History is saturated with insane kings and queens who rendered their subjects miserable through barbaric actions, deficient administration, and the loss of touch on reality. These rulers could arguably be the worst examples of authority and privilege taking a disastrous turn. From envious lovers to unhinged tyrants to those who exploited their creativity for barbaric purposes, these maniacal monarchs escalated "savage" to the next level. Here are 50 unhinged facts about mad kings and queens.
1. It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad World
Charles VI of France took power at 21 and things actually went well enough for a decade that he was called “the Beloved". However, at the age of 32, mental illness overcame him and he violently ended the lives of four knights, before assaulting his brother, Louis of Orleans. Even more bizarre? He believed he was made of glass and would shatter if touched.
Quickly, he went from being known as "Charles the Beloved" to "Charles the Mad".
2. A Crappy Inheritance
Henry VI of England was the grandson of Charles VI, and it looks like he may have inherited his grandfather’s mental instability. Unable to rule properly his entire reign, in 1453, he had a mental breakdown and fell into a vegetative state for over a year. This instigated a power conflict, eventually leading to the Rose Battles. Henry VI was ultimately dethroned and met his end in the Tower of London.
3. If The Name Fits
Ivan IV of Russia was known by many as Ivan the Terrible. He was prone to fits of rage and during one such fit, he accidentally caused the demise of his own son. He also created a unique task force known as the Oprichnina that instilled fear in nobility and eliminated anyone he perceived as a threat. He personally led the Oprichnik and massacred the city of Novgorod.
There’s a reason they didn’t call him Ivan the Pleasant.
4. Quite The Minger
The Zhengde Emperor of China was one of the most notorious rulers of the Ming Dynasty. He would dispatch his armed forces on futile quests and frequently gave directives to an imaginary counterpart known as General Zhu Shou. He put a senior eunuch in charge of affairs of state and, after they fell out five years later, had him executed by being sliced into tiny pieces over three days.
Talk about cold cuts.
5. Fate And Taxes
In 1640, Ibrahim I became Sultan of the Ottoman Empire at the age of 25. He was very clearly mentally unstable as he drowned his entire harem (what a waste of a harem) and imposed new taxes to fund his lavish lifestyle. He was deposed and then ten days later strangled. Drowning women is one thing. But new taxes? Unacceptable.
6. Insanity Level: Biblical
King Nebuchadnezzar was a Babylonian ruler whose first-person account of his seven-year descent into insanity, as documented in the Old Testament book of Daniel, made him a poster child for crazy. According to the book, he was arrogant and struck down for not believing in the Hebrew’s God, and left his palace to live in the wild like an animal.
7. At Least They Didn’t Build A Wall
At a young age, Carlota of Belgium married Maximillian, the archduke of Austria. After some political shenanigans in 1864, Maximillian became president of Mexico. With the backing of French forces and conservative enthusiasts, Maximillian and Carlota held sway over Mexico, implementing open-minded policies to gain public support. However, this move cost them their conservative fanbase. The aftermath was utterly brutal.
8. I'll Stick To The Non-Magic Kind, Thanks
Maximilian was executed and Carlota descended into madness. She battled mental illness for the rest of her life — but modern historians have come to deduce her possible fate. They speculate that her madness may have been caused by "magic" mushrooms that she would have ingested while in Mexico.
9. The Case Of The Hand-Me-Down Crown
Rudolf II was Holy Roman Emperor from 1575 to 1612. He made his political decisions based on his studies of the occult sciences, which as you can imagine, did not turn out well. On top of that, he also suffered from depression. Eventually, he was forced by his family to give up most of his effective power to his younger brother Matthias.
10. No Big Loss
George III of the United Kingdom had many mental issues, which may have been side effects of the medication he was taking for his physical maladies. However, he is remembered mainly for the British defeat in the American Revolutionary Conflict and was thus known as the “Mad King Who Lost America".
11. No, You’re The Puppet!
Christian VII of Denmark ruled over his Kingdom for 40 years, but like his cousin George III, he was mentally ill. His mental incapacity provoked power struggles as the king was easily manipulated. Anyone who could influence the him became the de facto King of Denmark.
12. I See People Who Have Passed
Queen Maria I of Portugal was already somewhat unstable, but after the passing of her husband/uncle in 1786, and her son and daughter not long after, her mental state significantly deteriorated. As a fervently religious individual, she was persuaded that she was destined for eternal damnation, witnessing hallucinations of her late father's charred remains undergoing torment by demonic figures.
Her visitors complained that she screamed and wailed too much. Everything in moderation.
