For all of us who haven’t made history, it’s time to count our blessings. Because the thing about people who make history is: They tend to end up meeting early—and gruesome—deaths. So if you hope that your name ends up printed in a history book one day, maybe read these facts about the darkest ends in history before you try and make that happen.
1. They Didn’t Dare Show Their Faces
Many English kings met grisly ends, but only one of them was actually executed by his own people: Charles I. After over two decades of his catastrophic rule, Parliament had finally had enough. They locked up their king and forced him to stand trial—though only a mere 68 of them dared to show their faces on that infamous day. Charles refused to answer any charge against him, as he stated no court could challenge his divine right as king.
He stood firm—and took his conviction right to the grave. Not even God could save him now.
2. Charles I Didn’t Want To Look Scared
The morning of Charles’s execution was cold and windy. To prepare to meet his fate, Charles asked his attendants to prepare two shirts for him to wear. Why? He knew there would be a chill, and he didn’t want to be shivering as he stepped up on the scaffold. He didn’t want the crowd of onlookers to assume that he was scared to die.
3. He Gave A Pointless Speech
In his final moments, Charles gave an impassioned speech about how his execution was unlawful and how he had only ever ruled with the best interests of England in mind. However, the speech was in vain. In order to prevent anyone from interfering, Oliver Cromwell had ordered many ranks of guards to stand between the scaffold and the crowds beyond.
Charles was so far away that none of the bloodthirsty onlookers heard a word he said. They were there for the show—and they got one.
4. The Crowd Was In Shock
If nothing else, Charles met his fate with courage. After saying a short prayer, he willingly placed his head upon the block and signaled to the headsman that he was ready. The ax took off his royal head with one precise swing. According to one observer, when the ax landed, a moan “as I never heard before and desire I may never hear again” came from the crowd of onlookers.
5. The Headsman Kept His Mouth Shut
The headsman who swung the ax that felled the king wore a mask that day, and he never dared to speak a single word. Traditionally, when someone was beheaded for treason, the executioner would hold their head up to the crowd and cry, “Behold the head of a traitor!” While Charles’s headsman did indeed hold the king’s head aloft, he stayed completely silent. He didn’t want anyone to know that he had been the one who had beheaded the king.
6. They Put The Head Back On
After the headsman had finished his work, embalmers morbidly sewed Charles’ head back onto his body, prepared it for burial, then finally entombed it in a lead coffin. Oliver Cromwell took over as England’s Lord Protector, and for the next 11 years, England had no king—until legendary downer Cromwell croaked and the people essentially begged Charles’ son, Charles II, to come back.
I guess the people of England didn’t know what they had until it was gone—and hey, it could have been a lot worse. They could have had Ivan the Terrible as king. Just ask Ivan’s son if you want to know what that was like…
7. Ivan Was Truly Terrible
On November 15, 1581, Ivan the Terrible was in a particularly violent mood. When he saw his pregnant daughter-in-law walking around in clothing that he didn’t approve of, he absolutely snapped. He viciously attacked her, and her screams brought his son, the Tsarevich Ivan Ivanovich, running to see what was happening. The son managed to pull the father off of his wife—but the violence was just getting started.
8. His Son Was Finally Fed Up
Horrifically, after Ivan attacked his daughter-in-law, she suffered a miscarriage. In their struggle, the younger Ivan screamed at his father, “You sent my first wife to a convent for no reason, you did the same with my second, and now you strike the third, causing the death of the son she holds in her womb!” The relationship between father and son had finally been irreparably damaged, but don’t worry—it wouldn’t last much longer anyway.
9. He Tried To Turn The Tables
As the younger Ivan screamed at his father, the elder Ivan changed the subject to his son’s recent disobedience. The Tsar accused his son of rebellion and treason. It was completely ludicrous, as per usual, but this time, the Tsarevich stood up for himself. He had grown into a man, and he know when to hold his ground. Unfortunately, though, Ivan the Terrible was beyond reason by now.
The Tsarevich continued pushing his father—until he pushed him too far.
10. My Son, My Son, What Have I Done…
Mad with rage, Ivan finally snapped. He grabbed his royal scepter and smashed it into his son’s temple. One of his advisors, who was witnessing the fight, ran to stop him, but Ivan struck him as well. The Tsarevich fell to the ground, blood pouring from his head. The sight of his own son and heir lying bleeding on the ground finally snapped Ivan back to reality.
He threw himself on top of his boy, sobbing, kissing his face, and crying, “I’ve killed my son! I’ve killed my son!”
11. He Slew His Own Child
Allegedly, Ivan Ivanovich regained consciousness just long enough to look up at his father and say, “I die as a devoted son and most humble servant.” He quickly fell back into a coma, where he stayed for the next several days. Distraught, the Tsar desperately prayed for a miracle, but nothing was coming. After four days, Ivan Ivanovich gave his last breath.
12. His Legacy Ended With His Son
Ivan the Terrible’s legacy is absolutely horrific, but killing his own son is the darkest stain of all. To make things worse, the younger Ivan had been a strong, effective, and determined leader. After him, the Tsar’s younger son Feodor was left as the heir to the throne, and he was a mere shadow of his older brother. In fact, though he couldn’t have possibly realized it at the time, killing his own son ensured that everything Ivan the Terrible had built would fall to pieces within just a few years of his demise.
Ivan wasn’t the only monarch to have everything they worked for in life fall apart. Mary, Queen of Scots was a lot more innocent than Ivan was—and her end was far more gruesome.
13. Mary, Queen Of Scots Sent A Secret Message
Mary, Queen of Scots was born a monarch, and she died as one, too. Though at one point it seemed as though she might rule both Scotland and England, fate had other plans in mind. She ended up spending decades in captivity before an English court found her guilty of plotting to assassinate Queen Elizabeth I. On February 8, 1587, Mary stepped up to the headsman’s block—unaware that this execution was about to go horribly wrong.
