Appalling Facts About Ruthless Leaders From History

By Jake Schroeder
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There has been no shortage of bad, ruthless or simply inept leaders throughout history. From insane monarchs to power-hungry Roman emperors, many rulers had reigns that were damaging to their lands and people.

Whether these leaders were crazy, incompetent or just downright evil is a matter for some debate. In this article, we break down some of the worst leaders our world has ever known and the terrible acts they committed.

Farouk of Egypt

Farouk, the last king of Egypt, loved to party and gamble, and his gluttonous lifestyle pushed his weight up to 300 pounds. Farouk was also a pickpocket and hired professional thieves to teach him the skill. He practiced on diplomats, politicians and other guests he encountered.

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Farouk even once snatched Winston Churchill's watch from his pocket and later claimed he had simply found it on the floor. He also stole several items including a ceremonial sword and medals from the shah of Iran's corpse at his funeral.

Zhu Houzhao

Zhu Houzhao was only 14-years-old when he took the throne as emperor of the Ming Dynasty. His ministers hoped he would mature into the role, but that is not what happened. Houzhao's interests were reserved for women and brothels. He even converted a former zoo into his own personal brothel.

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Houzhao invented an alter ego for himself who he ordered out on raiding parties to get out having to serve as emperor. Eventually, Houzhao died after getting drunk and falling off a boat during a fishing trip.

John, King of England

When Richard the Lionheart of England went on a crusade, his brother John was supposed to watch over the kingdom. However, John saw his brother’s absence as an opportunity to seize power. He had his closest competition to the throne, his nephew, murdered as well.

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John started and lost a war with France, which upset the nobility. In response, they tried to force John to accept limits on his power by signing the Magna Carta, a document setting out the responsibilities of the monarchy and the rights of its subjects. However, John was not willing to change his ways. He went back to war with France not long after signing.


King Ludwig II of Bavaria

King Ludwig II of Bavaria didn't like to spend too much time in the public eye. He chose to spend his time and money building fairytale castles rather than governing his people. Two years after taking the throne, his uncle had him removed from power on the grounds he was insane.

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Doubts remain over whether Ludwig was really insane or just rather eccentric. Unfortunately, the end of his life offers no clues. Both Ludwig and his doctor, the one who had declared him insane, were both discovered dead in a pond.

Ottoman Sultan Ibrahim I

Ottoman Sultan Ibrahim I was nicknamed Ibraham the Mad. Ibrahim's upbringing likely led to his paranoid nature. He spent his infancy locked in a windowless building fearing he could be murdered at any minute. Ibrahim's brother attempted to order Ibraham's assassination, but their mother put a stop to it.

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Upon being declared sultan, Ibrahim refused to come out of the building until he could see his brother's corpse. Once outside, Ibraham indulged his kinky desires with women. His entire reign was fairly chaotic until he was finally imprisoned by the grand mufti and then executed.

Emperor Qin Shi Huang

Emperor Qin Shi Huang of China is credited with creating the first unified Chinese Empire. He did this, however, by dismantling China's education system and working his loyal subjects to the bone. He also had an odd habit of issuing nonsensical orders and speaking in opposites.

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Huang didn't trust educated people. Not only did he burn books, but he also burned hundreds of scholars alive. He had a massive tomb constructed for himself which included 6,000 terra-cotta warriors and horses. Most of what he did in China fell apart a decade after his death, however.


Roman Emperor Rudolph II

Roman Emperor Rudolph II broke a religious settlement which had been keeping German Protestants and Catholics from fighting each other. He also attempted to wipe out Protestantism from Germany by force. This backfired for him, however, as the Protestants organized a self-defense league even as the Ottoman Empire also threatened his rule.

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Rudolph handled the situation by refusing to speak to anyone and hiding in a Prague castle. His brother Mathias replaced him and peace was restored, but only until Rudolph got mad again. Six years later, the 30 Years War began in Europe in part because of his incompetence.

Ranavalona I of Madagascar

Ranavalona I of Madagascar kept her country free from British rule during a period of European colonialism. However, she was also a ruthless leader who imposed a period of forced labor on her subjects in lieu of taxes.

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Ranavalona once insisted that a road be built for her and her hunting party directly in front of their eyes. 10,000 people are estimated to have died during the road's construction, but that's what she ordered. There were several attempts on her life and one attempted coup during her reign, which only added to her paranoia and ruthlessness.

Henry VI of England

Henry VI of England was 9 months old when he was declared King of England. When his grandfather Charles VI died, he also became King of France. However, at no age was Henry fit to be king. He gave out titles to unqualified people he liked, and his advisors are thought to have had too much control.

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He was perceived as physically and mentally weak. Henry was responsible for the beginning of the War of the Roses and also for losing English lands in France. He was eventually locked away in the Tower of London and died, possibly from murder.


