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30 Most Unhinged Leaders in History

Frederick William I of Prussia

What puts Frederick William I on this list is his odd preference for tall men. This leader would go to any length to obtain them and add them to a regiment called the “Potsdam Giants.” Agents were sent out, and they would pay families for their kids (or kidnap them when money wasn’t enough of a bribe). Rumor has it, a preacher and four others were carried off mid-sermon. Fred loved his men so much that never actually risked them in battle. Did we mention he also tried to introduce a breeding program?

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Charles VI of France

Charles VI isn’t someone you want to go hunting with. When he was 23, he went on a hunting trip and managed to cut down four knights in a fit of rage before he was restrained. That was just the start of it. Soon, he became known as “Charles the Mad.” This ruler often forgot his name, didn’t recognize his wife, refused to bathe, and threatened to kill anyone who touched him. Why no touchy? Charles believed he was made of glass, and if anyone touched him, he’d break. 

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Kim Jong-Il of North Korea

Kim Jong-Il was a pretty recent leader, but that doesn’t excuse him from some of his extreme claims. Some of his claims were beyond ridiculous. For example, he said he’d had “supernatural birth,” that he invented the hamburger, and was the best golfer in history. Kim Jong-Il also told everyone Supreme Leaders don’t defecate. Gods and supernatural beings don’t need to poop!

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Justin II of Byzantine

Justin II of Byzantine was a pretty crappy leader, but it probably didn’t help that he was insane, too. Apparently, Justin II heard voices in his head and would hide under his bed to escape them. During his fits, he was prone to biting anyone that was trying to help. The only way to soothe his troubled soul was through organ music, which was played all the time to drown out the voices.

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Nero

Nero was a Roman emperor that needed some serious help. At the ripe old age of 14, Nero was convinced that his mother was plotting against him, so, being the sane person he was, he had her killed. Nero followed up this exploit by murdering his first wife because they didn’t get along. Some historians also suggest that he was responsible for the Great Fire of Rome, which burned for several days and nights and left much of Rome a scorched wasteland.

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Emperor Caligula

You can’t have a list of crazy leaders without including the king of them all – Emperor Caligula. Caligula was known for his sadism and his odd behavior. Once, he had his army build a two-mile floating bridge so that he could ride his horse on it. Another time, he had his troop “plunder the sea” by gathering sea shells. Caligula also built a lavish house for his horse, but he didn’t love all animals. He hated goats and banned anyone mentioning goats in his presence.

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Nabonidus

You may be familiar with the story of Nebuchadnezzar II, who thought he was a goat and ate grass. Well, the Dead Sea Scrolls suggests that Nabonidus was the one afflicted with this goat and grass-eating problem. Nabonidus was likely married to Nebuchadnezzar’s daughter, so he wasn’t too far off from insanity. When he wasn’t munching on plant life, he was a recluse and spent most of his time devoting himself to the moon god Sin. He built a temple for the cult, and his mother and sister both became priestesses.

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Henry VI of England

You know your life is crazy when Shakespeare writes a play about you. Henry was never a strong leader and suffered a full-on breakdown in 1453. Afterward, Henry wasn’t able to speak, lift his head, or move a single muscle in his body. Henry didn’t even embrace his newly-born son after he and his wife had been trying for eight years to have a child. Nothing helped him, and when he finally came to, he claimed that his son had been “conceived by the Holy Ghost.”

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Joanna of Castile

Joanna of Castile, or Juana la Loca, has a pretty sad story. She fell deeply in love with her husband, who she met through an arranged marriage. Unfortunately, he suddenly died, and she lost it. It’s reported that she would have his tomb reopened to spend time with him. During this private time, she would caress and kiss his corpse. Her son responded by keeping her imprisoned in a nunnery. There, she became convinced the nuns were trying to kill her. 

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The Zhengde Emperor of China

The Zhengde Emperor took the throne at the age of 14, and he didn’t age a day…or at least, he didn’t mentally. Zhengde played pretend. He would pretend that he was a shopkeeper and even had a fake city block built on imperial grounds to do so. Subjects were forced to go along with it. Another game he played was pretending to be a general on raiding parties, where he would almost always get captured. The pièce de résistance of his rule was the fact he’d dress up in a wig and take on the persona of Zhu Shou, his alter ego who would order pointless raiding parties.

