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Which monarchs do you love to hate? June 6, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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It’s me, Richard Saunders of Poor Richard’s Almanac fame, here today to respond to a reader’s search phrase that arrived over the virtual transom. The reader wondered who was the most hated monarch. I thought that was a really interesting question and decided to do a bit of surfing myself to see if there was a consensus.

Mind you, the reader asked about monarchs, so easy answers like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Torquemada, and the Duvaliers (Papa Doc and Baby Doc) don’t count for the purposes of our discussion. Only kings, emperors and other rulers who were considered to reign by divine right (typically by right of birth), as opposed to dictators, qualify for our list. I’m also excluding rulers who were hated because of their incompetence, like poor Louis XVI or Richard II, or because, like William the Conqueror, they came to power over a populace that hated them for simply existing.

For me, the “most hated” category should be reserved for rulers who were genuinely cruel, evil, twisted people. Unfortunately, my knowledge of history is too limited to include many worthy candidates—I’m sure, for example, that there were Chinese, Ancient Egyptian, Maya, and Aztec emperors and kings who should be on the list—so I’m hoping you’ll help me out here by adding your own recommendations.

Here are the rulers who spring to my mind when “most hated” is the category:

Vlad the Impaler: Vlad Tepes came by his nickname, “the Impaler,” honestly. The sadistic Romanian ruler enjoyed torturing people, preferably by impaling them alive on stakes shoved up their bottoms. And we’re talking about thousands of people, not just one or two. Moreover, he didn’t just leave it to his torturers to do their dirty work in secret. His greatest pleasure was enjoying the sight of hundreds of impaled victims screaming, writhing, and rotting in front of his eyes as he forced his court to dine on tables set out before his fields of victims. But he didn’t limit himself to impaling. He also devised a unique solution to the ever-pressing problem of poverty and misfortune: He invited all his country’s poor and destitute to a grand banquet. How generous! Then, he barricaded the doors of the enormous banquet hall and burned them all alive. Some of the monsters on our list practiced brutality as a form of intimidation, but Vlad did it just for pleasure.  

Genghis Khan: The future Khan of Khans, Temudgin, was almost defrauded of his inheritance when his father was poisoned when Temudgin was a young boy. But the kid had greatness in his genes and battled his way to the top, uniting the Mongol tribes into what became known—and feared worldwide—as the Mongol Horde. Unfortunately, his ascent to and retention of power involved brutally murdering anyone who stood in his way, including women and children, sometimes 20,000 at a time. 

Attila the Hun: Attila, who leant his name to Hungary, was another magnificent strategist. But like Genghis Khan, his strategies also involved inspiring terror and compliance through mass murder. Throughout Europe, he was viewed as the most ferocious conqueror who had ever set foot on foreign soil. Perhaps fittingly, he drowned in his own blood on his wedding night.

Caligula: Caligula is renowned for his depravity, insensitivity, and enjoyment of torture, such as murdering his pregnant sister after subjecting her to unspeakable acts and throwing Christians to the lions for the enjoyment of the Roman populace. But frankly, he was only following a long line of horror that began with the very first Roman Emperor, Augustus, who systematically murdered everyone he viewed as a threat, including his own heirs. Under Augustus’s successor, Tiberius, and subsequent Emperors, thousands upon thousands were crucified and subjected to other unspeakable tortures like the “blood eagle.” Tiberius’s most famous victim was, of course, Jesus Christ Himself. Caligula wasn’t even the worst of the line; his successors were so sadistic and depraved they made him look like a teddy bear. It’s amazing to me that Rome didn’t rise up in revolt and toss these perverts from the get-go.

Ivan the Terrible: The first Tsar of All the Russias, like our friend Vlad, earned his moniker. Not only did he kill and torture thousands of political opponents, he restricted the advancement and freedom of expression of all artists in his realm. He butchered 60,000 of the inhabitants of the great city of Novgorod. And he managed to cause the death of his son and heir and the miscarriage of his daughter-in-law by beating them, in his son’s case with a rod. What a guy!

Henry VIII: Henry didn’t limit his insane paranoia and cruelty to his wives, courtiers, and advisors, systematically torturing and executing everyone from the love of his life, Anne Boleyn, to his trusted advisors Cardinal Wolsey (who actually died en route to being executed after handing over everything he owned to Henry), St. Thomas More, and Thomas Cromwell. He managed to execute over 72,000 people during his reign, and torture, including the rack and burning at the stake, was one of his favorite ways of doing it. His final wife, Katherine Parr, another blameless woman, was spared only because he died before he could command her death. His daughter, Bloody Mary, was clearly a chip off the old block.

Leopold II of Belgium: Leopold didn’t wreak havoc on his own country. Instead, he inflicted it elsewhere.  In the African Congo, he murdered and tortured the native population in order to reap financial gains from rubber and ivory. Cutting off the hands of children was an especially popular technique during his reign, to force the remainder of the family to slave to produce rubber for him without protest, but numerous other tortures were commonplace. His horrific practices resulted in the death of 3 million Congolese and eventually roused the outrage of the world, since his reign extended into the 20th Century, and his horrors were brought to a halt. Too bad his own hands weren’t cut off!

Khufu: The Pharoah who was responsible for building the Great Pyramid of Giza. Khufu, also known as Cheops, is not known for much beyond his magnificent architectural achievement. But the other thing for which he was noted was his extreme cruelty. It’s now thought that Egyptian citizens rather than slaves built the pyramids, but apparently everyone was subject to Khufu/Cheops’s unpredictable cruelty.

Yongle: This Chinese Emperor built the Forbidden City, the largest palace in the world. Then he slaughtered almost 3,000 helpless women, children and eunuchs, to make sure he wouldn’t be disgraced before foreign dignitaries. But he also slaughtered anyone else who appeared to oppose him, over 10,000 in all. No criticism of the Emperor and his nightmarish ways was allowed.

So, there are my 9 worst monarchs of all time. Can you add a tenth? Native American, European, African, Middle Eastern, Asian, Polar, you name it? Which monarchs do you love to hate?

                     Your friend,

                                     Richard Saunders