4 Child Kings Who Brought the Brutality and Incompetence of a Ruler Four Times Their Age
Look, we all know that monarchy is an absolutely flawless system of government that ensures the very best rulers, every time. Nepotism and absolute power together? That’s like peanut butter and jelly, baby. An all-time pairing of two of the hardest hitters in the history of great bosses. Even such a sterling system, though, does have a couple natural flaws.
For example, for succession to run down through your bloodline, you, first of all, have to have one. All it takes is one man’s particularly reticent sperm and you’re going to have some problems — and probably some angry beheadings. Even if you’re successfully able to pump out a kingly little boy, you’re not out of the woods yet. You’re still up against time, and possibly, severe inbreeding. Catch an arrow or a poisoned turkey leg at the wrong time and all of a sudden, it’s King O’Clock for your tiny, sick child. Unsurprisingly, that’s not always the best outcome.
Here are four child kings who didn’t exactly work out swimmingly.
Egypt, over history, had its successes with young rulers, like with the well-regarded future star of most grade-school history textbook covers, Tutankhamen. Ptolemy XIII, however, who came into power at the age of 11 in the year 51 B.C., fared a whole lot worse. It wasn’t just his age, but some classic young sibling rivalry that carved out a less than sunny stint for Ptolemy in the annals of history.
At first, he ruled along with his sister and wife, Cleopatra. Yes, that Cleopatra. As you might imagine, being Cleopatra’s brother could rub somebody the wrong way, and he had her exiled in 48 B.C., kicking off a civil war. He also exiled Cleopatra directly into the waiting arms of a pretty powerful ally by the name of Julius Caesar. Over the next few years, Ptolemy would ally himself with Pompey against Caesar, kill Pompey to try (unsuccessfully) to buddy up to Caesar and eventually launch an all-out offensive against Caesar. Caesar emerged, as he often did, victorious, and Ptolemy died a less-than-heroic death, drowning in the Nile while running away.
This war was also responsible for the destruction of the Library of Alexandria, which means modern historians probably hate his ass.
Sultan Murad IV officially ascended to the throne at the visually pleasant, but far too young age of 11. This immediately caused problems as people, including his mother, Kosem, basically attempted to rule vicariously through the power of the decidedly unprepared Murad, and the next couple of years were less than pleasant. There was a massive conflict between his mother, the grand viziers and groups of cavalries known as spahis who were taking a lot of power for themselves and eventually perpetrated a coup.
In 1632, having now become an actual adult, Murad had experienced more than enough of the constant corruption and infighting. Unfortunately, his time growing up as the head of a decidedly chaotic period hadn’t made him a particularly soft-hearted leader. He was actually highly effective and considered a good ruler, but at the same time, pretty damn brutal. He banned smoking, the consumption of alcohol, and more surprisingly, coffee. I guess a tired resistance is a weak one?
It’s the kind of ban that seems unenforceable, except for Murad’s preferred punishment: good old executions. You didn’t even have to be proven guilty. If Murad thought he smelled a nice Arabica on your breath, it was probably curtains for you. He’d put the caffeinated bodies on display to deter future offenders, too. Next time add some classes on empathy to the kingly curriculum.
It’s unfortunate that the Romans ever got stuck with Elagabalus as a ruler in the first place, seeing as he wasn’t actually the heir to the throne. Instead, he was put into power based on an (extremely successful) rumor that he was the bastard son of Emperor Caracalla. Up until that point, Elagabalus, born Varius Avitus Bassianus, had spent his childhood in Syria becoming deeply, deeply devoted to a cult worshiping a giant black stone they declared a sun god that historians think was likely a meteorite. This was the cult of Elah-Gabal, hence the name change.
All of which led to the young Elagabalus, aged only 15, making his first act as emperor informing Romans that they were worshiping the wrong god. An act of blasphemy turned out not to be the best first impression, and people weren’t fans from the jump. Over the next few years, he only doubled down on his piss-poor rep by conducting himself in less than kingly ways, including having a sexual relationship with his chariot driver and a whole lot of people who both were and weren’t his wives.
At one point, he decided to marry, and consummate said marriage, with a vestal virgin, a priest who the Romans’ religion demanded remain celibate, claiming their offspring would be godlike. This proved to be the final straw, and he was assassinated by Praetorian guards at the age of 18.
Charles II of Spain
The last entry comes not from a place of judgment, but a place of pity. Charles II of Spain had absolutely zero chance of ever being an effective ruler, but through no fault of his own. He was just truly incapable of physically or mentally performing a ruler’s duties through an absolutely mind-boggling amount of inbreeding. He was the last ruler of the Habsburg family, a bloodline known so distinctly for their interbreeding they have a genetic mutation named after them. To give you some idea of how deep this ran, Charles II’s aunt was also his grandmother. They had less of a family tree than a family bush.
He was practically a human prop placed on the throne at the age of only four to retain rulership for his family. He was severely mentally and physically disabled. His tongue was too large for his mouth, making it almost impossible for him to speak, he was unable to chew food and he was completely illiterate. Modern historians think he suffered from two specific genetic illnesses. The first, distal renal tubular acidosis, made his head wildly larger than the rest of his body and made him piss blood. The second, pituitary hormone deficiency, proved to be the poetic justice for the cruel life his family gave him, as it rendered him completely impotent, finally ending the human rights violation that was the continuation of the Habsburg bloodline.