- And you thought the current world leaders were off their rockers.
Ruling an empire or a kingdom used to be a brutal business. As such, we often label a lot of past emperors and kings as “crazy” or “insane” because of their sometimes unspeakably cruel reigns.
But horrendous as some of the things carried out under their orders were, unfortunately, that was the name of the game. But then there are those rulers whose grip on sanity clearly wasn’t exactly firm.
Let’s take a look at these less-than-sane rulers of the past. Here are five kings, princes, and emperors who absolutely had a screw or two loose.
Ivan the Terrible — Killed His Son in a Fit of Rage
Ivan IV Vasilyevich — better known as Ivan the Terrible — was the first Czar of Russia. Granted, he was an intelligent ruler who managed to unite the bickering Russian states into an empire.
At the same time, Ivan was highly paranoid and prone to bursts of white-hot rage. As he aged, his mental instability increased.
He was incredibly suspicious of the nobles in his court (not completely without reason). To make sure he stayed one step ahead of his enemies, Ivan founded the oprichnina — essentially the first secret police in history.
Whoever the oprichnina caught was at the mercy of Ivan’s fiery and unstable temper. Often, the suspected enemies of the Czar got executed through inventively sadistic torture.
But Ivan’s temper issues came to a head in 1581 when his son criticized him for abusing his wife. In a fit of rage, Ivan beat his son and heir over the head with his scepter until he lay dead and bleeding on the ground.
Consequently, there was no one competent left to take over once Ivan died. The Russian Empire nearly fell apart as a result — just because Ivan couldn’t control himself.
Charles VI — Thought He Was Made of Glass
The reign of France’s Charles VI started well. He ascended to the throne in 1380 at the tender age of 12, and in 10 short years, he’d earned the nickname “Beloved” from his people.
But things soon took an ugly turn. Like Ivan the Terrible, Charles VI started experiencing explosive fits of rage, during some of which he even slaughtered his own knights.
Soon after, Charles descended into full-blown psychosis. Between 1395 and 1396, he lived under the delusion that he was Saint George.
In a more bizarre bout of insanity, Charles VI became convinced that his body was made entirely out of glass. He refused to bathe, prohibited people from touching him, and sometimes would simply sit motionless for hours on end — all to keep his body from shattering.
Despite being clearly insane, Charles managed to hang onto power until his death in 1422. But by that time, he was no longer Charles the Beloved — his people now called him Charles the Mad.
Crown Prince Sado — The Sadistic Fashionista
Crown Prince Sado of the Joseon kingdom in Korea, born in 1735, wasn’t necessarily insane from the start. His father loathed the young prince and his constant abuse and humiliation probably contributed to Sado’s mental deterioration.
To escape his father’s abuse, Sado developed an unhealthy obsession with clothes and fashion. His wife wrote in her memoirs that Sado would demand to be presented with up to 30 brand-new outfits every morning.
Out of the mountain of clothes, he’d pick one outfit to wear. He then had the rest of the clothes burnt.
But fashion wasn’t Sado’s only outlet for his inner turmoil. He regularly raped the women of the royal palace and would beat and kill anyone who dared deny his advances or try to stop him.
Eventually, his father the king decided he’d had enough of his son. He had Sado locked in a rice crate and left him to starve to death.
Eric XIV — Sentenced People to Death for Smiling
Eric XIV of Sweden ascended to the throne in 1560. By 1569, he was no longer the king.
In the nine years he spent as the King of Sweden, Eric won some war campaigns. Despite this, he never managed to get the full support of Sweden’s nobles.
This probably contributed to his extreme paranoia. His first victim was his own brother, whom he had arrested and executed for claimed treason.
Things quickly started spiraling downward. All you needed to do to get a death sentence for treason was to smile, laugh, or whisper in Eric’s presence.
But the breaking point came when Eric accused the entire Sture family — prominent family of nobles — of plotting his downfall. As a result, every family member got put to death, with Eric himself killing one Sture with a knife.
Soon after, Eric ran away into the woods. Three days later, he was found in a village dressed as a peasant.
That was enough for Sweden’s nobles. They overthrew Eric and imprisoned him, only to kill him with poisoned pea soup in 1577.
Caligula — The Arch Hedonist
If you know anything about mad emperors, you knew Caligula was going to make this list. The Roman Emperor’s name has become synonymous with sadism, hedonism, and perversion.
We don’t have enough space here to list all of Caligula’s horrendous deeds. He was narcissism embodied in one man — nothing mattered to him but his own amusement.
For example, he would regularly sleep with his own sisters and prostitute them to others. During a ceremony where he was supposed to sacrifice a bull, Caligula instead killed the priest because he thought it’d be funnier.
But if there’s anyone besides himself that Caligula loved, it was his horse. He had a stable built out of marble and is even claimed to have given the horse the title of a priest.
Unsurprisingly, the Romans didn’t exactly love their self-absorbed emperor. In the end, Caligula got the dubious honor of becoming the first Roman emperor to be assassinated — he was stabbed 30 times to make sure he was dead.