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.
Everyone likes a good, faithful pet. That's why people hate cats. So maybe it's understandable that Emperor Caligula of Rome (12-41) would want to pamper his horse, Incintatus, as much as possible. It's kind of sweet, in a way...
... Until he started treating the horse like an actual human being. Incintatus the Horse was promoted to a consul of Rome, effectively making a horse one of the highest authorities of the time. Caligula arranged for the horse to meet the mare of his dreams (Incintatus' dreams, not Caligula's), invited him to dinner constantly and fed him gold-flecked oats.
That's right: This horse's shit was more valuable than the average citizen. And you thought feeding a cat Fancy Feast made you a pretentious dick. (It still does.)
After making his horse's digestive track his nation's treasury, Caligula casually decided that he was a god, and wanted to convince everyone else of the same thing. He spent a good portion of his time dressed up as various Roman gods, including Venus (the armless chick). When conducting political affairs, he was known to only respond to the name of Jupiter while in court and spoke only in a manly, booming echo.
They also made a Caligula movie that featured hardcore pornography but, shockingly, contained no horsefucking. A missed opportunity, is what that is.
All of this, of course, went unchecked. This guy was the Emperor of the part of the world that wasn't shit at the time, making him the most important person on Earth for a few short years. Short of being stabbed 30 or so times, there wasn't much in the way of a check-and-balance system.
Ludwig II of Bavaria (1845-1866) absorbed himself completely in fantasy, probably because he realized that being a real king sucked total balls. So he decided to be an imaginary king, starting with the construction of a new castle, Neuschwanstein. He loved the castle to death, and even today it's his most famous castle, serving as the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty's Castle in Disneyland (Disney World's drunken, unkempt older brother).
However, the guy was insane, and everyone knew it. He had a mix of OCD, schizophrenia and plain ol' blind obsession with the most random shit. Building castles turned into crack for him, and he wasn't willing to share it, either.
He built two more castles over the course of his lifetime, and attended to each one with an intensity only the insane can manage. The king would send out servants to uninhabited castles every day just to make sure that, you know, they were still there. And he had no intention of ever living in them--he just liked to build them.
Given that poor people make excellent laborers, building the castles wasn't so much the problem as the cost. Sitting on your ass all day doesn't really rake in the cash. Instead, he fed off of taxpayer's money, and eventually this ended up with the entire country being placed into debt and presumably being blacklisted by Mastercard. Ludwig's solution was to sell the whole damn thing to buy more land to build more castles.
"Hey, what do we got going on on top of that castle? Because I think a castle would look really good there..."
Eventually the nobles declared Ludwig legally insane and threw him off the throne. Ludwig tried to come up with a charming one-liner that would put him back into good graces, but in the end just said "fuck it" and died a mysterious death three days later, leaving behind a crazy legacy and a tremendous I.O.U. To his country.
(Note: Because Cracked cannot spell "Saparmurat "Turkmenbashi" Niyazov of Turkmenistan (1940-2006)" without copying and pasting, he will be referred to as Superman for the rest of this article.),
Just in case you missed it, check the birth and death of this guy--that is scarily recent. If you thought that crazy douches only ruled way back when, this man is very-nearly-living proof of just how fucked up things can get even today.
Superman grew up an orphan, joined the National Communist Party, made his way up the ladder and finally became president of Turkmenistan when the country gained independence. A few years later, he crowned himself President for Life and took hold of every affair in Turkmenistan.
He amassed a cult of personality, erecting statues (some made of solid gold) in his honor, establishing national holidays on his birthday and date of inauguration, and used his control of the media to praise him daily. So far, so good--seems like pretty standard eccentric dictator stuff.
As his reign continued, Superman decided to one up every other human being that would ever live. His legacy was to be palace of ice--a big palace of ice, enough for 1,000 people. And he wanted to build it in a desert.
Getting 1,000 people to gather in the middle of a scorching desert is wishful thinking. Getting a palace of ice to not melt in said desert would require the world's most potent sorcery.
His egomania came to a head when he decided to just rename time itself: He remade the calendar so that days of the week and months of the year were named after himself and his mother. Then there's the whole "National Melon Day," the only day in human history where fruit rose to the status of superstars. Unless his love of melons was blatantly obvious innuendo, chances are he had always been crazy and just kinda liked melons. He certainly liked them enough to be quoted as saying, "Let the life of every Turkmen be as beautiful as our melons."
"And you know what they say: A melon a day, there are tiny goblins in my brain, eating my thoughts."
Yes, Superman. We must all be as beautiful as our goddamn melons, you crazy, crazy bastard.
For more crazy famous people, check out 7 "Eccentric" Geniuses Who Were Clearly Just Insane. Or find out how the people around you might just be nuts also, in 8 Insane Ways Parents Are Politically Brainwashing Children.
And to further expand your noggin, check out Cracked's De-Textbook: The Stuff You Didn't Know About the Stuff You Thought You Knew.