Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries

Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries

Khalid Elhassan - January 4, 2021

Throughout history, being a member of a royal family usually came with a giant serving of privileges. Sometimes, however, it also came with a giant serving of other royal family members coming at you with seriously bad intentions. Modern day humans aren’t the only ones that have issues with their family members. From political corruption to normal family feuds, some of these historical family spats have proved to be deadly. Following are thirty things about some of history’s more remarkable bouts of ruling family mayhem.

Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries
Ramesses III. Wikimedia

30. This Great Pharaoh Was Murdered by His Own Family

Pharaoh Ramesses III (reigned 1186 – 1155 BC) is considered the last great ruler of Ancient Egypt. A warrior king, this Ramesses is most famous for fighting against a confederation of mysterious marauders known as “The Sea Peoples” who overran nearly all of the era’s Mediterranean kingdoms. The seaborne invaders inflicted widespread devastation that ushered in what came to be known as The Bronze Age Collapse – a dark age that lasted for centuries, during which civilization took a nose dive.

Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries
Detail from a temple wall depicting Ramesses III defeating an invasion of the Sea Peoples. Teach Middle East

The one kingdom that the Sea Peoples failed to conquer was Ramesses’s Egypt. In the eighth year of his reign, the Sea Peoples invaded Egypt by land and by sea. As he put it: “As for those who reached my frontier, their seed is not, their heart and their soul are finished forever and ever. As for those who came forward together on the seas, the full flame was in front of them at the Nile mouths, while a stockade of lances surrounded them on the shore, prostrated on the beach, slain, and made into heaps from head to tail“. Unfortunately, as seen below, although he managed to save Egypt, Ramesses III was unable to save himself from his own family.

Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries
Ramesses III’s mummy. Pintrest

29. Ramesses III Was Murdered by One of His Wives and Sons

As was common with Egyptian Pharaohs, Ramesses III had multiple wives and many sons. His designated heir was his son Ramesses IV. But one of his minor wives, Queen Tiye, wanted her son Pentawer to take the throne instead. She enlisted a group of palace officials in a conspiracy to assassinate the pharaoh. In 1155 BC, while the pharaoh was relaxing amidst the royal harem in a palace near Luxor, the plotters struck and killed Ramesses III by slashing his throat.

Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries
‘The Screaming Mummy’ of Prince Pentawer, who was executed for killing his father Ramesses III. Ancient Origins

However, while the plotters managed to assassinate the pharaoh, they failed in their ultimate goal of installing Pentawer on the throne. Ramesses IV rallied his supporters, secured the throne, rounded up the plotters, and had 28 of them executed. Pentawer was either strangled to death or buried alive. His mummy was discovered, bearing an agonized expression, which led to its getting designated as “The Screaming Mummy”. Other plotters had their ears and noses cut off. Queen Tiye’s punishment is not recorded.

Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries
The Plantagenet coat of arms. Pintrest

28. England’s Most Fractious Ruling Family

King Richard I, or “the Lionheart”, once said about his Plantagenet family: “From the Devil we sprang, and to the Devil we shall return“. Many contemporaries agreed that there was something demonic about the Plantagenet Dynasty (1154 – 1485). Known for their manic energies and a seeming inability to just sit still, they revolutionized and remade England. They dominated Britain by conquering Wales, cowing Scotland, and subduing Ireland. They created an empire stretching from Ireland to the Spanish border, and devastated France in the Hundred Years War.

Europe proving too small for them, the Plantagenets exported their manic energies to the Middle East, where they wreaked considerable havoc during the Crusades. They were also known for their fierce intra-familial rivalries, which doomed and brought their dynasty to a dramatic end. Where others tried to take them down, and failed, the Plantagenets proved quite capable of taking themselves down. As with everything else they did, they approached the task of self-destruction by going at each other full tilt.

Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries
Henry II. Wikimedia

27. The Plantagenet Dynasty’s Founder Spent Years Fighting His Own Family

King Henry II (1133 – 1189) was probably England’s most transformative monarch. His reign, from 1153 to 1189, saw the laying of some of the basic governmental and judicial foundations that have shaped England ever since. It is remarkable that Henry managed to do so much to instill order throughout his realm, considering the disorder and chaos that surrounded his personal life. The king transformed England despite having to spend years fighting his own family, who raised repeated rebellions against his rule.

Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries
Eleanor of Aquitaine. British Heritage

Henry was born to Matilda, daughter of England’s King Henry I, and Geoffrey the Fair, Count of Anjou and Duke of Normandy. Henry became ruler of Anjou and Normandy following his father’s death in 1151. The following year, he married Eleanor of Aquitaine, Europe’s greatest heiress, and added her duchy to his holdings. When he succeeded to the English throne in 1154, Henry became Europe’s greatest monarch, ruling what came to be known as the Angevin Empire. Its territories stretched from the Scottish border to the Spanish Pyrenees.

Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries
The death of Thomas Becket. Encyclopedia Britannica

26. Henry II Revolutionized the Legal System

Henry II thought delivering justice was a monarch’s key function. So he laid the foundations for the common law system that shaped England, and through it America and the Anglophone world With the help of his chancellor, Archbishop Thomas Becket, he revolutionized England by reorganizing its legal system. Henry eventually fell out with Becket when the latter objected to the king’s efforts to curb the clergy’s power and privileges. It ended with Becket’s murder in his own cathedral at the hands of Henry’s retainers, but while the king and chancellor were on good terms, they transformed England.

The Assize of Clarendon in 1166 established basic criminal justice procedures, courts, and prisons to hold those awaiting trial. Henry expanded royal judges’ role by granting them the power to settle disputes that used to be handled by other systems, such as ecclesiastical courts. That imposed judicial uniformity throughout England. Uniformity was furthered by Henry’s Eyre system of circuit courts, in which royal judges traveled around England to try criminal and civil cases. He also expanded juries’ role, and codified English law. His courts gave fast and clear verdicts, enriched the treasury, and extended royal influence and control.

Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries
Henry II. Pintrest

25. A Twelfth-Century Monarch Laid the Foundation For Britain’s Future Success

When England – and later Britain – became a great power, then a globe-spanning empire over which the Sun never set, it did so on a foundation laid by King Henry II in the medieval era. The legal system created by the first Plantagenet monarch all the way back in the twelfth century provided a degree of stability and predictability that was rare in the medieval world, and rarer still as subsequent jurists and future governments strengthened and solidified it. Much of Britain’s future success as a trading, industrial, and imperial giant, rested upon the foundations laid by Henry’s twelfth-century legal reforms.

English – later British – entrepreneurs, secure in their property and trusting their legal system, could conduct business with a confidence that gave them an edge over foreign competitors operating in less secure and stable investment environments. The future British Empire, built on commerce, owed much to Henry. That he managed to do that despite having to frequently fight his own family who, as seen below, raised rebellion after rebellion against him, was astonishing.

Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries
Henry II and his offspring. Wikimedia

24. Henry II Accomplished Much Despite Having to Fight His Own Family Nonstop

What is perhaps most remarkable about the achievements of Henry II is that he accomplished them during an exceptionally tumultuous reign in which he had to repeatedly go to war against his own family. Henry’s wife and children kept raising armed rebellions against him. He spent much of his reign fighting his own Plantagenet brood, going to war against family members in 1173, 1181, and 1184. That infighting set a pattern of Plantagenet intra-familial rivalry that endured for centuries.

Henry commissioned a painting depicting him as an eagle with three of its young tearing it apart with their beaks and talons, while a fourth hangs back, waiting for an opportunity to pluck out its parent’s eyes. He died in 1189 of a broken heart upon learning that his youngest and favorite child, the hitherto loyal and obedient John (of Robin Hood and Magna Carta fame or infamy), had finally betrayed him and joined his brothers in yet another war against their father. John had been the fourth eaglet, patiently waiting on the sidelines in the painting.

Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries
The coronation of ten-year-old Richard II. British Library

23. The Plantagenets Could Not Get Enough of Fighting Amongst Themselves

The Plantagenet family was prone to infighting since the dynasty’s founding in the twelfth century. The dynasty survived the earlier travails of its founder having to frequently fight his wife and sons. However, it was unable to survive another bout of intra-dynastic bloodletting that began in the fourteenth century. It was triggered by the tyrannical rule of King Richard II (1367 – 1399), who was crowned when he was ten. Richard grew into a nasty teenager, and then a nastier adult. He surrounded himself with corrupt officials, and ruled in an arbitrary and capricious manner. That led to an uprising by many lords, including some of the king’s Plantagenet relatives, who seized power.

