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entry Nov 2003
of history that I am, I have figured out why
monarchies have not been doing too well, lately. It
has nothing to do with sweeping historical processes
such as the Enlightenment or Hegelian Dialectics or
the guillotine. Quite simply, kings don't have really
good nick-names anymore—or 'bynames,' as they are
In the history of
Naples, there are a few monarchs with fine, regal
by-names: Robert Guiscard
really meant Robert the Resourceful; then,
there was Robert the Wise,
crowned king of Sicily and Naples in 1310; and Alfonso
the Magnanimous (1396-1458, photo insert), the
one who wrested the Kingdom of Naples from the
Angevins in 1442. Other than that, Neapolitan monarchs
have been stuck with trifling nicknames. Ferdinand IV
(later Ferdinand I) (1751-1825) had two: Re Nasone
and Re Lazzarone.
The first one means King Big Nose (Naso+ the
augmentative suffix –one).
The second requires some explanation: Lazarus is the
patron saint of lepers, and, by extension, all
miserable outcasts. Neapolitan members of the "great
unwashed peasant masses" were thus called lazzaroni. In an
age of rigid social stratification, it was not a
derogatory term—it was a description. Ferdinand was a
notorious simpleton and vulgarian, and he enjoyed
hanging around with the common folk down at the port.
He was popular, and both names were terms of
endearment bestowed on him by the Neapolitan masses.
He was, thus, the Great Unwashed Peasant King; it was
an expression of solidarity with the people, and he
took no offense at that term or the one about his
His grandson, Ferdinand II (1810-1859), was
nicknamed "Bomba"—bomb—as a result of his bombardment
of Messina during the political unrest in 1848. And
his son, the last King of Naples, Francis II was known as
"Bombalino"—Little Bomb. All of these examples were
nicknames but not true by–names—not Someone THE
There hasn't been Anyone the Great
in a long, long time: Alexander, Alfred, Peter,
Frederick, Katherine and, of course, Charles the Great
(commonly known by the Frenchified version,
"Charlemagne"). Now that was a name fit for royalty! I
bet you could call them that, too. O Great One! Your
Greatness! O Generous Dispenser of Greatosity! or
maybe, simply, Oh, Great! They couldn't possibly have
Or Leo the Wise and Charles the Noble. Those
were names! "Yes, Your Wiseness"; "You Bet, O Noble
One!" —and in the case of our Neapolitan,
Alfonso, "Count on it, Your Magnanimosity!"
Those old rulers knew that 21st–century history
students would have attention spans roughly equal to
the reign of Harvey the Short Lived, and would not
remember complex items like Vth or IIIrd or XXIst, so
they tacked on little memory boosters.
Charlemagne's grandfather wasn't taking any
chances on not being remembered. He was called Charles
Martel —Charles The Hammer! Imagine that! The Hammer!
When they were choosing Dark Age kings in the eighth
century, they went right around the group:
"OK, which one of you guys wants to be king? Robert
IV?…Got any experience, Bob? Junior League jousting
coach, huh? Let's see …"
Then suddenly from the gloom in the back of the tent
comes that rich Dark Age baritone of command:
"They call me...'The
Forget 'Will you open the envelope, please.'
End of discussion, right there. I'm not so sure you
could actually call him that, though. I mean, do you
really want to pal around with someone called The
Hammer? What happens if this guy has some Thor-like
flashback and starts flailing about in a fit of Royal
Peevishness? You get one tankard too many of the Good
Grape into someone called The Hammer and you can put
some serious dents in Ye Olde Royal Happie Hour, and
that's the sooth. His son was Pepin the Short! O,
Great One! —definitely. Your Wisehood!—yes. And maybe
even, under specially contrived circumstances, O, Most
Hammering One! But, Hey, Shorty!—I don't know.
A bit on either side of the year 1000 we have
Charles the Bald, Charles the Fat, Charles the Simple
and Charles the Pious. I recall that two of those
terms refer to the same person; thus, one of them was
either The Bald & Fat, The Fat & Pious, The
Pious & Simple, The …let's see… carry the 2 …
well, you can work out the rest.
And what can you say about Louis the Child? If
I am intercalating all the leap years in my Dark Age
calendar correctly, this guy was an adult whom they
called "The Child". Go figure. "Is'm widdle queenie's
gweat big kingie-boo? Yes'm is!" On that note,
maybe we'd have to ask Mrs. Ethelred the Unready about
the real story behind her husband's name.
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