Power often ran unchecked within the royal class throughout a majority of history. Tyrants could order armies to storm countries hundreds of miles away, on a whim. Their servants were treated terribly, while catering to their every need. With access to resources, monarchs could even force their subjects to build monuments!
But though history is filled with tomes worth of cruel rulers (cruelers), there are definitely some who rise above the rest in terms of being awful. “Hundreds of years later, these quirks, terrible deeds, and controversial decisions — many of which were likely the result of undiagnosed mental illnesses — make it easy to see why locals thought their leaders were insane.
1. Empress Anna of Russia: The original ice queen. She created an ice palace for a prince and her maid to be wed. For some reason, she made all wedding party members dress up in clown clothing and sleep in the palace, too.
2. George III: Another ruler tormented by mental illness. Historians believe he may have suffered from bipolar disorder. Called the “Mad King Who Lost America,” George III is known for losing the American Revolutionary War.
The Samuel Goldwyn Company
3. Tsar Peter the Great of Russia: He was an amateur dentist who practiced on nobles in his court. When he dissected a dead body, he was mad at his audience being disgusted and ordered them to eat some of the flesh. Peter also tortured his son to death.
4. Princess Alexandra Amalie of Bavaria: Another unique ruler. She thought she had swallowed an entire glass piano and was greatly concerned with cleanliness. The princess only wore white.
5. The Zhengde Emperor of China: He loved to order his military around for fun. One of his officials was a eunuch who ran the state’s daily affairs. The two had a major falling-out, which ending with the emperor ordering the eunuch’s death. He was cut into tiny pieces — over three days.
Hemdale Film Corporation
6. Charles VI of France: He had a wild life. He gained power at 21, and then at 32 suffered a mental breakdown. During his psychosis, he brutally killed four of his own knights and tried to take out his own brother. He also believed he was made of glass.
7. Ibrahim I, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire: He drowned his harem in the late 1600s. Afterward, he was strangled as a punishment for creating too many new taxes to support his insane lifestyle. He did all of this after taking power at 25.
8. Vlad the Impaler: Historians believe this warlord impaled between 40,000 and 100,000 of his enemies during his life. His love of impaling things inspired Bram Stoker to write Dracula years later.
9. Maria Eleonora of Brandenburg: After giving birth to a daughter, Christina, she didn’t want, she attempted to kill her child quite a few times. She dropped her and pushed the girl down the stairs. She forced Christina to sleep by her dead dad’s heart. Christina somehow survived all of this.
10. Henry VI of England: Charles VI’s grandson, he suffered the same mental illness that ran in their family. In 1453, Henry VI went into an unresponsive state and was unable to rule England. This led to the War of the Roses.
11. Ivan the Terrible: His name partially earned by flying into a rage and accidentally murdering his son, he also commanded the Oprichnik, which was a special force to stalk and torture high-ranking Russian nobles.
Ivan the Terrible, Pt 1
12. King Nebuchadnezzar: Though he had a cool name, he wasn’t a very cool person. He spent seven years falling into insanity and then was cast out from his kingdom for not being religious enough. This is written in the Old Testament in the book of David.
13. Justin II of Italy: To distract this tyrant, his craftsworkers created a throne on wheels for him to amuse himself. Justin II kept eating his own castle dwellers and needed an outlet for his boredom (or whatever quality he had that made him EAT people).
14. Queen Maria of Portugal: When her husband and uncle (huncle) died, quickly followed by her son and daughter, Maria couldn’t handle the immense load of grief. She hallucinated that her father’s dead body was being tortured in hell by demons.
15. Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II: This ruler liked to make all of his major political decisions based on his findings in the occult “sciences.” Eventually his family forced him to cede power to his Matthias, his younger brother.
16. Christian VII of Denmark: George III’s cousin, he was also afflicted with mental illness. He was easily manipulated by those around him who sought power and was turned into the state’s figurehead.
17. Erik XIV of Sweden: Careless whisperers beware — Erik XIV wasn’t having it. Anyone who laughed, smiled, or whispered in front of Erik was executed. Eventually, Erik himself was poisoned, making us wonder why many of the other rulers in this list didn’t have similar fates.
18. Emperor Qianfei of China: He took a nobleman’s eyes and preserved them in some honey. He called these his “pickled ghost eyes.” Eventually the emperor was murdered by some of his servants and no one particularly cared.
19. Mustafa I of Turkey: He spent 10 years inside of a room, guarded by his abhorrent brother. When his brother died, he was released, but was quickly re-imprisoned by his nephew. Four years later, his nephew was assassinated and Mustafa was released — though his years in captivity robbed him of his sanity.
