It happened today - April 3, 2016
As a King you could do worse. Including the previous Saxon King (between them was the Danish interlude), Aethelred the Unready. As is fairly well-known, “Unready” in this context doesn’t mean “unprepared” but “ill-counselled” or “badly advised”, because “rede” in Anglo-Saxon meant “advice”; it’s also a knee-slapper because “Aethelred” means noble counsel.
On the other hand, “unready” isn’t that inappropriate because Aethelred was generally not up to whatever royal task was at hand, partly because he wouldn’t listen to good advice and partly because he was both weak and treacherous which is a really lousy combination. Hence the Danish conquest.
Now the king before Aethelred was Edward “the Martyr” which is kind of a nice and pious nickname but has that “killed suddenly and horribly” aspect to it which can be problematic in a ruler. Especially if you’re killed by knaves associated with your own half-brother Aethelred. Did I mention he was treacherous?
In many ways you’d rather be “the Peaceful” or “the Deed-Doer” or “the Magnificent” or even boring old “the Elder,” all titles born by various predecessors of Edward, than even “the Martyr” let alone “the Unready”. Edmund “the Deed-Doer” was also Edmund the Suddenly Murdered so I guess he should be happy with his name if not his fate.
I also like “Ironside”, the nickname of Aethelred’s son who either died in battle against the Danes or, in some tellings, was assassinated while on the potty which is just not going to cut it as a nickname. Of course it’s great to be “the Great” but only Alfred was that or, to hear some tell it, Alfred and Canute, one of the Danish interlopers. Sometimes you have to take what you can get.
Which brings me back to “the Confessor”. Edward the Confessor, the last crowned and reigning Saxon king, whose death in 1066 triggered the turmoil that brought William the Conqueror, was widely regarded as a good and pious man, so much so that he was canonized in 1161 and in that capacity straddles the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches despite having died peacefully in bed. But he is also generally held to have been an ineffective ruler.
When he also died childless, the relationship of which to his conception of piety remains a subject of historical debate, trouble erupted and invasions loomed. Perhaps a firmer hand on the tiller of state would have made him a better king, ideally without making him a worse man though it can be a difficult balancing act.
Oh, and speaking of nicknames, “the Conqueror” certainly has a distinguished ring to it. Moreover, William of Normandy’s previous informal moniker had been “the Bastard” though possibly not to his face, known to turn black with fury when crossed. So he at least came out of the whole business with a much cooler name than he went in with.
As for the Confessor, well, it’s nice. I guess.