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Mad Monarchs: The Greatest Rulers in History Who Lost Their Minds
Mad Monarchs: The Greatest Rulers in History Who Lost Their Minds

People in power are doomed to be the center of attention. It has always been this way, at all times. They were admired, they were hated. In ancient times, there were just no tabloids to cover the exciting details of the personal lives of great people, like today. Some monarchs became famous not at all for their political activities, and not even for love affairs, but for the fact that they were damaged by reason. About the most egregious cases in history, further in the review.

1. Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon (604-562 BC)

Nebuchadnezzar in the prime of his glory

Nebuchadnezzar II was a great ruler of antiquity. He became famous for the fact that he erected two wonders of the world at once - the Tower of Babel and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. In addition, during his reign, the Ishtar Gate was built - a unique in its beauty monument of ancient architecture, which has survived to this day.

In modern times, Nebuchadnezzar would be considered an incredibly effective manager and a truly brilliant manager. But, unfortunately, this king became famous not only for this. The Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar is rightfully considered the progenitor of all royal madmen. The insanity of this ruler is told in the first person in the Old Testament of the Bible, in the book of the prophet Daniel. According to this exciting story, an arrogant king was punished for his disbelief in God. As a result, he spent seven years of his life in the desert like a wild animal. The biblical story of Nebuchadnezzar's madness became the basis through which royal madness was viewed in Christendom.

A painting by William Blake depicting Nebuchadnezzar's fight with madness

2. Caligula, Emperor of Rome (12–41 AD)

Emperor Caligula

This Roman emperor bypassed even his crazy nephew Nero in cruelty and eccentric antics. Caligula is considered the most cruel and insane ruler of the Roman Empire. He is widely known for his generosity, large-scale projects, and along with this eerie sadism and very extravagant acts.

He once ordered his army to build a three-kilometer floating bridge so that he could ride his horse across it. Another episode describes how the emperor ordered his army to "plunder the sea" by collecting shells in his helmets. It is said that the very tall and hairy Caligula forbade the mention of goats in his presence. Also, Caligula was very fond of making terrible faces, frightening his subjects. The ruler of Rome built a luxurious house for his horse, and also wanted to appoint him consul. The assassination of Caligula thwarted this career takeoff.

One of the most scandalous films of the 20th century was filmed about the life and period of the reign of this Roman emperor. The historical drama with elements of pornography has lifted the curtain over the secret amusements of the ancient Roman elite. The film was directed by the brilliant Tinto Brass, and the role of Caligula was brilliantly played by Malcolm McDowell.

Malcolm McDowell as Emperor Caligula in the film of the same name

3. Henry VI of England (1421-1471)

King Henry VI of England

Henry VI was honored to become the hero of Shakespeare's dramatic cycle, described in three parts. Heinrich was crowned in early childhood. For decades of his life, he struggled with a serious mental illness. During this time, the kingdom ceded part of the land to France and plunged into the chaos of the War of the Roses.

Henry was crowned as a child

Heinrich was never a strong leader. A complete mental disorder befell him in 1453, leaving him in an absolute stupor, without communication for more than a year.After a short period of temporary recovery, the king's condition deteriorated in 1456. Moreover, the monarch plunged into lethargy, interspersed with the routine of religious rites. He was overthrown in 1461 by York forces and exiled to Scotland. In 1470, Henry was briefly reinstated on the throne, but then again imprisoned, and the next year he was killed.

4. Chinese Emperor Zhengde (1491-1521)

Emperor Zhengde

One of the most famous rulers of the Ming Dynasty, Emperor Zhengde became famous for both his stupidity and cruelty. By his whim, he loved to organize and lead military expeditions. In them, Zhengde was engaged in giving orders to an imaginary double whom he named General Zhu Shou. During the first five years of his reign, he unwisely placed senior eunuch Liu Jin in charge of most of the affairs of state. When they quarreled five years later, the emperor ordered Liu to be executed using a three-day slow cutting process (Liu passed away on the second day). Ming novels such as Emperor Zhengde Wandering Jiangnan depict the emperor as stupid and gullible, enjoying a bowl of rice porridge, which he believed was made from boiled pearls.

5. John of Castile (1479-1555)

John of Castile

Queens' lives have not always been as good as we think. There are very sad and even tragic stories. For example, the story of Juana la Loca, whose family and rivals conspired to remove her from the throne.

Joanna was born fourth in line to the throne of her parents Ferdinand and Isabella. At the age of sixteen she was married to Philip "the Handsome" of Burgundy. The princess was head over heels in love with her husband, she was not interested in anything else in life - neither power, nor money. Philip was a rake and constantly cheated on his wife. She was insanely jealous and constantly arranged ugly scenes for him, often in public. As a result, the courtiers did not like her, considering the foreigner "unable to maintain dignity." Joanna tried not to leave her beloved husband for a minute. Fate ordered her cruelly.

In the royal family of Joanna, there was a whole series of deaths, as a result of which she became the heir to the throne. Her own husband declared her incapacitated, having agreed with her father-in-law, and kept her in captivity. This allowed Philip to become regent. After he died, there followed a decade of regency for John's father, Ferdinand. During the entire time she remained a prisoner. In fairness, it should be said that by this time the woman was really damaged in her mind due to the death of her beloved husband Philip.

After the death of her beloved husband Philip, her reason really left John

In 1516 Ferdinand died, and the son of Juana la Loca took the throne. The teenager continued the business of his relatives and kept his mother locked up. When there was an outbreak of plague in the country, Charles specially organized fake funeral processions under her windows so that she was afraid to leave the house and run away.

