"The plain truth is, that he was a most intolerable ruffian, a disgrace to human nature, and a blot of blood and grease upon the History of England."
—Charles Dickens, on King Henry VIII
In the grand scheme of human history, the quaint notions of equality among all persons
and representative democracy are relatively new. Sure you can see hints of the ideas in the works of ancient political philosophers & some acts (e.g. the Magna Carta
). However, as a belief that people take somewhat seriously, most of the tenets of a modern democracy are fairly recent developments. And even among the societies who've aspired to these kind of principles for centuries, we're still working out the kinks.
As of 2005, 64% of Earth's nations were "electoral democracies" compared to 40% in the 1980s. However, some of that 64% are basically democracies on paper but not exactly in practice, since almost every country in the world claims to be democratic & represent "the people" (i.e. "The People's Republic of Tyranny").
So, for the question of the evening, who holds the title of being the worst leader, ruler, despot, tyrant, etc., that the world has ever known?
It's an interesting question, because there are multiple ways to answer it. There have been kind leaders, who were inept & ran their nations into the ground. And there have been absolute pricks whose cruelty had people drawn & quartered on a whim, but whose contributions to their civilizations have been significant.
The question behind this diary got stuck in my head while I was getting caught up on HBO's "Game of Thrones." One of the themes of George R. R. Martin's story is the inherent instability of feudalism. The main tension of the story comes from how the feudal society distorts and twists aristocratic families into peversity.
A good chunk of European history is inbred cousins with crowns either
killing jockeying for position within their own family, or whoring out their sisters & children to other kingdoms for alliances that might come in handy in case they wanted to order their subjects into battle. The Hundred Years' War can basically be summed up as a series of conflicts that happened because some of those inbred cousins got together to fight for control of France.
So where to begin? How about the low hanging fruit.....
The "Big 3" Of The 20th Century
- Adolf Hitler - Responsible for a movement and nation that are the symbolic representation of evil in the modern world. Anywhere between 30 to 50 million people were either directly or indirectly killed because of his stupidity, and his genocidal insanity is legendary to this day.
- Josef Stalin - A very paranoid Georgian (born Ио́сиф Виссарио́нович Джугашви́ли) who ruled the Soviet Union from the mid-1920s until his death in 1953. Responsible for the death and torture of around 20 million people who died from famine, purges and other assorted hellishness of Soviet communism.
- Mao Zedong - A revolutionary & the first head of state of the People's Republic of China. His "Great Leap Forward" with its forced agricultural collectivization was a disaster that led to widespread famine, added to the purges of the "Cultural Revolution," altogether killed somewhere around 50 million people. Of these three, his government is the only one that still exists & his mausoleum & portrait are still monuments in Tiananmen Square. However, what China is today (and its economic status) has very little to do with Maoism.
Other modern dishonorable mentions:
- Omar al-Bashir – He has ruled Sudan since taking power in a coup in 1989. Responsible for 200,000 to 400,000 deaths and driven another 5.3 million from their homes.
- The Kim Family - The "Kims" have ruled North Korea since its establishment in 1948. Over that time they've made it one of if not THE most repressive regime in the world. 200,000 people are incarcerated as political prisoners. Millions have starved to death, since the government has diverted resources to the military & nuclear weapons research & incapable of feeding their own people. Those that are lucky enough to still exist, are fed a constant stream of propaganda that includes claims the Kims have superpowers.
- Pol Pot - Cambodian Maoist revolutionary who led the Khmer Rouge from 1963 until his death in 1998. During his time in power, the combined effects of forced labor, malnutrition, poor medical care, and executions resulted in the deaths of approximately 21% of the Cambodian population.
- The House of Saud - Created & ruled the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia since 1932 with a royal net worth of $1.9 trillion. One of the last old-school "the king will have your head cut off" monarchies left on the planet. Women's rights are practically non-existent and it is illegal to practice any religion other than Islam. Permissible punishments in Saudi Arabia include flogging, stoning, amputation, beheading, firing squad and crucifixion. There is no Saudi penal code, and trial defendants often cannot question witnesses.
- Robert Mugabe - Elected to power in Zimbabwe in 1980, after successfully leading a movement against white-minority rule. Since then, he has basically ran the country into the ground & shit on everyone's rights while doing it. Inflation in Zimbabwe is so bad the government released a $50 billion note — enough to buy two loaves of bread. The unemployment rate has risen to more than 85%. In 2008, Mugabe agreed to hold an election, but it became clear that he would accept the result only if he won. His supporters launched attacks on the opposition, killing 163 and torturing or beating 5000. He ultimately signed a power-sharing agreement with opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, but since then Mugabe has broken its terms and installed his own people at the head of every ministry. The country has the world’s shortest life expectancies – 37 for men and 34 for women.
