Is the world a better place today, than say 600 years ago? If you think it is, consider the wisdom of the Old World.
The task at hand: the Renaissance, or the Reformation, or whatever hell the time it was – let’s call it a long time ago – was a period where people called a spade a spade. There was no political correctness, the good folk from times of yore, called it as they saw it.
Kings, Dukes, Lords and Nobles – in the days before TV and Twitter – needed to be known and recognised, to be fittingly lauded by the common folk. There was nothing worse than being the Big Cheese of the area, walking into the local 7/11, and having nobody recognize you (or in those days, the local VII/XI).
So the King (et al.) had to be accurately described so the serfs, servants and subjects could grovel in the appropriate manner.
Still, it seems to me, in an attempt to be known, some of these rulers put their foot well and truly into the proverbial “the jokes on me”, poo.
Poland had its fair share of kings who were “Good”, Old” or “Younger”. The standout, however, was a little bloke (I assume) called Władysław the Elbow-High. But spare a thought (or not) for the poor Pole, known (or not) as “Bolesław the Forgotten”.
The French were past masters at accurately describing the Monarchy ; no less than four Kings known as “Louis the Fat”, sat (heavily) on the French throne: as did “Ebalus the Bastard” and “Charles the Lame”. I’m not sure if Charles just had a gammy leg, or simply couldn’t tell a joke properly. I hope it was the latter.
The Czechs had a well-known fellow: “Good King Wenceslas”. Wenceslas, as it turns out, was neither a king, nor particularly good. How disappointing.
In Russia, Ivan the Great was the doting Granddad to a cute baby boy, eventually known as “Ivan the Terrible”. What went wrong, Ivan Senior?
And while on the subject of “Great”, it loses a bit of its “wow” factor with Peter, Frederick, Alexander, Catherine, Alfred, William and even Canute (eh?) all thinking they were pretty damned good. Did none of them own a Thesaurus? Peter the Magnificent or Alexander the Splendid – now there are two Blokes you might happily grab an axe for, and follow into battle.
There are some other names that like “Great”, just lose out through endless repetition: Wise, Bold, Fearless, Good, Younger, Older, Brave, Pious… blah, blah, blah.
Denmark & Norway (then united) made it remarkably easy: between 1523 and 1766 the kings were, in order: Frederick / Christian / Frederick / Christian / Frederick / Christian / Frederick / Christian / Frederick / Christian / Frederick / Christian. There’s nothing quite like the comfort of knowing what name to start stitching onto the commemorative tea towels, when the old King is looking like falling off the perch.
But most of all I feel for the French King, Louis XVI. He was preceded by Louis XV who was known far and wide as “Louis the Well-Loved”. Louis junior was not so well-loved – He was guillotined in 1793. I guess the proletariat just didn’t like cake.