14. She Forgave Her Killer
Before they swung the ax, Mary’s executioners begged her for forgiveness. Mary responded in kind, telling them, “I forgive you with all my heart, for now, I hope, you shall make an end of all my troubles.” She then knelt down on the block, positioned her head, and outstretched her arms, saying, “Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.” Sadly, her next moments were full of indignity.
15. Her End Was Gruesome
The end of Mary, Queen of Scots was not a clean or simple affair. The executioner managed to miss her neck on the first strike, hitting her in the back of the head instead. On the second blow, he hit her neck but did not completely sever it, and had to saw messily saw through the rest as the crowd looked on. And that wasn’t all.
16. She Suffered a Final Embarrassment
When the headsman finally finished his exhausting work, he held Mary’s head up high and said “God Save the Queen” for the throng of people to witness. As he did, everyone quickly found out that Mary had been wearing an auburn wig; her head dropped out and rolled on the ground, revealing the queen’s natural short, grey hair. Then the gruesome show really started.
17. Her Dog Was Loyal
There’s loyalty and then there’s loyalty. See: Mary’s little Maltese terrier, who reportedly hid beneath his queen’s skirts during her execution. It wasn’t until Mary was completely gone that the dog ran away from her body. Only, he didn’t go far. The poor dog reportedly lay down in a puddle of Mary’s blood and pined for her long after she was gone.
18. Karma Got Her Third Husband
Mary met an absolutely miserable end, but her husband the Earl of Bothwell’s demise was so, so much worse. After Mary’s forces surrendered, the Scots pushed Bothwell into exile—it was there he met his brutal fate. First, he landed himself in a Danish prison…and then the real karma started.
19. Her Last Lover Met A Chilling Fate
For over a decade, Bothwell lived as a captive in utterly “appalling conditions.” Reportedly, the guards kept him chained to a post in the middle of his cell, where the onetime king consort of Scotland went slowly mad. In April 1578, 11 years after he attempted to gain power by marrying Mary, Bothwell came to his end in squalor, all but forgotten.
Now that is a horrible way to go—but at least Bothwell had a whole cell. Korea’s mad Prince Sade got a lot less than that.
20. Yeongjo Was A Good Emperor With An Evil Son
Korea’s Emperor Yeongjo doesn’t seem like the kind of ruler who would make this list. His people loved him and he ruled for more than half a century. But, the thing about Yeongjo is, the apple fell really far from the tree. His son Prince Sado always had a dark side, but when both his stepmother and grandmother passed in the same month, it totally sent him over the edge.
Sado went from problem child to full-blown psychopath.
21. We Need To Talk About Sado
In his “grief,” Sado beat his eunuchs, beheaded palace staff, and attacked several ladies-in-waiting, for no better reason than he felt like it. In one instance, he walked into his rooms holding the recently severed head of a eunuch whom he’d just mutilated. He then forced anyone who was around, including his own wife, to look at it. Something had to be done about him, and it fell to his father to do it.
22. He Had To Be Stopped
Eventually, Sado’s behavior got way too out of control for his mother, Consort Yeong. Sado’s wife had spoken to her about his killings, but begged her not to say anything for fear of what he’d do if he found out she’d told her. Yeong stayed silent for a while, but when a rumor started circulating that Sado had entered the palace with the intention of slaying his own father, enough was enough.
She allegedly went to Yeongjo that same day and told him that Sado was out of control and had to be executed. Yeongjo agreed, but there was just one problem…
23. Sado’s End Was Like A Nightmare
When it came to dealing with Sado, Yeongjo had a bit of a conundrum. On the one hand, he knew that executing Sado was pretty much his only option, but on the other hand, it was against the law to spoil a royal body. Plus, his innocent wife and son would face the same fate if he was executed as a criminal. Yeongjo came up with a solution—but it was incredibly dark. He forced Sado, his own son, to climb into a rice chest, then left him there to die.
It took seven days for him to finally starve, but technically, he wasn’t executed. Now that’s a messed-up way to go. I’d much rather go out like the Duchess of Berry, who at least got to have a little fun before the fat lady sang.
24. The Duchess Of Berry Was A True Hot Mess
For the first years of French King Louis XV’s reign, the Duchess of Berry was the talk of Paris—for all the wrong reasons. This debaucherous royal’s ceaseless partying and maneating made her tabloid fodder, but it wasn’t long before the rumors took a dark turn. People began whispering that she had an affair with her own father. The gossip only got worse when Voltaire wrote his play Oedipus about the rumored incestuous relationship.
The fact that the Duchess kept getting pregnant and miscarrying didn’t help those rumors—but this lifestyle caught up with her eventually.
25. She Couldn’t Put The Bottle Down
Pregnant or not, nothing could stop the Duchess Of Berry from partying. As long as she could stand (or waddle), then she figured that she could still go out. Well into her last pregnancy, Joufflotte continued attending parties and downing more than her fair share of libations. All of a sudden, her multiple stillbirths are beginning to make sense. It was only a matter of time before she had to pay the price.
26. She Was In Tremendous Pain
After her final miscarriage, the Duchess of Berry, still just 23 years old, finally ran out of gas. Her grandmother visited her in her weakened state. She wrote, “[…]they determined to bleed her [Joufflotte] in the feet. They had some difficulty in persuading her to submit to it, because the pain in her feet was so great that she uttered the most piercing screams if the bedclothes only rubbed against them.”
Mercifully, her suffering was near an end.
27. She Had One Last Surprise
Louise Élisabeth, the Duchess of Berry, passed at the tender age of 23, likely from complications arising from her sixth (documented) pregnancy. 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.
Few in Paris mourned for the Duchess, except maybe her young nephew, King Louis XV. Little did he know, he’d end up facing a similar fate when his time came.
