History books are great for telling you the important moments from our past, but we're not here for "important." We're here for that dirt. Secret marriages and disturbing pastimes. Bizarre habits and gruesome ends. Betrayals and insanity. You know, the good stuff. Well buckle up, because these are the wild stories about the scandalous past that your history textbooks wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole.
The spoiled, quick-tempered Marquis de Sade, safe behind the walls of his Château de Lacoste, began experimenting with his wildest desires in his early 20s. He hired only the most attractive young men and women to work in his castle and forced them into his salacious bedroom activities. Of course, he also hired a constant stream of young prostitutes to supplement his twisted fantasies.
The Château de Lacoste hid the worst of de Sade's depravities. It was only a matter of time before his twisted secrets got out.
The Château de Lacoste was the Marquis de Sade's happy place, and not even the threat of the guillotine could keep him away for long. While he fled France to avoid persecution, he returned yet again in 1776. He quickly hired several women to "work" in the castle. They soon realized they'd gotten themselves trapped in his sadistic nightmare. Most of the women fled the castle as soon as they could—and they would come back to haunt de Sade before long.
For the horrors he committed on his unconsenting servants, the Marquis de Sade got off pretty easy—but he very nearly met a painful end years earlier. One of the servants who fled his castle in his heyday ran to her family and told them what the Marquis did to her. Her father, understandably, was horrified and furious. The authorities had proved incapable of stopping de Sade thus far, so he decided to take matters into his own hands. He traveled to Lacoste with one thing on his mind: Vengeance.
The Marquis de Sade was a lot of things: Cruel, sadistic, depraved, and...lucky. When his employee's father came to Lacoste, he brought a loaded pistol for de Sade's heart. The man got within arm's reach of the Marquis, drew his weapon, and fired—but it misfired, saving de Sade's life. Despite his chilling lifestyle, de Sade managed to live all the way to the ripe old age of 74.
We can't say the same thing about the trainwreck Duchess of Berry, France's messiest scandal-maker.
Being constantly pregnant didn’t stop France's Duchess Of Berry from partying. By her early 20s, she'd already suffered several miscarriages—but that never stopped her! As long as she could stand (or waddle), then she figured that she could still go out. Even well into these pregnancies, Joufflotte continued attending parties and downing more than her fair share of libations.
I bet you can tell already: This story doesn't have a happy ending.
Louise Élisabeth, the Duchess of Berry, passed at the tender age of 23, likely from complications arising from her sixth (documented) pregnancy. That's right—all that scandal and drama happened in less than a decade! Then, as if Voltaire himself had scripted her final moments, an autopsy revealed something truly ironic. Louise Élisabeth was a full two weeks pregnant at the time of her demise. It’s like something out of Alien.
The Duchess of Berry was one of the most controversial figures in French history, but she's got nothing on this next creep. His name was King Henry II, but we prefer to call him, "The Worst Husband In History."
Henry II of France absolutely loved women—just not his wife, Catherine de Medici. If that sounds pretty crummy, you don't know the half of it: Henry made zero attempts to hide his many mistresses from Catherine. Instead, he flaunted them around the palace for the entire court to see. And one of those mistresses in particular became infamous: Diane de Poitiers.
To call Henry and Diane's relationship weird would be an understatement.
Henry spent many years of his youth as a captive in Spain, and he spent all that time dreaming of the beautiful Diane de Poitiers, despite the fact that she was old enough to be his mother. He didn't forget about her when he became king, either. Around a year after Henry's marriage, when he was 15 and Diane was 35, she became his chief mistress. That alone was enough to raise eyebrows—but Henry took things so much further than that.
Kings give the best gifts. Henry gave Diane a literal castle: the Château de Chenonceau near Paris. One of the most stunning in all of France, it was actually built on top of a river. But Henry didn't just give Diane the chateau because he was a nice guy. He did it because his wife specifically asked for it for herself. He gave it to Diane just to stick it to Catherine. Talk about cold.
But still, I could deal with my husband giving my castle to my mistress, I guess—what I couldn't deal with was what Henry did with Diane in public.
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Picture this: The King of France, in front of guests, lying in a much older woman's lap like a baby. A woman who was not his wife. Well, if you visited the French court, this is exactly what you'd see. Not hiding your mistress is one thing, but lying in her lap and fondling her chest in front of the whole court is another.
Henry II was just that kind of a guy—and you can bet he'd have gotten along great with another of history's most debaucherous figures: The Mad Emperor Elagabalus.
Emperor Elagabalus was just a little nuts. Ok, maybe he was extremely nuts. He forced the entire Roman Empire to worship a new god, Sol Invictus. But that's just the beginning. To increase his piety, Elagabalus circumcised himself and swore off pork. He also forced his senators to watch him dance in circles around an altar to the beat of drums and cymbals. The spectacle made people’s jaws drop—but that was Elagabalus actually normal.
