The Panzer VIII Maus was intended to spearhead German attacks, smash through any opposition, and destroy all enemy armor it came across, impervious to damage from any tanks in its path. With 9.4 inches of turret armor, 8 inches of hull front armor, 7 inches of hull side armor, and 6 inches of rear armor, the Maus was largely immune from Allied tanks, whose shells would simply bounce off the behemoth. However, it was built in 1944, by which time the Allies not only had aerial superiority on both the Western and Eastern front, but just about complete aerial supremacy over the battlefield.
The Maus lacked sufficient armor protection up top from armor piercing bombs and rockets delivered from above. Ultimately, it was an idiot idea symptomatic of Hitler’s irrational obsession with big things and super weapons. The Fuhrer was indifferent to, or was unable to understand, the concept of relative cost effectiveness. He found it difficult to grasp that other “normal” weapons might accomplish the same as his super weapons at a fraction of the cost, and thus free up scarce resources for other uses that could better serve the German war effort.
Prince William the Aetheling (1103 – 1120) was the heir and only legitimate son of King Henry I of England. He was also the Duke of Normandy in his own right. William was spoiled rotten, and per a contemporary chronicler, he was pampered so much that it was clear he was “destined to be food for the fire“. That indulgence had fatal consequences, as the young prince got himself killed in a silly accident. It occurred in November, 1120, after a diplomatic visit to France, when a fleet was assembled to transport the royal party across the English Channel back to England.
Seventeen-year-old Prince William made plans to cross in the White Ship, the English navy’s proudest and fastest ship. He and his companions turned the affair into a wild party, and delayed the crossing while they got rip roaring drunk on shore with the ship’s crew. Then, in a state of high intoxication, the prince and his entourage, which numbered about 300 people, boarded the White Ship to make a nighttime crossing. King Henry had sailed hours earlier, and without anyone to say him nay, the spoiled prince had an idiot idea that led to a great tragedy.
The inebriated Prince William and his friends challenged the White Ship’s captain and crew to make a race of it and catch King Henry’s ship, which had sailed hours earlier, before it reached England. Captain and crew, confident of their ship’s speed, accepted the challenge. Furiously rowing, fueled by copious amounts of wine while they were cheered and urged on by the drunk prince and his friends, the equally drunk crew set a good pace. However, in their plastered state, the crew failed to keep a good lookout and rowed into a hazardous stretch, where they struck a partially submerged rock.
The White Ship was holed and quickly sank. Hundreds drowned, including the prince. William was his father’s only legitimate male issue, and his death caused a succession crisis. King Henry failed to sire another son, and so sought to designate his daughter, Matilda, as his heir. His barons reluctantly agreed, but when Henry died in 1135, most of them backed the deceased king’s nephew, Stephen of Blois, when he claimed and seized the crown as the eldest male royal relative. The result was a civil war that tore England apart for decades.
Sultan Ibrahim I (1615 – 1648) ruled the Ottoman Empire from 1640 to 1648. Also known as Ibrahim the Mad, he might have been not so much an idiot, as a raving lunatic. His upbringing amply explained what drove him around the bend. When his older brother Murad IV became Sultan, he had the then-eight-year-old Ibrahim confined to the Kafes, or “Cage” – a secluded part of the Harem. There, possible successors to the throne were kept under house arrest, under surveillance by palace guards and isolated from the outside world to prevent intrigues and plots. It was actually an improvement: before, Ottoman Sultans simply killed all their brothers as soon as they ascended the throne.
That expedient, known as Ottoman Fratricide, reduced civil wars and internal strife. However, many were troubled by the murder of innocent royal siblings at the start of each reign. Those misgivings reached a peak in 1595 when Sultan Mehmed III inaugurated his reign with the strangulation to death of his nineteen brothers, some of them mere infants. It was said that “the Empire wept” as a procession of child-sized coffins exited the palace the next day, and a reaction set in against such extreme measures. Thus, the Kafes. It was a harsh existence that drove some imprisoned princes to madness. However, it beat death.
7. Years of Terror and Psychological Torture Transformed This Sultan Into a Gibbering Idiot
While in the Kafes, or Cage, Ibrahim’s sibling, the Sultan Murad, executed his other brothers. Finally, Ibrahim was the only one left, in constant fear that the executioners might come for him at any moment. He remained in confinement until he was suddenly dragged out of the Kafes to ascend the throne after his brother’s death in 1640. He refused at first, and rushed back into the Cage to barricade himself inside. He suspected it was a cruel trick to entrap him into saying or doing something that his fratricidal brother would take as treasonous.
Only after his brother’s dead body was brought to the door for him to examine, and the intercession of his mother the Sultana Kosem, “who had to coax him out like a kitten with food“, was Ibrahim convinced to accept the throne. By then, however, the years of isolation and the constant terror of execution at any moment had unhinged Ibrahim and left him an idiot. Already mentally unstable, his condition was worsened by depression over the death of his brother the Sultan, whom he apparently loved in a Stockholm Syndrome type of way.
Concerns quickly grew about Sultan Ibrahim’s fitness to rule. For one thing, the new Ottoman ruler fed the fish in the palace pool with coins instead of food. As it became clear that Ibrahim was, his mother assumed the rule in his stead. She encouraged him to spend as much time as possible in the Harem with his nearly 300 concubines. She wanted to both keep her idiot son out of her hair and out of trouble, and to have him father male heirs since, by then, he was the last surviving male of the Ottoman dynasty. For years, Ibrahim took to the Harem with relish, and fathered three future Sultans and a number of daughters. As a contemporary put it:
“In the palace gardens he frequently assembled all the virgins, made them strip themselves naked, and neighing like a stallion ran amongst them and as it were ravished one or the other“. Then he woke up one morning, and in a fit of madness ordered his entire Harem tied in weighted sacks and drowned in the sea. He had a fetish for larger women, and one time he got turned on by a cow’s… nether regions. So he ordered copies made of gold and sent them around the empire, with inquiries to find a woman similarly endowed. A 350-pound woman with matching parts was found in Armenia. She was taken to his Harem, and became one of his favorite concubines. Ibrahim also had a fetish for fur, with which he decorated his clothes, curtains, walls, and furniture, stuffed his pillows, and were intimate atop.