28. Louis XV Caught A Gruesome Sickness
Louis XV became king when he was just five years old, and over the next 60 years, he managed to make a horrible mess of France. The people had lost faith in the monarchy and new political crises just kept piling up. It was going to take a miracle for Louis to right the ship—but unfortunately, he ran out of time. In 1774, his doctors started to notice red spots appearing all over his royal skin. At first, they assumed he had smallpox, which actually would have been a good thing.
They believed the king had already gotten the disease, which would have meant he wasn’t in much danger. But, as the days began to pass, they soon realized this illness was much more serious than it had first appeared.
29. Things Went From Bad To Worse
The boils covering Louis’ body got worse and worse, no matter what his doctors did. Finally, the dark truth became clear: King Louis XV wasn’t going to get better. Despite his decades of flaunting the Church, he summoned his confessor to give him the final rights. On May 9, 1774, the Duke de Croy visited the ailing king. He took one look at the once-dashing playboy king—and he was utterly horrified by what he saw.
30. His Final Moments Were Horrifying
In the Duke de Croy’s own words, the gruesome boils on King Louis XV’s face made it look like he wore “a mask of bronze.” Turns out, that’s not something you can come back from. Mere hours after the Duke’s visit, Louis succumbed to his illness, but not before he took the time to personally draft his own will. In that grim document, the infallible King Louis XV made a stunning confession: “If I made errors, it was not from a lack of will, but from a lack of talents…”
Looks like even Louis thought he was a terrible king! Hey, the first step is admitting it. But that wouldn’t help his grandson and successor, Louis XVI. Thanks to the elder Louis’ missteps, the younger would face an even crueler end.
31. Louis XVI Lost Everything
Not to editorialize, but Louis XV was a worse king than Louis XVI. That didn’t stop the people of the French Revolution from storming Louis XVI’s palace, taking him captive, stripping him of his titles, and sentencing “Citizen Louis Capet” to the guillotine for treason against France. When Louis’ sentence came down, it fell to his councilor, Malesherbes, to break the news. The once-king’s response was heartbreaking.
32. He Put On A Brave Face
When Louis learned he was doomed, he kept on a smile, told Malesherbes that he’d see him again in a happier life, and said he’d regret leaving a friend like him behind. The last thing he told his friend was to control his tears, because all of France would be looking to him in the days that followed. Louis was a total failure of a king, but when his end came, he met it with his head held high. Well, until his head ended up in the mud…
33. He Met His End As A King
From the moment he became king, Louis XVI wanted one thing: For his people to love him. Even when they were moments from removing his head, this never wavered for a second. During his short speech, Louis pardoned all of those who had voted against him. He declared his innocence and prayed that his blood would not fall back on France. He appeared ready to say more, but a general cut him off by ordering a drum roll.
Even in his final moments, Louis XVI still just couldn’t assert himself. He kneeled willingly beneath the guillotine, and the blade relieved him of his head in a swift stroke. The French Monarchy was over. But for Louis’ family, the nightmare was only beginning. There was more blood to come.
34. His Wife Mourned Him
After Louis’ execution, his wife, the infamous Marie Antoinette, became the “Widow Capet.” Though she and Louis had had a strained marriage, the shared nightmare of their last few years had finally brought them close together. With Louis gone, she plunged into mourning. She held out hope that somehow, someway, her last remaining son, Louis-Charles, might claim the throne and continue the monarchy.
She didn’t realize that her enemies would use her own son against her in the cruelest way possible.
35. Marie Couldn’t Escape
The weeks passed, and Marie Antoinette’s hopes of escape grew dimmer. One the Revolutionaries guillotined Louis XVI, resistance crumbled. Some Royalists did attempt to break her out of prison, but all of these plots failed. Marie Antoinette would face trial—but after the brutal treatment she had received thus far, any escape would seem like a vacation.
36. The Guards Tormented Her
Oh how far a queen can fall. The people have France had never loved Marie Antoinette, and their hatred only grew more passionate over the years. By the time of the Revolution, she became maybe the most hated person in the entire country—even more so than Louis. Guards neglected her and her children and constantly threw sordid insults their way. Some even blew smoke in the queen’s face as they laughed at her misfortune.
Marie Antoinette faced the guards’ derision with as much dignity as she could muster. However, what they did to her son broke her for good.
37. They Took Her Son Away
Louis XVI’s legacy wasn’t completely doomed yet. His son, now Louis XVII, still offered some hope that royalists could restore the monarchy. The revolutionaries, of course, had other ideas. They ripped the boy from his mother’s grasp and tried to brainwash him into a young revolutionary. What better way to destroy the monarchy for good than to have the rightful heir to the throne support the Revolution?
Marie Antoinette spent her final days in captivity trying desperately to catch a glimpse of her son, to no avail. It broke her heart—but when she finally did get to see him again, the words that came out of his mouth absolutely leveled her.
38. Her Son Make A Shocking Claim
Marie Antoinette finally faced trial nearly a year after her husband’s execution. The court made several accusations against her, but the most shocking claim came last. Her own son, Louis XVII, accused her of incest. Radicals had coached the poor boy to say it, of course, but that didn’t matter much to the tribunal who already hated her guts.
In the end, it didn’t really matter anyway. Nothing was going to save her now.
39. She Didn’t See It Coming
A few days after the trial began, the tribunal declared Marie Antoinette guilty of the main charges against her. Like her husband before her, Marie Antoinette and her council expected this. They didn’t expect what came next, though. At the very worst, she expected life imprisonment. At least that gave her time to hope the winds changed and she might end up free once again.
She was to meet the guillotine like her husband before her. The sentence came down like a hammer blow.
40. Her Last Words Were Heartbreaking
Still likely in shock, Marie Antionette followed in her husband’s footsteps and faced the guillotine around noon on October 16, 1793. Unlike Louis, she had no stirring speech professing her innocence. Her final words were a polite apology to the executioner after she’d accidentally stepped on his foot. Now that just left Louis’ son, poor Louis XVII, as the last hope of the monarchy.
