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Welcome to Interesting If True, the podcast that is better than yours.
I’m your host this week, Shea, and with me this week, as always, the ever amicable Aaron
I’m Aaron, and this week I learned that I’m a king in my own mind… and that might just be enough…
We have been living in an Orwellian horror but it seems there is a light at the end of the tunnel, though who really knows. This past year has revealed that real-life rulers were sometimes more akin to villains in storybooks: orange oligarchs, crazed witches, sleazy morons, and murderous families. Whether these rulers were born that way or the job drove them to do dastardly deeds, a number of monarchs throughout history exhibited signs that something wasn’t quite right. For some, it was just a strange quirk here or there. For others, a debilitating problem that left them unfit to rule their own lands.
No one can deny that, despite the perks, being a ruler is complicated. Access to massive riches can corrupt you. You must make decisions that determine the well-being of entire populations. All the while, there are people out there who probably want nothing more than to see you dead. This could lead anyone to develop warped priorities. SO today I will learn you about some of the strangest rulers and royals throughout history, what made them that way, and how it might have affected the country they ruled.
Elagabalus, who took the throne in 218 AD, was a lesser-known Roman Emperor whose behavior rivals that of the most vicious, cruel, and self-indulgent rulers of all time. A devotee of the Syrian god he was named for, Elagabalus brought the deity’s cult to Rome and tried to make it the main religion of the empire. He wasn’t above physical aggression, either; Emperor Elagabalus stories have him harming unsuspecting guests while they dined and even depict him as making human sacrifices. But he got the most attention for his private life. Elagabalus had multiple wives as well as a husband, and some reports suggest he was transsexual and enjoyed dressing up in traditional female garb.
If that wasn’t intriguing enough, consider this: Elagabalus was only 14 when he became emperor, but the good times didn’t last. At the age of 18, the young emperor was slain by his own soldiers.
Elagabalus has a laundry list of weird behavior such as;
- He chained naked women to chariots, like horses, and whipped them as they pulled him around.
- He released poisonous snakes into the audience of the gladiator games and watched as crowds panicked and died from poisonous bites.
- He tied dinner guests to a water wheel to watch them slowly drown.
- He tossed gold and silver from the balcony of a tower and reveled in commoners fighting and dying over the money.
- He let loose lions and leopards during a feast.(This was his idea of a prank because all the animals were rendered harmless but this was unknown to the guests)
- He filled positions in the government based on the sizes of the men’s penises.
- When his chief adviser warned him that he should live a moderate life to prevent revolt over the effects of his taxation, he stabbed the adviser to death.
My favorite contribution of his maybe the whoopie cushion, not officially attributed to him. He loved pranks so instead of seating his guests on cushions, according to Historia Augusta, “some of his humbler friends he would seat on air-pillows instead of on cushions and let out the air while they were dining.”
The cushions deflated, and the flabbergasted guests would slide under the table without anything to support them.
Who wouldn’t have wanted to off this guy after all these hyjinx…
Born in 1735, Prince Sado’s, crown prince of Korea, brutal treatment at the hands of his father, King Yongjo, led to a life of perversion, violence, and despair. Sado suffered from delusions and nightmares from the age of 10, and things got worse as he grew up. His constant quest to impress his father drove him to madness, especially considering his father may have been equally crazy and hell-bent on torturing his son.
After the birth of his second son Sado’s grip on reality was starting to slip, historians believe that an attack of measles may have been the cause. Sado believed he could see the god of thunder, and had an irrational fear of the sky. Sado was convinced he would be blamed by his father for any thunderstorm that hit the country.He was obsessed with Taiost magic, in particular the book known as the Jade Spine Scriptures.He would take hours to dress and choose clothes. Entire outfits were burned as a spirit offering. His clothes became associated with the weather, and would please or displease the sky gods on criteria only he could understand. Despite this Yeongjo began sending Sado in his place for more and more official duties, especially the ones Yeongjo did not want to do. This included supervising the torture of imperial prisoners, which did not improve Sado’s mental state. By this time his sanity was at an all time low. If there was any sort of stressful event or tragedy, it was expected that Sado would deal by killing a string of servants. Sado is reported as saying, “It relieves my pent up anger to kill people or animals when I’m depressed or on edge.” That’s what we need in a leader!
It has been recorded that Yeongjo asked Sado why he was committing the crimes he had, to which Sado replied along the lines of, “Because I’m in pain! You are my father but do not love me.” He also began drinking heavily, which was a serious breach of Korean society. By 1762, everyone in the palace- family or servant- was in danger. The body totals are unknown, but reports are that multiple bodies had to be carried away from the palace he was in every day. Sado didn’t even seem to know he was killing people as he was in a semi-lucid state most of the time. Sado turned his dangerous attentions to his younger sister, and repeatedly tried to seduce then rape her. Something had to be done.
