft bandages, and the whole thing inserted into a travel case. The wax head was also set inside a foam pad within a special handling crate (the real head will stay at UCL, where it is currently on display), while Bentham's regular chair, hat, and walking stick got their own crates.

"We had originally joked that it might be just easier to buy him a seat on the plane and just wheel him in on a wheelchair," Kingham says, laughing.

The special chair constructed for transporting Jeremy Bentham's auto-icon
UCL Culture

Luke Syson, the co-curator of "Like Life," says it was touching to watch the stick and hat emerge from their travel boxes, even if the auto-icon's special chair did look a bit "like how you would transport a lunatic around 1910—or indeed 1830."

Reached by phone just after he had finished installing the auto-icon, Syson says he wanted to include the item as part of the show's emphasis on works of art made to persuade the viewer that life is present. "This piece really sums up so many of the themes that the rest of the show looks at, so the use of wax, for example, as a substitute for flesh, the employment of real clothes … And then, above all of course, the use of body parts." And the auto-icon isn't the only item in the show to include human remains—when we spoke to Syson, he was looking at the auto-icon, Marc Quinn's "Self" (a self-portrait in frozen blood), and a medieval reliquary head made for a fragment of Saint Juliana's skull, all of which are installed in the same corner of the museum.

Syson says he was initially worried the auto-icon might not "read" as a piece of art—worries that were dispelled as soon as he installed the wax head. "The modeling of the face is so fine," he says. "The observation and expression, the sense of changing personality … there's a lovely jowliness underneath his chin, the wrinkles around his eyes are really speaking, and the kind of quizzical eyebrows, and so on, all make him really amazingly present."

And unlike at UCL, where the auto-icon sits in a case, viewers at the Met are able to see him on three sides, including his back. "He sort of springs to attention on his chair, he's not sort of slumped, which you couldn't see in the box [at UCL]."

Those who have worked with Bentham's auto-icon say it encourages a kind of intimacy. Taking the auto-icon apart, Kingham says, "you really do feel a closeness to Jeremy Bentham, because you looked in such detail at his clothes, and his bones, and his skeleton." The wax head, she says, is particularly lifelike. "People who knew him have said that it's a very, very good realistic likeness of him," she notes, which made it both eerie and special to handle so closely.

"This is both the representation and the person," Syson says. "We've been calling him 'Jeremy' these last few months, and he's sort of here, and it's not just that something's here, he's here. So that's an amazing thing."

Nearly 200 years later and across an ocean, Jeremy Bentham's auto-icon has arrived to serve another public good: delighting a whole new set of fans.

Jyrki Kymäläinen, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
National WWII Museum Launches a European Tour Tracing the 'Band of Brothers' Path
Jyrki Kymäläinen, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Jyrki Kymäläinen, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Thanks to Stephen E. Ambrose's book Band of Brothers and the HBO miniseries of the same name, the story of "Easy" Company of the United States Army is among the most famous to come out of the Second World War. Now WWII buffs have a whole new way to experience that chapter in history: The National WWII Museum in New Orleans is offering a 13-day European excursion that traces the company's footsteps from Britain to Nazi Germany.

Easy Company suffered from one of the highest casualty rates of any U.S. company during World War II. They landed on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, fought in the Siege of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge, and captured Hitler's infamous Eagle's Nest in Berchtesgaden, Germany.

All of those highlights are covered in the WWII Museum's tour called "Easy Company: England to the Eagle's Nest." The museum was founded by Ambrose, and the new tour gives guests an intimate look at the sites mentioned in his book. During the excursion, tour members will be treated to commentary from museum historians and guest appearances from the actors who portrayed Easy Company soldiers in the miniseries. Admission to historical sites at each stop, as well as meals, transportation, and accommodations, is included in the price.

The next available tour starts September 9, with tickets costing $8490 for single guests and $6495 for each guest traveling as a couple. And if you're looking for another book-related escape for your next vacation, Rail Europe's literary tour of the continent may suit your tastes.


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