When we think of royalty, beautiful princesses and charming princes come to mind. History reveals that, sometimes, real-life rulers were more akin to villains in storybooks: deformed hunchbacks, crazed witches, sleazy morons, and murderous families. Whether these weird royals were born that way or the job drove them to it, a number of leaders throughout history exhibited signs that something wasn’t right. For some, it was just a strange quirk here or there. For others, a debilitating problem that left them unfit to rule.
No one can deny that, despite the perks, being a royal is complicated. You have access to massive riches that could corrupt you. You have to decide the well-being of an entire nation. All the while, there are people out there who probably want you dead. This could lead anyone to become a little bit weird. Here’s a list of the weirdest royals and weirdest royal families throughout history, what made them that way, and how it might have affected the country they ruled.
Royal Title: Queen of Sweden
Crazy Quirk: She tried to kill her daughter when she couldn’t give the king a male heir.
Maria Eleonora’s goal as queen was the same as many other women of her era: give her husband a male heir. When she didn’t achieve her goal, she went crazy. Maria Eleonora bore her husband, King Gustavus Adolphus, a girl named Christina in 1626, and she immediately rejected her daughter, calling her a monster. More than once, she tried to kill Christina, pushing her down stairs and dropping her. When the king died, Maria Eleonora’s insanity went next level. She refused to bury Gustavus’s body, and slept below a hanging casket that contained his heart.
Charles VI of France
Royal Title: King of France
Crazy Quirk: Charles believed he was made of glass.
Charles VI ruled France during a time of great chaos, and that turmoil existed within him as well. After his first bout of madness in 1392, when he suffered from fever and convulsions, Charles lived out the rest of his life plagued by insanity. His paranoia and violent rages made him dangerous and homicidal to anyone in his close proximity. During his spells of madness, he often had to be restrained, and he gave up on his personal hygiene to the point that he had to be cut out of his clothes.
Most famously, Charles suffered from a “glass delusion,” his belief that his body was made of glass. He faded in and out of this delusion, and it caused radical changes to his character. When he wasn’t in its grips, he was an outdoorsy athlete. When the glass delusion struck, he refused to move, sitting still for hours on end.
Royal Title: Emperor of Russia
Crazy Quirk: A child in a man’s body, Peter may have never consummated his marriage because he was too busy playing toy soldiers in bed.
Catherine the Great’s husband, Peter III was much more unhinged and much less successful than his wife. Poor treatment by a sadistic tutor left Peter in a state of arrested development, making him unfit to rule. In 1742, when he was 14, his aunt, the Empress of Russia, brought him from Germany to Russia with the intention of making him her heir. Peter hated Russia and the Russian people hated him just as much.When Peter married Catherine at 17, it was clear from the start they were a bad match. Catherine was intelligent and driven, while Peter was a stunted man-child. Peter and Catherine’s sex life was not much better. It is unclear whether they ever consummated their relationship, as Peter was more content to play toy soldiers in bed and make his wife dress up in military gear to run drills. He was also a means-spirited drunk who called Catherine a stupid whore in the middle of a banquet. One story about Peter contends that when a rat bit the head off one of his beloved toy soldiers, he gave the rat a proper court martial and trial, followed by hanging up from tiny gallows that he constructed.
Royal Title: Emperor of Rome
Crazy Quirk: A narcissist and sadist, he had his mother killed and let Rome burn to the ground.
When it comes to Nero’s rule, it’s clear he got his Machiavellian inclinations from his mother. Nero’s mom, Agrippina, orchestrated Nero’s rise to the throne in 54 AD by marrying her uncle, Claudius, and convincing him to install Nero as Emperor instead of his own son, before poisoning Claudius to death. When Nero came to power, he took a lesson from his mother’s playbook and set about taking down everyone who threatened or even bothered him, including his mom. He also dispatched with his cousin and his wife when they got in his way.