But his fate was the most disturbing of them all.
41. Louis’ Son Endured Chilling Treatment
Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette both lost their heads, but that was an easier way to go than what their son got. The National Assembly named a cobbler, Antoine Simons, as the boy’s guardian. Simons, a radical revolutionary, didn’t care too much for the boy’s well-being, and it’s not like the Assembly feared for his safety either. That’s how Louis XVII ended up locked in a dark room like a caged animal, surrounded by his own filth, for months on end.
Honestly, it’s a miracle he survived as long as he did.
42. His Final Years Were Brutal
Louis XVII passed, likely from tuberculosis, in March 1795, after several years as a neglected captive. The doctor who performed the autopsy gave a chilling report on the boy king’s body. Scars covered his skin from the gross mistreatment he suffered in his final years. He was just 10 years old. With him, Louis XVI’s final heir was gone, his legacy dead forever.
Now that’s what I call a dark end. I’d much rather go out like Pope John XII, or as we at Factinate like to call him: The Party Pope.
43. This Pope Committed Unbelievable Sins
We call Pope John XII the “Party Pope” for a reason. He spent his papacy drinking, sleeping around, and creating scandals. So, what kinds of catastrophes happened under John’s tenure watch? 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 (then beheading him for good measure), and castrating a subdeacon (who he also beheaded).
Think this is bad? This is just the very tip of the iceberg.
44. He Was Insatiable
You just can’t talk about the Party Pope without including accusations of his appetite in the bedroom. It’s against the law. Pope John XII 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.
This is the kind of pope we’re dealing with here—so you know he didn’t just pass peacefully in his sleep. He had to go out with more pizazz than that.
45. His End Was Befitting
May 14, 964, marked the last day of Pope John XII’s life on the earthly plane. How he passed is a bit of a mystery, but according to at least two accounts, 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. It sure beats a beheading, or boils covering your face—and it definitely beats the gruesome way William the Conqueror went out.
46. William The Conqueror Tried A Disgusting Diet
It seems William the Conqueror took the phrase “grow fat off of your spoils” a bit literally. Though a prime physical specimen in his youth, William grew unbelievably obese in his later years. He allegedly tried to lose the weight by eschewing all solid food and drinking nothing but wine and spirits for a time. I’m not a doctor, but that doesn’t sound like a good idea to me.
The cleanse didn’t help, and William’s health grew worse and worse—then an unbelievably painful incident sealed his fate.
47. He Met A Painful End
Let’s set the scene: William’s wife had passed, his son was rebelling against him, and he weighed so much he could barely mount his horse. Most men would have thrown in the towel, but William the Conqueror wasn’t going down without a fight. He continued to lead his men into battle until the very end. In 1087, when fighting against his own son, William’s mount reared up in battle.
The bucking horse threw the corpulent king against the pommel of his saddle so hard it ruptured his intestines. He spent weeks in agony before finally succumbing to his injuries—but the most gruesome part was yet to come.
48. His Funeral Was Truly Grotesque
William the Conqueror’s funeral saw one of the disgusting moments in history. William’s body was so large, it couldn’t actually fit into the stone tomb his attendants had built for him. The priests tried their best to simply force it in—and that was a terrible mistake. They pushed on William’s abdomen so hard that it burst, spewing putrid liquid everywhere. The resulting odor was so bad that mourners fled the church in horror.
What a way to go. But at least, when they finally got William in his tomb, he stayed there. The same can’t be said for Inês de Castro, the Portuguese queen at the center of one of history’s most messed-up love stories.
49. Peter I Of Portugal Lost His Wife In The Worst Way
Prince Peter of Portugal had it all. He was in line to become king, and he had three beautiful children with his beloved wife, Inês de Castro. However, not everyone was so smitten with Inês. Peter’s father, the king, despised her—and he decided to do something about it. When Peter left to go on a hunting trip, his father ordered three of his men to pay Inês a “visit” at Santa Clara-a-Velha.
Peter had no idea about the chilling fate that awaited his lady love as soon as he left.
50. He Hesitated For A Moment
Inês love stood no chance against Peter’s father and the three men. As soon as they arrived at her door, they surrounded her and her children. Legends state that Inês made one last, desperate plea to Peter’s father to spare her life; after all, she was the mother to Peter’s children. For a moment, Peter’s father paused, torn between his duties as a statesman and his feelings as a grandfather—but those feelings quickly passed. He came for blood, and he was going to get it.
51. She Drew Her Last Breath
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 her 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? …Right?
52. He Dragged Them Back
When Peter discovered what his father’s men had done to his wife, he immediately set out to find the killers. One managed to escape to France, but he eventually found two of them hiding in Castile. Peter dragged the two back to Portugal, kicking and screaming, with one thought in his head: He was going to avenge his wife, and he was going to make it brutal.
The way he went about it was so shocking that it went down as one of the most twisted revenges in history.
53. He Got His Hands Dirty
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.
Either way, Peter got his revenge—except he wasn’t quite done yet.
54. He Forced Them To Kneel
If you thought the story about the way Peter took out Inês’s killers was gruesome, it was nothing compared to what he did with her body. The story goes that Peter, in an effort to have Inês officially recognized as a queen, exhumed her body from her grave, sat her on the throne, dressed her with a diadem and royal robes, and forced all his vassals to approach and kiss her decaying hand.
So ended one of the strangest and most gruesome sagas in European history—but there’s plenty more where that came from. The Mayerling Affair might sound like the name of some ultra-boring HBO miniseries about lawyers, but it was actually a scandal so dark it threw an entire nation into chaos.
55. Crown Prince Rudolf Was Spoiled Rotten
Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria’s birth was a long-awaited and tense occasion. His mother, the feisty Empress Elisabeth of Austria, had only had girls before him, and his father Emperor Franz Joseph was anxious for a boy who could become the heir. Ecstatic to discover he now had a son, Franz Joseph celebrated by giving the newborn a 101-gun salute in Vienna.