- Isaias Afewerki - Afewerki once led Eritrea to independence from Ethiopia, but today he deprives his citizens of all freedoms. There is no formal constitution, and every male starting at age 18 must enter “national service,” which is forced labor of indeﬁnite length (evaders are jailed or killed). People with unsanctioned religious beliefs are imprisoned and tortured, as are journalists and activists. More than 50,000 Eritreans have escaped to refugee camps in Ethiopia. Western ofﬁcials allege that Afewerki is aiding al Qaeda–linked militants in Somalia.
Wherein Shah Ala ad-Din Muhammad II Learns It's A Bad Idea To Kill A Mongol Emissary....
What's worse than a ruler that damns himself in the pages of history? A ruler that damns himself in the pages of history while also wiping his entire society off the face of the Earth.
The modern practice of diplomatic immunity can be in part traced back to the Mongol Empire & Genghis Khan. Ancient times being what they were, it was not a desirable line of work to be the poor schmuck that had to deliver a message to a foreign head of state. Genghis Khan rejected the practice of treating messengers like shit, and believed diplomats should be afforded respect no matter how bad or good the message they carried was. And woe unto you if you should be dumb enough to kill one of his emissaries.
The Mongol invasion of Khwarezmia happened after the government of Shah Ala ad-Din Muhammad II twice rejected Mongol emissaries, humiliating & killing members of the delegations. Genghis Khan responded by utterly destroying & laying waste to Khwarezmia.
After Genghis Khan decapitated his way through Asia like a mustachioed threshing machine, the Mongolian Empire found direct contact with the Middle East for the first time in their history. As a sign of good will, Genghis sent a caravan into the neighboring Khwarezmid Empire consisting of 450 men and what we can only assume was one damn fine fruit basket.
However, the Khwarezmids did not take kindly to these "people in felt tents," and Governor Inalchuq of Otrar seized the caravan, killing all but one Mongol merchant. Genghis, at this point, was willing to give his neighbors another chance, figuring that perhaps they simply didn't realize who they were fucking with. He sent a delegation to Inalchuq's boss, Shah Ala ad-Din Muhammad II, to ask what up. The Shah responded by shaving the heads of the Mongol ambassadors, and sent their interpreter home without a head...
To avenge his lost messengers, Genghis deployed three of his "four dogs" of war, which included Subutai, better known as the greatest general who ever lived. After laying siege to Inalchuq's citadel for six months with newly-acquired Chinese technologies, Genghis finally obtained a refund for his fruit basket; supposedly by pouring molten silver into Inalchuq's eyes and mouth. Then he went after the Shah.
Genghis Khan stormed into Khwarezmia with up to 200,000 of the best trained soldiers in the world, destroyed an army five times his size, and even diverted rivers to wipe the Sultan's birthplace off the map. By the time Genghis was finished, "not even dogs or cats" were spared. The entire empire was literally erased, its four million inhabitants reduced to mounds of skeletons. The Shah himself escaped to an island in the Caspian Sea, where he died of pleurisy, bankrupt and alone. Thus cementing the popular adage, "don't kill the messenger." Especially if he works for Genghis Khan.
The Long & Sordid History of the British Monarchy
The British monarchy exists today as a sort of economic stimulus for the tabloid industry. However, English royalty dates back to around the 8th Century, and things start to get really interesting after the Norman Conquest and William I in the 11th Century. From then on, there have been some spectacularly shitty Kings & Queens of the British isles.
- King John - He's the man who fought Robin Hood in legend, but in actuality he fought numerous wars against France and lost many English territories there. During John's reign, England lost the duchy of Normandy to King Philip II of France, which resulted in the collapse of most of the Angevin Empire and contributed to the subsequent growth in power of the Capetian dynasty during the 13th century. When John tried to start another war with France, the barons of England refused, which led to another civil war, which in turn led to the signing of the Magna Carta.
- King Edward I - While Mel Gibson's 'Braveheart' is full of historical inaccuracies, it is true that "Longshanks" did not exactly have fond feelings in his heart for Scotland. The inscription on his tomb reads "Here is Edward I, Hammer of the Scots, 1308. Keep the Vow."
- King Edward II - Known as one of the most incompetent kings to ever hold the throne. His incompetence led to the famous defeat at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, which freed Scotland from English control and allowed the Scots to raid Northern England. Edward II's wife, Isabella of France, used a small mercenary army in 1326 to depose him, becoming regent on behalf of her son, Edward III, and then quite likely arranged Edward II's murder as well.
- Queen Mary I - Daughter of King Henry VIII, Mary I was nicknamed "Bloody Mary." She attempted to return England to Roman Catholicism and burned 300 protestants at the stake. It was during her reign that England's last territory on mainland Europe was lost to the French.
- King James II - The last Roman Catholic king of England. He was known for his belief in Absolute Monarchy and the Divine Right of Kings. When he produced a Catholic heir, the tension exploded, and leading nobles called on William III of Orange (his son-in-law and nephew) to land an invasion army from the Netherlands, which he did. James fled England (and thus was held to have abdicated) in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. This led to the passage of the English Bill of Rights, and the Hanoverian succession.