Despite instituting some positive social and political forms, Nero’s hedonism continually got the best of him. He took multiple wives and lovers, spent massive amounts of money on personal sexual pursuits, and murdered anyone who dared to criticize his ways. In 64 AD, a great fire struck Rome, taking out 75% of the city. Many Romans contended that Nero himself started the fire to make way for a new castle. Even if he didn’t, he did nothing to stop it, blaming Christians and initiating a period of oppression and torture of Christians in Rome.
Nero also married a man he randomly saw on the street who looked like his wife (the one he murdered), and made the man dress in his wife’s clothes and act like a woman, while having a separate relationship with a slave in which Nero played the role wife.
Royal Title: Emperor of Rome
Crazy Quirk: Elagabalus was a hedonist who delighted in watching people suffer.
Elagabalus, who took the throne in 218 AD, was a lesser-known Roman Emperor whose behavior rivals that of the most vicious, cruel, and self-indulgent rulers of all time. Here’s a list of some of Elagabalus’s weirdest royal activities:He chained naked women to chariots, like horses, and whipped them as they pulled him around. He released snakes into the audience of the gladiator games, and gleefully watched panic and injury ensue. He tied dinner guests to a water wheel to watch them slowly drown. He tossed gold and silver from the balcony of a tower and reveled in commoners fighting and dying over the money. He let loose lions and tigers during a feast. He filled positions in the government based on penises size. When his chief advisor warned him that he should live a moderate life to prevent revolt over the effects of his taxation, he murdered his advisor.The full catalog of his perversity deserves a list unto itself, but there might not be enough room for all of his eccentricities and atrocities to fit.
Royal Title: Crown Prince of Korea
Crazy Quirk: Sado was a lascivious and violent son obsessed with pleasing his father, until his father put him to death by locking him in a chest.
Born in 1735, Prince Sado’s brutal treatment at the hands of his father, King Yongjo, led to a life of perversion, violence, and despair. Sado suffered from delusions and nightmares from the age of 10, and things got worse with age. His constant quest to impress his father drove him to madness, especially considering his father may have been equally crazy, and hell-bent on torturing his son.Sado indulged in his vices liberally, but always hid them from his father. He was obsessed with clothes, and threw alcohol-fueled orgies, despite the fact that alcohol was illegal. He took his anger out on anyone who came near, sending dead bodies out of the palace on a daily basis. He murdered a concubine, slept with a nun, and even tried to seduce his younger sister. When King Yongjo learned of some of Sado’s misdeeds, he summoned him to court and locked him in a giant chest, where he starved to death after eight days.
Royal Title: Emperor of Rome
Crazy Quirk: He believed himself to be a living god and forced his people to worship him as such.
Caligula’s rise to the throne was fraught with peril. His great-uncle Tiberius, Emperor of Rome, killed most of his family to prevent them from usurping his throne. Tiberius adopted young Caligula, and when Tiberius died in 37 AD (possibly at Caligula’s hand), Caligula claimed the throne and killed Tiberius’s son to keep him from being emperor.
Caligula’s weird behavior began almost right away. He kill those around him who spoke against him. He decreed that he was a living god. He removed the heads of statues of gods and put his own atop their bodies. He even reportedly committed incest with his sisters, among his many other sexual conquests. Finally, most Romans had enough and a group of guards stabbed him to death after a sporting event.
Royal Title: Tsar of Russia
Crazy Quirk: He executed a Reign of Terror that left most of those around him executed.
The first, and arguably most famous, tsar of a centralized Russia, Ivan IV, also known as Ivan the Terrible,earned his nick name fair and square. Prone to wild rages from a young age, he suffered from the deaths of both parents by age 8, and the constant threat of usurpers to his throne. In 1847, he became tsar of Muscovy. From there, he expanded outward, snatching up land and taking down anyone in his way.After his wife’s death, Ivan sunk into a depression that inspired his 24-year-long Reign of Terror. He seized absolute control, murdered any noble who spoke against him, beat his daughter-in-law so badly she miscarried, murdered his son in one of his rages, and blinded the architect of St. Basil’s Cathedral so that he could never create another beautiful building again. He died a broken man, much like the country he left behind.