In 1386, Richard’s opponents rebelled, seized power, and formed a governing committee known as the Lords Appellant. This included members of his own family. The Lords Appellant ruled the realm and reduced Richard to a figurehead. A Parliament, which became known as the “Merciless Parliament”, was called. The Merciless Parliament impeached several of the king’s favorites, confiscated their property, and ordered their execution. Richard bided his time, and slowly rebuilt his power. Then in 1397, he struck back, reasserted his authority, and executed the most prominent Lords Appellant.

Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries
Richard II. Luminarium

22. King Richard II’s Own Family Sidelined Him

Richard II’s end came at the hands of a member of his own family. One of the king’s opponents was Henry Bolingbroke, his cousin and the son of his uncle, John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster. John of Gaunt had supported Richard and helped him regain power, and acted as intermediary between the king and his opponents, including Gaunt’s own son. However, John of Gaunt died in 1399. Richard decided to settle scores with his son. So he disinherited Henry Bolingbroke, declared him a traitor, and banished him for life.

Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries
Richard II in captivity. Wikimedia

Bolingbroke did not stay in exile for long. He returned a few months later, raised a rebellion, and proceeded to defeat and depose his cousin. Richard II was captured, and quietly murdered. Henry Bolingbroke had himself crowned as Henry IV, and founded the Lancastrian branch of the Plantagenet family. The Lancastrians ruled England until the crown was disputed by the Yorkists – Plantagenets descended from John of Gaunt’s younger brother Edmund, Duke of York – in the Wars of the Roses.

Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries
Wu Zetian. Pintrest

21. This Empress Was as Ruthless as they Come

According to dynastic China’s Confucian worldview, women were unfit to rule. Wu Zetian (624 – 705) begged to differ. From 683 to 705, she ran the country unofficially as an empress consort, then empress dowager, and finally, as an official empress. She became the sole officially recognized empress during China’s more than two millennia of imperial rule. A strong, wily, and ruthless woman, the tale of her rise to power, and how she held on to it, could have taught Machiavelli some new tricks had he known of her.

Wu Zetian was born into a wealthy family, and her father saw to it that she received a good education. Such education for girls was unusual, but fortunately for Wu, her father was not too hung up on convention. As a result, she grew up well versed in literature, music, history, politics, and governmental affairs. She was also drop-dead gorgeous, and at age fourteen, Wu was taken into Emperor Taizong’s harem as a concubine. However, the emperor was not into intelligent women, and did not favor Wu. Being an intelligent woman, she looked ahead, and had an affair with his son and eventual successor, who was not intimidated by smart women.

Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries
Wu Zetian in film. Ancient Pages

20. China’s First and Only Empress Was Hell on Her Own Family

When Wu Zetian’s lover became Emperor Gaozong, she became his favorite concubine, and was eventually elevated to second wife. Not content to remain second fiddle, Wu reportedly strangled her own infant daughter, and framed the emperor’s first wife for the death. The intrigue worked, and Wu became the emperor’s official consort, the highest-ranking woman in the imperial family. Her power in the imperial household and family grew, as she steadily eliminated opponents and potential threats. When Emperor Gaozong died in 683, Wu became empress dowager, and ran the empire as regent in the name of her son, the underage Emperor Zhongzong.

When Zhongzong ascended the throne in his own right in 684, he tried to get out from under his mother’s thumb. He lasted only six weeks on the throne, before Wu had him deposed, exiled, and replaced with her youngest son, whom she made Emperor Ruizong. She maintained all power in her own hands, and six years later, she tired of bothering with any pretense about who actually ran China. So she made Ruizong relinquish the throne, officially proclaimed herself empress regnant, and ruled in that capacity until she was overthrown in 705.

Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries
Peter the Great. Pintrest

19. Peter the Great Steamrolled All Opposition, Including Opposition Within His Own Family

Tsar Peter the Great dragged Russia – often kicking and screaming – from its medieval ways and into the modern world. His achievements included revamping the government, weakening the Orthodox Church, modernizing and strengthening the military, and expanding Russia’s borders. He also moved the capital from Moscow to a new city that he built on the Baltic and named after himself, Saint Petersburg. As with any major reforms, Peter faced significant resistance from the old order. However, the Tsar ruthlessly enforced his will, and steamrolled over all opposition.

