Royals need friends, too. Sometimes, they choose soothsayers, sorcerors, or the like to advise them (or to do their dirty work). More often than not, the results aren't good for those who live under the rule. Royal henchmen also often have their own agenda, which doesn't always bode well for others. However, not all royal advisors were villainous. Some, such as court magicians, clairvoyants, or self-proclaimed wizards, were simply strange people who spun alluring tales of their ability to predict the future and cure all manner of maladies.
From the famed Rasputin to the lesser-known Charles-Henri Sanson, the following are notorious henchman and performers of wizardry who got blood on their hands so the royals didn't have to, cast a dark influence over entire nations, or got up to some generally bizarre stuff on the backs of their inflated sense of self-importance.
Grigory Efimovich Rasputin, the Mad Monk, rose from peasantry to the inner circle of Russian Tsar Nicholas II in the early 1900s. Rasputin supposedly came to the royal family's aide when its only male heir, Aleksei, suffered unstoppable bleeding from hemophilia, the so-called "royal disease."
Rasputin's purported clairvoyance and healing powers made him a trusted advisor in St. Petersburg, but resentment from aristocrats led to the demise of the Mad Monk. Among other things, he was rumored to have slept with the Tsarina Aleksandra, Nicholas's wife, and had an insatiable thirst for alcohol. He also privately saw numerous women, some noble, in his bedroom, for "blessings." The room was jokingly nicknamed "Holy of Holies."
Aristocrats hated Rasputin because he was a peasant of extreme influence, and because he had too much political clout for one man. Peasants hated Rasputin because of rampant rumors of his affair with Tsarina and negative influence on the country. Determined to end the Mad Monk, a group of conspirators lured Rasputin to a late night rendezvous and gave him tainted food and drink, which had no effect on the mystic. Panicked, they shot him. That seemed to work, but an hour later, he was still alive. So they shot him two more times, then threw his body in a frozen river, which did the trick.
In his role as henchman (officially, Chief Minister) to England's Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell orchestrated the country's break from the papacy, so Henry could get divorced. Cromwell's political machinations resulted in the formation of the Church of England, of which Henry was supreme leader. The entire episode was a slap in the face of the Pope, who would not annul Henry's marriage to Catherine of Aragon (for political reasons).
All of this political theater played out so Henry could marry Anne Boleyn. Eventually, however, Boleyn and Cromwell were at odds. She spoke out against Cromwell, which was bad timing, because Henry wanted her gone so he could move on to his next wife. It was a win-win for men against women. Anne Boleyn was executed.
Ever power-hungry, Cromwell convinced Henry to marry Anne of Cleves, daughter of the powerful Duke Wilhelm of Cleves. Henry immediately regretted heeding the advice. Cromwell was executed the same day as the king's next marriage to Catherine Howard. Henry reportedly expressed remorse for offing his trusted advisor.
One of the world's most famous prophets, Nostradamus has as many dissidents as loyal followers. The latter swear he predicted such events as the rise of the Third Reicht, the demise of JFK, and September 11 in the 1500s, when his soothsaying services were sought after by royalty.
Nostradamus gained fame for The Prophecies, published in 1555, which contained 100 predictions spread out over the course of the following 2,000 years. The wife of King Henry II of France, Catherine de Medici, brought Nostradamus to Paris in 1555, because he predicted the royals would be under threat in the years to come. He explained his prediction to her, drew up horoscopes for her children, and predicted Henry would expire when pierced through the eye by a young opponent. Three years later, Henry took a joust through the eye, and perished.
Nostradamus, who was considered an ally of Satan by some (and a lunatic and fake by others), feared he would be executed for heresy by the Catholic Church, but such a fate never came. He passed in 1566, Counselor and Physician-in-Ordinary to King Charles IX of France, who took the throne after the passing of his father, Henry II.
Though Nostradamus did not, by most accounts, exert a dark influence on Catherine, she influenced King Charles IX by orchestrating the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, which led to the demise of thousands of French protestants in 1572. Those who believe in the prophetic powers of Nostradamus suggest he predicted the event, which may have influenced Catherine's actions.
Author of Three Books Concerning Occult Philosophy, Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa roamed Europe, where his services were sought in the royal courts of The Netherlands, England, Italy, and Spain. He was a healer, alchemist, and court astrologer in the 1500s, and is said to have been a master at playing sides against each other for his own benefit, as opportunities presented themselves.
Agrippa's resume is frankly preposterous. He was physician to French noblewoman Louise of Savoy, and his cures included consuming mule's urine as contraception, since mules are sterile. He was also court secretary to Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, a theologian within the Catholic Church, a professor, an expert on the occult, and a military entrepreneur in Italy and Spain.
A legend in cult circles, Agrippa's writings invigorated interest in magic during the Renaissance, which led to his association with the legend of Faust. He was dismissed from a post for defending an alleged witch, studied numerology and magic as means of coming to know God, was banished from Germany for fighting with an inquisitor, and was jailed in France for insulting the Queen Mother. To top it all off, Agrippa helped lay the foundation for skepticism in European arts and sciences with Of the Vanitie and Uncertaintie of Artes and Sciences, an strike on basically all fields of learning that accused everyone of being full of sh*t (which, we now know, a lot of them were).