If only they’d known the nightmare that lay ahead as Rudolf grew into a dark and strange young man.
56. He Had A Teenaged Mistress
For reasons that will become very clear, Rudolf’s mistress Baroness Mary Vetsera has gone down in infamy—but when they met, she may have been just an impressionable 15-year-old girl. Accounts vary, but some say the pair snuck around with each other anywhere from three months to three years, all right in front of Rudolf’s wife Stephanie.
His antics must have infuriated her—but trust me: Stephanie was lucky her husband found a mistress. The further you got from Rudolf, the better.
57. His Mistress Was Bewitching
Rudolf was smitten with Mary from the start, and contemporary accounts make it clear why. Even as a teenager, Vetsera was an absolute man magnet. One lady of the court described “her deep black eyes, her cameo-like profile, her throat of a goddess, and her arresting sensual grace.” But for all Mary’s beauty, her affair with Rudolf was utterly doomed.
58. His Marriage Was In Danger
Though Rudolf was over a decade older than the teenaged Vetsera, she had something to gain from the relationship. Vetsera’s mother was extremely controlling and wanted her daughter to marry a rich man. Many say that Mary accordingly set her sights on the crown prince, naively believing she could break his marriage apart and become Empress one day. That is not what happened.
59. He Fell Into A Deep Depression
By early 1889, Rudolf started suffering from his worst depressive spell yet. It probably had something to do with the fact that he gave either gonorrhea or syphilis to his wife, making her sterile and preventing her from birthing any more precious heirs. Driven to the brink of sanity for the last time, Rudolf made a desperate decision that led to one of the most infamous acts of the century. You’re going to want to sit down for this one.
60. He Went On An Ill-Fated Trip
In late January 1889, Rudolf and his mistress Mary went to the Mayerling hunting lodge for a day of shooting. But when Rudolf’s valet went to rouse him the next morning, he found the door locked and the inner chamber eerily silent. Knowing something was wrong, the man had to break down the door to open it. What he saw inside made his blood run cold.
61. His Tragic End Stunned The World
Within the room, Rudolf was found on the bed, slumped over and unresponsive. Next to him was the cold body of his teenaged mistress Mary. They were both dead, and had been for some time. In that moment, now called “The Mayerling Incident,” the world changed—and the mysteries of Rudolf’s final moments were right at the center…
62. His Advisors Covered Up The Truth
The reaction to Rudolf’s tragic end was swift, brutal, and full of misinformation. After viewing the scene, his valet believed Vetsera had vengefully poisoned her lover and then offed herself (it was actually worse than that). Faced with this scandal, the government went to great lengths to hide the “truth.” They claimed Rudolf expired from an “aneurism of the heart”—but what they did to poor Mary was even more shameless.
63. His Lover Met A Tragic End
Unwilling to admit that Rudolf had been with his teenage mistress at the time of his notorious end, the Emperor and Empress instead spirited Vetsera’s body away from the Mayerling lodge in the middle of the night. They then buried her without even performing an autopsy, and refused to let her own mother attend the funeral.
It was gutless and cruel, yet honestly, we’ve seen royals do a lot worse. Maybe it was karma, then, that ensured Empress Elizabeth, or “Sisi,” got to enjoy a brutal demise of her own.
64. Empress Elisabeth Was In Fatal Danger
Just before the turn of the 20th century, Elisabeth’s informality doomed her to a painful end. In 1898, she was traveling anonymously through Geneva, Switzerland. Despite hearing reports of assassination plans, she decided to catch a ship to a nearby city without any entourage. After all, this was right before WWI, and political tensions were at an all-time high.
Because of her decision to forgo any pomp or circumstance, Elisabeth only had one lady-in-waiting with her when the Grim Reaper came knocking.
65. Her End Was Quick And Dirty
The anarchist Luigi Lucheni heard Elisabeth was in town, and quickly devised a chilling plan. Lucheni found her walking on a promenade toward her ship, almost entirely alone. He went up, peered under her parasol, and struck her in the heart with a crude four-inch needle file. Within moments, Sisi collapsed and was weaving in and out of consciousness.
66. Her Last Words Were Tragic
Elisabeth’s last moments on Earth were full of confusion. After her collapse, attendants tore open her bodice laces but could only see a minuscule incision above her left breast. Then, right before her end, Elisabeth regained consciousness for one last time, though reduced to fear and confusion in the chaos. Her rescuers asked her if she was in pain, and she replied “No.” Instead, her final words broke their hearts. The royal meekly asked as she ran out of breath, “What happened?”
Sisi was no more, but at least she spent her final days free as a bird. The next unfortunate soul on our list, King Henry VI, can’t say the same.
67. Henry VI Suffered Terrible Mental Illness
There’s a reason people call him the Mad King Henry VI. He frequently fell into comatose states that left him completely unresponsive for months at a time—not a good trait for a king whose subjects were growing restless. Modern historians believe that Henry’s madness might have been the result of schizophrenia, but whatever the cause, it cost him—and all of England—dearly.
68. His Enemies Didn’t Waste Time
While Henry was incapacitated, his enemies gathered their strength. Though his wife, the ruthless Margaret of Anjou, did everything in her power to keep him on the throne, she failed in the end. After years of brutal fighting, Edward IV captured Henry, stole his crown, and locked him in the Tower of London. There, the Mad King sat and awaited his fate, blissfully unaware of what Edward had planned for him.
69. His Enemies Claimed It Was A Broken Heart
Henry VI’s final stint in the Tower of London didn’t last long—the official record said the deposed king passed of “melancholy” about a month after he arrived. That would make sense, based on the king’s vulnerable disposition and the fact that his son had just been slain. However, almost as soon as Henry passed, dark rumors spread through the English court.
