5 'Eccentric' Historical Figures Who Were Clearly Just Crazy
Ah, the nobility -- our betters. We've seen Downton Abbey, we know how they roll: all genteel, with their cucumber sandwiches and pantaloons, droppin' honorifics like a motherfucker. Not all of them are as subdued and proper as you'd think, though. There's a fine line between "eccentric duke" and "poop-smeared psychopath," and the following folks skipped gaily across that line, only occasionally checking in to pop a squat on the sanity side before skittering back into full-blown madness.
The Prince of Silence Would've Very Much Liked to Be Invisible
His proper name was William John Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck (1800-1879) of Nottinghamshire, England. His proper title was Marquess of Titchfield, fifth Duke of Portland, but you could call him the Prince of Silence. Or Bill. Or, preferably, nothing at all. Although rumored to have a disfiguring skin disease or deformity, it seems more likely that Bentinck just hated being near people, or was perhaps winning the most epic game of hide and seek ever played.
As evidenced by his formal portrait.
The only person who was regularly allowed to see him was his valet. Bentinck wouldn't even permit a doctor to examine him; shouting from behind a locked door, the doctor would ask the valet questions, and the valet would call back an answer to the best of his ability. Amazingly, this technique seemed to have worked, since Bentinck lived to the ripe old age of 79 ... for all anybody ever knew, at least.
In the event that servants did encounter Bentinck, they were instructed never to acknowledge his existence and to walk by him "as if he were a tree." Bentinck himself would make that easier by retreating to the wall and pretending to be a statue. Those who failed to ignore him or play along with his statue game were instantly dismissed.
Which explains why this was titled "Photo of Stacked Chairs."
The Prince of Silence might have had an easier time avoiding people if he hadn't been constantly adding to his home, Walbeck Abbey. He spent lavish amounts of money and employed thousands of workmen at a time. One project was a magnificent riding house of immense size, which was stocked with over a hundred horses and lit by 4,000 gas jets. When roller skating became popular, he had a rink built, expressly stating that his employees should enjoy it as often as possible. Aw, he just wanted people to be happy!
... because happy people are content; they do not come looking for the Prince of Silence.
We're not saying this guy was a ninja, just that he was totally qualified.
His main construction efforts were focused underground, though. Fifteen miles of tunnels were constructed, some large enough to drive a carriage through. There was also an underground library, a billiards room, and an observatory fitted with a glass roof. A vast subterranean ballroom was built, complete with a hydraulic lift capable of carrying 20 people. Why a man who shunned humanity like a Milford Academy alumnus would create a room specifically for parties, nobody knows. The labyrinthine tunnels connected to the house and grounds above via trapdoors so Bentinck could wander without risk of encountering anyone. To relay orders, an elaborate system of mailboxes was used. Also: Every room and tunnel was painted bright pink.
All right, we're calling it: Bentinck was Prince's great-great-great-grandpa.
Mango, King of the Pickles, Was the Best Drinking Buddy You Never Had
John Mytton of Shropshire, England (1796-1834), was known alternately as Mad Jack or Mango, King of the Pickles (you know you're seriously nutbar when "Mad " is the least crazy thing people call you). Above all else, Mad Jack hated to be bored. He must have found dinner parties terribly dull, because he was forever trying to spice them up. After inviting a parson and a doctor over for dinner, he hid along their route dressed as a highwayman. Jumping out of a bush, he fired pistols over their heads while roaring "Stand and deliver!" They turned their horses and ran, with Mad Jack chasing behind them. They were not terribly amused by his Victorian take on Punk'd.
At another dinner party full of guests who were in all likelihood expecting the only excitement that evening to be spice-based, Mad Jack rode a bear into his dining room. The bear calmly went along with this until Jack dug a spur into its side, at which point it bit him on the leg. There's no record of how they got the bear, which was probably a bit pissed off at that point, out of the house. When "wrestling the angry bear out of your home" doesn't even make the anecdote, you have thrown a good dinner party.
We're gonna guess it was hauled away unconscious after being challenged by Mad Jack to a drinking contest.