According to an ancient historian, Elagabalus took a husband named Hierocles, an ex-slave and chariot racer from the region of Caria. Elagabalus reportedly “delighted in being Hierocles’s mistress, wife, and queen.” Dio also claimed that Elagabalus offered his, uh, “services” when he visited the city’s taverns and brothels. These rumors would’ve gotten any ancient Roman’s toga in a twist, but Dio’s next claim about Elagabalus would’ve made them faint from sheer horror.
According to Dio, Elagabalus habitually wore makeup and wigs and insisted that people call him a lady instead of a lord. He also allegedly offered ridiculous sums of money to any physician who could give him a vagina. For the ancient Romans, this would’ve been a bridge too far. Elagabalus began losing support for his reign. Soon after, his own men cut him down in the streets.
Are you surprised? But if you're thinking Elagabalus was the only person on this list to meet a brutal fate, then you clearly did not get the assignment. The question is, whose end was worse: Elagabalus, or the infamous screwup Lord Darnley?
Lord Darnley was Mary, Queen of Scots' overly-ambitious husband, so when he saw his wife getting a little too close to her secretary, David Rizzio, he decided to do something about it. Either out of jealousy of Rizzio or to punish Mary for not giving making him King of Scotland, Darnley and a cabal of conspirators came up with a bloody plot to get rid of Rizzio.
A six-months pregnant Mary was having dinner with Rizzio and another lady from her court when Darnley and his conspirators kicked in the door and burst into the room. They demanded that Mary hand over Rizzio but she refused. The cowering Rizzio took refuge behind Mary. But not even she could protect him from Darnley’s homicidal wrath.
Darnley and his conspirators ripped the frightened Rizzio away from Mary and proceeded to drag him into an adjoining chamber. As Mary screamed, Darnley unleashed all of his uncontrollable rage and pent-up anger on Rizzio in one of the most brutal attacks ever. When Darnley finally calmed down, Rizzio had 56 stab wounds.
But don't worry, Darnley got what was coming to him in the end.
Darnley was—presumably—sound asleep at two in the morning on February 10, 1567. Soon enough, however, the entire neighborhood would be woken by a terrifying sound. Someone had secretly placed two barrels full of explosives right underneath Darnley’s bedchamber. In an instant, two giant blasts reduced it to rubble. But something didn’t add up.
It stands to reason that the force of the explosion would have launched Darnley’s body far from the blast site. But that’s not what witnesses discovered when they arrived to investigate. They found Darnley’s lifeless body at a nearby orchard, fully intact and dressed in his nightgown, apparently unscathed from the massive explosion. There was, however, evidence of something terribly sinister.
Darnley’s only injuries had nothing to do with the massive blast. Apparently, he had either been strangled or smothered. But that only presented more questions: who had strangled him, where had they strangled him, and how had he escaped the explosion? The only clear thing was that someone had gone out of their way to ensure that Darnley wouldn’t live to see the light of day.
Not a great way to go, but Darnley was hardly innocent. You know who was innocent? Queen Victoria's daughter, Princess Alice. That didn't save her from one of the most devastating ends in history.
On November 15, Alice’s youngest daughter Marie, who was only four years old, fell severely ill. The staff, certain that the girl didn’t have long to live, called the Grand Duchess to her bedside. Alice arrived to an absolute horror. Before she could even make it, Marie had choked, and now her body was already turning cold. Alice’s knee-jerk reaction…could have been better.
Although Alice confessed to Queen Victoria that “the pain is beyond words” when it came to losing Marie, she decided to keep the girl’s passing from the rest of her children in the hopes that it wouldn’t dampen their spirits while they were fighting an infection. In her head, it was the best decision—but it would end up being her downfall.
After pretending Marie was alive for weeks on end, Alice finally gave in, confessing the truth to her favorite son Ernest in early December. His response was soul-crushing. The little boy couldn’t believe it at the beginning, and when the reality dawned on him, he broke down into jagged sobs. Unable to see her son in pain, Alice made a fatal error.
Before this point, Alice put her whole household under strict “no contact” orders. She had even sent her daughter Elisabeth away from the house entirely so she wouldn’t get sick. In this one moment, however, she couldn’t help comforting her infected son, and gave him a kiss to ease his pain. It would be one of the last things she ever did.
Alice spent her last days on Earth in ironic placidity. When her sister Vicky visited a few days after her confession to Ernest, it raised Alice’s spirits, and she corresponded with her mother with a “hint of resumed cheerfulness.” Little did Alice know, the infection had already moved through her body at a rapid pace. When it surfaced, it would be with a vengeance.
On Saturday, December 14, Alice fell incredibly ill with diphtheria, so much so that she barely survived for a few more hours. At 2:30 am, she spoke her heartbreaking last words, whispering “Dear papa” before losing consciousness and never waking up again. At 8:30 am, she passed on. We weren't joking when we said Alice met one of the most devastating ends in history.
So how about we lighten the mood a little with one of the most fabulous people in history: Henry Cyril Paget, the 5th Marquess of Anglesey.
