Despite what we are all taught in grade school, name-calling has unfortunately been an effective political tool since time immemorial. Donald Trump is far from the first politician to label his opponents with demeaning nicknames, and history is rife with rulers whose enemies (or sometimes their own subjects) called them less-than-flattering epithets. Calling the king a cannibal, a werewolf, or even simply bald doesn’t seem like a great strategy for a long and prosperous life, but whatever the circumstances of their unfortunate monikers, these embarrassing nicknames stuck—and they’re what we still know these rulers by today.
Lugaid Mac Con
According to Irish historical tradition, Lugaid Mac Con was a High King of Ireland in the 2nd century CE. As the story goes, Lugaid earned his patronym, which mean’s “dog’s son,” because he was nursed by a greyhound when he was fostered as an infant in the house of Ailill Aulom, king of Munster. True or not, the name stuck and, indeed, Lugaid is just as often called simply by his nickname, Mac Con.
Constantine the Dung-Named
Constantine V was a ruler of the Eastern Roman Empire from 741 to 775 CE. According to many modern historians, he was a capable ruler and a skilled general who both strengthened and expanded the empire’s borders. His religious beliefs made him unpopular with his enemies, however, who were ultimately the ones who wrote most of the surviving accounts of his life and reign, calling him “a monster athirst for blood” and an “unclean and bloodstained magician taking pleasure in evoking demons.” They also saddled him with his rather unfortunate nickname by claiming that he soiled his baptismal font when he was an infant. Hence, “Constantine the Dung-Named.”
Charles the Bald
Not all nicknames make a ton of sense. On its face, this sobriquet for Charles II, who ruled the Carolingian Empire from 875 to 877 CE, seems pretty straightforward. The problem is, in pretty much every artistic depiction of the emperor, he has a full head of hair. So, was this an ironic nickname, like calling a big man “Tiny,” or was it something more symbolic, a reference to his landlessness at the time he ascended to the throne? The answer is likely lost to history…
Louis the Do-Nothing
Some monarchs earned their nicknames through their actions, or their physical appearance, or simply due to rumors spread by their enemies. Louis V, the last Carolingian ruler of France, was called “the Do-Nothing” because he didn’t accomplish a whole lot. He only ruled for a year, dying in a hunting accident in 987 CE, at the age of 20. Though he is believed to have been briefly married to the (much older) Adelaide-Blanche of Anjou when he was only 15 and she was 40, Louis died childless and without accomplishing any of the political objectives left to him by his father. Hence, Louis the Do-Nothing, sometimes instead rendered as “the Good-for-Nothing.”
Vseslav the Werewolf
From 1068 to 1069 CE, Vseslav Bryachislavich was Grand Prince of Kiev, but honestly his backstory is probably more interesting than anything he did as a ruler. Sometimes known as Vseslav the Sorcerer, he is said to have been conceived via magic. In the 12th century epic poem The Tale of Igor’s Campaign, he was portrayed as a werewolf who “swathed himself in a blue mist” and “galloped...like a wild beast at midnight.” In 2005, a commemorative Belarusian ruble was issued in silver, featuring images of Vseslav as both a ruler and a wolf.
Ivaylo the Cabbage
A short-lived Tsar of Bulgaria, Ivaylo rose from peasant ranks, leading an uprising that eventually slew Tsar Konstantin and placed him on the throne—albeit temporarily. His nickname, which varies between “the Cabbage,” “the Lettuce,” and “the Radish,” depending upon the translation, seems to have been given affectionately, as a nod to his humble agrarian roots. Though Ivaylo was beheaded by his enemies in short order, several other pretenders to the name would try to use the former Tsar’s public popularity to lead similar uprisings in subsequent years.
The Cannibal Count
Immortalized in Dante’s Divine Comedy, Ugolina della Gherardesca at least enjoys the minor respite of not having earned his unfortunate moniker until after his death in 1289. This is probably good, because the so-called “Cannibal Count” had a pretty rough go of it. Accused of treason and other crimes, Ugolina and his sons and grandsons were locked up in prison and left to starve. The accusations of cannibalism come principally from Dante, who writes that Ugolina’s children begged him to eat their bodies to stave off his own starvation. Later forensic evidence, however, suggests that the stories of cannibalism were merely poetic license.
The Universal Spider
More likely to be called “Louis the Prudent” to his face, the machinations and intrigues of Louis XI, who was King of France from 1461 to 1483, earned him a somewhat less flattering moniker. His enemies called him “the Universal Spider,” claiming that he was always spinning webs of conspiracy. Not everyone thinks that this (admittedly pretty cool) nickname came just from the king’s many intrigues, however. Louis XI also established an extensive system of royal postal roads, which crisscrossed France like a spider’s web.
John the Babymaker
Some nicknames are more self-explanatory than others. John II ruled the Duchy of Cleves in the Holy Roman Empire from 1481 until his death in 1521. His nickname comes from the fact that he is said to have sired a whopping 63 illegitimate children prior to his marriage to Mathilde of Hesse at age 31. Busy guy.
Related: 5 Royal Scandals Throughout History
Seamus an Chaca
Some nicknames are symbolic or ironic, while others are very straightforward. King of England, Ireland, and Scotland from 1685 until 1688, James II (known as James VI in Scotland) experienced a tumultuous rule as the last Catholic monarch of what would become the United Kingdom, until he was deposed as part of the Glorious Revolution of 1688. His rather unfortunate nickname came about because he was believed to have abandoned the people of Ireland to the forces of William of Orange. This led to his former Irish subjects referring to him as “Seamus an Chaca,” or “James the Sh*t.”