20. Carlota of Belgium: After she married Maximillian, the archduke of Austria, he became Mexico’s president in 1864. The two adopted liberal policies, and they rapidly lost favor with their conservative base. Maximillian was executed, and Carlota fell into a deep depression.
“Madness” wasn’t only for kings. 19th-century aristocrat Henry Cyril Paget had a lot of money…and many strange habits. He built a home theater for himself and hired actors to perform with him without an audience. He even had the biggest collection of walking sticks in the world!
2. Caligula was a cruel Roman king…and one of the weirdest. He loved his horse, Incitatus, so much that he vied to get him the highest position the Roman Senate had to offer, that of Consul. Maybe horses are man’s best friend, and not dogs!
Caligula/Penthouse Film International
3. Caligula was brutal, but Nero was downright insane. Rumor has it that he started the Great Fire of Rome that destroyed half the city, all so he could build himself a lavish palace and/or prove his leadership qualities. Makes total sense!
4. Lyndon B. Johnson wasn’t only the President who oversaw the height of the Vietnam War. As those close to him knew, he was also the President who often took meetings while he was on the toilet! He truly dedicated every moment to the American people.
Yoichi Okamoto/National Archives/Lyndon Baines Johnson Library
5. Rasputin, one of history’s strangest and most confounding people, was reportedly poisoned, shot, and stabbed numerous times before he finally died by drowning. Maybe it was his rumored magical abilities that kept him alive?
6. Pope Stephen VI was the weirdest of the weird: He hated his predecessor, Pope Formosus, so much that he exhumed Formosus’ corpse, dressed him in his Papal uniform, and put him on trial to answer for his “crimes.” Stephen wasn’t very popular after that!
7. Pope Gregory IX had a pretty weird belief: That cats were directly linked to devil worship. Because of this, he ordered that all cats be exterminated…which some experts think led to the bubonic plague. He was definitely a dog person!
8. Charles Dickens clearly wasn’t your average literary genius. He would allegedly speak in a language of his own creation, and run up to random strangers on the street and scream gibberish into their faces. Definitely an odd bloke!
9. A lot of historical figures really loved their horses! Omaha Indian Chief Blackbird is rumored to have loved his horse so much that he put a peculiar request in his will: that he be buried sitting on top of his beloved steed.
10. Francis Egerton, the 8th Earl of Bridgewater, threw the most unusual dinner parties: For starters, you had to have four legs and tail in order to attend. Yes, the Earl hosted dinner parties for dogs, and they were all dressed in the finest fashions…including shoes!
11. Philosophers are known for overthinking, but it’s safe to say that Diogenes the Cynic didn’t have that problem. This influential figure in Greek philosophy routinely ate off the floor, defecated wherever he was standing, and barked at passersby!
12. Hetty Green was one of the richest women in the 19th century, and it’s partly because of her budgeting skills. She refused to pay for an office of her own, preferring instead to conduct her business on the floor of the bank.
Green’s cheap ways finally caught up to her when, after her son broke his leg, she went to a free clinic instead of providing him with the best care money could buy. Years later, his leg got infected and had to be amputated!
13. Sawney Bean was one of Scotland’s most infamous figures. Legend has it that he and his 14 children lived in a cave for 25 years. Over time, the family had no choice but to procreate, and their family grew from 16 to 48.
14. Alexander Graham Bell was all about communication…just not for everybody. He believed that those born with disabilities such as deafness should, horrifically, be sterilized. He even tried to outlaw sign language, and was in several eugenics organizations.
15. As one of the world’s most celebrated writers, it’s no surprise that William Shakespeare felt the need to protect himself from crooks…before and after his death. He composed his own epitaph, which cursed any grave robbers who tried to steal his remains.
16. Lord Byron was a poet and a prankster: He wasn’t allowed to bring his dog to school, so instead he brought…a bear! He insisted that his pet bear didn’t break any school rules, but he probably wasn’t the most popular kid on campus after that.
17. William Buckland was a zoologist famous for the unique menagerie of animals that lived in his house. Unfortunately, the animals didn’t live for long. Buckland claimed that he ate every single one, from a panther to a crocodile to a mole.
Wellcome Library, London/CC by 4.0
18. Tarrare, an 18th-century French peasant, had such a voracious appetite that he could eat 15-course meals without getting full. He eventually left home because his family couldn’t keep up with his appetite, and he turned his “skill” into an entertainment career.
In order to impress audiences, Tarrare went from eating drumsticks to boulders to stray cats. It came to a head during one of his hospital stays, where he was accused of cannibalism! He unsurprisingly died at the young age of 27.