To say that Henry Cyril Paget, 5th Marquess of Anglesey was a strange child is like saying Tim Burton is a little odd; he was a full-on eccentric. Even from a young age, people noticed his “delicate” appearance, and one of his only companions was his elderly Scottish nanny. Though many people blamed his “difference” on his foreign upbringing and his supreme only-childness, as Paget grew up it became clear there were other forces at play.
By the time he hit his early 20s, Paget’s odd proclivities took a turn for the extravagant and hedonistic. The Marquess-in-training had piles of money to burn, and he was obsessed with spending it. One of his most famous—and strangest—whims was to install special exhaust fumes in his car that sprayed out…rose-scented perfume. And he was just getting started.
Paget turned his estate's chapel into a gaudy theater and put on exquisite productions of plays like Shakespeare’s Henry V. However, he was so out of touch with reality that he didn’t really know what a working theatre was even like. Case in point? As one expert put it, “He didn't understand the concept of costume jewelry—he thought it all had to be real.” One of his Aladdin “costumes” is worth over a million dollars today. And behind the scenes, things were even weirder.
To give you some sense of just how ridiculous the Marquess’s life was, get this: He often left his nearly priceless theatrical costumes just lying around in the dressing room where anyone could take them. When someone did exactly that to his Aladdin costume, he just had a new one made. The Marquess was living the high life, but what goes up must come down...
By 1904, Henry Paget had only been the Marquess of Anglesey for a bare six years—but his downfall was brutal. His exorbitant spending and completely flawed decision-making only led one direction: Total ruin. He was millions of dollars of debt, and on June 11 of that year, he had to officially declare bankruptcy. The fallout was nothing short of tragic.
There are many mysteries still surrounding Paget’s private life and sexuality—and there’s a very disturbing reason for this. When he passed suddenly in 1905, the new Marquess, Henry's cousin Charles, took over the Anglesey estate. Charles made sure to burn all of his predecessor’s papers, diaries, and any other trace left of him in the house. It was a muted end for such a provocative man.
But while Paget's life ended in obscurity, his flamboyance made sure his name would be remembered forever. That, at least, he had in common with the legendary Ramses the Great—though that's probably about all they had in common.
Ramses II, Ramses the Great, is one of the most famous pharaohs in history—and that's not an accident. Ramses really wanted to make sure you'd know his name. It wasn't just enough for Ramses to make more statues than any pharaoh in history—no, he had to go way further. Ramses actually had statues of other pharaohs altered so that people would think they'd been made for him!
He fought countless wars, built countless monuments, and changed Egypt forever—but even gods have to die sometime.
After 96 years, a couple hundred wives, over a hundred children, and who knows how many statues, Ramses finally passed on. By the end, his body was a shell of its former glory. He suffered from tooth decay, painful arthritis that left him hunched over, and hardened arteries. Any of these things could have finally put an end to him, or it could simply have been old age. Either way, Ramses the Great, Ozymandias, finally left this world in 1214 BC.
But, if you know anything about Egyptian culture, the end was only the beginning.
Ramses lived so long that his end caused mass panic throughout all of Egypt. He was very likely the oldest man in all of Egypt at the time, which meant no one alive had ever seen another pharaoh. Many Egyptians believed that the world would end as soon as Ramses croaked—but of course, it didn't. Ramses the Great breathed his last, the world kept spinning, and his attendants set about the grim task of preparing his body for the afterlife.
Ramses desperately wanted to be remembered, so I'm sure he'd be pleased that his mummy ended up remarkably well preserved. By examining the remains, archaeologists have a very precise idea of what the man looked like in life. He had uncharacteristically fair skin and red hair. The god-king towered over many of his subjects at over six feet tall and boasted a noticeably hooked, aquiline nose.
Looking at Ramses's mummy today is rather disturbing. Despite the fact that he's been gone for millennia and should have turned to dust centuries ago, you can really see the man that he was when you look at his face. He was truly a larger-than-life figure—and no doubt one that France's extravagant Sun King looked up to.
Poison was the subject of the day in King Louis XIV's court after one of their own was executed for poisoning her family. Just like the Salem witch trials, people began accusing anyone and everyone of poison plots. First, the attention fell on Olympia Mancini, one of King Louis' many lovers. They accused her of poisoning the king’s old mistress, Louise de la Valliere, his sister-in-law, and her own husband, among others.
Many thought that she’d threatened to poison Louis XIV himself, saying “come back to me, or you will be sorry.” She avoided any trouble by fleeing France—but her story was just the beginning of the Affaire des Poisons.
Next, the witnesses who’d provided evidence against Olympia Mancini came for the king’s chief mistress, Madame de Montespan—and the accusations were truly disturbing. They claimed that de Montespan had come to them for help using black magic to keep the king’s love. There were tales about praying to the devil and a black mass performed by a priest over de Montespan’s naked body. Somehow, that wasn’t even the craziest story.
The witnesses also claimed that Madame de Montespan and a poison dealer had been sacrificing babies and putting their remains in Louis XIV’s food for over a decade. Yikes. On top of that, one of de Montespan’s maids—who’d also been sleeping with Louis XIV—was implicated. The courts declined to pursue these accusations against Madame de Montespan, and nothing was even proven, but the damage was done.