Royal Title: Queen of Castile and Aragon (Spain)
Crazy Quirk: Her obsession with her husband drove her to keep his dead body with her at all times.
Joanna of Castile was the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, famous as the royals who sent Columbus on his western voyage. Joanna married Philip I of Burgundy, son of the Holy Roman Emperor. She was very devoted to her husband, and gave him six children, all of whom went on to be emperors or queens.Joanna earned her title “Juana La Loca” for her obsession with her husband. After his sudden death in 1506, she refused to be separated from Philip’s dead, embalmed body. She kept it in her room and even traveled with it. Despite her place as Queen of Castile and Aragon, her family never saw her as fit to rule, and her son Charles took on the role of regent, becoming the real leader of the country.
Royal Title: Emperor of Byzantium
Crazy Quirk: Behavior so strange, those around him believed he was possessed by the devil.
Justin II was ruler of the Byzantine Empire from 565-578 AD, but rule is a strong word for what he did. Justin was prone to bouts of the kind of stereotypical madness you might see in an old cartoon. Hearing voices in his head and seized with terror, he would alternately sprint around the castle and hide under his covers.Members of his court tried desperately to divert his attention, playing organ at all hours of the day and night and pulling him around the castle in a wagon with a throne on it. They had to hold him down during fits of violent rage, and installed bars on windows to prevent him from jumping out. He would laugh, cry, make animal noises, and hit people without provocation. People began to believe he was possessed by the devil. Through it all, Empress Sophia took care of him and even made political decisions on his behalf.
Royal Title: Emperor of the Ming Dynasty
Crazy Quirk: Passionate about the pursuit of pleasure and the world of make-believe, Zhengde installed eunuchs in all positions of power and let them run his government.
Zhengde, born Zhu Houzao, took the throne of the Ming Dynasty in 1505, at the age of 14. Despite being an emperor, he was still a teenager, and he never fully gained control of his impulses. He promptly handed over control of his government to a group of eunuchs, so he could devote himself to pleasure-seeking.Legends state that Zhengde’s harem was so large some women starved because there wasn’t enough food to keep them all alive. Meanwhile, he killed hundreds of officials who questioned his methods of rule. He also loved to play make-believe, setting up entire villages and raiding parties so he could pretend to be a shop keeper or a general while his subjects looked on, confused. In an appropriate end to Zhengde’s life, he died when his pleasure boat capsized.
Royal Title: King of Denmark
Crazy Quirk: A man-child who leap-frogged dignitaries when they bowed to him. Literally.
In 1766, Christian VII of Denmark became king at age 16, and never acted a day older for the rest of his life. According to his doctors, his frequent masturbation bordered on unhealthy. He played pranks on his grandmother, putting pins in her throne and throwing things at her. He ran wild through the streets with his friend and his mistress, destroying shops and patronizing brothels. He built his own torture rack and had himself tied to it and flogged.As he regressed further and further, his devious doctor, Johann Friedrich Struenseé, saw a chance to swoop in and gain power. Struenseé got himself appointed to Christian’s cabinet and seduced Christian’s wife. Struenseé maintained his spot as defacto ruler until Christian’s equally sneaky step-mother persuaded a very weak-minded Christian to have Struenseé and the Queen arrested for their affair.
Royal Title: Prince of Wallachia
Crazy Quirk: The real life namesake of Dracula, Vlad loved to impale his enemies.
Vlad III was, appropriately, born in modern day Transylvania in 1431. That same year, Vlad’s father, Vlad II, became a member of the Order of the Dragon, a group devoted to the defeat of the Ottoman Empire. This Order bestowed upon Vlad II the surname “Dracul,” meaning dragon. Vlad III, as the son of Dracul, went by “Draculea.”Turks captured Vlad III and his brother, and kept them captive throughout childhood. When Vlad III finally returned home, a usurper sat on his father’s throne. He took the throne back and set out to consolidate his power. He invited hundreds of noblemen to his palace for dinner and had his guests stabbed and impaled on stakes. His other atrocities included nailing turbans to Ottoman envoys’s heads when they refused to take them off, and impaling dozens of merchants and masses of Ottoman prisoners of war, proving the truth behind the nickname.
