I am comparing the English and French wikipedia articles about John the Fearless:

The English article has him as "John II of Burgundy" while the French article says he's John I of Burgundy:

" John the Fearless (French: Jean sans Peur, Dutch: Jan zonder Vrees), also John II, Duke of Burgundy, known as John of Valois and John of Burgundy (28 May 1371 – 10 September 1419), was Duke of Burgundy from 1404 to 1419. "

Jean Ier de Bourgogne, dit « Jean sans Peur », duc de Bourgogne, comte de Flandre, d'Artois et de Charolais, comte palatin de Bourgogne, seigneur de Mâcon, Chalon et autres lieux (° 28 mai 1371 à Dijon - † 10 septembre 1419 à Montereau-Fault-Yonne) était un prince français de la maison capétienne de Valois.

Comparing the two articles with the list of the Dukes of Burgundy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duke_of_Burgundy#House_of_Valois-Burgundy_.281361.E2.80.931482.29
reveals that the English list has one Duke not listed in the French list:
John I the Good (Jean Ier le Bon) 1361-1363.

I am confused. I can hardly believe it's a gross mistake by the wikipedia editors. Are French history books different from English ones? After all, during that whole period, the French and the English crown were very close, with the two countries almost becoming one kingdom. I wonder if this is a case of different accepted 'official' timelines in both countries.

2 Answers 2


It's not a difference in timelines, official or otherwise.

The discrepancy results from whether you count King John the Good (the King of France) as Burgundy's duke when the duchy reverted to the crown between 1361-3. The previous duke, John's stepson Philip I, died without issue in 1361. John created his youngest son, Philip II, as the new duke in 1363.

For some reason the English Wikipedia includes John II of France in the numbering of Burgundian dukes. Apparently the French Wikipedia does not. Since Philip II's successor John I/II/??? is traditionally known as John the Fearless anyway, this minor discrepancy is not that consequential.

It is safe to say that John the Fearless is predominantly identified by his nickname. Where regnal numbers are used, he has been referred to as both the first and the second. However, both are extremely rare. This indicates that the Wikipedia discrepancy is less an issue of English vs French as much as it is two obscure ways of referring to the same historical character.

  • 1
    Thanks. I saw that. Does this mean that the numeral (I or II) is a modern addition and that kings and dukes were not then known by their ordinal number (e.g. King Henry V of England was not know to his contemporaries to be the 5th of the name?)
    – augustin
    Feb 4, 2015 at 6:54
  • 3
    @augustin Not exactly "modern" per se, but yes the practice of regnal numbers started quite late. It was mostly only after the Late Middle Ages (hence why we have so many nicknames before that) that these references popped up. Henry V specifically would have been at least occasionally known as the fifth, though. English regnal numbers seemed to have started in Edward III's reign.
    – Semaphore
    Feb 4, 2015 at 8:34
  • 1
    Thanks. Things are getting clearer. The question that remains is thus: the regnal (ducal?) number for John the Fearless would have been added in his future. But the different numbering by the French and English wikipedia editors is their own (21st century) choice or were there pre-existing (i.e. in our past) but differing traditions by English and French historians for his regnal number? When would have such a tradition been established?
    – augustin
    Feb 4, 2015 at 10:19
  • 1
    @augustin I think in both languages the tradition is to refer to him by his nickname. A brief review suggests John the Fearless is referred to in English literature as John I and John II with equal(ly near non-existent) frequency, but someone better versed in ngram might want to check this.
    – Semaphore
    Feb 4, 2015 at 10:33
  • 2
    +1. Note that an additional source of confusion could be the same individual holding two separate titles. V.g., Charles the grandson of the Catholic Kings was Charles I (of Spain) and Charles V (of Germany).
    – SJuan76
    Feb 4, 2015 at 12:24

In Medieval times European kings, nobles, and rulers were usually known by one or more nicknames whenever someone wanted to tell them apart from others of the save name and same realm or from contemporaries in other realms.

The pope started using numbers in the Middle Ages but not soon enough to avoid a number of problems with their numbering.

The Holy Roman Emperors were the first to officially use numbers in the reign of Otto III (died 1002). After a gap the practice was resumed in the reign of the Emperor who called himself Henry III (who is listed in every source you will find as Henry IV, using his number as king of Germany). There is a question whether to count the numbers of Kings of the Romans who were never crowned Emperor, so the Emperor listed as Henry VII could be called Henry VI, Henry VII, or Henry VIII.

Mere kings hardly ever used numbers during the Middle Ages, they usually started in the Renaissance and later. Thus the numbers used for ancient and medieval rulers are almost always assigned by later historians. And sometimes they don't add up.

For example the kingdom of England is sometimes considered to have been officially founded on 12 July 927. Anglo-Saxon king Edward the Elder reigned over Wessex and most of England from 899-924. He can be considered King Edward I of England. If Edward the Elder is not considered a king of England then Saint Edward the Martyr (reigned 975-978) can be considered King Edward I of England and Saint Edward the Confessor (reigned 1042-1066) can be considered King Edward II of England.

Thus when English kings started to use their numbers in official documents King Edward, son of Henry VIII, should have been called Edward VIII (counting from Edward the Martyr) or Edward IX (counting from Edward the Elder) but instead was called Edward VI, counting from Edward Longshanks (reigned 1272-1307).

The kingdom of England united with Scotland to form the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. Great Britain united with Ireland to form the United Kingdom of great Britain and Ireland in 1801. In 1801 George III should have changed his number to George I. But monarchs like George IV and William IV continued to use numbers like they were still kings of Great Britain or of England.

The two monarchs of the United Kingdom named Edward should have been numbered Edward I and Edward II since they were the first monarchs of the United Kingdom named Edward. If they were numbered like English kings they should have been numbered Edward IX and Edward X (or possibly Edward X and Edward XI if Edward the Elder was counted). Instead they ere numbered Edward VII and Edward VIII.

Who was king of Sicily before Roger II? Nobody. Count Roger II founded the kingdom of Sicily and historians never bothered to give him a separate number as king of Sicily. Similarly King Frederick II (died 1337) of Sicily was really Frederick II but called himself Frederick the third to honor King Frederick I of Sicily who was always called the Second because he was emperor Frederick II.

One of the oddest quirks in numbering is that King Martin I of Sicily was succeeded in 1409 by his own father, King Martin II of Sicily, who was also king Martin I of Aragon.

As another example King Carlos I of Castile was also King Carlos II of Sicily, King Carlos IV of the other Sicily, Emperor Charles V, and so on.

  • What's this blather about the English Edwards? All English and British monarchs since 1066 have include in regnal counting only monarchs since that date. Edward Vi was Henry VIII's short-lived son; Edward V was one of the two murdered princes in the tower, Edward IV (1461-1470) was the first York monarch, and Edwards I, II and III followed Henry II in succession. Jul 24, 2016 at 5:20
  • @Pieter Geerkens See here: history.stackexchange.com/questions/19224/…
    – MAGolding
    Apr 20, 2021 at 17:52

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