Ferdinand I of Naples

Ferdinand I of Naples was a ruthless leader who governed by oppression, which eventually inspired a revolt against him. He often promised his defeated enemies amnesty only to later have them killed.

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Ferdinand liked to mummify his defeated enemies' corpses and put on display in his museum. This served as a deterrent to enemies. If he took someone on a tour of his morbid museum, he knew he didn't have to worry about that person anymore.

Emperor Sun Hao

Sun Hao was the emperor of the state of Eastern Wu during China’s Three Kingdoms era. In the beginning of his reign, he lowered taxes and increased grain payments, but things took a turn due to his paranoid and superstitious nature. He killed his cousins, forced an aunt to kill herself and set out to conquer the Jin state.

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Hao overstretched his military, leading some of his subjects to rebel and making them vulnerable to attack from the Jin state, which eventually overtook them. Instead of having Sun Hao executed, however, Jin Emperor Sima Yin allowed him to live as a guest of the government until his death.

Eric XIV Of Sweden

Eric XIV of Sweden was initially thought to be a good ruler in the 16th-century. Then his paranoia took hold, and things took a turn. He had his brother arrested and tried for treason, and he ordered the death of a prominent Swedish family without cause. Eric even committed one of the killings himself.

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After the executions, Eric retreated to the woods. Four days later, he was discovered dressed as a commoner. The nobles weren't happy with him murdering the family, however, and dethroned him. He died from poison while in prison.


Pope John XII

Supported by Germany's Otto I, Pope John XII was elected to the position at 18-years-old, at which point the Holy See became decidedly debauched. The pope liked to have sex in the papal palace and didn't distinguish between men and women. He forced himself on anyone who refused him, including his sisters.

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As John was having fun, Otto I was gaining power. Otto deposed the perverted priest, but John wouldn’t go away without a fight. He gathered an army in an attempt to regain his position but mysteriously died before he could make the attempt.

Wu Zetian

The one and only woman to rule in China on her own was a ruthless and sadistic leader. She had her rivals executed, including members of her own family. She even ordered the death of her own newborn daughter.

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To maintain power, she poisoned her enemies or even had them boiled or burned alive. Her reforms did much good in China, but as her reign continued, she spent less time on governing and more time with her many young lovers. Eventually, her subjects could take no more and had her exiled and her lovers executed.

Fat′h Ali Shah

Fat′h Ali Shah served as the second shah of Iran’s Qajar dynasty. Early in his reign, Georgia, which had been ruled by Iran since 1555, was taken over by Russia in the Russian-Persian war. Fat′h Ali Shah tried to gain allies, but Britain and France both refused.

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Ali eventually lost all of Iran's Caucasian lands to Russia. He was also forced to pay Russia 10 million gold pieces, although in exchange, Russia at least promised to support his designated heir.


Maria I of Portugal

The first Queen of Portugal, Maria I, was known more for her mental instability than her governance. In 1786, she had to be carried back home in a delirious state. Her husband had also died that year, which may have contributed to her deteriorating condition.

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Her misfortune would continue, however, and she lost a son as well as her confessor. She was declared legally insane in 1792. Maria's son John took over the throne, ruling in her name. She spent the rest of her life in a hysterical and violent state.

King James III

Scotland has had many Kings with the name James — nine of them, to be exact —but none quite like King James III. He ascended to the throne at only nine years of age and was dead by 28. He was unpopular amongst his subjects due to his seeking an with England, and his subjects even had him arrested at one point.

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The Scottish eventually launched a rebellion with James' oldest son, also named James, as its figurehead. James III was defeated at the Battle of Sauchieburn and killed shortly after, allegedly by someone in a priest disguise.

King Leopold of Belgium

King Leopold of Belgium is credited with creating the Congo Free State, which saw rubber and ivory resources extracted from Africa's Congo region. Between 8 and twelve million people were thought to have been enslaved, killed or tortured under his rule.

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His exploitation of the Congo and its people made him a very wealthy man. At one time in the 1800s, Leopold was even thought to be the wealthiest man in the world with a net worth between $100 and $500 million — a real fortune for that time.



Farrukhsiyar ascended to the Mughal throne after he murdered his predecessor, Jahandar Shah. He is said to have lacked any ability to rule at all. Farrukhsiyar and was heavily manipulated by his advisors, the Sayyid brothers.

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The brothers basically ran the country, and Farrukhsiyar began to suspect they might try to dethrone him. The brothers eventually did turn on Farrukhsiyar, but only after he plotted against them. Farrukhsiyar was put in prison, starved, blinded with needles and eventually strangled. For what it's worth, Farrukhsiyar was said to have been quite handsome.