Royal Title: Sultan of the Ottoman Empire
Crazy Quirk: The only times throughout his adult life that he wasn’t in “the cage” was when he was King.
Mustafa I had an unusual childhood, to say the least. When his brother Ahmed I took the throne of the Ottoman Empire in 1603, Ottoman tradition dictated that he execute his brother to prevent him from attempting to supplant him. However, 13-year-old Ahmed spared the life of his 12-year-old brother, and instead imprisoned him in the Kafes, a cage-like prison building.Mustafa stayed in prison for fourteen years, which severely affected his mental health. The death of his brother marked the ascension of Mustafa from the cage to the throne, but madness plagued his rule. After a short time on the throne, he was deposed, replaced by his nephew Osman, and sent back to the Kafes. After the death of Osman, nobles returned to the Kafes to free Mustafa. When he refused to leave his cage, they pulled him out and installed him on the throne. Mustafa convinced himself that Osman was still alive and spent hours searching the castle for his nephew, begging Osman to take the job of king from him. Finally, he abdicated his spot to his other nephew Murad and returned to the Kafes, where he died at the age of 47.
Royal Title: Sultan of the Ottoman Empire
Crazy Quirk: He ordered the drowning deaths of his entire harem.
Ibrahim I became Sultan of the Ottoman Empire after the death of his brother in 1640. From the start, he showed himself to be an inept ruler. Depressed over his brother’s death, he distracted himself with the carnal pleasures of his harem of 280 concubines. His mother took full advantage of his inattentiveness, and ruled in his stead, until he had her banished from the realm.
According to legend, Ibrahim’s most infamous moment of madness came when drowned his entire harem. Despite his madness, it was the high taxes he imposed to keep himself fat and happy that ultimately did him in. His people imprisoned him and installed his 6-year-old son as Sultan, all with the support of his mother. He was strangled to death by his own royal executioner.
Erik XIV of Sweden
Royal Title: King of Sweden
Crazy Quirk: Paranoia drove him into violent rages and to murder.
Erik XIV, the King of Sweden, who once courted Elizabeth I, was a charming, handsome and capable king,until paranoia drove him crazy. He ascended to the throne in 1560 and spent a large portion of his early kingship in a battle for control with his brother. As time went on, paranoia started to take over and his mind began to fade.Erik began showing signs of schizophrenia, and these impulses took him over. He sentenced guards to death for irritating him and executed people for whispering or giggling in his presence, convinced that everyone was plotting against him. Servants who looked well-put-together were put to death for trying to seduce the ladies of the court. Finally his rage boiled over, and he killed a Swedish nobleman with his own hands, stabbing him to death.
Royal Title: Emperor of the Qin Dynasty
Crazy Quirk: The famous emperor who built the terra cotta warriors also burned books and became obsessed with immortality.
Born Zhao Zheng in 259 BC, Qin Shi Huang is perhaps China’s most influential ruler aside from Chairman Mao. He famously united the disparate states of China into one unified force. Hardhearted at an early age, he became king of a small Chinese state at 13 and quickly had his mother’s lover killed to remove his threat to the throne. He battled his way through states, taking them over one by one, until he created a unified, centralized China.Like Mao two thousand years later, Qin declared war on intellectuals, believing them to be plotting behind his back. He burned books and even buried 460 intellectuals alive. Toward the end of his life, he became obsessed with achieving immortality. He roamed the newly unified China in search of elixirs, alchemists, and magicians who could help him achieve immortality, but his treks were to no avail. He died in 210 BC and was buried with his army of terra cotta warriors and all of his concubines.
Royal Title: King of Babylon
Crazy Quirk: He spent seven years living like an animal in the forest.
