Fanciful Nicknames of British Monarchs

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Nicknames, or more properly, cognomens, are fanciful names, usually given by others, that were appended before or after a person’s name. For example: William I of England is better known as "William the Conqueror," while Mary I of England is also k

Harold Harefoot

Harold I, the son of Canute the Great, earned the surname "Harefoot" due to his exceptional hunting skills and speed.  He usurped the throne in 1035, when his brother Harthacanute, the rightful heir, missed his own coronation attributable to the imminent invasion of his Danish kingdom. Harold I ruled until 1040 when Harthacanute successfully regained the throne.

Ethelred the Unready

The son of King Edgar I (the Peaceable) and brother of Eadweard II (St. Edward the Martyr), Ethelred II was given the nickname "The Unready," which could be considered a pun on his name that, in old English, means "noble counsel."  Ethelred II ruled England from 978 until 1016, interrupted only from 1013 to 1014, when Sweyn Forkbeard of Denmark invaded England with his armies.

Edmund Ironside

Edmund II ascended the throne on April 1016, just as the Danish King Canute and his forces were besieging London. Though initially victorious in a series of battles, he was eventually defeated; the war ended in a treaty with the 2 kings agreeing to share power.  He would reign until his death in November 1016.  Edmund II received the surname "Ironside" for his valiant resistance against the Danish invading forces.

Edward the Confessor

(Edward the Confessor enthroned, opening scene of the Bayeux Tapestry) Image source

Eadweard III, the son of Ethelred the Unready, was the last king of England from the House of Wessex ruling from 1042 to 1066. Eadweard III became known as "Edward the Confessor" when he was canonized in 1161 by the Roman Catholic Church as the patron saint of kings for the sole purpose of distinguishing him from another canonized king of England, St. Edward the Martyr.

William the Bastard

William I (Duke of Normandy) became known as "William the Conqueror" for invading England, decisively defeating his rival claimant to the throne Harold Godwinson (Harold II) at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, and crushing of subsequent English revolts known as the Norman Conquest.  William I was also called "The Bastard, " for his being the illegitimate son of Robert I of Normandy and a tanner’s daughter.

Henry Beauclerc

As the youngest son of William the Conqueror, Henry I did not receive any territory.  He eventually seized the kingdom of England and the duchy of Normandy upon the death of his brothers William II (Rufus), and the capture of Robert III (Curthose), respectively. Ruling from 1100 to 1135, he earned the name "Lion of Justice" for his wise rule and improvement of the judiciary system.  He also earned the surname "Beauclerc" on account of his fine education and scholarly interests.

Henry Curtmantle

The grandson of Henry Beauclerc, Henry II, who is highly regarded one of England’s great kings (1154-1189), also ruled as Count of Anjou and Duke of Normandy, and increased his territorial holdings by virtue of his marriage to Eleonor of Aquitaine.  He was perhaps best known for the tragic conflict he had with Thomas Becket. Henry II was given the nickname "Curtmantle" as a result of the short cloaks he regularly wore.

Richard the Lionheart

(Effigy (c. 1199) of Richard I at Fontevraud Abbey, Anjou) Image source

Richard I, successor of Henry Curtmantle, was an absentee king of England, spending most of his ten-year reign (1189-1199) outside England, half of it spent fighting for the Third Crusade and in a 5-year war with France. As a result for his military exploits, Richard I became famously known by the cognomen "The Lionheart."  His absence as king has also inspired tales associated mostly with the legend of Robin Hood.

John Lackland

John had been trying to usurp the throne during his brother Richard the Lionheart’s absence, but he finally obtained the crown upon the latter’s death in 1199, reigning until 1216. He is best remembered for signing one of the greatest documents in history, the Magna Carta in 1215.  John was given the surname "lackland" for having received no inheritance as the youngest child and having lost territories to France due to his military blunders.

Edward Longshanks

Edward I, who ruled England from 1272 to 1307, was renowned for his military conquest of Wales, his unsuccessful attempts to conquer Scotland, and his brutal execution of William Wallace. Edward was popularly known as "Langshanks" mainly because of his stature, being more than 6 feet in height.

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