On July 4, 1762, Sado was summoned before Yeongjo. The crown prince was stripped of his title and was ordered to get into a rice box, which was a large heavy wooden chest. The lid was shut, and Sado was left to swelter in the searing July heat. Sado lasted for eight days in the chest, with no food or water and died screaming for mercy.
It’s easy to get rid of a crazy despot just follow these steps
One – cut a hole in a box
Two – put your Dick Prince in that box
Three – Never open the box
Women can be just as strange as men, luckily this next royal never harmed those around her, physically at least. Princess Alexandra of Bavaria had some weird quarks and may have been the first documented sufferer of “The Glass Delusion.” Alexandra never married, and instead was appointed abbess of the Royal Chapter for Ladies of Saint Anne in Munich and Würzburg; this was a religious community specifically for noble ladies. Alexandra suffered from a number of psychological eccentricities, including a fixation with cleanliness as well as wearing only white clothes. In her early twenties, she notably developed a delusion that as a child she had swallowed a grand piano made of glass, which remained inside her. She was convinced that any sudden movement would shatter the instrument. She was said to walk sideways through doorways and corridors to avoid breaking. Although the princess’s delusion has become a part of her quirky reputation, scholars speculate she suffered from something Robert Burton calls “The Glass Delusion” in his psychological study, The Anatomy of Melancholy in 1612. The Glass Delusion is thought to be a form of melancholy in which the sufferer believes they are made of glass. Another notable victim is King Charles VI of France who did not think he’d swallowed any fragile instruments, but rather believed his body to be especially breakable. Alexandra devoted much of her life to literature and passed away un-shattered at the ripe old age of living in the 1800’s.
In 1766, Christian VII of Denmark became king at age 16, and seemed to never act a day older for the rest of his life.Though King Christian VII of Denmark technically held absolute power over the Scandinavian nation, by the end of his life his disturbing mental issues—not to mention a particularly awkward cuckold situation—made him ruler only in name. By the time the young prince reached his teens it became apparent that he was mentally ill, possibly with “schizophrenia as argued in doctor Viggo Christiansen’s book Christian VII’s mental illness (1906).” According to his doctors, his frequent masturbation bordered on unhealthy. He played pranks on his grandmother, putting pins in her throne and throwing things at her. He ran wild through the streets with his friend and his mistress, destroying shops and patronizing brothels. He built his own torture rack and had himself tied to it and flogged. When visiting dignitaries would visit and bow to the young king, he would leapfrog over them. Described by modern scholars as a bully, he would slap those he disagreed with across the face.
As he regressed further and further, his doctor, Johann Friedrich Struenseé, saw a chance to swoop in and gain power. Struenseé had himself appointed to Christian’s cabinet and seduced Christian’s wife. Struenseé maintained his spot as de facto ruler until Christian’s equally manipulative stepmother persuaded a very weak-minded Christian to have Struenseé and the Queen arrested for their affair. From that point on Christan was nothing more than a puppet to his stepmother.
Zhu Houzhao was made Emperor of China when he was the ripe old age of fourteen. He was an excellent study of Confucian literature, and most of the ministers thought he would grow into a fine and benevolent emperor. Boy, were they wrong!
Despite all his good Confucian teaching, and all the best intentions of all his advisers and ministers, The Zhengde Emperor had very little interest in actually ruling. What he was interested in, however, was women. At one time, his personal harem was so large that many of the women starved to death from lack of supplies. And, what began as a zoo outside the Forbidden City was converted to house women for the Emperor’s own amusement. And as if all of that didn’t sate his ridiculous appetite, he frequented brothels in the city as well.
Now how does one rule a country when they are busy with pleasure all the time? How about hiring a bunch of eunuchs to do it for you. So that’s what he did, after taking power he immediately handed over control of his government to a group of eunuchs, so he could devote himself to pleasure-seeking.