13. Impalers Gonna Impale
Vlad the Impaler was known for, well, impaling things, usually people. Impalement was his preferred method of causing harm. If you have a preferred form of harm, it is likely you are considerably unstable. Vlad impaled a lot of people. Some would say, too many people. Estimates are between 40,000 and 100,000 people.
The fictional Dracula was actually based on the non-fictional Vlad.
14. Careless Whispers
Erik XIV of Sweden was extremely paranoid. Frequently, people found laughing, smiling, or whispering within Erik's vicinity were subjected to a severe penalty for treason. Somewhat ironically, he passed in 1577 when someone poisoned his pea soup. We guess just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.
15. The Music Is Inside Her
Princess Alexandra Amalie of Bavaria was, by all accounts, a lovely and charming woman who had the slight defect of being convinced she had swallowed an all-glass piano. She was also obsessed with cleanliness and wore only white.
16. Architect Of His Own Demise
Although Ludwig II of Bavaria isn’t considered insane by modern historians, at the time he was regarded as mad because he lived extravagantly and shirked his royal duties. He spent most of his rule dedicated to over-ambitious artistic and architectural projects that emptied the royal treasury. Although they are now popular tourist attractions, his detractors used these flights of fancy against him and deposed him—but his strange story doesn't end there.
17. The Siege
The ministers who deposed Ludwig sent a commission to arrest Ludwig and place him in the custody of Dr. Von Gudden. Ludwig holed up in Neuschwanstein with a private army for two days while 36 armed guards surrounded the castle. He was finally caught trying to escape. Upon being detained, he exclaimed to Von Gudden, "How dare you declare me insane? You've never examined me before!"
Insane or not, Ludwig had a point.
The doctor took Ludwig to rest at Berg Castle just south of Munich. On the evening of June 13, 1886, the two men took a walk together along the shore of Lake Starnberg. What happened next is still the subject of a great mystery. The bodies of Ludwig and Von Gudden were found that night floating in the lake. Neither had water in their lungs, but Von Gudden’s body showed signs of strangulation and bludgeoning.
The mystery remains unsolved, with modern historians implying that Ludwig and his doctor might have fallen victim to Ludwig's adversaries while he was trying once again to flee.
19. We Hope That Room Was Padded
Poor Mustafa I of Turkey was locked in a room for ten years by his brother. He was let out momentarily when his brother passed and then locked in a few months later by his nephew. When his nephew met a violent end four years later, he was once again released. He was often spotted racing through the palace, pounding on doors, and crying out for his departed nephew to return and govern Turkey.
20. Against All Odds
Maria Eleonora of Brandenburg desperately wanted to give her husband a son, but after a number of stillbirths and miscarriages, she was dismayed to finally deliver a girl, Christina—and her chilling reaction got worse from there. She tried several times to kill her child, “accidentally” dropping her or shoving her downstairs.
After her husband passed, she forced her daughter to sleep under a golden casket containing her father’s heart. Somehow, Christina grew up as fully functioning normal woman.
21. If Ducklings Are Tiny Ducks…
Like so many monarchs before him, Ferdinand I of Austria was the product of inbreeding. His parents were double first cousins. Ferdinand was epileptic, encephalitic, and had problems with simple tasks. He is best remembered for his command to his cook: when told he could not have apricot dumplings (Marillenknödel) because apricots were out of season, he said: "I am the Emperor, and I want dumplings!"
22. Peter The Ironic
Tsar Peter the Great of Russia was a well-beloved figure in Russian history, responsible for many great changes and advances. However, he also suffered from paranoia due to a childhood of watching family members die cruelly (or as the Russians call it, "Tuesday"). He indulged in activities such as performing dental procedures on his own courtiers. Once, when the courtiers were understandably horrified by the dissection of a deceased body, he allegedly commanded them to take a bite out of it. However, these deeds paled in comparison to what he did to his son.
23. Love Of My Life
Driven by loyalty, when his son momentarily escaped to Sweden, he implemented harsh disciplinary actions to the point where his son couldn't endure any longer. Thankfully for his second wife, Catherine, he was a bit nicer to her. Peter suffered from fits throughout his life, and only his beloved second wife, Catherine, was able to help him through these moments. In return, Peter assisted in establishing a pathway for Catherine to become ruler of Russia following his departure from life, establishing a new precedent for women in the Russian monarchy.
24. Liu Swan Song
Emperor Qianfei governed the Liu Song dynasty and was known to take pleasure in the elimination of two particular groups of individuals. His family and other people’s families. He ended his brother's life, imprisoned his uncles, and extracted a nobleman's eyes, which he preserved in a jar of honey, humorously dubbing them "pickled ghost eyes". His servants ultimately caused his demise and his approval ratings were so low that nobody raised any objections.
