Thank you to everyone who tried their hand at my latest quiz, which asked you to pick six English monarchs out of a list of nine medieval leaders.
Here are the rightful crown-bearers, in order of appearance:
Edmund the Magnificent 939 – 946
Edgar the Peaceful 959 – 975
Ethelred the Unready 978 – 1013 and 1014 – 1016
Sweyn Forkbeard 1013 – 1014
Harold Harefoot (Harold I) 1015 – 1040
Edward Longshanks (Edward I) 1239 – 1307
And here are the would-be usurpers:
Magnus Barelegs or Magnus III, King of Norway from 1093 to 1103
Ivar the Boneless, Viking leader and reputed beserker, who died around 873
Harald Bluetooth, King of Denmark c958 – 986
Well done if you knew any or all of these. Looking at the stats, most of you recognised Edgar the Peaceful, Ethelred the Unready, Harald Harefoot and Edward Longshanks as English kings. Some were thrown by Sweyn Forkbeard, who does sound rather un-British. Magnus Barelegs received the fewest votes, which goes to show that kilt-wearing did him no good whatsoever.
How on earth did they all get these wonderful nicknames? Apparently Harald Harefoot was so named because of his skill and speed as a huntsman; Edmund the Magnificent was also called ‘The Elder’, ‘The Just’ and ‘The Deed-doer’, so his sobriquet of ‘The Magnificent’ probably refers to his actions rather than his appearance.
Ethelred the Unready, a perennial favourite in school textbooks, wasn’t unprepared in the modern sense of being ‘unready’. Instead, the nickname is a subtle play on words. ‘Ethelred’ literally means ‘noble counsel’, while the word ‘unready’ can be traced back to the Old English ‘unraed’, meaning ‘without counsel’. Poor Ethelred.
As for the rest… Magnus Barelegs (or Barefoot, in some sources) is thought to have adopted the Gaelic style of dress, leaving the legs bare. Ivar the Boneless has given historians a few periods of intense head-scratching, and some now suggest that he may have suffered from a very severe form of osteoporosis, with the result that he had to be carried into battle on a shield. On the other hand, he may well have been a ‘beserker’, a class of warriors described in Norse literature as being “strong as bears or wild oxen”, who fought in a frenzy of violence, and without armour. In this case, the term ‘boneless’ may reflect an unusual flexibility in his limbs, which would have given him a great advantage in battle.
Harald Bluetooth was King of Denmark from 958 to 986, and also King of Norway for a short period. While his name would suggest that he was centuries before his time in terms of technology (imagine how frustrating: you know how to send the photos, but you’ve got to wait a thousand years for the first digital camera), in fact the opposite is true. Bluetooth technology, developed in Sweden, was named after Harald, who is remembered for his achievement of uniting different peoples under one ruler.
There’ll be another quiz coming along very soon!