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Farouk of Egypt

Farouk of Egypt was a large leader, weighing around 300 pounds. Apparently, he maintained this weight by eating caviar, lobster, tons of chocolate, and 600 oysters a week. Surprisingly, this isn’t what landed him on this list. It’s his sticky fingers! He had the nickname “Thief of Cairo” because he would steal anything he could get his hands on, despite having plenty of money at his disposal. The Thief of Cairo once stole a sword from the Shah of Iran and snatched Winston’s Churchill’s watch from his pocket!

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Eric of Sweden XIV

Eric was a pretty smart man who had a lot of skills. Sadly, the only legacy he would leave behind was that he was truly mad. See, he had some pretty bad paranoia. It started with him arresting and trying his brother for treason. Later, he had a prominent family tried for treason. All of them were sentenced to death, including one he killed personally. At one point in his life, Eric left to wander the woods and was found days later, dressed as a peasant in a remote village. 

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Mobutu Sese Seko

Mobutu Sese Seko was the President of Zaire – now called the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Mobutu had some questionable tendencies. He made a law that TV couldn’t mention anyone but him by name, and the news also had to start with a scene displaying him descending from the heavens. Mobutu also banned all leopard print hats because it was his trademark. To top it all off, Mobutu insisted on a name that would leave Daenerys Targaryen out of breath. In English, in translated to, “the all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and will to win, will go from contest to contest leaving fire in his wake.”

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Afonso VI of Portugal

Afonso VI of Portugal doesn’t have a great legacy. He’s either known as “The Glutton” or a “grinning moron.” This could be because he dressed in six or seven coats and three or four hats. No, he didn’t change often – he wore all these things one on top of the other. Eventually, his wife got sick of his “rule” and conspired to have him dethroned with her new husband, who was also Afonso’s brother.

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Sado of Korea

Sado didn’t have a great life growing up. His father shunned him, and this undoubtedly contributed to his problems later in life. Sado had an obsession with clothing; so much so, he believed that whenever something terrible happened, his outfit was to blame. As a precaution, he had to have 30 brand new suits available when he was ready to dress. When he picked one, the rest were burned as an offering. 

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Francois Duvalier

Francois Duvalier, aka “Papa Doc,” was a dictator of Haiti. He suffered a heart attack during his ruling years and chose Clement Barbot as acting president while he recovered. Barbot attempted to overthrow Duvalier, who responded by issuing a massive police hunt for a black dog. Apparently, Duvalier thought Barbot was a shapeshifter. Duvalier had all black dogs killed. Surprise, surprise; Barbot wasn’t one of the dogs, although he was eventually captured.

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Maria Eleonora of Brandenburg

Wanting a son isn’t strange for a monarch, but it was extremely serious for Maria Eleonora of Brandenburg. It was reported that she went mad after she had a girl, even though the king was ecstatic. Maria became obsessed with killing her daughter and attempted to do so numerous times. Somehow, her daughter survived the malicious attacks. 

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Christian VII of Denmark

Christian VII of Denmark has a funnier story. This guy took the throne when he was just 16 years old, and it showed. Apparently, he masturbated so much and so often that he couldn’t perform his royal duties. When he wasn’t choking the chicken, he stabbed random people with spiked clubs, leapfrogged over visiting dignitaries, and slap people mid-conversation. 

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Barbara of Portugal

Barbara of Portugal was married to Ferdinand VI of Spain, and we’ll get to him later. Barbara had a huge fear of sudden death. She spent much of her time in a state of neurosis, worried that she would die without warning. The fact she grew to be overweight and had asthma probably didn’t help much. That wasn’t her only fear, though. She was also scared her husband would die, and she would be plunged into poverty. In reality, she was actually pretty dang rich all on her own.

