The King's Nickname

The habit of endowing our kings with nicknames or descriptive epithets seems to have died out, except perhaps in the pages of the tabloid press. More’s the pity. My learned friend @Mrs Symbols has wisely pointed out that had George VI, the subject of the Oscar-winning movie The King’s Speech, lived a thousand years earlier, he would probably have earned a nickname similar to that of his distant ancestor, the French king Louis II (c. 846–879), known to his contemporaries as Louis the Stammerer.

Louis was the son of Charles the Bald (r. 843-877), the first king of West Francia, the area that encompasses modern-day France. The Carolingian monarchs and their nobles are distinguished in the chronicles of the time by a quite glorious collection of soubriquets. Forget the rather dull list of regnal numbers, Charlemagne (or Charles the Great, himself the son of Pippin the Short) was succeeded in 814 by his son Louis the Pious. He fathered three princes who divided up the empire between them: Charles the Bald, Lothair, and Louis the German. Louis the German’s son was Charles the Fat, and Charles the Bald’s successor was his son, Louis the Stammerer. They numbered among their noble followers Bernard the Calf, count of Toulouse, Wilfrid the Hairy, count of Barcelona and Bernard Hairypaws, count of Autun. Although they sound like the cast of an episode of Blackadder, these were powerful, ambitious men, dedicated to serving their king (mostly) and carving out mini-kingdoms for themselves. 
They were united in their struggle against the Vikings, enemies with equally descriptive names, like Ragnar Lodbrok (Hairy-breeches) and, er, Ivar the Boneless. It wasn’t till the 10th century that Erik Bloodaxe bagged the best and most terrifying Viking nickname of them all.
Historians differ in their opinions about these kingly nicknames. You’d think that the clue would be in the name, but one theory has it that Charles was so hirsute, that he was nicknamed ‘the Bald’ in an ironic manner. Bernard Hairypaws was apparently so-called because of his foxy nature, rather than his shaggy hands.
Louis the Stammerer from a 14th
century ms. (Wikimedia)
As for Louis the Stammerer, it seems that like George VI, he suffered from being the son of a formidable father. Charles the Bald fought throughout his adult life to hold his widespread domains together in the face of Viking attacks, revolting nobles and bitter family arguments that ripped Charlemagne’s empire apart. He expected his four sons to obey him without question. Charles himself was the youngest of Louis the Pious’s sons and knew only too well the dangers and problems inherent in allowing ambitious young princes to carve out their own domains. Louis the Stammerer and his brothers, Charles the Child and Carloman, were not outstanding in their filial devotion and during the 860s and 870s periodically stirred up trouble against their father. When his third son, Carloman, rebelled against him, Charles the Bald had him blinded and imprisoned in the abbey of Corbie. So perhaps it’s not surprising that Louis stammered. 
Louis did not have a Lionel Logue to help him, but interestingly, in the face of such a ferocious parent, at the age of 16 in 862 he secretly married his concubine Ansgarde, a woman 20 years older than him, who presumably provided some comfort. Ten years later, his father forced him to repudiate Ansgarde in favour of a more politically advantageous wife, and Louis, with his eye on his inheritance, complied. 
Louis inherited the throne in 877, but survived only two years, dying in 879. In an age when military might and a commanding personal presence were all-important, Louis was seen to be lacking and was certainly overshadowed by his powerful father. But in his brief time on the throne he continued his father’s work in maintaining an iron grip on the West Frankish realm, and eventually, it was his youngest (posthumous) son, Charles the Simple or Straightforward (879-929), who crushed the Vikings and restored order to France. 

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