11 Monarchs Who Went Insane

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With election season in full swing, perhaps it’s time to take a step back and be glad that neither candidate makes out with corpses or thinks they have bones made of glass. Whether they were born with mental illness or slowly descended into lunacy as a result of leading tragic lives, these 11 rulers definitely make both of our candidates look better.

1. Queen Maria I of Portugal. Queen Maria exhibited some eyebrow-raising behavior prior to her husband/uncle’s death in 1786, but it was that sad event that really set her on the road to madness. When her eldest son and only daughter followed soon after, Maria’s already fragile mental state took a nose dive. The religious fanatic became convinced she was going to hell and reported visions of her deceased father’s blackened corpse being tortured by demons. Visitors to her apartments would complain that they were tired of her constant screaming and wailing. According to some reports, she also became rather fond of wearing children’s clothing.

2. Charles VI of France. Charles had many manic episodes, including one in 1392 where he slaughtered four of his own men after being startled when a page dropped a lance. After the massacre, Charles fell into a comatose state for two days and had to be carried home on a cart. But the most interesting delusion King Charles had was that his bones were made of glass. To prevent himself from shattering, the king had iron rods sewn into his clothes.

3. Otto of Bavaria. Otto was brought in to replace his insane brother, King Ludwig II of Bavaria. No one was banking on the fact that Otto was actually in worse mental shape than his sibling. The New York Times reported on November 5, 1913, that Otto was replaced after being found in a “pathetic” condition: “He stammered some inarticulate words. When [members of the delegation] withdrew from the room they heard a great crash, and on going to see what had caused it they found that Otto had dashed to the floor a tea tray, which had been set for the Deputies, and had smashed all the costly porcelain.”

Recent theories state that both of the brothers were in perfect mental health; the “insane” behavior was completely fabricated to make it easy to overthrow them.

4. Vlad the Impaler. Anyone who tortured people to the extent and numbers that Vlad of Walachia did had to be insane as well as cruel. His favorite form of torture, impalement, wasn’t just used as capital punishment; he took pleasure in it to the point of complete and total obsession. When Vlad and his evils were finally brought to an end via house arrest in Hungary, he obsessively continued to torture and impale any living thing that had the misfortune to cross his path - birds, rats, mice.

5. Juana of Castile. Although Juana’s marriage was arranged by her famous parents, Ferdinand and Isabella, she fell completely and totally in love with her husband, Philip the Handsome (you be the judge) of Austria. Juana was so in love, in fact, that when Philip died of typhoid fever in 1506, Juana had his tomb reopened several times so she could gaze at her husband’s face, which surely was no longer quite as handsome as it once had been. When she had to flee town to escape the plague, she demanded to take Philip with her and had the tomb opened once again to make sure he was still inside. He was still there, and presumably still decaying, but that didn’t stop Juana from kissing and caressing the corpse.

6. Erik XIV of Sweden. King Erik’s paranoia completely consumed his life and his sanity. It wasn’t unusual for people caught laughing, smiling or whispering within Erik’s earshot to be sentenced to death for treason. He had an entire family imprisoned in his castle and later murdered simply because he believed they were too influential. After the executions, King Erik wandered outside to the woods and disappeared for three days. He believed himself to be his own brother for a period of time, and in 1568, that brother really did take over the throne after advisors deemed Erik too compromised to wear the crown. Though Erik took his paranoia to the extreme, he may have been justified: when he met his end in 1577, it was the result of poisoned pea soup.

7. Fyodor I of Russia, AKA Fyodor the Bellringer. Fyodor, son of Ivan the Terrible, wasn’t thrilled about ruling and left most of it up to his brother-in-law, Boris Godunov. Known for his “vacant gaze,” Fyodor’s undoing seems to have happened when his only daughter died at the age of two. He took to wandering up and down Russia, obsessed with ringing all of the church bells in the land.

8. Princess Alexandra Amalie of Bavaria. By all accounts, Alexandra of Bavaria was a lovely, charming princess who became convinced that when she was a child, she had swallowed an all-glass piano. It's said she also had an obsession with cleanliness and would wear only white clothing. Too bad she never made it across the sea to meet Emily Dickinson - the two of them could have compared notes (through a door, of course) on how to get their whites whiter.

9. Mustafa I of Turkey. You can’t really blame this guy for being crazy: being locked in a room for 10 years at your own brother's behest might cause a screw or two to come a little bit loose. After his brother died, Mustafa was released from his “golden cage,” but was sent back after just a few months when his brother’s son took the throne instead. When his nephew was assassinated just four years later in 1622, Mustafa was again dragged from the safety of his cage to have the crown plopped on his head. He was frequently found running through the palace, knocking on doors and screaming for his dead nephew to come back and rule Turkey again.

10. Maria Eleonora of Brandenburg. Maria Eleonora was desperate to give her husband a son, but after a couple of miscarriages and stillbirths, she kind of lost it when the baby she finally delivered in 1626 was a girl, screaming, “Instead of a son, I am given a daughter, dark and ugly, with a great nose and black eyes. Take her from me, I will not have such a monster!”

She tried several times to kill baby Christina, “accidentally” dropping her or shoving her down the stairs. Though King Gustavus Adolphus was happy to have a daughter, he was killed in battle less than two years later. Maria Eleonora responded with hysterical grieving that included keeping her husband's body above ground for 18 months so she could periodically touch it. Additionally, she made Christina sleep under a golden casket that contained her father’s heart.

Miraculously, Christina grew up to be a completely functioning woman and queen.

11. Ferdinand I of Austria. The product of inbreeding - his parents were double first cousins - Ferdinand was epileptic, encephalitic, rarely talked and had problems doing simple tasks. As Emperor, it's been alleged that the only words he uttered were, “I am the Emperor, and I want dumplings.” However, Ferdinand did keep a perfectly coherent diary, suggesting that he wasn’t crazy at all, just a guy with the misfortune to be born to a family obsessed with keeping the bloodline "pure."

For more stories like these, check out Mad Kings & Queens: History's Most Famous Raving Royals.

September 11, 2012 - 8:07pm
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