Oh, but that’s not all. Oh, no! Not only was the young Emperor obsessed with women, he was also frankly a little thick and irresponsible. He took up the luxurious lifestyle he thought he deserved. Often, he’d be out hunting tigers for weeks at a time, and one time he was so badly mauled that he couldn’t appear in court for a month. Beyond that, one time, he thought it a good idea to store gunpowder in his palace during the lantern festival. What you would expect to happen most definitely did. He caught his palace on fire, and burned it to the ground. He would leave the Forbidden City for months at a time, living outside of it, refusing to come in for court meetings. He paid very little attention to court matters, wouldn’t see any of his ministers, and ignored all their petitions. He just wasn’t about that politician’s life, man. In time, the Emperor became notorious across the empire for his childish behavior. There are accounts of him setting up a fake commercial district outside of his palace, sort of like a living museum, and ordered his entire palace to staff it. They were forced to dress up as merchants and commoners, just so the Emperor himself could play at being a commoner and wander around, shopping, with tons of money… like the commoners did, right? Anyone who didn’t comply would be punished and swiftly fired from their position in court. In an appropriate end to Zhengde’s life, he died from an illness he caught after his pleasure boat capsized.
What kind of list would this be without talking about my favorite crazy king, King Ludwig the 2nd of Bavaria. King Ludwig II’s most lasting contribution to world history might be the construction of Neuschwanstein, the German castle that inspired Walt Disney’s design for both Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty’s signature castles. This is also evidence of one of his most famous quirks, but definitely not his only one.
Ludwig was born in 1845, and spent his childhood dressing up, play acting, and isolating himself from the rest of the world. He became king at 18, without any training or experience, and shied away from the job for the rest of his life. Ludwig retreated to his lavish castles and fully invested himself in his fantasy world, hiring set designers instead of architects to create his castles. He imagined himself as Parzival, a medieval figure associated with the Holy Grail.
When banks threatened to seize Ludwig’s property, the government declared him insane and deposed him. The day after he was imprisoned, he was found dead under mysterious circumstances, along with the psychiatrist who declared him mad.
Juana la Loca, as she became known, was Queen of Castile. Joanna of Castile was the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, famous in America as the Spanish royals who sent Christopher Columbus on his western voyage. Joanna married Philip I of Burgundy, son of the Holy Roman Emperor. She was very devoted to her husband, and gave him six children, all of whom went on to be emperors or queens. Despite this being an arranged marriage, Joanna fell deeply in love with Philip (he was named Philip the Handsome, after all) and didn’t take his sudden death well.
Joanna earned her title “Juana La Loca” for her obsession with her husband. After his sudden death in 1506, she refused to be separated from Philip’s dead, embalmed body. She kept it in her room and even traveled with it. Her son, Charles, eventually took power from her and confined her to a nunnery for the rest of her life.
There, she became convinced that the nuns were trying to kill her.
“It seems to me that the best and most suitable thing for you to do is to make sure that no person speaks with Her Majesty, for no good could come from it,”
Charles wrote to his poor mother’s caretakers.
I hope our listeners learned something, especially what pitfalls to avoid once you become a monarch. I learned that I’m super excited to see what the history books will write about the reign of our current administration and if we will be able to compete with the kings of yore.
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Welp, now I know a ton of weird stuff about poorly named Kings. Thanks Shea!
To keep this royal mess of a show going I’d like to talk about an entirely different set of royals… the self-made kind! Now, before I begin I want to say that this was initially going to be two shorter tales until I fell down a rodent hole of unusual size. So, this is the first installment of my new series on micronations. Stay tuned for some truly weird stuff! I mean like, wow.
They say a man’s home is his castle. I guess “they’re” a little sexist, but also, what happens when a home isn’t up to the task?
Well, then it’s time to declare something your castle, or fiefdom I guess, depending on how hands-on a roll you want to play in the upkeep of your new domain…
You can take the direct approach like Prince Paddy Roy Bates who, together with his wife Princess Joan, founded their own fledgling nation on September second of 1967.
Formerly a major of the King’s Royal Army, having served at the Battle of Monte Cassino in Italy and with the Eighth Army in North Africa, Paddy was no ones chump. So when his favorite pirate radio station, Wonderful Radio London, went off-air he knew he had to rise up as a leader of men so no longer would he or his people be without free jams!
And so Ol’ Roy set out to take Fort Roughs… the derelict WW2 off-coast platform in the North Sea just far enough off the coast of Suffolk as to be in international waters. Paddy easily defeated the local population of… Jack Moore and his daughter Jane, the previous squatters who, until recently, were pirate radio… pirates. The original builders of the platform having long left that area of space for parts unknown… or, you know, home because the War ended and there weren’t any more German U-boats to look for.
Having run off the all-too-happy-to-leave pirate broadcasters Paddy declared himself not King but Prince, because of humbleness reasons, his wife Princess, and their son “His Royal Highness Prince Michael” who was thereafter referred to as Prince Regent. And thus began the glorious reign of the Lord, Lady, and the young-master, Bates.