Tragically, those steamrolled included his own family. In order to safeguard his reforms, Peter ended up killing is own son and heir, the Tsarevich Alexei Petrovich. As kids often do, Peter the Great’s son and heir sought to stake out his individuality by contrasting himself with his father. To that end, Alexei became conservative and religious, and attracted admirers from amongst the traditionalists pining for the old days. Unfortunately for the Tsarevich, he was in the wrong family for that kind of stuff: the kinds of kids who get away with that are the kinds of kids who don’t have Peter the Great for a father.

Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries
Peter the Great. Wikimedia

18. Peter the Great’s Family Had Serious Issues

The reformist Peter the Great, determined to protect his legacy from the threat of its getting overturned by a reactionary successor down the road, sought to force his son Alexei into seeing things his way. The pressure eventually got too much for the Tsarevich. In desperation, he escaped to Vienna, where he sought political asylum from the Habsburgs. That was bad enough, but then it got a whole lot worse. The roots of the family troubles were deep. Alexei’s mother had been religiously pious and conservative, so his father Peter forced her into a convent when Alexei was eight.

Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries
Tsarevich Alexei Petrovich, by J.G. Tannauer. Russian Museum

Understandably, that scarred Alexei and soured him against Peter. The father-son relationship cracked for good in 1715, when Peter, hoping to correct Alexei’s perceived weakness and other shortcomings, threatened to deprive him of the succession. To his astonishment, the Tsarevich agreed to relinquish his claim to the throne, and volunteered to enter a monastery. At the last moment, however, Alexei had a change of heart, and fled to Vienna, where he secured political asylum.

Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries
Nikolai Ge’s ‘Peter I Interrogates Tsarevich Alexei Petrovich at Peterhof’, 1871. Wikimedia

17. Peter the Great Had His Own Son Flogged to Death

The embarrassment of his own son seeking asylum at a foreign court enraged Peter the Great, who sent agents to track down the Tsarevich Alexei. In 1717, Count Peter Tolstoi, the most unscrupulous and subtle of Peter’s agents (and ancestor of the famous nineteenth-century writer Peter Tolstoy) tracked Alexei to a castle in Naples. He handed the Tsarevich a letter in which Peter berated Alexei, but promised not to punish him if he returned to Russia. Ignoring warnings that it was a trick, the Tsarevich returned to Russia in 1718.

Upon his arrival, Alexei was made to beg his father’s forgiveness during a public spectacle in which he was disinherited. The Tsar forced him to name those who had aided his flight, which resulted in the torture and execution of dozens of Alexei’s associates. That done, Peter ordered his son jailed. On June 19th, 1718, the Tsar had Alexei flogged for days, until he confessed to conspiring to murder his father. The flogging was so severe that Peter’s son died of his wounds within a week.

Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries
King Yeongjo. Google Arts & Culture

16. Spoiling a Prince Rotten Leads to Tragedy

Crown Prince Sado (1735 – 1762) was the son of Korean King Yeongjo. He was the king’s second son, but the first one had died in 1728. For years, the king’s wives and concubines had given him only daughters, and he despaired of ever getting another male heir. When Sado was born in 1735, his arrival was greeted with great rejoicing throughout Korea. According to tradition, the infant was set up in his own palace with an army of maids and governesses and servants. However, his father took little part in raising and looking after his upbringing, so Sado was spoiled rotten and grew up doing what he liked. The result was a royal family tragedy.

When Prince Sado’s father bothered to stop by and visit his son, he was often highly irritable, and grew angry at even trivial missteps by his son. Sado grew up oscillating between a great fear of his father, and a desperate need to please him. Pleasing King Yeongjo was difficult, however, for his father was not given to displays of affection, and whenever the two met, the king was far more critical than affectionate. As a result, Sado grew up feeling unloved and resentful.

Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries
Still from a movie depicting a young Prince Sado and his father King Yeongjo. YouTube

15. Daddy Issues Wrecked This Prince and Turned Him Into a Monster

Between Sado’s daddy issues, perceived lack of affection, lack of fatherly supervision, indulgence and flattery by courtiers, and other deep-seated neuroses, something broke inside Sado. He was a troubled young man, given to extremely violent and erratic mood swings. One day, he would behave with such decorum, dignity, and probity, that he was all that his father had ever wanted in a son and heir. The next, he would undergo a transformation, and give free rein to violate outbursts during which he would turn rapist and murderer. Historians are unsure just what exactly ailed him, but he was clearly mentally unstable. Today, many think that he was schizophrenic.