The Affair of the Poisons was the darkest cloud that hung over Louis XIV's legacy. For Sultan Ibrahim the Mad, it wouldn't even make the top 10.
Ibrahim grew up in the Kafes, literally, "cage." This special section of the Imperial harem was a glorified prison for heirs to the throne. Here, Ottoman princes were kept under constant surveillance and never allowed to leave. When Ibrahim was still in diapers, his older brother Murad tossed him in there and threw away the key.
The boy wouldn't taste freedom again for another 16 years. But his prison was even worse than it appeared...
Ibrahim wasn't alone in the Kafes. Murad threw his three half brothers in there with him—only one by one, they started getting picked off. Murad IV was a paranoid ruler, and he didn't trust his brothers not to rise up against him. During his 16-year reign, he had them executed one after the other until only little Ibrahim was left. The boy lived in constant fear that his head would be the next on the chopping block.
But the men never came from Ibrahim. Murad succumbed to illness, and Ibrahim stepped out of the Kafes as the new sultan of the Ottoman Empire. Buckle up, it's going to be a wild ride.
It was sometimes hard to predict what would catch Ibrahim's fancy. At one point, he took a great liking to the infant son of a slave girl. In fact, he actually preferred the hale and hearty boy to his own son Mehmed, whom he saw as weak and sickly. His son's mother, Turhan, was understandably furious that Ibrahim preferred this strange boy to her own son and confronted him about it.
Ibrahim's reaction was disturbing, even for him.
Ibrahim the Mad did not like it when people crossed him. When Turhan confronted him about their son, he flew into a wild rage. Reports claim he ripped his own infant son from her arms and threatened the boy with a knife. He cut his son bad enough to leave a permanent scar, then threw him into a pool. A servant immediately dove in and rescued the young prince, but the boy still barely survived.
No one was safe around Ibrahim, not even his own children. And even if he happened to like you, you were still in danger—something his favorite concubine learned the hard way.
Perhaps the most infamous story about Ibrahim the Mad began with his favorite mistress, the 330-pound Sivekar Sultan. She allegedly told him that one of his concubines had been "compromised by an outsider," but claimed to know no further details. I bet you can imagine how a paranoid lunatic like Ibrahim reacted. He raged for days, demanding information on this mysterious traitor.
However, no amount of interrogation uncovered a name—so Ibrahim ordered one of the most disturbing acts in history.
When no traitor came forward, Ibrahim instead allegedly ordered his entire harem to be tied up in weighted sacks and thrown in the Bosphorus. That's 280 women, all drowned like cats, all over an unsubstantiated claim of treachery. It was definitely a blessing to the world when Ibrahim was deposed, thrown in a cell, and strangled.
Ibrahim took "scandalous history" a little too far into "disturbing" territory for our liking. Let's take a breather with a good old-fashioned playboy prince: Prince George.
Prince George was the British royal family's most scandalous son. According to rumor, George's first known affair was with singer, dancer, actor—Jessie Matthews—whose romances always seemed to dominate the spotlight. I would never say she was a bad seed, but a judge certainly did. After reading some of Matthews’ personal letters, the judge declared that she was “odious"—certainly an unsuitable match for a Prince.
But George had plenty of other lovers to fall back on.
George's romantic attachments were not only with women—they were with men too. One man he had an affair with was Cecil Roberts, who claimed to have dated Sir Laurence Olivier. George also had a fling with the multi-talented and flamboyant character, Noël Coward. Together, these two rebels found plenty of time to dig themselves into delicious trouble.
As one story goes, officers took George and Coward into custody for allegedly working as prostitutes. But once the officers realized they’d captured a Prince, they quickly let them go. Back then, the press was far more reserved. Even though George's bisexuality was common knowledge, the media refused to print anything that might cast a shadow on their darling royals.
With both the authorities and the press in his corner, George had little to fear. It was a great time to be a playboy prince! I bet George would have gotten along with our next great hot mess: Alcibiades.
One of history’s most entertaining figures, Alcibiades is what would happen if you combined an incompetent James Bond villain with Kronk from The Emperor’s New Groove. He was incredibly good-looking and had countless affairs with high-profile men and women—when he wasn’t busy running Athens's armed forces into the ground. But his failures on the battlefield don't hold a candle to his escapades in the bedroom.
Lots of anti-Alcibiades speeches made grand claims about his outrageous amorous acts, so take that topic with a grain of salt. But whether they’re true or not, the rumors about Alcibiades’ love life are too good not to share. According to one hater, Alcibiades sailed off to Abydus one day. Was he collecting a tax? Making diplomatic moves? Pfft, no.
He went over to learn about the town’s lovemaking moves so that he could use them for himself.
One time, Alcibiades allegedly double-teamed a woman named Medontis with his friend Axiochus. When Medontis gave birth, no one knew who the dad was. When a kid has a 50% chance of being your daughter, the smart thing is probably just to pass on trying to get some. Not if you’re Alcibiades!