Unfortunately, heavy is the burden of the crown and Bates, despite having the equipment, never got around to reestablishing a radio station. Still, for years there was great peace and prosperity throughout the land, all acre of it… until zee Germans arrived!
Alexander Achenbach, whose name I swear to someone’s god I haven’t made up, declared himself the Prime Minister of Sealand after Prince Bates refused to turn it into a casino. He then hired a rag tag team of Dutch and German mercenaries to storm Sealand while its regents were on a diplomatic mission to England securing… groceries and the contents of their P.O. Box.
And so, in the early morning hours heavily armed mercenaries Red Dawn’ed Sealand on jet skis, speedboats, and helicopters. They quickly took the platform and a hostage, the young Prince.
But, as Eli said, there are none who know the land better than the prince! Michael somehow escaped his captors and, using caches of weapons stored throughout Sealand, retook his nation for her people.
And now we have an international incident… kinda. See, Achenback lead the charge himself and because of his previous dealings with Prince Bates he held a novelty Sealandian passport… so Bates charged him with treason against the mer-lion crown and held for about $35K. And here’s where it gets weird. See, Sealand was beyond 30-nautical-miles, or 6 clicks, off shore and therefore in international waters. So Germany’s attempts to work with the UK to get their citizens back was met with a stiff upper lip and little else. Without other options, Germany sent an official diplomat to negotiate for Achenbach’s release. And that’s the sticky wicket as the Brits say. See, sending an official diplomate was to Bates–and a number of official international bodies–a de facto recognition of Sealand’s sovereignty.
Of the states… statehood, Bates stated:
“We have never asked for recognition, and we’ve never felt the need to ask for recognition. You don’t have to have recognition to be a state, you just have to fulfill the criteria of the Montevideo Convention which is population, territory, government and the capacity to enter into negotiation with other states. We can and we have done all these things. We’ve had the German ambassador visit at one point to discuss something: that was de facto recognition. We’ve had communication with the president of France many years ago, but we have never asked for recognition and we don’t feel we need it.
After weeks of negotiations Achenbach was released for… free. He would go on to establish a government in exile known as the Sealandic Rebel Government. F*cking splitter.
And so life was returned to normalcy in Sealand… or so they thought. Over the years Prince Bates had established a number of Sealandic hallmarks of nationhood. They had a flag, coin money that he minted from… either bits of Sealand or Esty. Not sure. They had a national anthem… instrumental. And they had the aforementioned passports, of which Bates had sold some 150,000 world wide. Sadly the passports had to be recalled in 1997 because the terrorist government in exile, lead by outlaw minister Achenbach, were using Sealand passports to launder drug money from Russia and Iraq. Based in Madrid the group had fake Sealandic license plates, diplomatic immunity, and international relationships with citizens in Hong Kong and rebel leaders in the middle east.
Despite the setback of accidentally facilitating an international drug cartel Sealands contributions to the international community would continue to grow. Most in sport. Sealand didn’t have the population to support its own soccer, rugby, football, fencing, ultimate Frisbee, table tennis, or Kung-foo teams. But it gladly allowed athletes who, for whatever reason, couldn’t compete for their own nations to carry the banner of Sealand. The Sealand National Football Association, for example, is a member of the Bouvelle Federation-Board, a football sanctioning group for non-recognized member states of FIFA. In 2004 they played Finland’s football team to a 2-2 draw. In 2004 Darren Blackburn of Oakville, Ontario (nice place btw) ran marathons under the Sealand flag. In 2007 Michal Martelle took Sealand to the Kung Fu World Cup in Quebec City winning two silver medals. In 2008 Sealand hosted a RedBull skateboarding event. And in 2013 mountaineer Kenton Cool placed Sealands flat at the summit of Mount Everest.
Eventually the Prince would grow tried of his duties and tried… and failed… to sell Sealand to the Pirate Bay.
Eventually time would catch up with the crown, as it will for us all, and Prince Paddy Bates was forced to retire to England where he would eventually die of Alzheimer’s in 2012. The beloved monarch’s passing drew attention and condolences from citizens, friends, family, and even other world leaders like Her Majesty, Queen Anastasia Sophia Maria Helena von Rubenroth Elphberg of Ruritania.
I’m Shea, and I’d like to thank all our listeners, supporters, and my co-host Aaron
Before we go, this week I learned that having a big nose is not an excuse for not wearing a mask, I still wear underwear. We will talk at you next week.
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Music for this episode was created by Wayne Jones and was used with permission.
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