Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and awesome power corrupts awesomely.
Granted, it probably wasn't all that awesome living under these rulers, but it's a lot of fun to read about them from afar.
Anna I of Russia (1639-1740) was either the meanest bitch in history or one of its greatest pranksters. Or both.
This story tells you just about everything you need to know about a woman who both had absolute power and was batshit insane: She once found out a nobleman had committed the offense of marrying a Catholic. In response she forced him to marry an old hag, then after the wedding ceremony dressed them up as clowns, paraded them through the streets with farm animals, stripped them naked and made them sleep in a palace made of ice. This was in Russia in the middle of winter, where taking a piss means you instantly have an icicle jammed up your urethra.
Her reign was one of terror, both in the general sense (she started that "secret police" thing in Russia) and in the humiliating sense. Anyone who even mildly upset her knew they were either in for a cruel mocking, or a horrific death (which we suppose she thought was all part of the joke). Overcook her food? To the gallows! Speaking against her? Off with your tongue! Political opponents and general asshats alike had made her endless hit-list.
"All y'all mothafuckas betta watch yo' fuckin' selves."
When she wasn't ordering random murder, she would randomly command a person to stand in a corner and impersonate a chicken or dog or cat; anything that she liked, really. Horrible? Yes. But which of us can say we wouldn't do exactly the same if given absolute power? We at Cracked salute her, out of fear and admiration.
Being in a position of power in the Ottoman Empire during the High Middle Ages was a lot like playing King of the Hill: Everyone wanted you off the throne so they could be the target of assassination plots and political upheaval. So when Ahmed I, Mustafa's older brother, took the throne, it was a tradition to kill off all members of the family who might want a piece of the power. However, Ahmed decided to spare his brother, locking him in his room for the rest of his life instead. Dr. Phil calls that "tough love."
Fourteen years later, Ahmed was overthrown by typhoid fever. Now without a cruel ruler, the people of the Ottoman Empire decided it would be best to put Mustafa on the throne, sure there would be no side effects from the whole "life in a cage" thing.
"I just might kill everyone."
Mustafa (1591-1639) ruled for three months, in which time he managed to reward a position of First Officer to a random farmer who offered him a drink when he was out one day. It was at that point when he was deposed, before he could bring the whole nation crashing down. Back in the cage he went.
His political career wasn't over, however, because his replacement was crazier. That would be Osman II (who was 13-years old at the time), who liked to practice archery with screaming prisoners as targets. He was caught trying to leave the country with the contents of its treasury, and sentenced to death. In the course of trying to execute him he killed six men, but finally was put down by "a combination of strangulation and compression of his testicles."
"You see, here, they crushed his tiny, tiny neck. And then they just went straight crazy on his junk."
And thus it was time for our favorite recluse to take the throne again. Except this time, he realized just how shitty a job being a sultan was, and absolutely refused to leave his room. It took a group of men with a long piece of rope, and several hours to drag him out. This lead to Mustafa's first official decree of his second reign: Everyone involved in his expulsion from the cage was to be executed.
The message sent was clear, and Mustafa was allowed to return to his cage. In hindsight, they probably should have locked it twice.
Frederick William I of Prussia (1688-1740) had a hard-on for the military. He built the most powerful army that ever graced Prussia. Also, the tallest.
See, for some reason, Fred wanted himself an army with height. He liked to display his military power by making his tallest soldiers march around (assuming they didn't need to march through the average doorway), striking fear into those of short and average height alike. You have to admit an entire army of seven-footers would be terrifying, if not really, really obvious targets.
"Well this blows."
First he started recruiting tall men from his own country, but found that the regime was too small (remember, we're talking about every tall adult male in what amounts to Germany here), and started to recruit from other countries. And by "recruit" we mean "kidnap random tall men in the dead of night, and maybe burn down the hometown if the inclination was felt."
Despite this being a pretty severe crime by any standard, he got away with it in part due to the army of Wilt Chamberlains he was amassing.
Jesus, what an awful picture of Wilt Chamberlain.
Once Europe's biggest and tallest were all under one roof, they were made into Potsdam's Giants, a special section of the army. So special, in fact, that they never even fought. They were "too valuable" for Fred to risk, so that's why they wound up continually parading around his palace and, when he was ill, marching in his own goddamn bedroom.