He also once won a bet in which he rode his horse into a prominent local hotel, went straight up their grand staircase, and then, while he was still riding it, had it jump down off the balcony, leap over the dining patrons, and exit through a window. One of the few jobs Mad Jack ever held happened after he ran for Parliament in 1819. Deciding it was easier than campaigning, he simply paid voters a 10-pound note for their vote. Obviously, he won. Upon attending his first session at Westminster, he lasted 30 minutes before becoming so bored that he left, never again to return.
Tragically, no one would invent a mic for him to drop for another 58 years.
He did accomplish one significant medical breakthrough: a truly unique cure for hiccups. Late one evening, while so obviously drunk that we shouldn't even have to state it, Jack had a bad case of the hiccups. None of the conventional cures got rid of them, so he simply lit his shirt on fire. After a servant beat out the flames, Jack exclaimed, "The hiccup is gone, by God!" There is no evidence that this method does not work 100 percent of the time, and we heartily encourage you to try it at home.**By reading this text, you are absolving Cracked of responsibility in all nipple-based lawsuits from this point until the end of time.
That said, drop by tomorrow for "7 Amazing Nipple Injuries You Can Sustain Right Now."
Mad Jack died at 38, deeply in debt but incredibly popular. It is said that 14,000 people turned out for his 15-mile funeral procession, probably half expecting him to spring out of his coffin and start firing T-shirts into the crowd.
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Sir Sitwell Refused to Believe the Middle Ages Were Over
Sir George Sitwell, fourth Baronet of Renishaw, Derbyshire, England (1860-1943), wasn't a pleasant man. He believed that, in order to keep wealth, one must not have friends. For example, a notice written by Sitwell and hung at his home of Renishaw Manor read: "I must ask anyone entering the house never to contradict me in any way, as it interferes with the functioning of the gastric juices and prevents my sleeping at night."
A cocky know-it-all making an implied poop joke -- we are all about this guy.
A hypochondriac, Sitwell toted around bags full of medicine, all of which was mislabeled to prevent anyone else from using it. Yes, we're talking "poisoning strangers" levels of crankiness here. Sitwell was also a prolific author, focusing mainly on the Middle Ages. He authored such (largely unpublished) gems as The History of the Fork, Leper's Squints, and Domestic Manners in Sheffield in the Year of 1250. Sitwell believed that they really had their shit together in the Middle Ages, and as such, he based his son's allowance on what an ancestor had given his son during the time of the black plague and tried to pay the tuition at Eton in produce. Neither went over super well.
Sitwell had a true flair for landscaping and decoration: Entire lawns would be raised 3 feet for a season, only for Sitwell to decide to lower them again. Hills were moved, streams were diverted, and centuries-old oak trees were uprooted and replanted according to his whims. His true moment of genius came when he decided to stencil blue Chinese willow patterns on the white cows at Renishaw. The cows did not share his vision.
"Inappropriate Chinese body art? Leave that shit where it belongs -- on white people."
George was also an inventor. He developed a musical toothbrush, a small revolver for shooting wasps (w-what?), and an "egg" made of smoked meat and rice protected by an inedible synthetic shell. Sort of like an inverted Kinder Surprise, if the surprise was how terrible it was.
Henry Cyril Paget Drove Perfume-Spewing Cars, Hypnotized People With Dance
At 23, Henry Cyril Paget, fifth Marquis of Anglesey (1875-1905), inherited almost half a billion pounds. By 27, it was gone. At 29, he died destitute, very likely a virgin, and such an embarrassment to his family that they burned every trace of his existence. You see, Paget was so flamboyant, he made Elton John look like Clint Eastwood. He almost exclusively wore elaborate silks and gems, and it was common to see him strolling down the Strand with a poodle done up in pink ribbons. Disliking the smell of car exhaust, he modified his car to spray perfume wherever it drove, like an Abercromobile.
In his defense, it did get 21 miles on a gallon of lilac essence.