70. Or Was It Something Darker?
Most people assumed that “a broken heart” wasn’t the likeliest story. More like a broken skull. However, no one ever saw the Mad King’s body, so nobody could say for sure whether Edward was behind his demise. But years later, archaeologists uncovered Henry’s remains, and they discovered the grisly truth…
71. There Was Blood In His Hair
Researchers exhumed Henry’s remains in 1910, and what they found didn’t look too “melancholic.” His skull was badly damaged, and his remaining tufts of blond hair were covered with blood. Sure seems like Edward had a hand in Henry’s final end. Apparently, the Yorks weren’t afraid to get their hands dirty—though Edward’s brother, Richard III, crossed a line Edward never did.
72. Richard Got Rid Of His Rivals
When Edward IV shuffled off his mortal coil, Richard became Lord Protector and tracked down his nephew, now the 13-year-old King Edward V, to escort the boy to London—for his protection of course. But it was only a matter of days before things started going sideways. Richard then had Edward’s maternal uncle, the Earl of Rivers, and several of his associates executed for “treason.”
Okay, not exactly the smoothest start, but Richard was just looking out for his nephew, right? Not exactly…
73. He Locked His Nephew Away
Upon arrival in London, Richard convinced his nephew, King Edward V, that he was in grave danger. He moved Edward to the Tower of London, just to be safe. It made sense—after all, there was no more secure place in the entire city. But a fortress can easily become a prison. Young Edward didn’t realize it, but as he stepped through the gates of the Tower, he was stepping into his own tomb.
74. His Sister-In-Law Was Too Trusting
To this point, even though the situation was getting tense, Richard hadn’t actually made his move yet. Edward was still set for his coronation on June 22, 1483, and to the unsuspecting onlooker, nothing was amiss. Maybe it was this false sense of security that led Edward IV’s widow, Queen Elizabeth to make a fatal mistake. She handed her other son, Richard, over to the Archbishop of Canterbury, so that he could attend his older brother’s coronation.
Neither he nor Elizabeth yet realized that that coronation was never going to happen. Richard III sent the boy to join his brother in the Tower of London—where they eventually shared the same dark fate.
75. He Claimed The Throne For Himself
The day of the coronation came—and with it came an absolute bombshell. Standing outside Old St. Paul’s Cathedral, a priest announced that Edward IV’s marriage had been illegitimate. That meant his children, including the two boys now known as the Princes in the Tower, were illegitimate as well, and Richard III was the rightful heir to the throne.
The people of London ate up the almost-certainly bogus story and demanded that Richard take up the crown. Richard, of course, humbly accepted this burden in light of these shocking new revelations…yeah right.
76. He Became King Against All Odds
Though no one can say for sure who masterminded the whole twisted scheme, Richard III certainly had the most to gain from it. He accepted the people’s will and became King Richard III on July 6, 1483. He’d started off as the 11th child of the Duke of York. He was a POW at seven, a general at 17, and now, at 30, he became one of the unlikeliest kings in the history of England.
But what of his two nephews, still under watch at the Tower of London?
77. His Nephews’ Fates Are Unknown
The Princes in the Tower shouldn’t have posed a threat to the new King Richard III. After all, the Church had declared them illegitimate; they didn’t have a claim to the throne any longer. But Richard was too smart to take that for granted. You and I can easily see that his rise to the throne was suspicious, and you can bet people in England could see it too. Someone might have decided to put young Edward V back on the throne.
No one knows exactly what happened to them, but one thing is certain: After Richard became king, no one ever saw the Princes in the Tower alive again.
78. Workers Found A Clue
So, what really happened to the Princes in the Tower? Even to this day, no one knows their exact fate—though centuries later, some evidence arose. While renovating the Tower, workers discovered a wooden box under a staircase. They pried it open and made a chilling discovery: Two small skeletons lay inside.
Though no one has conclusively proven those bones belonged to the Princes, that doesn’t change the fact that no one ever saw the Princes in the Tower alive again. Richard’s crown had their blood all over it—but pretty soon, it would have his blood on it too.
79. Richard’s Enemy Had A Trick Or Two
Seeing as Richard III gained the throne under…questionable circumstances at best, people came for him immediately. He fought off all rivals for two years, but then some upstart punk named Henry Tudor brought an army to England’s shores and faced down Richard at the Battle of Bosworth Field. Hoping to end the fight quickly, the battle-hardened Richard saw Henry Tudor’s standard and charged straight at it.
One way or another, the Wars of the Roses were going to end right there on the field.
80. He Got So Close
Richard’s initial charge threw Henry’s men into disarray, but they eventually regained their composure. They surrounded their Lord and managed to hold their ground. Richard fought to within just a few sword lengths of Henry before the momentum slowly started to shift. Suddenly, Henry’s men started pushing Richard backward. Step by step, Richard found himself further and further from his prey.
He’d been mere moments from victory, but now, Richard III was on his heels.
81. He Fell From His Horse
Henry’s men dug in and managed to push Richard back several hundred yards to the edge of a swampy marsh. Richard’s horse lost its footing in the wet ground and tumbled, throwing the king to the ground. With Henry’s men surrounding him, Richard’s defeat seemed inevitable. A sensible man would have waved the white flag. But Richard III had gone through the wringer to become King of England. Surrender was not an option.
82. He Gave A Legendary Battlecry
Richard’s men began to sense their doom. Many had lost their lives, and others were giving up—but Richard III was going to fight to the very last. He gathered his men about him, then gave one of the most legendary battle cries in history: “God forbid that I retreat one step. I will either win the battle as a king, or die as one.” And that he did.
83. His Men Started To Fall
One by one, Henry’s forces cut down Richard’s bodyguards. His bannerman, Sir Percival Thirwall, couldn’t stand by the end, but he managed to keep holding Richard’s banner aloft until one of Tudor’s men finally put an end to him. Sir James Harrington, one of Richard’s greatest knights, lost his life in the initial charge. Soon after, one of Richard’s closest advisors and friends, Richard Ratcliffe, was slain as well.