The unfortunate woman was freed by the rebels in 1520. They declared her normal and capable of ruling the country. After Joanna refused to support them, they changed their minds and Juana's torment continued. She was placed in a monastery, where she died in 1555, nominally being a queen.

6. Ivan the Terrible (1533-1584)

Ivan the Terrible

The first Tsar of All Russia Ivan IV (nicknamed the Terrible) became famous for the violent unification of the Moscow principality and the lands of ancient Kievan Rus. Terrible he was nicknamed not only for his terrifying cruelty, but also for the fact that the king was a very dodgy politician and diplomat. Ivan promulgated sweeping reforms, centralized government, and created the black-clad predecessors of Russia's fearsome secret police. At the same time, the tsar underwent tax, monetary, lip and zemstvo reforms, and a full-fledged legal code was created. Despite all these positive changes, economic recovery (the tsar also took Kazan, by the way), it is not even customary to erect monuments to Ivan the Terrible.

With great pleasure he forced the nobility to obey, using torture and very sadistic executions. Tired of power, Ivan tried to abdicate in 1564, but a year later he was persuaded to return. Then he created his own patrimony, "oprichnina", through which he completely controlled up to one third of the Moscow possessions. The guardsmen were warrior monks, whose abbot was Ivan the Terrible himself. In 1581, in a fit of rage, Ivan killed his own son and heir, hitting him with a sharp staff. The king died in 1584 under very mysterious circumstances.

"Ivan the Terrible kills his son", painting by Russian artist Ilya Repin, 1883-1885

7. Rudolph II, Holy Roman Emperor (1552-1612)

Rudolph II, Holy Roman Emperor

One of the most eccentric rulers of the European Renaissance, Rudolph II was arguably the greatest collector of his time and an ardent patron of the arts, sciences, and pseudosciences. His castle complex in Prague was a vast menagerie that included lions, tigers, an orangutan and a live dodo bird. His cabinet of rarities included a dizzying array of valuable artifacts, clearly sorted into categories. Throughout his life, Rudolph alternated bouts of violent delight and periods of severe melancholy. He left the yard for long weeks, talking to his subordinates in a barely audible voice. Rudolph gave generous support to astronomers Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler, thereby laying the foundations for the scientific revolution. Blessed and damned, as one historian put it, he was effectively overthrown and died in 1612.

8. George III of England (1738-1820)

George III of England

The poet Percy Bysshe Shelley calls George "an old, insane, blind, despised and dying king." George III showed the first signs of mental disorder in 1765, at the very beginning of his reign. He managed to fight the disease until 1810. A year earlier, Parliament had made his son regent. George III ruled during a very turbulent era. This was the time of the American Revolution, the French Revolution, followed by the Napoleonic Wars. Some medical historians believe that the king's illness, which was characterized by hallucinations, paranoia, general upset and abdominal pain, was caused by porphyria caused by an enzyme disorder. Although, of course, retrospective diagnosis is difficult, and leaves room for doubt and controversy.

9. Carlota of Mexico (1840-1927)

Carlota Mexican

It is difficult to imagine a life stranger than that of Carlota, the first and only empress of Mexico from the Habsburg family. Born in Belgium, Charlotte was the daughter of King Leopold I and cousin of Queen Victoria. At a very young age, she married Maximilian, then Archduke of Austria, and settled with him in a castle in Italy. In 1864, a group of Mexican arch-conservatives colluded with French Napoleon III to overthrow liberal President Benito Huaraz and appoint Maximilian as Emperor of Mexico. Maximilian and Carlota (as they began to call her in the Spanish manner) arrived in Veracruz. With the support of French troops, as well as supporters of the Conservatives, they went to Mexico City.

For three years, the royal couple struggled to win the favor of the Mexican people, speaking Spanish enthusiastically as they promoted liberal programs, including land reform and better policies towards the country's indigenous communities. However, in doing so, they lost their conservative supporters. After the French withdrew their troops in 1866, the empire of Maximilian and Carlota remained unstable. Carlota was sent to Europe to regain support from the French and the Pope. When she failed, she suffered a mental breakdown and was admitted to a hospital.

Photo of Empress Carlota

Benito Juarez ordered the execution of Maximilian in 1867. Carlota lived for another six decades without regaining her sanity and remaining isolated in her family's 14th century castle in Belgium.

10. Ludwig II of Bavaria (1845-1886)

Ludwig II of Bavaria

Opera fan, builder of dream palaces, wasteful, deposed monarch and probable murder victim. Ludwig II was the prototype for the "mad king" who may not have been mad at all. Most famous today is Neuschwanstein, a fabulous palace that he ordered to be built on top of a Bavarian hill. Ludwig was an enthusiastic patron of the arts.

Ascending the Bavarian throne at 18, he quickly summoned his hero, composer Richard Wagner, for a lengthy audience. Ludwig became one of Wagner's main patrons, providing him funding to work on some of the most famous operas of the era. However, the construction of the castle drove Ludwig into terrible debt. In 1886, a group of conspirators filed a medical report (drawn up by doctors who never examined him) in which the king was declared insane and unfit to rule.

It was hard to find a more enthusiastic art lover than King Ludwig

If you are interested in the history of European monarchs, read our article secrets of the biography of the virgin queen who refused Ivan the Terrible.

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