20. A multi-Guinness World Record holder, Iseo Machii is arguably the deftest swordsman on Earth. He owes his katana skills to an innate perceptive ability that allows him to anticipate and react to movement three times faster than the average human.
21. Years before her husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, Joy Milne noticed he gave off a particularly “musky” scent. She soon learned she had a sensitivity to certain compounds contained in the skin of Parkinson’s patients, allowing her to literally smell the disease.
22. Dubbed “The Iceman,” Wim Hof possesses the uncanny ability to withstand prolonged exposure to freezing temperatures. While he attributes this ability to a meditation technique that allows him suppress his immune responses, his genetic makeup indicates a near superhuman tolerance to the cold.
23. Also known as “Monsieur Mangetout,” or “Mr. Eat-All,” Michel Lotito was renown for his ability to eat materials like metal, glass, and rubber. Compelled by the eating disorder Pica, Lotito also possessed a thick stomach lining and highly acidic digestive juices that made his “diet” possible.
24. Thanks to the development of four types of cone cells in her retinas, Concetta Antico has the ability to view nearly a million colors, most of which are invisible to the average person. Unsurprisingly, Antico works as an artist.
25. That’s right — Ozzy Osbourne, the “Prince of Darkness,” is superhuman! According to a gene sequence taken from the rock legend back in 2010, Ozzy possesses several never-before-seen gene variants that allow his body to withstand fatally high doses of drugs and alcohol.
26. A former circus performer, Eskil Rønningsbakken has ridiculous balance, though his abilities don’t stop there. The Norwegian native also has significantly lower adrenaline levels than the average human, allowing him to stay calm, cool, and collected while performing death-defying stunts.
Sons of Norway
27. When Antonio Alfonseca made his MLB debut in 1997, fans and players alike couldn’t help but notice the tiny sixth digit on each of the relief pitcher’s hands. Unfortunately, those extra fingers didn’t give him the ability to throw any crazy new pitches.
28. Whether it was scraping her knee or giving birth, Jo Cameron has never felt pain. She’s one of just two people in the world with a unique genetic mutation that blocks her pain receptors, preventing her from feeling discomfort and even anxiety.
29. After losing his retinas to cancer as a child, Ben Underwood became a real-life superhero by teaching himself to echo-locate. Using a series of clicks, Underwood could navigate a room, play basketball, and even ride a bike — all without seeing a thing.
30. One of the greatest cross-country skiers in Finnish history, Eero Mäntyranta was later found to have a competitive edge. A 1993 DNA study revealed a mutation that allowed Mäntyranta to store more oxygen in his blood, a trait especially useful for endurance sports.
31. The long, full lashes that made Elizabeth Taylor’s eyes pop on screen were actually the result of a mutation. The legendary actress had distichia, which gave her a second set of eyelashes that made the first appear longer and fuller.
32. If you’re a horror movie fan, chances are you’ve seen Javier Botet’s work. A sufferer of Marfan syndrome, Botet boasts long, lanky limbs and incredible flexibility, allowing him to play a variety of horrifying, human-like monsters.
33. The former competitive eating superstar of the world, Takeru Kobeyashi owes his incredible stomach to his genes. Kobeyashi was born with a stomach that sits far lower in his body than that of an average human, allowing it to expand upward as he eats.
Yahoo Finance / CTV News
34. At age three, Liam Hoekstra possessed the strength of a seven-year-old and 40 percent more muscle mass than children his age. That’s because Hoekstra was born lacking the muscle-regulating protein myostatin, allowing his body to grow at a Hulk-like rate.
35. An ultra-marathon legend, Dean Karnazes has completed several unbelievable endurance feats, including running 350 miles without stopping to rest or sleep. He owes this superhuman skill to his body’s ability to stay beneath its lactate threshold, thus preventing his muscles from fatiguing.
36. Best remembered for her breakout role in Taxi, Marilu Henner had no problem memorizing her lines — or anything at all. That’s because the actress has hyperthymesia, a condition that allows her to remember minor details of nearly every day of her life.
37. An autistic savant, Daniel Tammet possesses a genius intellect and superhuman memory, with the ability to recall pi to the 22,514th digit. This is primarily due to synaesthesia, a condition that allows Tammet to assign physical sensations such as touch to numbers and memories.
38. Also known as “The Rubberboy,” Daniel Browning Smith’s hypermobile Ehlers–Danlos syndrome allows him to bend and contort his body into all manner of unnatural shapes. He currently owns seven Guinness World Records for his flexibility, making him the most flexible person in history.
39. After grabbing a power line as a child, Raj Mohan Nair discovered that he could withstand electric shocks. Not only that, but his body is capable of absorbing electricity 30 times the amount that could kill an average person.