According to the Book of Daniel in the Christian Bible, Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, came down with a seven year spell of madness. In his insanity-induced haze, he retreated from society, lived like an animal, and ate grass like a goat.This story of madness has long been associated with Nebuchadnezzar, who ruled from 605 to 562 BC, but recent scholars are unclear whether the writer meant Nebuchadnezzar or another king of Babylon, Nabonidus. It’s possible that the translation got mangled because both Nebuchadnezzar and Nabonidus had sons named Belshazzar, and Nabonidus a reputation as an eccentric. Regardless of which man lived out the story described in the Book of Daniel, the story deserves a spot in the annals of mad royalty
Royal Title: King of Great Britain and Ireland
Crazy Quirk: One of the most famous mad royals, George III had to be restrained in a straight jacket during one of his many bouts of insanity.
George III led England during the American Revolution, and his ineffectual policy and bouts of madnessbenefited the colonial cause. He took the throne in 1760, and soon after his coronation imposed the Stamp Act in America, one of the laws that caused revolt in the colonies.During the Revolutionary War, George fell into a long-term bout of violent madness that necessitated his restraint in a strait jacket. Two more bouts of insanity in 1804 and 1810 ruined him, and he died deaf and blind in 1820. Researchers variously attribute his madness on porphyria, a metabolic disease, and arsenic poisoning, based on the 2005 testing of hair samples. Despite the fact that George’s son effectively ruled for the latter part of George’s life, George III remains the longest-ruling king in British history.
Royal Title: King of Bavaria
Crazy Quirk: He spent most of his time and money during his reign building elaborate and fantastical castles.
King Ludwig II’s most important contribution to world history is the construction of Neuschwanstein, the German castle that inspired Walt Disney’s famed castle. This is also evidence of one of his most famous quirks, but definitely not his only one.Ludwig was born in 1845, and spent his childhood dressing up, play acting, and isolating himself from the rest of the world. He became king at 18, without any training or experience, and shied away from the job for the rest of his life. Ludwig retreated to his lavish castles and fully invested himself in his fantasy world, hiring set designers instead of architects to create his castles. He imagined himself as Parzival, a medieval figure associated with the Holy Grail.
When banks threatened to seize Ludwig’s property, the government declared him insane and deposed him. The day after he was imprisoned, he was found dead under mysterious circumstances, along with the psychiatrist who declared him crazy.
Charles II of Spain
Royal Title: King of Spain
Crazy Quirk: He was so inbred his dynasty ended because he couldn’t conceive an heir.
Royal families are infamous for inbreeding, and Charles II of the Habsburg dynasty is their cautionary tale. After generations and generations of cousins marrying cousins and uncles marrying nieces, Charles II was born, in 1661, with a misshapen head, a mental disability, a tongue so large he could barely speak, and two different genetic disorders. Throughout his two marriages, Charles and the royal family discovered he suffered from another affliction: impotency. The Habsburg dynasty ended with Charles II, and plunged Spain into a period of chaos.
Royal Title: Empress of Russia
Crazy Quirk: Catherine’s sexual appetite led to rumors about her engaging in carnal pleasures with a horse.
Catherine the Great is something of an anomaly on this list, because she was not a bad ruler. She instituted massive reforms for Russia and made female rulers look strong and capable in a time when men mostly did the ruling. While her professional life flourished, her private life was a bit more controversial.
Catherine was born Sophie von Anhalt-Zerbst in Germany and married Peter III in 1745. Peter’s love for toy soldiers above his wife led to her first extra-marital dalliance, in the effort to achieve an heir. Many historians believe that none of her four children were fathered by the king. After Peter III took control of Russia and made the unpopular decision to end Russia’s war with Prussia, Catherine conspired with angry nobles to overthrow her husband. He was killed by the brother of her new lover, Gregory Orlov.
From then on, Catherine ruled Russia, picking up and dropping lovers as she saw fit. She gifted one lover with one thousand serfs, and made another the King of Poland, only to wage war on him when he didn’t prove to be the puppet she wanted. To address the elephant – or horse – in the room: many historians believe the story of her death during sex with a horse was an attempt by her enemies to discredit her. But still. Good story.