History is filled with kings and queens who made their subjects miserable with cruelty, poor governance, and a detachment from reality.
Here are a few things you might not know about these crazy rulers.
27. It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World
Charles VI of France (1380-1422) took power at 21 and things actually went well enough for a decade that he was called “the Beloved.” But then, at the age of 32, mental illness took hold, he murdered four of his knights and attacked his brother Louis of Orleans and believed he was made of glass and would shatter if touched. He kept suffering from insanity until he went from “Beloved” to “Mad.”
26. 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, leading to power struggles that led to the War of the Roses. He was eventually overthrown and died in the Tower of London.
25. 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 killed his own son. He also established a special force called the oprichniki that terrorized nobility and killed anyone he sawas a threat. He personally led the oprichniki and massacred the city of Novgorod. There’s a reason they didn’t call him Ivan the Pleasant.
23. Quite the Minger
The Zhengde Emperor of China was one of the most notorious rulers of the Ming Dynasty. He would send his military out on pointless missions and often gave orders to an imaginary double called 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.
22. Architect of his Own Demise
Although Ludvig 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. He and his physician were found floating dead in a lake the next day.
21. Death 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.
20. The Case of the Hand-Me-Down Crown
Rudolf II was Holy Roman Emperor from 1575 to 1612. He made political decisions based on his studies of the occult sciences, which as you can imagine, did not turn out well. He also suffered from depression. He was forced by his family to give up most of his effective power to his younger brother Matthias.
19. 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 War and was thus known as the “Mad King Who Lost America.”
18. 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.
Joanna was Queen of Castile from 1504 to 1516 and lost her mind after the sudden death of her husband, Philip the Handsome (perhaps handsome men were in short supply and she knew she’d have a tough time finding another). She suffered from severe depression, psychosis, or schizophrenia and became known as Joanna the Mad. Her father confined her to a convent from which she never returned.
16. 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.
15. 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. Backed by French troops and conservative supporters, Maximillian and Carlota ruled over Mexico and instituted liberal policies to win over the people, but in doing so, lost their conservative supporters. Maximilian was executed and Carlota went bananas for the next sixty years.
14. I See Dead People
Queen Maria I of Portugal was already a bit bonkers, but after the death of her husband/uncle in 1786, and her son and daughter shortly afterwards, she really lost her mind. A religious fanatic, she became convinced she was going to hell and saw visions of her dead father’s blackened corpse being tortured by demons. 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 favorite form of torture. If you have a favorite form of torture, you’re probably a bit insane. 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 based on the non-fictional Vlad.
12. Careless Whispers
Erik XIV (that’s 14 for you Roman numeral illiterates) of Sweden was super paranoid. It wasn’t unusual for people caught laughing, smiling, or whispering within Erik’s earshot to be sentenced to death for treason. He died 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.
11. 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.
10. 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 died and then locked in a few months later by his nephew. When his nephew was assassinated four years later, he was let out again. He was frequently found running through the palace, banging on doors, and screaming for his dead nephew to come back and rule Turkey.
9. 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. She tried several times to kill her child, “accidentally” dropping her or shoving her down stairs. After her husband died, she forced her daughter to sleep under a golden casket containing her father’s heart. Somehow, Christina grew up as fully functioning normal woman.
8. 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!”
7. Peter the Ironic
Peter the Great of Russia was, according to many, a wonderful sovereign. He loved to learn, but sometimes he took that too far. While learning dentistry, he practiced on his nobles. Apparently he also ordered attendants upset about watching him dissect a corpse to take a bite from it. Fanatical about loyalty, when his son temporarily fled to Sweden, he had him tortured to death. Peter the Great, eh? Exactly who comes up with these names?!
6. Liu Swan Song
Emperor Qianfei ruled the Liu Song dynasty and he enjoyed killing two types of people. His family and other people’s families. He killed his brother, caged his uncles, and scooped out a nobleman’s eyes, which he put in a jar of honey and called “pickled ghost eyes.” He was eventually killed by his servants and his approval ratings were so low that nobody objected.
5. 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 a tendency FOR EATING THEM. Still, it sounds like a lot of fun.
4. 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 we thought Elsa was the ice queen.
2. 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, murdering and raping servants on a whim, and even stalking his own sister. Eventually, his father locked him in a rice chest for eight days until he died. Would it have been so hard to have just given the boy a hug?
1. How to Kill a God
Possibly the craziest of them all, Caligula was a sadistic and perverse tyrant of a Roman Emperor who ruled from 37-41 AD. He killed men for pleasure, had sex with their wives, demanded to be worshipped as a living god, and caused a financial crisis with his extravagant and unnecessary spending. Many people believe he built a two-mile floating bridge on the sea just so he could ride across it on horseback. He even made his horse a senator and allegedly had conversations with the moon. He was the first Roman emperor to be assassinated. Shocking, we know.
More from Factinate
Want to tell us to write facts on a topic? We’re always looking for your input! Please reach out to us to let us know what you’re interested in reading. Your suggestions can be as general or specific as you like, from “Life” to “Compact Cars and Trucks” to “A Subspecies of Capybara Called Hydrochoerus Isthmius.” We’ll get our writers on it because we want to create articles on the topics you’re interested in. Please submit feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for your time!
Do you question the accuracy of a fact you just read? At Factinate, we’re dedicated to getting things right. Our credibility is the turbo-charged engine of our success. We want our readers to trust us. Our editors are instructed to fact check thoroughly, including finding at least three references for each fact. However, despite our best efforts, we sometimes miss the mark. When we do, we depend on our loyal, helpful readers to point out how we can do better. Please let us know if a fact we’ve published is inaccurate (or even if you just suspect it’s inaccurate) by reaching out to us at email@example.com. Thanks for your help!
The Factinate team