Emperor Qianfei

The emperors of the Liu Song Dynasty made a habit out of killing people, even their own family members. Emperor Qianfei was held prisoner by his uncle and didn't become free until his father killed his captor. Despite owing his freedom to his father, Qianfei despised him and even had portraits of his father defaced.

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Emperor Qianfei undid all of his father's laws as well, creating chaos across the land. He kept up the family tradition of killing, too. In fact, he killed most of his family members aside from a few uncles who were instead thrown in cages and put on display.

Mir Jafar

Mir Jafar made a deal with the British in 1757 to overthrow the nawab of Bengal in exchange for becoming ruler himself. Things didn't work out as planned, however. Jafar was basically a puppet for the British, which allowed them to take over all of India.

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Jafar did align with the Dutch in an attempt to stop the British but was defeated and dethroned. He'd only regain his throne after paying a large sum of money to the Brits for the right.


Charles II of Spain

Generations of inbreeding led to Charles II of Spain having many birth defects. Charles was physically and mentally disabled and had a large tongue, which made understanding his speech difficult. A short and thin man, he suffered from numerous health problems.

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The many genetic disorders he suffered from led to weak muscles, a large head, bloody urine and rickets. He died at 39-years-of-age. One thing Charles II's reign can be credited with, however, is ending the Habsburg line of royalty in Spain, since he didn’t leave an heir.

Czar Nicholas II

Czar Nicholas II was not one to change with the times or let go of the past. While he had little interest in ruling, he also fought to suppress democratic reforms and often broke his promises to nobles and peasants alike. He had a poor understanding of military theory and lead Russia to disaster in World War I.

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His actions caused widespread unrest that contributed to the Russian Revolution. When he was finally executed in 1918, the 300-year-long Romanov dynasty came to an end.

King Naser Al-Din Shah Qajar

Shah Naser al-Din of Persia’s Qajar Dynasty ruled for over 50 years. Despite the length of his reign, he ended up with little to show for it. One of his few accomplishments was being the first modern Iranian monarch to visit Europe.

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He attempted to get his people to accept Western reforms but never had full control of his people. Tribal and religious leaders carried more influence among the people of Iran than the monarchy did.


Manuel Mariano Melgarejo Valencia

On December 28th, 1864, Manuel Mariano Melgarejo Valencia seized power in Bolivia. He had almost been executed by the previous president for treason after participating in a rebellion against the government, which he blamed on alcohol. His rule was defined by incompetence and needlessly giving away land to Chile.

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Seven years after taking power, he was defeated and removed from office by the commander of his own army. He fled to Peru and was assassinated a year later by the brother of one of his former lovers.


The Roman Emperor Elagabalus was more interested in sexual exploits than ruling his people. Having taken the throne at age 14, Elagabalus had sex with all the women he wanted and even married and divorced 5 times. He took male lovers as well. He also allegedly offered money to any medical professional who could give him female body parts.

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Elagabalus attempted to give his lovers high-ranking positions in the court. As a result of his reign, Roman currency devalued. When he was 18, his family finally had him killed.


Out of all the Roman Emperors, Caligula might have been the worst ruler. He declared himself a God was alleged to have engaged in incest with his sisters, both of which offended the Romans. At one point even declared war on the God of the Sea, Neptune.

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He once offended a dinner party by bursting into laughter and stating it was because he could have them all killed just by giving the word. A praetorian guard eventually assassinated him to no one's surprise.


King Herod the Great

King Herod the Great is the ruthless monarch who wanted to have baby Jesus killed. After ascending to power, he began to see Jesus as his biggest threat. The three wise men, Mary and Joseph were informed of Herod's intentions, however, and fled to safety. In response, Herod ordered the execution of all male children under the age of two in Bethlehem.

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Herod killed his wife after suspecting her of adultery and then had her body preserved so he could continue performing depraved acts on it. After 37 years in power, he died of a disease that gave him worms.

King Christian VII

At first, King Christian VII of Denmark limited his eccentricities to throwing food at dinner guests. Then things took a turn when he started masturbating so often that it impacted his ability to govern his people. He also leapfrogged over people who bowed to him and slapped them in the face for no reason in the middle of conversations.

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Eventually, Christian's doctor had him removed from power and gave control to the queen, who he happened to be having an affair with.

Juana La Loca

Also known as Joanna the Mad, Juana la Loca ruled as queen of Castile from 1504 to 1516. After the death of her husband in 1506, Juana entered a deep depression and was reported to open his tomb frequently to kiss and caress his corpse. After her father buried the body, she ordered it exhumed, jumped in the coffin and kissed its feet.

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Juana brought te coffin with her everywhere, even to bed. She eventually had the body buried outside her window. Her son later had Juana declared unfit to rule, and she was placed in a nunnery until her death.