While we don’t tend to grant nicknames to kings and queens today, in ages past, they helped to make monarchs into the stuff of legend. Whether the name was earned by great deeds or other circumstance, it encompasses the totality of his or her legacy. There have been many great nicknames throughout the years, and their stories are as fascinating as the men and women to which they are attached. We’ve identified five of our favorite royal nicknames below along with some history as to how they came to be.
William “The Conqueror”
Before 1066, the man who would become King William I was merely William, Duke of Normandy with the less notable nickname of “William the Bastard”. This nickname was due to the fact that he was born out of wedlock to Duke Robert I, who named William as his heir. It was this relation through which William claimed ties to Edward the Confessor. When Edward died, William made his move for the crown, but the Anglo-Saxons, preferring one of their own to a Norman lord, gave it to Harold Godwinson instead. William’s subsequent defeat of Harold at the Battle of Hastings earned him the nickname “William the Conqueror.”
Aethelred “The Unready”
After his brother Edward was assassinated in 978 AD, King Aethelred II (also spelled “Ethelred”) became king at the mere age of eleven. He ruled for the first time until 1013, at which point he lost his throne to the Danish King Sweyn Forkbeard, though gained it back in battle only a year later. While you might think the nickname might come from his youth or the loss of his crown, the origins are actually in the Anglo-Saxon word “unræd” which means “ill-advised” and referred to the terrible advice he received from his counselors.
The Tudor period from King Henry VIII through Queen Elizabeth I is awash with violence and blood as the country’s religious fate moved back and forth between Catholicism and Anglicanism, beginning with Henry’s “Dissolution of the Monasteries.” After Henry’s death and the short reign of his son, King Edward VI, Henry’s daughter Mary became Queen and sought to return England to Rome by any means necessary. She regularly tried dissenters as heretics and executed them by burning, earning her the nickname “Bloody Mary” by her Protestant opponents.
Edward “The Confessor”
The last king from the House of Wessex and William’s near-predecessor, King Edward the Confessor had succeeded the Danish and English King Harthacnut (or Canute III). Cnut seemingly designated Edward as his heir which was supported by the Anglo-Saxon lords, and so Edward came to power on Harthacnut’s death in 1042. Edward was a very religious man, and his saintly life earned him the nickname “The Confessor”, perhaps because people assumed he spent so much time in confession.
King Edward I is perhaps best known for launching wars against Wales and Scotland, the latter of which earned him the nickname “Hammer of the Scots”. Of course, if you’ve seen films such as Braveheart or Outlaw King, you’ve probably heard of Edward referred to as “Longshanks”. Not as much of an insult as the Scots may make it seem; the nickname came from Edward’s height. As Edward was 6’2”, which was quite tall for the era, he earned the title “Longshanks” or “long legs”.