Although alcohol was forbidden at court, the Crown Prince routinely downed copious amounts of wine and spirits, and became a raging alcoholic. When a depressive mood fell upon him, murdering servants brought Sado relief. On many a day, several dead bodies were carried out of the palace. He also enjoyed raping court ladies. His depravities extended to his own family: after murdering his concubine, he started sexually harassing his own sister.

Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries
Prince Sado. Wikimedia

17. Prince Sado Became a Monster Feared Throughout Korea

Prince Sado was a troubled young man, given to extremely violent and erratic mood swings. One day, he would behave with such decorum, dignity, and probity, that he was all that his father had ever wanted in a son and heir. The next, he would undergo a transformation, and give free rein to violate outbursts during which he would turn rapist and murderer. Historians are unsure just what exactly ailed him, but he was clearly mentally unstable. Today, many think that he was schizophrenic.

Although alcohol was forbidden at court, the Crown Prince routinely downed copious amounts of wine and spirits, and became a raging alcoholic. When a depressive mood fell upon him, murdering servants brought Sado relief. On many a day, several dead bodies were carried out of the palace. He also enjoyed raping court ladies. His depravities extended to his own family: after murdering his concubine, he started sexually harassing his own sister. That behavior made Sado widely feared throughout Korea as a serial rapist, serial killer, and all-around dangerous psychopath.

Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries
Still from a movie depicting the sealing of Prince Sado in a rice chest. SBS Australia

14. King Yeongjo Ordered His Son Executed Via Starvation

Prince Sado’s shocking conduct and murderous ways made him widely feared throughout Korea as a serial rapist, serial killer, and all-around dangerous psychopath. Eventually, the crown prince’s father, King Yeongjo, had enough. He determined that he could not, in good conscience, inflict his criminally insane son upon the Korean people as their next monarch. So on July 4th, 1762, Sado was summoned by his father, who ceremonially struck the floor with a sword and declared the crown prince deposed.

Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries
The kind of rice chest in which Prince Sado was starved to death. Troo Adventure

However, that still left unanswered the question of just what to do with Sado. His father ordered him to take the honorable path by committing suicide, but the prince refused to do so. Court rules and taboos prohibited the outright execution of member of the royal family. So the king had Sado placed inside a heavy wooden chest used for storing grain, and locked him inside. There, the deposed prince was left to starve to death. It took him eight days to die.

Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries
Edward II was deposed by his wife Isabella of France. Alchetron

13. Edward II Was Brought Down by His Own Family

King Edward II of England (1284 – 1327) was the anti-knight and the opposite of the chivalric ideal. He stood in jarring contrast to his father Edward I, one of England’s greatest monarchs. A weak and flighty king, Edward II raised favorites who misgoverned the kingdom in his name. He compounded the problem by doing little to counter the perception that those favorites were his gay lovers. Poor government and perceived effeteness in a homophobic age were a toxic mix. They earned Edward the contempt of his barons, subjects, and even his own family.

It brought him to grief at the end, when his wife Queen Isabella of France overthrew him. The problem began early in his reign, when Edward enraged his barons by making an earl out of Piers Gaveston, a frivolous favorite and his rumored lover. The barons demanded that the king banish Gaveston and assent to a document limiting royal power over appointments and finances. Edward caved in and banished Gaveston, but soon thereafter allowed him to return. The exasperated barons responded by seizing and executing the royal favorite.

Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries
The deposition of Edward II. Shutterstock

12. Edward’s Disrespect of His Queen Led Her to Depose Him

In 1314, Edward II led an army into Scotland, but was decisively defeated at the Battle of Bannockburn. At a stroke, he lost all the hard-won gains his father had made with years of great effort and expense to assert English control of Scotland. Humiliated, he was unable to resist his magnates when they formed a baronial committee that sidelined the king and ruled the realm. It lasted until Edward found another favorite and rumored lover, Hugh Despenser, and raised him. As with Gaveston, the barons demanded that Edward banish Despenser. This time, however, the king fought back. With the support of the Despenser family, Edward defeated the barons and regained his authority in 1322.

However, Edward’s public displays of affection for Hugh Despenser created trouble in the royal family by humiliating and alienating Edward’s wife, Queen Isabella. While on a diplomatic mission to Paris in 1325, she became the mistress of Roger Mortimer, an exiled baronial opponent of the king. In 1326, the couple invaded England, executed the Despensers, and deposed Edward II. They replaced him with his fourteen-year-old son, who was crowned Edward III in January, 1327, with Mortimer as regent.

Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries
Effigy of Edward II from his tomb at Gloucester Cathedral. Gloucester Cathedral

11. Edward II Suffered a Horrific End

In April, 1327, Roger Mortimer heard of plots to rescue the deposed King Edward II. So he had him relocated to a more secure site. More reports of fresh plots to free Edward caused Mortimer to order him to move to various other locations during the spring and summer of 1327. Eventually, the fear that one of the numerous plots might finally succeed led Mortimer to decide on ending the problem once and for all, and putting Edward II beyond all rescue by having him killed.

Edward’s killers did not want to leave marks of murder on him. They were also contemptuous of the deposed king and his perceived effeminacy and homosexuality. So they did him in by holding him down and shoving a red hot poker up his rectum to burn his bowels from the inside. Another version has it that a tube was first inserted in his rectum, then a red hot metal bolt was dropped down the tube into his bowels. Either way, Edward II’s dying screams were reportedly audible from miles away.

Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries
Ivan the Terrible conquering Kazan in 1552. Russia Beyond

10. Ivan The Terrible Was Also Terrible to His Own Family

Ivan IV, better known as Ivan the Terrible (1530 – 1584), richly deserved his name. He was the Grand Prince of Moscow from 1533 to 1547, after which he declared himself “Tsar of all the Russias” – which became the title of Russian monarch from then on. He created a centralized government and was a grand conqueror. He finally overthrew the last remnants of Mongol subjugation beneath which Russia had groaned for centuries, dominated the neighboring nomadic Khanates and greatly expanded Russia’s borders. On the other hand, Ivan was an insanely cruel despot who subjected his people to a decades-long reign of terror. That terror extended to his own family.

Ivan the Terrible ascended Russia’s throne at age three. His mother, as his closest family member, governed the country as regent in his name. However, she died when Ivan was seven, and a power struggle erupted between competing boyars, or Russian nobles, in which the child Ivan was left defenseless. The young ruler was exploited and tormented by boyars who mistreated and abused him in his own palace. That made him bitter, bitterness gave way to violent rage, and before long, Ivan was venting his frustrations by torturing small animals.

Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries
Ivan the Terrible mocking a boyar by dressing him in royal regalia before ordering his execution. Wikimedia

9. Soon as He Took Personal Control of Russia, Ivan the Terrible Unleashed a Reign of Terror on His Subjects

By the time he took personal control of the government, Ivan was a paranoid, resentful, and angry young man who distrusted people in general, and detested the boyar class in particular. So he instituted a system known as the oprichnina in the 1560s that amounted to a reign of terror. It augured the absolute monarchy that was to be Russia’s hallmark for centuries to come. With a special police force, the Oprichniki, Ivan kicked off a wave of persecutions that first targeted the boyars, and spread in ever greater ripples that soon covered all his lands.

Ivan the Terrible’s most infamous act of cruelty in a reign full of acts of cruelty occurred in Novgorod. In 1570, when that city defied him, he marched on it in the dead of winter, and after seizing it, went on an orgy of violent depravity. He started off with the clergy, whom he rounded up and ordered flogged from dawn until dusk, for days on end, until they each paid a 20 ruble fine. Hundreds died, and afterward, he ordered the survivors executed.

Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries
Ivan the Terrible. Wikimedia

8. Ivan the Terrible Killed His Own Son With His Own Hands

Novgorod’s population fared no better than did the city’s clergy. Flogging and murdering priests did not slake Ivan the Terrible thirst for vengeance, so ordered the torture of leading citizens along with their families. Men were executed, and women and children were bound and thrown into a nearby river. There, the victims were trapped under the ice as soldiers patrolled the area on foot, wielding hooks and spears to push down any who surfaced. By the time Ivan was finally sated, over 60,000 had perished.

Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries
Ilya Repin’s ‘Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan on November 16, 1581’, 1885. Google Art Project

Even Ivan’s family was not spared from his fits of uncontrollable rage. In 1581, he violently assaulted his pregnant daughter-in-law when he saw her wearing clothes that he deemed too revealing. That caused her to miscarry. When his son and heir angrily berated him for attacking his wife, Ivan the Terrible smashed his head in with his scepter. The result was a fatal wound from which Ivan’s son died a few days later. The terrible Tsar followed him three years later, dying from a stroke while playing chess.

Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries
George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence. Wikimedia

7. England’s Most Ingrate Brother

George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence (1449 – 1478), got himself into a family feud that ended up killing him in a remarkably weird way. George was the younger son of Richard, Duke of York, whose struggle to secure power kicked off the Wars of the Roses between the York and Lancaster branches of the Plantagenet Dynasty. His older brother became King Edward IV of England, and George engaged in several ill-advised conspiracies against him. That ultimately spelled his doom.

After a protracted war that saw numerous ups and downs various pendulum swings between the competing Plantagenet family factions, Edward broke the Lancastrians at the Battle of Towton in 1461. He then deposed the Lancastrian King Henry VI, and had himself crowned in his place as King Edward IV. He made his kid brother George Duke of Clarence. The following year, although only thirteen years old, George was also made the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. He rewarded his brother’s generosity with treason and betrayal.

Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries
Richard Neville, the Kingmaker. Find a Grave

6. Family Ties Did Not Matter Much to This Younger Brother

As he grew into early manhood, George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence idolized and came under the influence of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. Neville was also known as “The Kingmaker“, because of the key role his machinations played in deposing and installing kings. George married Neville’s daughter in defiance of the plans of his older brother, King Edward IV, to marry him into a European royal family in order to secure a dynastic alliance. That opened a family rift that soon grew wider over time.

Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries
The Battle of Barnett, where The Kingmaker was killed. Imgur

Neville, who had been instrumental in deposing King Henry VI and replacing him with Edward IV, eventually fell out with King Edward and deserted to the Lancastrians. George rewarded his brother’s earlier generosity with betrayal, took his father-in-law’s side, and despite being a member of the York family, switched his support to the Lancastrians. With the Kingmaker’s machinations, George’s brother Edward IV was deposed and forced to flee England in 1470, and the once-deposed Lancastrian King Henry VI was restored to the throne.

Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries
King Edward IV. Wikimedia

5. The Duke of Clarence Betrayed His Family Once Too Often

After betraying his brother Edward IV, George, Duke of Clarence, started to mistrust his father-in-law, “the Kingmaker”. So he switched back to his own Yorkist family and supported the restoration of his brother. Edward IV returned to England in 1471, defeated the Lancastrians in a battle during which the Kingmaker was killed, and was restored to the throne. He ensured that the twice-deposed Henry VI would trouble him no more by having him murdered, after having already executed Henry’s son and sole heir. Edward pardoned his younger brother George and restored him to royal favor.

Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries
The drowning of George Plantagenet in wine. Vyper Look

In 1478, George was once again caught out plotting against his brother. Finally fed up with his wayward sibling, Edward IV ordered George arrested and jailed in the Tower of London, and had him tried for treason. Personally conducting the prosecution before Parliament, Edward secured a conviction and Bill of Attainder against George, who was condemned to death. On February 18th, 1478, George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence, was executed by being dunked into a butt, or big barrel, of Malmsey wine. He was forcibly held under the surface until he was drowned.

Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries
Bust of Julius Caesar. Naples, National Archaeological Museum

4. Julius Caesar Might Have Been Killed by His Own Son

Marcus Junius Brutus the Younger (85 BC – 42 BC) was made famous or infamous by the “Et tu, Brute” quotation from Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar. Brutus was Julius Caesar’s friend, and although he might have also been Caesar’s biological son, that family tie did not stop him from becoming Caesar’s best-known assassin. A patrician, he was born to Marcus Junius Brutus the Elder, who was treacherously murdered by Pompey the Great, and Servilla, who became Julius Caesar’s mistress for many years.

Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries
Marcus Junius Brutus. eHistory

After his father’s murder, Brutus was raised by his maternal uncle, Cato the Younger, one of Rome’s leading conservatives and a staunch advocate of returning to the values and lifestyles of the Roman Republic’s early days. Brutus had been a close ally of Julius Caesar and a supporter of his Populares faction. However, as Caesar sought greater power, Brutus came to view him as a tyrant. So he switched to Caesar’s conservative Optimates opponents. Brutus fought within the Optimates ranks and under the leadership of his father’s murderer, Pompey the Great, in the civil war against his erstwhile friend, mother’s lover, and probable father.

Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries
Vincenzo Camuccini’s ‘The Death of Julius Caesar’, 1806. Wikimedia

3. Family Ties Did Not Prevent Brutus From Murdering Caesar

Julius Caesar won the civil war, then pardoned Brutus and restored him to favor. Paradoxically, that just enraged Brutus even more, as he resented the fact that any Roman should have the power to pardon another Roman in the first place. Caesar eventually assumed dictatorial powers. When he started acting increasingly like a monarch, a faction of Roman senators, styling themselves the “Liberators”, formed to assassinate him. They recruited Brutus, whose family name and descent from Lucius Junius Brutus, the Roman Republic’s founder who did away with the monarchy and expelled the last Roman king, carried significant symbolic weight.

Brutus betrayed Caesar and delivered one of the stab wounds during the dictator’s assassination on the Ides of March in 44 BC. Afterward, the Senate declared an amnesty for the killers, but rioting forced Brutus and the other assassins to flee Rome. The following year, Caesar’s nephew and heir, Octavian, secured a resolution revoking the amnesty and declaring Caesar’s assassins murderers. That led to another round of civil war, which culminated at the Battle of Philippi in 42 BC. The combined forces of Octavian and Mark Antony crushed those of Brutus and the surviving assassins. Brutus committed suicide after the defeat.

Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries
Shaka Zulu as depicted in a TV series. News 24

2. A Conqueror Killed by His Own Family

Shaka Zulu (circa 1787-1828) was a tribal warrior who rose to become chief of the Zulus, then launched a ruthless campaign of conquest against other Southern African tribes. A military visionary, he revolutionized tribal warfare in the region, bringing it to a hitherto unprecedented pitch of destructiveness. By the time he was done, he had established Zulu Empire. His fall came not from defeat at the hands of his open enemies, but at the hands of his own family.

When Shaka came to power, tribal warfare in Southern Africa was a low-intensity affair. It was dominated for the most part by rituals and display, with warriors parading in front of their respective armies, shouting challenges and defiance at the enemy, and throwing the occasion spear. There with relatively little actual fighting, and thus few fatalities. Shaka was of a bloody-minded bent, however, so he set about changing that. He introduced fighting formations, organized his men into regiments known as impis, and transformed the Zulus into a disciplined army.

Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries
Henry Cele as Shaka Zulu in the TV series of the same name. YouTube

1. Shaka Zulu Killed Millions Before He Was Killed by His Family

Shaka Zulu revolutionized tribal combat tactics by abandoning the throwing spears used in the region for centuries. This taught men to use short stabbing spears, emphasizing shock tactics and decisive close combat. Zulu tactics and training made them unstoppable, triggering a catastrophe known as the Mfecane, meaning the “crushing” or “forced migration”. Tribes forced to flee Shaka’s onslaught were forced to encroach upon their neighbors, who were then forced to fight or become refugees, encroaching upon their neighbors in turn. The result was a cascade of violence that claimed the lives of millions.

Shaka’s reign finally came to an end in 1828. That year, he sent a regiment raiding up to the borders of the Cape Colony. When it returned, rather than allow it the customary rest, he ordered the regiment out on yet another raid. That and increasingly megalomaniacal behavior led to widespread grumbling. Taking advantage of the disgruntlement, Shaka’s half-brother Dingane organized a plot within the conqueror’s own family. At a signal one day at camp, he and his co-conspirators fell upon Shaka and stabbed him to death.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Awesome Stories – Ivan the Terrible Murders His Son

Cawthorne, Nigel – Daughter of Heaven: The True Story of the Only Woman to Become Emperor of China (2007)

Encyclopedia Britannica – George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence

Encyclopedia Britannica – Henry II, King of England

History Vault – The Mystery of Edward II’s Death

History Collection – 12 Rulers Who Executed Their Relatives

Holland, Tom – Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic (2007)

Jones, Dan – The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England (2014)

Live Science – Mummy Murder Mystery: King Ramesses III Throat Slashed

Mad Monarchs – Sado of Korea

Massie, Peter K. – Peter the Great: His Life and World (1980)

Rejected Princesses – Wu Zetian: China’s Only Female Emperor

South African History Online – Shaka Zulu

Spartacus Educational – King Richard II

Suetonius – The Twelve Caesars

History Collection – Noble Relationships in History that Had Internal Conflict

Tacitus – Histories

Thought Co – Wars of the Roses: An Overview

Wikipedia – George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence

Wikipedia – Harem Conspiracy

History Collection – History’s Deadliest Relatives