When Alcibiades’ maybe-daughter was about to hit the marriage market, he reportedly claimed he could tell she was Axiochus’ spawn and promptly slept with her. Just one problem there: When Axiochus did the same, he claimed she was definitely Alcibiades’ kid. Either way you slice it, someone definitely got way too close for comfort.
In one report, Alcibiades went out doing what he loved: getting it on. Apparently, Alcibiades romanced a young lady whose family was not into the match. We guess negotiations went poorly because instead of persuading their daughter to come back home, they straight-up offed Alcibiades. Now that's the kinda dirt we're looking for!
Let's keep the ball rolling with another of history's great disasters: Pope John XII—AKA, the Party Pope.
Even for his time, John XII was incredibly young when he became the Pope—unbelievably, he may have been as young as 17 years old! To make things even trickier, he also inherited his father’s position as a Prince of Rome, which put a lot of prestige, power, and wealth into the hands of the teenager. It’s absolutely no wonder, then, that it all quickly went to his head. This put him on a course for utter catastrophe.
What kinds of catastrophes happened during John’s tenure as the Pope? Well, the list of things he’s been accused of doing (true or not) is long, but highlights include: ordaining a 10-year-old as a bishop, blinding his confessor (and slaughtering him for good measure), and castrating a subdeacon (who he also killed).
This wouldn’t be the story of a scandalous Pope if it didn’t include accusations of his appetite in the bedroom, and believe me, the accusations get pretty crazy. He apparently fornicated with any female who breathed in his general direction, including (but not limited to): several widows, his father’s mistress, and even, disturbingly, his own niece.
But the craziest story about Pope John XII is actually the last story about him.
May 14, 964, marked the last day of John’s life on the earthly plane. How he passed is a bit of a mystery, but according to at least one account, John's life did not end at the hands of an assassin or through political intrigue. No, apparently John’s life ended mid-coitus, either because he suffered a stroke during all the, err, “excitement,” or because an angry husband bludgeoned him in a fit of rage. Either way, the way he left was certainly on-brand for John.
Ok sure, Pope John was a bit of a disaster, but come on; the guy just liked a good time! He wasn't that bad. Emperor Nero, on the other hand...He was definitely that bad.
Emperor Nero was probably one of the most deranged rulers in history—and his marriage record does little to dispute that. After offing one wife and marrying another, Nero got hitched again. This time, he wed a young boy, Sporus, who just so happened to look a lot like his ex, Poppaea. But Nero's obsession with the boy took a dark turn. Fueled by his own confusing feelings about his slain wife, Nero had Sporus castrated and thrown under a bridal veil, then married the boy.
This wasn't just some sick, one-time stunt, either.
I don't know what you expected: Once they had married, Nero brought Sporus along to public appearances as his wife, complete with the full regalia of a Roman Empress. Unfortunately, this was a bridge too far for the Romans. By this point, there wasn't a soul in Rome who didn't know that Nero was well and truly mad, and had to be stopped.
He was hunted down and murdered shortly after—but his end was quick and simple. Sporus met a far worse fate.
As so often is the case with evil rulers, the innocent people close to them end up meeting the darkest fates of all. Sporus, Nero's castrated spouse, married Otho, the second of the Four Emperors. After Otho's defeat, the next emperor, Vitellius, captured Sporus and came up with a disturbing plan for the unfortunate freedman. He wanted to execute Sporus at a gladiator show, in a fatal reenactment of a historical event.
Thankfully, Sporus took control of his own end, taking his own life before Vitellius had the opportunity to humiliate him in front of the entire city. Sporus learned the hard way that being near mad rulers can be harmful to your health. The same is definitely true with Charles VII of France—AKA, you guessed it, Charles the Mad.
Many Medieval kings were paranoid, but with Charles the Mad, it was different. He didn't see would-be assassins around every corner; he believed he would simply shatter at any moment. Literally. At one point, Charles came to believe that he was made of glass. He grew obsessed with protecting his delicate person, lest he might break. He even reportedly had his tailors sew iron rods into his clothing to reinforce his fragile frame.
This is the kind of guy we're dealing with here—but with Charles, it could always get worse.
In 1393, Charles's wife Isabeau planned a lavish masked ball to celebrate the wedding of one of her ladies-in-waiting. Charles's madness had already begun seeping into her life, and no doubt she wanted a party to take her mind off of it. Unfortunately, the event turned into an utter disaster.
Someone had the brilliant idea that Charles and five other lords should dress as "wild men," mythical figures who lived in the woods. To perfect the illusion, Charles and the other lords wore very...unique costumes. They clad themselves in swaths of linen cloth that they had soaked in resin and covered in thin wisps of hemp. The outfits made them appear shaggy and wild, just like the wild men from the stories.
But, any forest rangers reading might have come to a different conclusion. Linen, resin, fine fibers of hemp...Charles and the five other lords were essentially ready-made firestarters. And, believe it or not, Charles VI's palace did not feature nice, safe, LED lighting...