In the end, Richard III found himself fighting alone.
84. The Blow That Felled Him Was Brutal
According to some sources, Richard III spent his final moments with a single word on his lips: “Treason!” True or not, no matter what he cried in the heat of battle, it couldn’t save him. Henry Tudor’s men surrounded the king before one soldier delivered the final blow—a halberd strike to the head that was apparently so violent, it drove Richard’s helmet into his skull.
With that, the brutal life of Richard III finally came to an end. He’d only ruled as king for two years.
85. His Forces Disintegrated
Word of Richard’s demise quickly spread across the battlefield, and his men crumbled. The Earl of Northumberland took his 4,000 men and fled, putting an end to any hopes of a rally. According to reports, Henry’s men pulled Richard’s circlet off of his head and crowned their lord King Henry VII right there on the battlefield, by right of conquest.
The reign of Richard III was officially over—and yet his enemies had one final humiliation in store for him.
86. His Enemies Humiliated Him
Henry Tudor had his men strip Richard III’s body naked and strapped to the back of a horse. They dragged him back to the nearby city of Leicester, where they displayed his humiliated corpse for everyone to see. The king was dead, long live the king. Two days later, Henry buried the remains in a plain tomb at the Church of the Greyfriars. Hardly a fitting resting place for a king, but as far as we’re concerned, it was more than Richard III deserved.
I mean, the guy probably offed his own nephews! The only thing worse than that would be, oh I don’t know, capturing your own son and putting him to the question for weeks until his heart finally gave out. And with that, Russia’s Peter the Great said, “Hold my beer.”
87. Peter The Great Was The World’s Worst Father
Peter the Great definitely did some stuff you might call “great.” He completely revolutionized Russia, turning it into a major European power and securing its strength for centuries to come. But while he might have been a pretty great Tsar, he was a horrible father. After years of estrangement from his son Alexei, who fled Russia, Peter invited Alexei to return to Russia and hash things out.
Alexei obliged—totally unaware he was walking into a trap.
88. Alexei Had To “Confess”
Peter’s men threw Alexei in irons the moment he returned to the motherland. Next, on his father’s orders, they put him to the question, inflicting all kinds of torment until he “confessed” to treason. They even got the poor guy to name a few of his supporters, and those men came under fire as well. It turned into a complete bloodletting, with Peter paranoid about schemes to depose him.
And even after all that, he refused to allow his men to let up on Alexei—in fact, the worst was yet to come.
89. He And His People Suffered
Peter’s men inflicted every gruesome punishment they could think of upon Alexei—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 the crime of serving the “treacherous” tsarevich.
Then, just as it seemed like Peter might show mercy, he doubled down even further.
90. He Got Sentenced
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. Peter had his men continue “examining” Alexei through the same painful means until he finally cracked, but that moment never came.
Alexei had already suffered enough. He passed two days after the sentencing, in June 1718, while enduring a whipping. And even worse, his heart gave out knowing he’d been betrayed by the woman he loved most.
91. His Mistress Turned On Him
To the very end, Alexei remained utterly committed to the love of his life: His mistress/slave, Afrosinya. However, it’s likely she never loved him back; that would at least explain why she betrayed him by offering up his secret letters in an attempt to save her own skin. I guess Alexei wasn’t that good to her after all—though as far as lovers go, he still beats our old pal Henry VIII.
92. Catherine Howard Cheated On Henry VIII
When Catherine Howard became Henry VIII’s fifth wife, she likely thought she was made in the shade. She was so wrong. She quickly found herself miserable with the king and embarked upon an affair with his favorite courtier, Thomas Culpeper. How do you think that went? When Henry heard about the tryst, he did not take it lying down. His deranged response is impossible to forget.
He reportedly flew into a rage and called for a sword so he could behead his wife himself right then and there. Obviously, he eventually had the matter outsourced.
93. Her Last Words Are Tragic
Folklore says that Catherine’s last words as she went to the chopping block were “I die a Queen, but I would rather have died the wife of Culpeper.” This is a myth—but her real final words were even more heartbreaking. Howard was repentant, crying that she deserved “to die a thousand deaths” for betraying a king who always treated her so “graciously.”
A lot less boss and a lot more devastating. Too bad Catherine didn’t learn from the grim tale of Anne Boleyn, who came before her…
94. Anne Boleyn Married The Wrong Guy
For any young women looking for marriage advice, I’ve got one piece of wisdom: DON’T marry King Henry VIII. And don’t take it from me, take it from poor Anne Boleyn. Henry created his own Church so he could divorce his wife and marry Anne—but when she couldn’t give him the son he wanted, he turned on her in the worst way.
He decided he wanted to get rid of Anne and marry Jane Seymour—but Anne wouldn’t get a nice cushy divorce like Henry’s first wife. He had a much more disturbing plan in mind.
95. He Locked Her Up
Instead of seeking an annulment from Boleyn, King Henry had her thrown into the infamous Tower of London to await her fate. Upon her detainment, Anne apparently collapsed from the shock. After all, what offense had she even committed? It was only over the coming days that Henry’s ruinous accusations came out.
King Henry claimed he had been seduced and enchanted into a marriage with Anne, and that she was a witch just like the common people had been saying all along. But then he made his most disturbing allegation.
96. He Made Twisted Accustations
In addition to the accusations of witchcraft, Henry also accused Anne Boleyn of adultery, incest, and even treason. He rounded up four men, her brother George included, and charged them with sleeping with his queen. Boleyn was also charged with plotting to assassinate King Henry VIII so she would be free to marry one of her lovers.
Henry could have done whatever he wanted with Anne, but he made sure to drag her name through the mud before dooming her to her grim fate.
97. She Made One Last Effort
After four days in the tower, Boleyn bundled up a desperate package and gave it to her guard to deliver to the king. It was a letter; her very last to Henry. In it, she plead for mercy, writing that “never prince had wife more loyal in all duty, and in all true affection, than you have ever found in Anne Boleyn.” She also made one final heartbreaking request.