25. The Real Game Of Thrones
Justin II of Italy spent the end of his reign rolling around his palace on a throne with wheels. The RollerThrone™ was designed by his servants who needed to find a way to distract the king because he had an utterly disturbing tendency—he had a penchant for eating them.
26. Skin Game
In 1838, it was estimated that Queen Ranavalona I of Madagascar had allowed nearly a fifth of her kingdom to die under the tangena ordeal, which was a traditional test of innocence where the subject ate three chicken skins and then poison to see how many they threw up. We bet those chicken skins didn’t even come with a secret blend of eleven herbs and spices.
Anna ruled as Empress of Russia from 1730 to 1740. In the most famous example of her insanity, she set up an old prince with her maid, organized the wedding, and had a special palace made of ice for the ceremony. She made the wedding party dress like clowns and spend the night in the ice palace during one of the harshest winters Russia had seen in years.
And here we thought Elsa was the ice queen.
28. A Real Sado-ist
Born in 1735, Prince Sado of Korea was hated by his father, the King, from an early age. Perhaps this hatred led to his insanity, but regardless, Sado was cruel, assaulting and murdering servants on a whim, and even stalking his own sister. Eventually, his father confined him in a rice chest for eight days, until he took his last breath. Would it have been so hard to have just given the boy a hug?
29. Caligula: A God Among Us
Today, Emperor Caligula's reputation as an unhinged madman precedes him. He took the lives of men for pleasure, engaged intimately with their spouses, insisted on being revered as a living deity, and instigated a financial crisis due to his extravagant and unnecessary expenditures. Of course, all these actions were just an average Tuesday for Caligula.
30. Of Little Worth
In the various writings about Caligula, nearly all historians agree that he placed very little value on human life. In one story, he was supposedly meant to make a sacrifice to the gods by hitting a bull over the head with a mallet, but at the last minute, he turned and hit the priest instead. He then apparently laughed at the priest as he was dying.
31. There's Nothing In The Rulebook That Says A Horse Can't Be Consul
Caligula was infamous for his harsh treatment towards humans, but there was one being he greatly revered: His horse Incitatus held such a special place in his heart that he was provided with his own house featuring a marble stall and an ivory-crafted manger. Caligula had intended to appoint his horse as a consul to demonstrate his absolute power, but he didn't get the chance before his life ended.
32. First Act Of Ending Life
Caligula was so hated by the Roman people at the end of his reign that the citizens began to demand that he be removed from power. A scheme took shape within the senate aimed at ending the emperor's reign, and on January 24, 41 AD, Cassius Chaerea slashed his throat from behind. This act was immediately followed by another man who struck him in the chest.
The demise of Caligula marked the first instance of a Roman Emperor being violently removed from power. He was pierced 30 times by the Praetorian guards at the Palatine Games. Tragically, his innocent wife and daughter were also executed.
33. Erased From History
By the time Caligula passed, he was so hated that the Senate pushed to have him completely erased from Roman history. Seemingly, brutal elimination just wasn't sufficient: They commanded the obliteration of his statues and public inscriptions, and his coins were removed from circulation and melted down whenever possible.
34. Good One
Caligula had a malevolent sense of humor. Once at a dinner party, he reportedly burst into raucous laughter. When asked to explain the reason for his mirth, he replied, “I’ve just thought that I’ve only to give the word and you’ll all have your throats cut". Hilarious, right?!
35. Joanna Of Castile: The Betrayed Queen
Queen Joanna of Castile didn’t become known as “Juana La Loca” for her sound and righteous rule. Yet to what extent was this “mad” Spanish queen simply a victim of bad luck and greed? As a vulnerable female heir to a rich country, Queen Joanna was surrounded by male relatives who had much to gain from her loss of power.
36. Faith Shouldn’t Hurt
I imagine it’s hard to catch a break when your mom literally engineered the Spanish Inquisition. According to some sources, Queen Isabella was deeply enraged by Princess Joanna’s insufficient piety and took it out on the girl in the most brutal way possible. It’s been suggested Isabella “corrected” her daughter’s religious disposition with methods such as “La cuerda,” where Joanna was hung in the air by ropes and weighted down by her feet.
We can’t imagine that felt great—either for Joanna’s body or her mental health.
37. Not Enough Room In This Bed For All Of Us
When she was just 17 years old, Joanna was formally engaged to Philip of Flanders (future Duke Philip I of Burgundy), who was the son of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian I. Joanna’s marriage to Philip was one of mutual but lopsided passion. Joanna worshipped him; Philip found Joanna beautiful and charming, but not worth staying faithful to.