He was married to his cousin Lily, on account of nobility liking to keep everything in the family, but it didn't really take. Paget preferred dressing his bride up like a life-size doll instead of having marital relations. Their marriage was eventually annulled on the grounds of non-consummation and just general weirdness (we have to assume).
"White Rick James" is a difficult look, but damn if he doesn't work that shit.
Do you think we're cruelly mocking a rich gay guy? Better check your reverse-privilege: It's unlikely that Paget was a practicing homosexual. This was around the time Oscar Wilde was imprisoned for being just too damn fabulous. The gay witch hunt was in full swing, and Paget's ex-wife was none too happy with him. Revenge was as simple as a little rumor, easily believed. But even she bitterly told her friends (and several tabloids) that "Henry is a classic narcissist. The only person he would make love to is himself."
Really? We never would've pegged him as a primper.
She was absolutely not kidding.
Paget turned an ancient chapel on the grounds of his manor into a theater. He named it the Gaiety, and it was both elaborate and expensive. He poached one of the best touring companies, paying the actors three to four times their normal salaries to perform. One catch: Once the cast, crew, and venue were procured, the show would go on, with Paget in the lead role. He of course would require numerous costume changes. But the highlight of most of his performances was Paget's butterfly dance. Although historians are unsure of the exact nature of the routine, it was described as "serpentine," "fluid," "mesmerizing," and "of an otherworldly nature." We're picturing something between the Axl Rose snake-dance and the Hypnotoad ... but obviously with way more panache.
Anna Maria Helena Hated Vaccines, Loved Cow Farts
Born in England and married into the French aristocracy, Anna Maria Helena, Comtesse de Noaille (1826-1908), was a strong-willed woman full of extraordinary beliefs, much like Jenny McCarthy. Also like Jenny McCarthy, she believed that vaccinations should never be given, and that inhaling huge amounts of cow farts was the secret to longevity.
"Again?! Leave us out of this stuff. Get goats, they're down for everything."
Yep, exactly like our own modern day Jenny McCarthy, de Noaille was convinced that inhaling large daily doses of methane fresh from a cow's butt would bring her a long and healthy existence. To that end, she kept a herd of cows outside of her bedroom so she could be sure to get the full benefits of the gas. She also slept with dead squirrels tied around her head to prevent wrinkles, used onions on her doorknob to guard against infection, and believed that when leaves fall (especially from oak trees, which she thought England had too many of), the climate became unhealthy, so she would leave England until spring came. Upon her death, de Noaille endowed an orphanage for the daughters of clergymen. A set of rules accompanied the cash gift, including drinking plenty of milk, using phrenology to ensure "firm spirit and conscientiousness," and instructing that no girl under 10 should be taught math.
It would take away from valuable head-measuring time.
De Noaille truly leveled up in peculiarity when, at a Paris salon, she fell in love with a painting by Ernest Hebert. Upon discovering that Baron Rothschild had already bought it, she did the next rational thing: She purchased the model. Seven-year-old Maria Pasqua was bought from her father for two bags of gold and the promise that she would be raised as a Catholic and treated as an equal, which is a nice thing for your parent to ask for when they're selling you to a stranger.
"So are they priced by the pound or by the soul?"
De Noaille kept her promise, although Maria did not have the most conventional childhood, even for a victim of human trafficking. Kept in Grecian clothing (tight clothing was deadly, according to de Noaille) and allowed to drink milk only from cows personally selected by de Noaille (children brought up on milk were less likely to become drunkards), Maria received an education and a standard of living that were superior to what her parents could have provided. By all accounts, she left the comtesse's home a prosperous and happy woman ...
... whom we must assume always smelled of cow butt.
Claire Gordon recently graduated with a journalism degree and now realizes she should have gone to business school. She also interns at the Austin Chronicle and puts wigs on her bulldog more often than he would appreciate. Read her stuff here, then hire her.
Related Reading: Sometimes the craziest people were right all along. Take these nutjobs who accurately predicted Pearl Harbor, the NSA spying scandal and much more! If you prefer your crazy with a heaping dose of legal power, read about the most insane judges of modern history. More a fan of nutty athletes? We've got a list of them, too.