[MR] Wikipedia: Ivan the Terrible and Other Colorful Bi-names

Garth Groff and Sally Sanford mallardlodge1000 at gmail.com
Thu Mar 28 04:03:49 PDT 2024

Noble Friends,

On this date in 1584, Ivan the Terrible died. He was the first Tsar of
Russia, and not a nice chap at all. He did some pretty good things for
Russia, including starting a liberal advisory council, codifying laws,
allowing limited local government, and building Russia's first standing
army. Later he reversed course, dissolving the council, mercilessly purging
the nobility, and even offing his own son in a fit of rage.

However, according to Wikipedia his bi-name is a mistranslation. In Russian
it is *grozny*, which in its original context means "dangerous, powerful,
or inspiring fear", something many rulers have aspired to. The idea of
"terrible" meaning evil, is a modern English misuse of the original word.
Not that Ivan doesn't deserve that handle for his many oppressions and

You can judge for yourself at
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ivan_the_Terrible .

It is often history, or the writers of history, who have pinned similar
bi-names on figures of the past. Here are a few interesting, and sometimes
undeserved, bi-names:

Charles "The Rash", better known as Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy.
"Rash" was a detractor given to Charles by his critics and enemies (he had
lots of the latter!). Charles was a courageous general, but not a careful
one, and eventually he met his end at the ill-advised Siege of Nancy in

How about Charles "The Bad" (1332-1387), King of Navarre? Charles was also
known as "The Faithless" for the many times he switched sides in the
Hundred Years Wars. But bad he was, to the bone. Charles was an arch
poisoner, claiming some 70 victims, including an unnamed cardinal (that
claim was probably just self-aggrandizement). He is known to have offed one
of his own generals with a poisoned candied pear, gleefully watching the
man die in agony. It is possible that his agents used arsenic to poison the
French King John II (Charles' own father-in-law). Charles met his own end
when he was wrapped in pitch-soaked bandages like a mummy during a rather
quackish medical cure. A serving girl accidentally set him on fire with her
candle. Almost everybody who was anybody in Europe thought this was divine
punishment, and few people mourned Charles the Bad's passing. Yes, "Bad"
was a much deserved title.

And then there was Pedro the Cruel. That would be Peter of Castile, King of
Castile and León (ruled 1360-1369). He was probably no crueler than other
rulers of his time, and appears to actually have done some good and
progressive things. His greatest weakness was a penchant for taking on new
wives while the earlier ones were still alive and undivorced. Pedro met his
end when he was betrayed by the famous French knight Bertrand du Guesclin
to Pedro's enemy and half-brother Henry of Trastámara. Lured to Henry's
tent under a false promise of protection and truce, Pedro was stabbed
repeatedly by Henry and du Geusclin. After Henry won all the marbles, he
smeared his half-brother's memory with the epithet "The Cruel". Henry is
sometimes known as "The Fratricidal", which is probably more appropriate
than how Pedro is remembered.

Catherine the Great. Back to Russia, and beyond our period of interest,
Catherine ruled Russia from 1762 to 1796. "Great" may have been
self-promotion, or from her flatterers and many lovers. Catherine likely
had her mentally-defective husband Tsar Peter III murdered, possibly
strangled by a guardsman/lover. Under Catherine, Russia enlarged its
borders, the rich got richer and her court glittered. On the other hand,
the peasants starved. Her rule was propped up by sycophants like Grigory
Potemkin, her court favorite and another of her lovers. On the whole, she
wasn't great, but "Magnificent" in the sense of showiness might be a better

The Brits are perhaps lucky that most of their Kings and lords are
generally known only by numbers, William the Conqueror and Richard the Lion
Heart being the big exceptions. Quite a few of them were turkeys, plus
several were quite mad, though Bad King John seems to be the only one who
earned a much-deserved dissing by historians.

Yours Aye,

Mungo Napier, Laird of Mallard Lodge  🦆

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