The Surprising Pastimes of 10 of History's Worst Rulers Will Leave You Scratching Your Head
The Surprising Pastimes of 10 of History’s Worst Rulers Will Leave You Scratching Your Head

The Surprising Pastimes of 10 of History’s Worst Rulers Will Leave You Scratching Your Head

Khalid Elhassan - December 26, 2017

Running a government or being in charge of a country could be demanding work, so it is unsurprising that many rulers throughout history have turned to hobbies in their free time. For most, the choice of hobby and leisure pastime was unremarkable. Their preferred pursuits, such as hunting, fishing, hiking, writing, singing, painting, etc, were not odd in the context of their environment and personality. Others, however, picked pastimes and hobbies that were quite remarkable, indeed. Either because the chosen activities were wacky in of themselves, or because they were in jarring contrast with the image and public persona of that particular bigwig.

History is littered with bad rulers whose brutality, venality, corruption, and ineptness caused untold misery and brought immeasurable suffering to millions around the world. But even kleptocrats, tyrants, despots and all around monsters, like to take the occasional break from making mankind miserable, and unwind with some leisure activity. The choice of hobby or other form of relaxation chosen by some of those bad rulers could be surprising. Of course, the odd hobbies chosen by some of these bad actors do not humanize or otherwise detract from their misdeeds: a Hitler remains a Hitler, even if he liked petting cuddly animals. But their weird pastimes are interesting, nonetheless.

The Surprising Pastimes of 10 of History’s Worst Rulers Will Leave You Scratching Your Head
Saddam Hussein liked writing steamy romance novels. Utne Reader

Following are ten bad rulers, who had some peculiar hobbies and pastimes.

The Surprising Pastimes of 10 of History’s Worst Rulers Will Leave You Scratching Your Head
Imelda Marcos at the Shoe Museum. Imelda Marcos

Imelda Marcos Was Obsessed With Designer Shoes

Imelda Marcos (1929 – ) is a Philippine public figure, and the widow of former dictator and president Ferdinand Marcos, who ruled from 1966 to 1986. During her years as First Lady of the Philippines, she held various government posts and wielded great power, such that she became a de facto co-ruler of the country towards the end of the Marcos dictatorship. Known as the “Steel Butterfly” for her combination of fashion sense and steely resolve, Imelda took full advantage of her access to power to enrich herself with rampant corruption and blatant graft. The Marcos dictatorship was a kleptocracy, and the ruling couple plundered the country to their hearts’ content.

The kleptocrat couple were eventually overthrown in a 1986 popular uprising, and were forced to flee the Philippines. By then they had stashed enough wealth in secret Swiss bank accounts, and accumulated various properties overseas, that they were able to afford an extremely comfortable retirement in Hawaii. However, they were unable to take all their ill gotten gains and goodies with them. When the revolutionaries entered the Marcos palaces, they found evidence of an extravagant and opulent lifestyle.

What attracted the most attention was Imelda Marcos’ apparent obsession with expensive designer shoes. The former First Lady had been splurging on extremely pricey shoes, accumulating thousands of pairs. When protesters stormed one of her former residences, the Malacang Palace, they discovered over 2700 pairs of designer shoes in Imelda’s wardrobe. Thousands more of her shoes were found in other palaces, mansions, and villas throughout the Philippines. A single pair of those pricey pumps could cost more than an entire city block in a lower class Philippine neighborhood earned in a year.

After the 1986 revolt, Imelda Marcos’s shoes were displayed at the presidential palace as a symbol of the dictatorship’s corruption. Eventually, hundreds of her shoes found a permanent home in the Shoe Museum, in the northern city of Marikina. The collection became a symbol of excess in a country where many walked barefoot in abject poverty. However, because life is often unfair, Imelda Marcos never paid for her corruption. She was eventually allowed back in the Philippines, was elected to Parliament, and as of 2017, is one of that country’s wealthiest women. She even turned the shoe scandal into an asset, and has been a frequent visitor to the Shoe Museum. There, she signs autographs and proudly poses for photos next to the display cases of her collection.