The Long & Sordid History Of The Roman Empire
Among the various Emperors:
- Elagabalus - Made Emperor at the tender age of 14, he acted pretty much in line with what you'd expect a teenager to act if given supreme power over the world's largest empire: In four criminally-short years, he deposed Jupiter at the head of the Roman pantheon, was married and divorced five times, dressed up in women's clothing and prostituted himself inside the imperial palace. He was assassinated and replaced by his cousin Alexander Severus on March 11, 222, in a plot formed by his grandmother, Julia Maesa, and disgruntled members of the Praetorian Guard. They dragged his naked body through the streets.
- Caligula - He revived the treason trials of his predecessor, Tiberius, opened a brothel in the palace, raped whomever he wished, reported on the woman's performance to her husband, committed incest, killed for greed, and thought he should be treated as a god.
- Nero - Murdered his mother and wife. He confiscated senators' property and severely taxed the people to build his own golden home. Whether he played his lyre while Rome burned or was involved behind the scenes in some other way, he put the blame on the Christians and had many killed.
- Commodus - Dio Cassius describes him as "not naturally wicked but, on the contrary, as guileless as any man that ever lived. His great simplicity, however, together with his cowardice, made him the slave of his companions, and it was through them that he at first, out of ignorance, missed the better life and then was led on into lustful and cruel habits, which soon became second nature." Commodus was lazy and led a life of debauchery surrendering control to his freedmen and praetorian prefects who then sold imperial favors.
When The Holy See Is Not Holy...
"Now we are in the power of a wolf, the most rapacious perhaps that this world has ever seen. And if we do not flee, he will inevitably devour us all."
-Cardinal Giovanni de' Medici, who would become Pope Leo X in 1513, commenting on Pope Alexander VI's election
Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, or Pope Alexander VI
, is widely regarded as one of, if not the worst Pope in the history of the Catholic Church. Thanks to his social status & connections, Borgia rose quickly through the hierarchy of the Renaissance-era Church, with his election to Pope in 1492 rumored to be the result of bribing other Cardinals.
Pope Alexander VI quickly moved to use the Church's authority to help himself, as well as his mistresses & seven children, through confiscating land & property by force, and accusing any official or property owner of an offense that would justify the confiscation. Pope Alexander married off one daughter three different times (personally annulling a previous marriage) in attempts to gain power & wealth through the unions. There were also rumors Alexander & his daughter's relationship was more than just father & child. The corruption of Pope Alexander VI's reign was a major factor in causing the Protestant Reformation & the schism of Christianity.
Other notable figures of the Catholic Church:
- Pope John XII - Allegedly turned the papal palace into a brothel after being made Pope at the age of 18, and also allegedly was involved in incest with the women of his own family. His political inability was legendary; worried about the Italian nobles taking Papal lands in the north -- largely because he would kill off his own allies and generals for petty reasons -- he crowned Otto I of Germany as the Holy Roman Emperor and told him to go to town on the Italians. Two weeks later he reconsidered and tried allying with the other side, which for some reason didn't sit well with Otto. He fled before Otto came back to Rome, and when John XII eventually did return to Rome, he excommunicated all the bishops who didn't have his back (i.e., all of them). His glorious Papacy ended when, by some accounts, he was killed by the husband of a woman he was raping.
- Antipope John XXIII (aka Baldassarre Cossa) - Attempted to depose Pope Gregory XII, leading to a period with three competing popes (the other being Antipope Benedict XIII). Not particularly religious, he rose through the ranks by selling indulgences -- Church pardons for sins -- and was ordained as a priest just one day before naming himself Pope. A man of hearty sexual and financial appetites, by the time he was deposed five years later, he was accused by the Church of more than 70 sins.
Other Memorable Historical Figures...
- Czar Nicholas II of Russia:
Inherited one of the foremost political and military powers in the world in 1894, and within 21 short years had reduced his country to complete economic, military and social collapse. Against the wise counsel of pretty much anyone with a working brain, Nicholas II joined in the cheery fray that was World War One due because of ancient family alliances, which worked out well for him, as he and his entire family were murdered in the frozen wastes of Siberia just four years later.
- Liu Shan (second and last emperor of the state of Shu Han during the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history):
Inherited some of the most legendary advisors and generals in Chinese history when he took the Shu throne, and squandered it all away with his startling incompetence. In fact, he was so bad at ruling, that his own counselors thought he was mentally disabled; some later Chinese historians have called his inability to rule a stroke of master genius, as it protected him from bodily harm once his kingdom inevitably collapsed. Widely known by his infant name "A'dou" or "E'dou" (阿斗), the name "A'dou" is today still commonly used to describe incapable people who would not achieve anything even with significant assistance.
- Francisco Solano Lopez:
Made President of Paraguay in 1862, and within a few short years declared war on Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay. Simultaneously [War of the Triple Alliance]. Surprisingly, things did not turn out as he probably had planned. By the end of the war in 1870, some estimate that up to 90% of the male population of Paraguay was wiped out, 70% of the population as a whole, and Lopez himself was shot hiding out in the mountains.