Crazy kings (and queens) are the stuff of great fiction, but the reality has often been even worse. And of course, due to the absolutist nature of their rule, it is their people and their realm that have often suffered the most.
But who makes the list of the top ten crazy kings?
1) Qin Shi Huang Di (260 BC — 210 BC)
China has always been racially, culturally, and linguistically diverse but in 210 BC it was unified under Qin Shi Huang Di, resulting in its current national identity.
Huang Di wanted immortality, so he drank mercury to achieve it — which explains the rest. He once denuded a hill and had it painted red (something done to criminals) for daring to rain during a picnic. He had all books burned and the calendar modified so that history started with him. Then he enclosed his kingdom within the Great Wall, costing thousands their lives. Finally, his will ordered that his wives and those who worked on his tomb be buried alive with him.
2) Qian Fei (449 — 465 )
Qian Fei was imprisoned by his own uncle as a child, but was freed when his father rebelled and set him free. He thanked his father by repealing all of his laws and ordering all depictions of him to have a large nose (an insult, in reference to the Mongols to the north and the Europeans to the west). Then he ordered most of his family put to death, saving only those female relatives who agreed to sleep with him. He was finally killed by his servants.
3) Justinian II (520 — 578)
Justinian II ruled a Byzantine empire that was already in decline. To buy itself peace, his predecessor bought off hostile neighbours. When Justinian ascended to the throne, he refused to pay off the Persians, which plunged his eastern border into chaos. The stress seemed to have gotten to him because he claimed to hear voices and tried to escape them by hiding under his bed. He also began biting his servants. He later began having bouts of sanity and handed power over to a general before things got worse.
4) Charles VI (1380 — 1422)
When Charles became king of France, it was united, wealthy, and powerful. Then he snapped, killed four of his knights, and nearly killed his brother, Louis of Orleans. He got worse, as did the country. Charles believed he was made of glass; that if he moved suddenly or too quickly, he could break.
He forgot he had a wife and children and would attack his servants. Sometimes, he’d run to exhaustion. His final act was to sign over the French throne to Henry V, an English noble, ignoring his own children.
5) Ivan the Terrible (1530 — 1584)
As a child, Ivan was abused by his own uncles, so he took out his frustration on animals. At 16, he fed his uncles to hunting dogs. Once, he heard that the town of Novgorod was rebellious, so he ordered all the inhabitants slaughtered. Then he kicked his daughter-in-law in the stomach, causing her to miscarry, after which he beat his only son to death, essentially ending his line. When he died, the Romanovs took over.
6) Sultan Mustafa (1592 — 1639)
When Mustafa was 11, his brother, Ahmed, locked him up and took the throne. When Ahmed died 14 years later, Mustafa was freed. He had a habit of appointing government positions to strangers, such as beggars, so they locked him up again.
Ahmed’s son, Osman, took over, but he was killed by his own guard, so Mustafa was released again. When he wasn’t subject to giggling fits, he again appointed strangers to government positions, ruining the country, so he was locked up again.
7) Sultan Ibrahim (1615 — 1648)
Ibrahim succeeded Mustafa, but he had also been deprived of human contact throughout his childhood and made up for it with 280 concubines. His 281st concubine was chosen because her organ matched a cow’s vagina he admired and made a cast of. At her request, the others were drowned, though one survived.
He then began sacking the mosques of their jewels, then started war with Venice. Unfortunately, he could no longer pay his army, so they killed him, but the war continued after his death.
8) Peter the Great (1672 — 1725)
Though admired for bringing Russia into the Enlightenment and for his love of education, he was quite brutal. To learn dentistry, he practiced on his nobles. When attendants protested a human dissection, he ordered them to take a bite of it. He even tortured to death his oldest son, Alexei, for his alleged involvement in a coup.
9) Peter III (1728 — 1762)
As a child, Peter was frequently beaten and starved by his teachers for being a slow student. When he married Catherine (the Great), he played with toy soldiers for nine years to avoid sleeping with her. When he finally decided to share her bed, he would dress her up as a soldier and put her through military drills, and hang rats or feed them to dogs in front of her. When she went into labor, a loyal minister protected her by burning his own house so Peter would leave the palace to see the fire.
10) Ludwig II of Bavaria (1845 — 1886)
There are many who question if he was really insane, especially since he died under mysterious circumstances. Ludwig was not interested in government. He was more interested in theater and opera, supporting German composers like Wagner, and building lavish fantasy palaces based on German folktales. He therefore later came to be known as the Swan King and the Fairy King, which he would probably have enjoyed.
Though a boon to Germany’s current tourism, these expensive palaces were built using tax payers’ money, essentially beggaring the economy. He was declared insane and deposed, then likely assassinated.