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As if being called 'Lackland' (by his father, Henry II) and 'Softsword' (by "some English chroniclers") was not bad enough, King John also acquired the very unflattering-sounding nickname of Dollheart.

This is mentioned on this University of Sheffield page, in this blog and also in this article Royal Nicknames. None of them, though, give any further information. The Wikipedia page John, King of England doesn't even mention Dollheart.

When did John acquire this nickname, and do we know who first used it?

It might also be worth confirming if the 'doll' part is a reference to the children's toy, or if it has some other meaning.

  • 3
    I've read two biographies of John and never heard of that, nice find! – Random Apr 24 '18 at 0:18
  • Wasn't Lackland given to him after his father death ? – LamaDelRay Feb 12 at 13:50
  • @LamaDelRay According to the Wiki article which cites Frank McLynn's * Lionheart and Lackland: King Richard, King John and the Wars of Conquest* (2007), it was his father who gave it to him. – Lars Bosteen Feb 12 at 14:37
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"Dollheart" is the English translation of the French "Cœur de poupée". This was indeed one of the nicknames of King John, and the poupée in this context does refer to the children's toy or puppet.

As with most nicknames, we will probably never know who coined it, but according to Jacques Choffel, in the epilogue to his biography of John's older brother King Richard I, Richard Coeur de Lion it was used by his contemporaries to compare him unfavourably with his brother:

"Cœur de Poupée, diront les barons poitevins, par dérision, en souvenir de son glorieux frère auquel amis comme ennemis reconnaissaient un cœur de lion."

  • Choffel, 1985, p259

In derision, the Poitevin barons named him "Doll's heart", in remembrance of his glorious brother, who both friends and enemies recognised as a lionheart.

(my translation)


As for 13th century sources, the nickname is certainly mentioned in the Chronique rimée by Philippe Mouskes. He cites his source as follows:

"le roi Johan, que G Guiart appelle cuer de poupee"

Which would seem to be a reference to chronique métrique de Guillaume Guiart. Writing about the year 1214 he says:

Va s'en Jouhan Cuer-de-poupée
Ne pense à honte n'à laidenge;
Sa gent après lui se défrenge;
Tout fussent-il, pour eus combatre,
Contre un des François plus de quatre,
N'ont il talent qu'il les atendent.

but sadly didn't cite his sources.

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  • 1
    Presumably, then, this was used sometime around or after the Treaty of Le Goulet (1200), perhaps at the same time as Softsword. Curious that historians have let such an unusual name as Dollsheart has sunk into obscurity. – Lars Bosteen Apr 23 '18 at 22:57
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    @LarsBosteen Certainly between 1200 and 1214 I'd say. Perhaps in the case of John the historians were spoiled for choice. Lackland was particularly apposite for the king who had lost most of his continental lands. As for "soft sword", well, the English have always been fond of a little double entendre, so that one must have been irresistible! – sempaiscuba Apr 23 '18 at 23:32
  • Interesting that both the 13th century sources are French chroniclers. – Lars Bosteen Apr 24 '18 at 0:35
  • The Normans and Anglo-Normans had a tendency to nicknames. The eldest son of William the Conqueror was Robert Curthose, which means "short-trousers." Nobody knows why, but teasing by the family about a childhood incident seems plausible. – John Dallman Apr 29 '18 at 19:21
  • @LarsBosteen at that time the english court and the french court talked in french. Most likely that would be a good reason for french chroniclers. As a bonus, his many defeats mainly benefitted french so there's that. – LamaDelRay Feb 12 at 13:52

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