ALFRED THE GREAT (reigned 871 to 901) fully merited his surname because he expelled the Danes, established a navy, founded schools, and effected the restoration of law and order during one of the most critical periods of early British history. Taking the remainder of the Saxon monarchs in chronological order, we have: —Edward the Martyr (975 to 978), treacherously murdered at Corfe Castle ; Ethelred the Unready (978 to 1016), who, lacking rede, or council, fled to Normandy to escape the consequences of a threatened invasion by the Danes; Edmund Ironsides (reigned 1016), whose habitual precaution of wearing a complete suit of mail availed him nothing against the fatality of assassination ; Edgar Atheling (born 1017, died 1120), otherwise "Edgar of Royal Descent"; Harold Harefoot (1035 to 1039), swift of foot as a hare ; and Edward the Confessor (1042 to 1066), so called on account of his holy life. The distinction between a Confessor and a Martyr in the early days of Christianity was simply this : both made an open confession of their faith, and expressed their readiness to die for it; the former, however, was never called upon to do so, whereas the latter actually suffered martyrdom.
William I. (reigned 1066 to 1087), was styled The Conqueror because he defeated the Saxons at the Battle of Hastings, and founded the Norman Dynasty in England. William II. (1087 to 1100), received the name of Rufus from his florid complexion; rufus being Latin for ruddy. Henry I. (1100 to 1135), was surnamed Beauclerc, or good clerk, in recognition of his scholarly attainments. Richard I. (1189 to 1199), styled Coeur de Leon, otherwise " The Lion Hearted," is traditionally said to have torn the living heart out of the mouth of a lion to whose fury he was exposed by the Duke of Austria for having killed his son in battle. This extraordinary exploit surpasses the bounds of reason; still there is no doubt that he performed prodigies of valour during the Wars of the Crusades. Another British monarch who rejoiced in a surname of the leonine order was William the Lion, King of the Scots (1165 to 1214), so called because he chose a red lion rampant for his crest. It is from this king that the lions distinguished in the Royal Arms of Scotland trace their origin.
King John (reigned 1199 to 1216) received the surname of Lackland on account of his improvidence, which at the time of the death of his father (Henry II.) left him entirely without provision. Edward I. (1272 to 1307) was styled Longshanks from his spindle legs. The eldest son of Edward III., known as The Black Prince (born 1330, died 1376), was not exclusively addicted to the wearing of black armour, as he is usually represented in waxwork shows and picture toy-books; consequently he did not derive his surname from such an association ; but, as the historian Froissart informs us, " he received his name by terror of his arms." Seeing that at the age of sixteen he won his knightly spurs at Crecy, and ten years later took the French king prisoner at Poictiers and brought him in triumph to London, the military renown of this young warrior must have been sufficient to command respect from his enemies. John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster (born 1340, died 1399), took his title from the town of Ghent, in Flanders, where he was born. In like manner his son, Henry IV. (1399 to I4i3), was styled Bolingbroke, after his native place.
Henry VIII. (reigned 1509 to 1547) was surnamed Bluff King Hal on account of his bluff manners ; he also received the title of Defender of the Faith from Pope Leo X., in recognition of the tract he published against the heresy of Martin Luther. Mary, Queen of Scots (born 1542, died 1587), was known as The White Queen because she adopted white mourning for her husband, Lord Darnley. Our own Queen Mary (1547 to 1558) has been handed down to posterity under the opprobrious title of Bloody Mary, in consequence of the wholesale burnings of the Protestants under her reign. The religious persecutions of her time admit of no denial, yet they were fully equalled by those brought to light during the reign of her successor, Elizabeth, while they fell infinitely short of those characterized by the reign of Henry VIII. In one sense Elizabeth (1558 to 1603) was appropriately styled Good Queen Bess, inasmuch as she exercised due regard to the interests of the realm and the welfare of her people. Her enemies she speedily removed, but she was just as ready to bestow honours and rewards upon her nation's worthies. Oliver Cromwell was called The Lord Protector (born 1599, died 1658) because he protected the interests of the Commonwealth. The reason why Charles II. (1660 to 1685) was dubbed The Merry Monarch must be sought in the licentiousness of the times in which he lived. Much nearer to our own day, William IV. (1830 to 1837) was distinguished by the title of The Sailor King, from the circumstance of his having entered the navy as a midshipman and worked his way upwards until he attained the rank of Lord High Admiral.
The family name of Plantagenet, derived from the Latin planta, a plant, and genista, broom, was originally assumed by Fulke Martel, Earl of Anjou, the great grandfather of Henry II., in commemoration of the incident, while on his pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulchre, of having offered himself to be scourged with the stems of the broom plant by his two attendants as an atonement for the murder of the Earl of Brittany. The Tudor Dynasty was founded by Owen Tudor, a Welsh soldier stationed at Windsor, who contracted a secret marriage with Catherine, the widowed queen of Henry V. The first of the long line of the Stuart sovereigns (Scottish and English) was Walter, the Lord High Steward of Scotland, whose wife was the daughter of King Robert the Bruce. As this Walter was the sixth member of his family that had held the post of Lord High Steward, he was popularly said to belong to the Stewards, until in course of time this word became corrupted into Stuarts, and was adopted as a family name.
Charles I., Emperor of Germany (born 742, died 814), was surnamed Charlemagne, otherwise Charles the Great. The She-Wolf of France was Isabella (born 1290, died 1357), daughter of Philip IV. of France, and queen of Edward II. of England, whom she, in concert with the Earl of Mortimer, her paramour, murdered by thrusting a red-hot iron into his bowels. Pedro the Cruel, King of Castille and Leon in 1350, merited his surname owing to his cruel treatment of his two brothers, whom he murdered, and his queen, whom he poisoned. Ivan II., Czar of Russia (reigned 1533 to 1584), was styled The Terrible on account of the cruelties he inflicted upon all who offended his autocracy. Frederick I., of Germany (reigned 1152 to 1190), was surnamed Barbarossa from his red beard, barba being Latin for beard; while for his bombardment of Messina in 1848 Ferdinand, King of Naples, was nicknamed Bomba. Philippe, Due d'Orleans, the father of Louis Philippe, King of France, assumed the name of Egalite when he joined the Republican party in 1789. Of a truth, if "Equality " was what this not unworthy Prince aspired to, he enjoyed it to the full, for he lost his head under the guillotine in common with more than twenty thousand of his fellow-citizens.
Leopold Wagner, "Royal Surnames," Names: And Their Meaning -- A Book for the Curious, 1893, pages 87-92.