Your RDA of Irony

Charles the Simple and Eugene the Pedantic

First, this is the anniversary of FinermanWorks.  And you’d thought that I would run out of history by now.

When I began, my musings were frequently more contemporary–with the emphasis on contempt.  Of late, as you have noticed,  I have become an antiquarian.  This is not a symptom of short-term memory loss but rather a belated case of prudence.  Maintaining a middle-class standard of living requires a certain amount of corporate work, and I must not frighten the Human Resources with any incriminating Democratic views.  Let’s face it, the HR departments are unnerved by any hint of humor or even correct grammar; why risk being a complete pariah.  So I am trying to avoid anything since 1914.

But those Byzantines, Hapsburgs and the rest still allow me to draw inferences.  And HR types never catch those….

We now resume our regularly scheduled pedantics.

September 17, 879:  The French Prince of Belle Heir

No one in 9th century France was literate enough to write a birth announcement, but if you were in proximity to a town crier you would have heard of the birth of a heir to the throne. History would remember the birthday boy as Charles the Simple. Of course, a town crier–the medieval version of a press secretary–would have insisted that the epithet of “Simple” referred to Charles’ straight-forward manner.

However, then that town crier would have to explain the rest of the family’s nicknames. Charles’ father was “Louis the Stammerer”, his uncle “Charles the Fat, and his grandfather “Charles the Bald.” In fact, the Carolingian dynasty was plagued by its epithets. The royal line began with Pepin the Short and ended with Louis the Sluggard. Charlemagne (Charles the Great) was the happy exception among the miserable monikers. Even Charlemagne’s son had the nickname curse. He was known as Louis the Pious, which suggests that he was better at prayers than statecraft. (And his prayers couldn’t have been very efficient because they did not protect France from either his feuding sons or the Vikings.)

At least, Charles the Simple solved the Viking attacks. He simply surrendered. In 911 he ceded northwest France to the Norsemen. The region is still known as Normandy.  The Viking leader Hrolf the Gangly (the Norse nicknames weren’t flattering either) was obliged to go demonstrate his fealty to the French king.  According to court etiquette, Hrolf had to kiss the foot of Charles.  Hrolf approached the throne but rather than bend down to the royal toes, the Norseman grabbed the foot and lifted it to his lips.  Unfortunately, Charles’ body followed his foot and he slipped off the throne.

And Charles would spend the rest of his life (879-929) trying to stay on the throne.  The Counts of Paris had no respect for Charles or the Carolingian claims to the throne.  Until 987, French history would be the tale of  those two vying families.  If those ambitious Counts had succeeded, Paris would have become the capital of France.

But wait, have I given away the ending?

  1. Bob Kincaid says:


    I sense a bit of the nostalgic in your writing as well. Like me, you may yearn for those epi-pathetic days of yore, if for no other reason than the rather refreshing degree of candor such cognomens afforded. At the risk of offending some haplessly humorless HR mandarin (stop reading NOW, HR creature), might we all have been saved considerable agony, blood and treasure had the 2000 election been held between George the Dim and Al the Capable?

    Then again, I can almost hear the American ForProfit Media screaming across the smoking coaxial “Hey, you WANT to have a beer with the Dim guy, right? What fun’s having a beer with someone who’s capable?”

    And thus we plod along, awaiting some wryly smiling brain-in-a-jar fifteen hundred years hence, sending out CerebroTweets via the plasmatic plug in his neck,, as he looks at us and queries “What was this fascination with beer and idiots? Compute and respond jocularly, please.”

    On a separate note, I personally am glad for that ambitious Norseman. Out of his enterpreneurial endeavour, I got a redheaded hellcat of a wife whose Norse notion of obeisance remains largely intact from that day to this. Lord knows Charles might’ve done well to offer a mild “Yes, dear” when informed that Hrolf was hanging his horned helmet in Normandy. It works well with MY viking babe!

    Bob the Conquered

    Happy Anniversary, Eugene!

  2. wimple says:

    Nicknames must have been all the rage at the turn of the millenium. Across the channel there was Elthelred the Unready. And some of my own ancestors came from Normandy (relations of William the Bastard no less). My middle son looks like a viking. He quite often wears a horned helmet to bars. It’s a huge hit with the ladies!

  3. Eugene Finerman says:

    The Normans did continue their habit of nicknames. Hrolf the Ganger’s descendants included Robert the Devil and William the Bastard. In case of Duke the Bastard, at least his success at Hastings allowed him to improve his nickname.

    In fact, even as Kings of England, the Normans continued to have monikers. William II was known as Rufus because of his red hair (another Viking legacy). His brother was Henry I was called the Good Clerk because he was literate–a first in the family. Henry’s heir did not have a nickname because she couldn’t even decide her actual name: Maude or Mathilda? Her son Henry II had a surname instead of a nickname: Plantagenet. But his sons are known as Richard Lion-Heart and John Lackland. John’s boy Henry III evidently was no bland and undistinguished that he was a moniker-less monarch; but his tall son Edward I was Longshanks.

    Then came Edward II who apparently wanted to be called Bette Davis; somehow the Plantagenets survived but the nickname craze did not.

    Eugene the Pedantic

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