Louis showed up to the ball fashionably late and found six shaggy creatures dancing in the center of the room. The costumes were so thick with hemp that Louis couldn't even see who the men underneath were. With the assuredness that only royals possess, Louis grabbed a torch from the side of the room and approached the dancers to get a closer look.
I bet you can guess what happened next.
It only took seconds for Louis to realize he'd made a horrible mistake. By then, it was too late. The flames jumped from his torch to one of the dancers and quickly spread across the dancefloor. One moment, the party-goers were having the time of their lives, watching their king and five lords traipse about in their ridiculous costumes. The next, panic filled the hall, as the screams of burning men and terrified onlookers filled the air.
The Bal des Ardents, or the Ball of the Burning Men, was like a nightmare come to life. Four of the costumed lords perished in the flames. One managed to save himself—by jumping into a dishwasher tub. Several knights who sprang into action to try and put out the fires ended up severely burned. Charles VII survived the ordeal, much to the dismay of many of his subjects.
When your ruler is terrible, sometimes it's easier if they just...go away. That's definitely what the people of Russia thought with the miserable Tsar Peter III.
Tsar Peter III and Catherine the Great's relationship was doomed from the very beginning. Close in age, they met for the first time when they were both still children…and their first impressions couldn’t have gone worse. Catherine later wrote that she found Peter “detestable,” and Peter himself seemed to have no fondness for his future wife.
Ok, so they got off on the wrong foot, but they could figure it out, right? Nope.
Catherine couldn’t have been more ill-suited to the future emperor. For one, she was reportedly incredibly attractive, while Peter was nothing to write home about. Even worse, Catherine was intellectual, curious, and precocious—all things Peter was, well, not. Unless you count “throwing back drinks at age 10” as precocious.
Catherine and Peter were obviously unhappy—but they hid even darker secrets behind bedroom doors. Catherine infamously took up a series of lovers, but Peter was no monk in this department, either. They were so distracted, Catherine even claimed they didn’t consummate the marriage for years. Is it any wonder this marriage went up in flames?
In July 1762, Peter III and Catherine the Great were in something of a stalemate—then he made one fatal mistake (more on that later). The next days of Peter’s reign are some of the most infamous in Russian history. With the Russian court in her pocket, Catherine forced Peter to abdicate on July 9th, threw him behind bars, and then declared herself Empress of All Russia. Oh Peter, you are so dumped.
He'd been Tsar for all of six months. But don't worry, his time in captivity would be much shorter...
Catherine the Great’s coup of her own freaking husband shocked the entire world—but the situation was about to get a whole lot more scandalous. On July 17, 1762, Peter was found dead in his cell, the once-mighty emperor’s body now lifeless and cold. What had happened to the former ruler of Russia? Well then, there’s the rub.
Catherine went through all the motions and gave Peter III an official autopsy, and the results were surprising in more ways than one. The attending doctors deemed that Peter had perished from a massive stroke, even though he was a trim 34 years old at the time of his passing. The Russian courtiers had other ideas.
Peter’s autopsy actually contained one more finding—and it was mega embarrassing. In addition to the stroke, doctors claimed Peter had suffered from a fatal case of “hemorrhoidal colic,” i.e. his hemorrhoids hurt him so much he keeled over and bit the dust. Okay, was Catherine just messing with him at this point?
But Peter was the boring kind of scandalous—he just sucked. Where are the rest of the unhinged, debaucherous tyrants? Don't worry: King Farouk of Egypt is here.
From almost the moment he took the throne, King Farouk of Egypt threw himself into royal life with an abandon his youthful debauchery had only hinted at. The details are disturbing. While many of Egypt’s citizens starved, Farouk reportedly ate 600 oysters a week. Not content with this, he also bought a candy red Bentley, then demanded that no one else paint their own cars red. Oof.
Obviously, Farouk loved ostentatious displays of his charmed life—but he also loved shows of brutal force. He infamously kept an armed guard of 30 Albanians around him at all times, saying he would only trust an Albanian national with his life. These bodyguards were an unmistakable warning not to cross him…but people sure tried.
Farouk’s appreciation for the finer things in life was notorious throughout Egypt—but few knew his worst secret. Believe it or not, the supreme King of Egypt was also a blazing kleptomaniac, and he couldn’t help but take trinkets and mementos from any Egyptian aristocrat he stayed with. Yet his most infamous heist was also his most dangerous.
In August 1942, King Farouk met with the famously cantankerous, brilliant, and intimidating British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to help repair relations between their two countries. In the meeting, King Farouk pilfered the Prime Minister’s gold watch. Yes, really. Only, Farouk must not have been as good a thief as he thought he was, because he didn’t get off scot-free in the slightest.
The quick-witted Churchill knew almost immediately that he’d been swindled. Still, no one could have expected just how slippery Farouk would get. When the British statesman confronted Farouk about the sleight of hand, Farouk claimed he’d only done it as a practical joke, since he knew “the English had a sense of humor.”
