When we think of royalty, beautiful princesses and charming princes come to mind. History reveals that real-life rulers were sometimes 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 do dastardly deeds, a number of royals throughout history exhibited signs that something wasn't quite right. For some, it was just a strange quirk here or there. For others, a debilitating problem that left them unfit to rule their own kingdoms.
No one can deny that, despite the perks, being a royal is complicated. Access to massive riches can corrupt you. You must make decisions that determine the well-being of entire populations. All the while, there are people out there who probably want nothing more than to see you dead. This could lead anyone to developed warped priorities. Here's a list of the weirdest royals and strangest 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 allegedly tried to kill Christina by 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 for more than a year and slept below a hanging casket that contained his heart.
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 own wife, Octavia, when she 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 second wife (who 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: 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"—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 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 poisonous snakes into the audience of the gladiator games and watched as crowds panicked and died from poisonous bites.
- 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 leopards during a feast.
- He filled positions in the government based on the sizes of the men's penises.
- When his chief adviser warned him that he should live a moderate life to prevent revolt over the effects of his taxation, he stabbed the adviser to death.
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.