When Sultan Ibrahim the Mad saw the beautiful daughter of the Grand Mufti, the empire’s highest religious authority, he asked for her hand in marriage. Aware that the Ottoman ruler was depraved, the Grand Mufti urged his daughter to decline. When she did, Ibrahim ordered her kidnapped and carried to his palace, where he ravished her for days, before he sent her back to her father. Eventually, he exiled his mother and assumed personal control of the government, with disastrous results. He executed his most capable ministers, then spent profligately until he emptied the treasury. Simultaneously, he got himself into a series of wars and managed them poorly.
By 1647, between heavy taxes to pay for his extravagant lifestyle and for the bungled wars, and with a Venetian blockade of the Dardanelles that brought the Ottoman capital to the brink of starvation, discontent over the idiot sultan’s rule boiled over. In 1648 the population revolted, urged on by religious scholars, and were joined by the army. An angry mob seized Ibrahim’s Grand Vizier and tore him to pieces, and the Sultan was deposed in favor of his six-year-old son. A fatwa was then issued for Ibrahim’s execution, which was carried out by strangulation on August 18th, 1648.
Canadian attorney Gary Hoy (1955 – 1993) was a respected senior partner at a Toronto law firm. Before he went to law school, Hoy had been an engineering major, and the robustness of modern building techniques was a subject of particular interest to him. He was peculiarly proud of the tensile strength of the windows at his office in the Toronto Dominion Center, a downtown high rise, and was in the habit of demonstrating their sturdiness by body checking them.
As things turned out, and as he discovered on July 9, 1993, it was an ill advised habit, worthy of an idiot. That evening, Hoy was at a welcome party for law student interns, in a conference room on high rise’s 24th floor. In a bid to impress the interns with the office windows’ strength, Hoy sought to demonstrate that they were unbreakable by throwing himself at the glass panes. He had done so many a time before, and always bounced off harmlessly. Not this time.
3. An Idiot Death Made This Obscure Lawyer World Famous
As a Toronto police detective described what happened when Gary Hoy tried to demonstrate the sturdiness of his building’s windows on July 9, 1993: “At this Friday night party, Mr. Hoy did it again and bounced off the glass the first time. However, he did it a second time, and this time crashed right through the middle of the glass“. The idiot lawyer fell to his death 24 floors below. His unfortunate demise could have been averted had he left window tensile strength testing to the experts.
As a structural engineer told the Toronto Star in the aftermath: “I don’t know of any building code in the world that would allow a 160 pound man to run up against a glass window and withstand it“. Hoy’s auto-defenestration made the obscure lawyer a greater celebrity in death than he had ever been in life. His demise became the basis for sundry urban legends that were actually based on a true factual foundation. His death was featured in episodes of the TV shows Mythbusters and 1000 Ways to Die, garnered him entries in Snopes and Wikipedia, and won him a 1996 Darwin Award.
2. When You’re So Awful That You Become Known as “The Bad”
King Charles II of Navarre (1332 – 1387), infamously known as Charles the Bad, was a powerful French magnate with extensive holdings throughout France. From 1349, he was also the king of Navarre, a small kingdom on the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain. He became known as “the Bad” because of his propensity for intrigues, bad faith dealings, betrayals, dishonesty, and double crosses as he attempted to expand his kingdom at his neighbors’ expense. During the Hundred Years War, he plotted with the English to betray France, and was arrested and imprisoned by the French King John II when his treachery came to light.
Charles escaped from prison and 1357, and began a series of intrigues with a variety of French parties, betraying nearly all, one after the other. After John II’s death, his successor forced Charles to renounce most of his holdings in France. In 1378, Charles the Bad was forced to cede nearly all of his remaining French holding when evidence of new treachery was discovered. He had not only planned to again betray France to the English, but plotted to go one better this time and poison the French king while he was at it.
1. Karma Caught Up With Charles the Bad in the Form of an Idiot Servant’s Mistake
Charles The Bad’s poor reputation was no better in Spain, where he allied with Peter the Cruel of Castile against Peter IV of Aragon in 1362. He then turned around and betrayed Castile the following year, and switched his support to Peter IV against Peter the Cruel. In 1378, Castilian armies invaded Navarre and Charles was forced to flee. Out of allies, having betrayed them all, Charles was forced to accept a humiliating treaty that defanged his kingdom and reduced him and his realm to Castilian clients. Karma finally caught up with him in 1387. That year, an illness that impeded the use of his limbs led a physician to prescribe that he be swaddled from head to foot in linen cloth steeped in brandy or other spirits of wine.
A maid, tasked with securing the swaddling cloth snugly around the king’s body by sewing it in place with yarn, realized when she was done that she had no scissors with which to snip the excess yarn. So she resorted to an otherwise common alternate method for thread cutting, that turned out to be an idiot idea in the circumstances: she reached for a candle to use its flame to burn off a section of yarn. The alcohol-infused cloth caught on fire, and Charles the Bad, tightly swaddled in the burning linen, was unable to escape. He suffered horrific burns all over his body, and lingered for two weeks in extreme agony before he finally succumbed.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading
Balfour, Patrick, Lord Kinross – Ottoman Centuries: The Rise and Fall of the Turkish Empire (1977)