Farouk eventually lost his throne and ended his life in exile. When he finally croaked, the most scandalous discovery amid all of Farouk’s possessions made news all around the world. The carousing King had a very, very, very extensive collection of adult “paraphernalia.” Like, it was one of the largest collections in the world. We’re talking photos, calendars, watches, glasses—if you could put a picture of a woman’s body on it, he had it. Why am I not surprised?
But Farouk was far from the only historical figure to hide dirty secrets behind bedroom doors. Edwina Mountbatten was another—and hers came out in the worst way.
Though she was Britain's most scandalous aristocrat in her youth, Edwina Mountbatten eventually grew into one of the country's most respected women. However, a secret FBI file on her and her husband contained the dirty secrets she tried so hard to hide. Dating from 1944, the file deems the Mountbattens “persons of extremely low morals.” See, although the affairs of their younger days shocked polite society, there were more dangerous proclivities that they kept locked very, very tight…
In the government files, there is evidence that both Edwina and Louis Mountbatten were bisexual—a boudoir taste that was considered utterly depraved for their time. Indeed, there are suggestions that the husband and wife would have threesomes together with their clandestine lovers. Sadly, though, there are much darker allegations.
The final blow of these documents are the harrowing—and infamous—accusations against Edwina’s husband. Although there’s no evidence she was involved, sources now claim that Louis Mountbatten sought out the company of young boys in some of his affairs. It’s a black mark on the scandalous Mountbattens that no amount of today’s progressive morals can erase.
So how do we make you forget about it? By bringing up Peter I of Portugal, who literally ripped mens' hearts out. That should be distracting enough.
On January 7, 1355, Peter I of Portugal left his wife Inês and their children behind to go on a hunting trip, likely needing a chance to relax and get away from the uproar at court. Upon hearing of Peter’s trip, Peter’s father, who hated Inês, brought three of his men—Pêro Coelho, Álvaro Gonçalves, and Diogo Lopes Pacheco—and paid Inês a “visit” at Santa Clara-a-Velha. Peter had no idea about the dark fate that awaited his lady love.
Peter’s father turned to his three men and uttered four chilling words. He told them, “Do whatever you want,” before leaving the room. As soon as the doors closed, the men decapitated Peter’s love on the spot, right in front of their children. With that terrible deed done, all Peter’s father could do was wait for Peter to return. There was no way that Peter wouldn’t forgive his dear old dad, right?
When Peter I of Portugal heard of the fate of his love, he went berserk with pain and fury. Peter wasn’t about to sit back and let this go unanswered, and forgiveness was absolutely not on the table. He fought against his father for the rest of his life—but what he did to those three men was much more...direct.
Peter immediately set out to find the three men who took his Inês from him—and his revenge was swift and brutal. One managed to escape to France, but he eventually found the other two hiding out in Castile. Peter dragged the two back to Spain, kicking and screaming, back to Portugal in 1361. Peter was about to carry out justice for Inês.
The way he went about it was so shocking that it would be forever immortalized in art, literature, and operas.
Peter I of Portugal wasn’t content with just lopping off the heads of the two men—that would be much too easy. Instead, Peter publicly ripped one man’s heart out through his back and ripped the other man’s heart out through the front. Some legends claim that Peter watched the two men getting their hearts ripped out while having dinner, while others claim he ripped their hearts out himself.
Now that's the kind of twisted revenge that our next fella, Cesare Borgia, could get behind.
Cesare Borgia was incredibly close with his sister Lucrezia. After all, many said that he’d taken out not one, but two of her paramours. But was there more to their relationship than that? After Lucrezia’s family forced an annulment out of her first husband, he accused her of having an incestuous relationship with his father—but that wasn’t the only disturbing allegation.
Many whispered that Cesare and Lucrezia were also sleeping together. There’s little historical evidence to prove this, but the rumors nevertheless have followed them for centuries. In the end, whether or not it’s true, Cesare paid a dire price for his debauched behavior later in life.
Later in his life, Cesare Borgia took to occasionally wearing a mask to cover his face—and there was a gruesome reason for his unusual choice of accessories. As mentioned earlier, Cesare Borgia contracted syphilis before his marriage. It wrecked his body, and then went into remission—at least at first. It came back with a vengeance and damaged Cesare’s once-esteemed good looks.
Many also suspected that the infection had also ravaged his mind, and caused his reckless behavior toward the end.
You know you’re one of history’s most legendary bad boys when the most jaw-dropping rumor about you isn’t even the one about an incestuous relationship with your sister. There’s one story that followed Cesare Borgia through most of his life, and it’s absolutely twisted, so buckle up. Remember when Cesare’s older brother Giovanni was murdered back in 1497?
Pope Alexander VI had ordered an investigation, only to call it off, right? Well, the reasons behind the abrupt stop were truly chilling.
Many people believed that their younger brother Gioffre had been the one to take Giovanni’s life. How come? Well, it was alleged that Giovanni had been having an affair with Gioffre’s wife, Sancha of Aragon—but that’s not all. Many claimed that Cesare was also sleeping with Sancha and had whacked his eldest brother in a jealous rage. There was never a conclusive answer to the mystery, but the majority of the blame seemed to get put on Cesare.