Her Burgundian beau quickly began to see other ladies on the side. His infidelities often sent Joanna into jealous rages and depressive tailspins—and as we'll see, they were the least of his betrayals.
38. Going Out For A Pack Of Smokes…
Some men can’t handle their wives making more: the pressure of being Castile’s heir and future Queen put a strain on Joanna’s marriage to Philip of Burgundy. He had moved his court to be with Joanna in Castile as the country’s heirs, but their arguments intensified until he eventually left Joanna pregnant and alone in Madrid.
39. Time To Unwind
As you might expect, Joanna did not take Philip's abandonment very well at all. In a dark omen of things to come, she fell mentally and physically apart when he left: The heiress indulged in the rather unroyal conduct of crying herself to sleep every night, refusing lavish meals, and flinging her royal body against the walls.
40. Too Much Off The Top
During Joanna's period of abandonment with Philip, her mother eventually allowed her to follow him back to Flanders. She arrived home to the worst possible sight: Philip had taken an in-house mistress. Not one to be usurped without a fight, Joanna allegedly started hacking off her rival’s hair with scissors. When this aggressive act failed to mend Joanna's heart, she simply punctured the woman's face.
41. Here Lies One Lifeless Brother
The pivotal tragedy of Joanna's life occurred in 1506: her beloved Philip met his unexpected end at the tragically young, yet still beautiful, age of 28. The reason for his premature demise was apparently typhoid fever…but many, including a particularly suspicious Queen Joanna, suspected it to be the outcome of poison.
42. A Matter Of Fresh Existence And Demise
When her beloved (and traitorous) husband Philip passed, Queen Joanna didn't just grieve in the normal way; in fact, it sent her into her worst emotional tailspin yet. For a considerable period, she refused to leave her husband’s already-embalmed body. During this time, she was pregnant with their final child, Catherine.
43. Together Forever And Ever And Ever…
But it gets worse: the widowed Joanna couldn't even accept Philip's mortality after he was buried and in the ground (at her father's insistence). Soon after he had passed, it was reported that she ordered his body to be brought up from its resting place. She instructed for the coffin to be opened, leapt to his side one more time, and tenderly kissed his lifeless feet. From this point, wherever Joanna went, so did Philip’s casket.
44. Eternally Hers
Joanna's envy for Philip's affection persisted even after he was no longer alive. While in company of her deceased husband's casket, it's rumored that Joanna would only travel at night. She didn't want other women alluring Philip of Burgundy during those enticing daytime hours. Her entourage avoided nunneries for this reason—you can never be too careful, even around holy sisters.
45. You’ll Always Be With Me
For the most part, Joanna had the sense to keep her husband’s casket closed. It was simply transported to be with her at meals and her bedside. She only occasionally opened it to gaze upon her beloved’s pretty (and rapidly decomposing) face. Only years later was Philip finally laid to rest again. Of course, this was apparently right outside of Joanna’s window, where his notorious eye could wander no more.
46. I’m Big Enough To Say, “She’s Crazy”
Joanna's insanity, however, has an even darker and more personal side: Recent scholarship has suggested Joanna’s own beloved husband spread the rumors of his wife’s “insanity". While Joanna’s real behavior hardly helped, the ambitious Philip had incentive to push the image of his wife as an incapable ruler. He was certainly insecure about his role in Joanna’s regime and looked to usurp her authority.
47. Bloody Mary: A Tithe Of Troubles
Although she only reigned for five short years, King Henry VIII's first-born daughter "Bloody Mary" was a busy Queen. As she attempted to reverse the Protestant reforms of her father, Mary had over 280 dissenters of the Catholic Church burned at the stake, earning her the terrifying nickname by which we know her today.
48. Devoted Husband
In the summer of 1554, the English court was bracing for news of Mary’s first child. Mary started to show signs of a pregnancy months earlier, and everyone was taking precautions for the next heir to the throne. Her husband King Philip was possibly even planning to marry Mary’s half-sister Elizabeth in the event that his wife passed (he was a stand-up guy). There was just one problem...
49. False Alarm
Mary wasn’t actually pregnant at all. Perhaps for psychological reasons, she had a rare case of false pregnancy. Tragically, it would not even be her last. During one these episodes, Mary was so convinced that she was with child that she had letters drafted announcing the birth of her heir. They would never be needed.
50. The Queen's End Approaches
Mary passed, childless, in 1558 during an influenza epidemic. However, the reasons for Bloody Queen Mary's departure from life remain somewhat unclear, even to this day. Some accounts suggest she succumbed to the influenza outbreak, while others suggest she passed of cancer, and that her false pregnancies were actually the result of a tumor.