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Ferdinand VI of Spain

Married to Barbara of Portugal, Ferdinand had a family history of mental illness. Like his wife, Ferdinand was terrified that he was going to die suddenly. His mental illness didn’t really rear its ugly head until his wife passed. He then became a danger to himself and others. Sometimes, he wouldn’t speak while other times he would throw things, scream, and beat his head against the wall. Following his wife’s death, he was also sure his body was destroying itself from within. Ferdinand eventually passed, fraught with grief.

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Tsar Ivan the IV

Ivan the IV, also known as Ivan the Terrible, is often regarded as one of Russia’s worst leaders. While he’s considered the Father of Russia, he was pretty cruel and paranoid. He’s best known for establishing the secret police called the Oprichniki, who antagonized and executed anyone who disagreed with Ivan. Once, in a fit of rage, he caused his daughter to miscarry and killed his son by smacking him in the head with a scepter.

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Ibrahim of the Ottoman Empire

Ibrahim barely avoided execution by his older brother, who had actually killed four of their other brothers. After his sadistic brother died, Ibrahim took over and quickly became known for his breakdowns. These breakdowns gave him the nickname Ibrahim the mad. Ibrahim would obsess over his harem and would give them tremendous gifts, including a palace. Apparently, he was so hated that his own mother gave the a-okay for Ottoman elites to kill her son.

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George III of England

King George III was so crazy that movies were made about him. Even during his rule, it was challenging to keep stories about him quiet. Rumors have it he once tried to shake hands with a tree because he thought it was the King of Prussia. Some claim that he lost his mind because he’d lost the American colonies, but others claim that he was poisoned.

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Fyodor I of Russia

Fyodor I of Russia was the son of Ivan the Terrible, so he’s already starting out with a bad track record. To make matters worse, Fyodor was considered incompetent by his father, yet revered by Russians because he was known as a “yurodstvo.” Due to being almost worshiped, this ruler spent a lot of time in churches and particularly loved ringing the bells that called the faithful to mass. 

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Maria I of Portugal

Maria of Portugal’s madness was discovered early on when she had to be carried back to her home while delirious. That same year, her husband died, and she responded by forbidding anyone to have court entertainments. After her eldest son died from smallpox, she was deemed mentally insane and was treated by the same physician that handled George III. 

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Vlad III of Wallachia

Vlad III of Wallachia is better known by his nickname, Vlad the Impaler. This guy was so bad that he’s where the story of Dracula originates from. He was captured by the Ottoman Empire and held hostage. Somehow, he got free of the Ottoman Empire and became the leader of Wallachia. That’s when he had the power to exact his revenge. Vlad was known for many cruelties including nailing turbans to peoples’ heads, killing 100,000 people, and impaled his victims on spikes for enemies to later find.

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Anna of Russia

Anna was an empress who ruled Russia for 10 years in 1730. When she became empress, she realized she had unlimited power and used Royal Guards to harass aristocrats. In one fit of insanity, she paired a price with a maid. She then organized their wedding and had an ice palace constructed for the event. Everyone at the wedding was forced to dress as clowns and spend the night in the castle during one of Russia’s harshest winters it’d seen in years.

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Talal of Jordan

Talal of Jordan reportedly had schizophrenia. He ruled for less than 13 months before he was forced to abdicate Parliament. Prior to this, he tried to murder his own wife twice and was discovered torturing his 10-year-old son, Muhammad. Why was he abusing his own son? Talal thought he knew of an assassination plot.

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Majd al-Dawla of Iran

Majd al-Dawla was the leader over a city in Iran from 997 to 1029, starting at the age of four. Because he was so young, Majd’s mother had most of the power. The crazy thing about this guy was that he actually thought he was a cow. According to Persian traditions, he was supposedly cured by Avicenna, a Persian physician.

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Elagabalus

Elagabalus was a Roman emperor from 218 to 222. He took over at the age of 14, so he obviously inexperienced. That isn’t what lands him on this list. Elagabalus brought a new God to Rome. He nicknamed himself after this god and sacrificed children to it. On top of that, he was infamous for marrying a Vestal Virgin, cross-dressing, marrying a male slave, and asking doctors to castrate him to give him female organs. 

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