Alexei Petrovich wasn't quite so debaucherous as Cesare—but his grisly end was a scandal beyond any Borgia ever stirred up.
Tsarevich Alexei Petrovich was a terrible husband. As if his cold demeanor and excessive drinking weren’t bad enough, his wife Charlotte soon had to contend with another woman for his attention. Afrosinya was a Finnish serf—a present from Alexei’s tutor after a few years of marriage. It was love at first sight for the Tsarevich, who lost his heart to the plump teenager with full lips. The fact that she was technically his property didn't seem to dissuade him one bit.
For the rest of his life, Alexei was utterly obsessed with Afrosinya—right up until his disturbing end.
As if Charlotte's life wasn't enough of a nightmare, she still had to perform her "marital duties." Alexei became a father for the first time in 1714, around the same time Afrosinya came into his life. His daughter, Natalia, got the same name as his aunt and grandmother, and she was a welcome distraction for Charlotte. Sadly, though, her trials were far from over.
Alexei fled Russia after a falling out with his father, Tsar Peter the Great. To get him to return, his father threatened Afrosinya. With his beloved mistress at risk, Alexei agreed to go back to Russia and talk to his father. His only condition was that Peter allow him to marry Afrosinya and live peacefully with her, away from the court and the line of succession.
That is NOT what happened.
Alexei quickly discovered that Peter had absolutely no plans to honor the commitment he’d made to him. Peter’s men took him in custody and it was all downhill from there. A couple of days later, Alexei had to beg his captors to call Afrosinya so they could at least be together and so he could see his baby.
Tragically, even this wouldn’t work out the way he wanted it to.
In a strange twist, Afrosinya betrayed the very man who had done everything he could for her. She turned witness against Alexei and handed over the letters he wrote to various people, asking them to save him from his father’s wrath. This betrayal hit Alexei in the worst way. He no longer had anything to live for.
Peter’s men inflicted every gruesome punishment they could think of upon Alexei in order to extract a confession of treachery out of him. Even then, they only managed to get him to say the names of his friends and supporters. Their methods were twisted—but they were even crueler than they seemed. You see, the inquisitors didn't limit their torment to just Alexei.
Peter's men had Alexei's servants' tongues cut out among other gruesome tortures, just for serving the "treacherous" tsarevich.
Despite the fact that no one found any real evidence against him, the committee to decide Alexei's fate ruled against him, sentencing him to execution. It should have finally been the end of Alexei's torment—but fate had one final cruel twist in store. Peter balked at the execution, seeing as Alexei hadn't technically admitted to a conspiracy against him.
So the committee, composed of 126 individuals, agreed to continue "examining" Alexei through the same painful means until he finally cracked. That didn't take long—he'd had already suffered enough. He passed two days after the sentencing, in June 1718, while enduring a whipping. Now that's a historical mess that will be hard to top—but we can sure try with Wanrong, the last Empress of China.
In 1940, Empress Wanrong received utterly shocking news. After years of her childless and icy marriage to Emperor Puyi, she was pregnant…and the baby was most certainly not Puyi’s. Instead, one of her steamy affairs had landed her with a bun in the oven, and now the Empress had to face the music. What ensued was a tragedy worthy of the opera.
Illegitimate child or not, Wanrong fought for her baby tooth and nail, confessing all to the Emperor and then demanding that he either outright acknowledge the child as his own, or else let it live outside of the Imperial system in peace. Two totally viable options, and Wanrong likely thought she had a chance to make her baby happy. Fate, however, had other plans in store.
Instead of helping out his wife in any way, Emperor Puyi committed one of the most horrific betrayals in Chinese history. The moment the baby, a little daughter, was born, the Emperor ignored Wanrong’s wishes entirely, and instead had his aides snatch the girl from her mother’s breast. They took the baby away and unceremoniously snuffed the life out of the innocent newborn. Yes, really. And he wasn’t finished.
According to one version of events, Puyi never even told Wanrong about the true fate of her baby. Right after her childbirth, he whisked her away to the hospital without her daughter, and when she came back, he lied and said that he was having an outside nanny look after the newborn. Thing is, this option is so much better than what really might have happened…
Other sources claim that instead of keeping the truth from Wanrong, Puyi mercilessly let it all hang out. The Empress’s response was gut-wrenching. Riddled with grief over the loss of her innocent child, some people say Wanrong gave in completely to opium, existing in a numbed state for the rest of her life.
My mom never told me how her best friend died. Years later, I was using her phone when I made an utterly chilling discovery.
Madame de Pompadour was the alluring chief mistress of King Louis XV, but few people know her dark history—or the chilling secret shared by her and Louis.
I tried to get my ex-wife served with divorce papers. I knew that she was going to take it badly, but I had no idea about the insane lengths she would go to just to get revenge and mess with my life.
Catherine of Aragon is now infamous as King Henry VIII’s rejected queen—but few people know her even darker history.
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