She begged him to think of their daughter Elizabeth, and then she humbly asked that Henry, if she was found guilty, spare the lives of her brother and the other men accused of being her lovers. How do you think that went?
98. He Didn’t Listen
Tragically, Boleyn’s plea fell on deaf ears. On May 17, 1536, her brother George and the other accused men went to the block. Then, two days later, Anne Boleyn walked to her own execution. Though Medieval records make it difficult to determine, the Queen of England was only as old as 35, and was perhaps as young as 28 when the ax fell.
Her head lay in the dirt as a grim warning to any woman who might wear Henry VIII’s ring. If you’re going to pick an overweight, womanizing king, don’t choose Henry. At LEAST make it his ancestor, Edward VII, AKA “Dirty Bertie.”
99. Queen Victoria Hated Her Son
Edward VII was Queen Victoria’s son, and while she was no Peter the Great, she was still a miserable mother. She blamed Edward for her husband’s early demise, and she hated him for it. She refused to give him any royal duties, so Edward found…other ways to keep himself occupied. They don’t call him the Playboy King for nothing.
100. Edward VII Owned A “Love Chair”
Edward VII commissioned one of the most infamous pieces of furniture in history: The Siège D’Amour, or love chair. Made from only the finest wood and upholstery, Edward’s love seat looks…bizarre. It doesn’t look like it would be particularly comfortable to sit in, but that’s because it wasn’t designed for sitting.
Yes, this is exactly what you’re thinking: Edward VII had a sex chair. That’s the kinda dude we’re dealing with here.
101. His Mistress Didn’t Take Losing Him Well
Even as Edward married, had children, gained a couple hundred pounds, and became King of England, he never stopped taking mistresses, right until the bitter end. As he lay dying, many of his lovers wanted to say goodbye—but most of them did it with a lot more tact than Alice Keppel. When she heard that Edward was not long for this world, she dropped everything and ran to Buckingham Palace. When she arrived, she demanded entry, allegedly waving a letter from the king himself.
The guards relented and allowed Keppel inside—though I’m sure they would soon regret that decision.
102. His Wife Had Had Enough
Queen Alexandra handled her husband’s end with dignity and grace. Keppel? Not so much. Completely unable to control herself, Keppel made such a scene that even the infinitely patient Alexandra had had enough. The Queen muttered, “Get that woman away,” and had her guards escort Keppel out. Hey, what can we say, Edward had a certain effect on the ladies!
103. His Funeral Brought The Royals Together
While Queen Victoria hated him, the rest of Europe adored Edward VII, and his funeral was the greatest gathering of royals in history—but one face was notably absent: his nephew, Tsar Nicholas II. Nicholas had his own problems to deal with at the time, and let’s just say, he didn’t do a good job of it…
104. Nicholas Was The Last—And Maybe The Worst—Tsar
Nicholas II was the final Tsar before the Bolshevik Revolution ended the Russian monarchy for good. Nicholas was utterly inept, entitled, and totally unequipped to save his crown when the people rose up against him. After the Red Army captured him and his family, they spent months moving from place to place, holding out hope that Royalists would liberate them.
But on July 16, 1918, that hope shattered for good.
105. Their End Finally Came
Nicholas and his family ended up in the city of Yekaterinburg as the Czechoslovak Legion neared the gates. Rather than risk the royal family falling into someone else’s hands, authorities in Moscow sent the order to eliminate them. The guards wasted no time. At 2:00 am on July 17, guards dragged the Romanovs out of their beds. They claimed the house was no longer safe and told the bleary-eyed family to head down to the basement.
None of them would leave that basement alive.
106. Their Loyal Servants Went With Them
Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra, and their five children all entered into that basement in Yekaterinburg. Young Alexei, now 13 but still weak as a kitten, couldn’t make it down the stairs himself, so his father had to carry him. Joining them were the family doctor and three of their servants. Despite everything Nicholas had done, he still had the loyalty of these four poor souls. They paid for it with their lives.
107. His Wife Made A Final Demand
Even in her final moments, after all they’d been through, Empress Alexandra was still bossing people around. Horrified that the guards expected them to wait in an empty basement, she demanded that they bring in chairs. The guards left and brought back two simple chairs—one for her and one for Alexei. As soon as they sat down, the executioners started to file into the room. Sitting wasn’t going to make much of a difference…
108. He Made One Final Plea
The guards told the Romanovs they were to be executed. Even to his last, Nicholas just couldn’t see what was right in front of him. He gasped and cried out, “What? What? Did you say?” He then turned to his family, and the lead guard gave the order to fire. In his final moment, Nicholas shouted, “You know not what you do!” but it didn’t stop the bloodshed. The guards opened fire on the family.
Then, when the firing stopped and the dust cleared, they realized the execution had gone horribly wrong.
109. The Execution Wasn’t Clean
Nicholas, his wife, and his son lay unmoving, but their four daughters were still alive. Each of them wore several pounds worth of diamonds sewn into their clothing, spirited out of the palace long ago. The stones had somewhat protected the girls from the bullets—but it only delayed the inevitable. The guards set upon them with bayonets, before finally shooting them each in the head.
Now, the only thing left was to get rid of the bodies.
110. He Ended Up At The Bottom Of A Mine Shaft
Tsar Nicholas II was, by every possible metric, an absolutely terrible ruler. Still, it’s hard to say anyone deserves the fate he got. After the execution, guards drove the Romanovs’ remains out to a nearby mineshaft. They took everything of value off of the bodies, then burned them, soaked them in acid, and tossed them into the abyss. It was a truly disturbing end for the House of Romanov—but in a way, they got lucky.
Nicholas and his close family were already gone when Red Guards tossed them in that mineshaft. The remaining Romanovs met the same fate—but they were alive. If they didn’t die on impact, they slowly starved, surrounded by the bodies of their loved ones.