The Surprising Pastimes of 10 of History’s Worst Rulers Will Leave You Scratching Your Head
Egypt’s King Farouk I. Twitter

Egypt’s Last King Liked Picking Pockets and Collecting Porn

Egyptian King Farouk I (1920 – 1965) reigned from 1936 until he was thrown off his throne by a coup in 1952. His years as Egypt’s last king were marked by widespread corruption, incompetent governance, and bizarre conduct. A kleptomaniac, Farouk could not resist stealing things, and one of his hobbies was picking people’s pockets. He also was an avid collector of pornography.

He was popular early in his reign, when he ascended the throne as a slim and handsome young man. The goodwill was quickly squandered by his incompetent governance, and his good looks were soon ruined by a gluttony that saw him balloon to 300 pounds. He soon became an object of derision, widely lampooned as a “stomach with a head”. His lavish lifestyle while his subjects endured the hardships of WWII further eroded his popularity.

Farouk took pick pocketing lessons, and Winston Churchill, whom he hosted at a dinner during WWII, was one of his victims. During the meal, Churchill discovered that his pocket watch – a prized family heirloom – had gone missing. After an outcry and search, Farouk, who had been seated next to Churchill, sheepishly turned it in, claiming to have “found” it.

Early in WWII, he had repeated nightmares in which he was chased by a ravenous lion. Frazzled from loss of sleep, he consulted the rector of Cario’s ancient Al Azhar University, who advised him “you will not rest until you have shot a lion“. So Farouk went to the zoo and shot two lions in their cages. By 1952, the corruption and maladministration had completely eroded his standing, and he was overthrown in a coup.

Hastily fleeing Egypt, he left most of his possessions behind. The new government auctioned his belongings, and it was discovered that he had accumulated the world’s biggest collection of pornography. He settled first in Monaco, then in Rome, where he literally ate himself to death, collapsing at a restaurant dinner table after a heavy meal in 1965.

The Surprising Pastimes of 10 of History’s Worst Rulers Will Leave You Scratching Your Head
Osama bin Laden had a collection of Wallace and Gromit videos on his laptop when he was killed. The Express

Osama bin Laden Liked Mr. Bean, Crocheting, and Porn

Osama bin Laden (1957 – 2011), Al Qaeda’s founder and the 21st century’s most notorious villain (to date), hardly needs an introduction, as he is probably history’s best known terrorist. The terror attacks masterminded and carried out by his organization, particularly those of September 11th, 2001, have seared his name in global, and especially American, memories.

Less known, however, is how bin Laden liked to pass his free time when he was not running a virtual terror state. Apparently, he did not spend all his time issuing fatwas against Jews, infidels, and backsliding Muslims, or declaring and waging Jihad against opponents of his ‘Make Islam Great Again!‘ vision. In November of 2017, the CIA released over 470,000 files seized from his compound following the 2011 raid that killed him. The contents included about 174 gigabytes of video, 7.4 gigabytes of image files, and 18 gigabytes of assorted documents. As it turned out, bin Laden had some hobbies and interests that stood in jarring contrast to what had hitherto been known about his persona.

Among other things, for all his decrying of the infidel West and its corrupting cultural influence upon Islam and Muslims, the world’s leading Islamic Jihadist liked partaking of Western culture himself. On bin Laden’s personal laptop was an eclectic collection of saved videos. Unsurprisingly, they included quite a bit of the gory stuff, such as beheadings – what self respecting Islamic jihadist wouldn’t have some of those? Surprisingly, they also included British slapstick comedy. As it turns out, bin Laden was a big fan of Rowan Atkinson, as evinced by the numerous episodes of Mr. Bean and Wallace and Gromit that were discovered in his hard drive.

Even more surprising, the terror mastermind had a thing for crotcheting – probably as good a way as any to pass the time while in hiding. Recovered from his laptop were 30 how-to-crotchet tutorial videos, including one for how to crotchet an iPod sock. And in a surprisingly not surprising twist, the man whose network would torture and kill people for smoking, drinking, dancing, or watching media depicting women not covered up in burkas, had porn saved on his laptop. Turns out that bin Laden was just as hypocritical as most of those who bray the loudest about the licentiousness of the modern age.

The Surprising Pastimes of 10 of History’s Worst Rulers Will Leave You Scratching Your Head
Zhu Houzhao. Wikimedia

Emperor Zhu Houzhao Liked Playing Shopkeeper, General, or Kidnapper

Zhu Houzhao (1491 – 1521), ascended the Ming Dynasty’s throne and was crowned as the Zhengde Emperor in 1505, at age 14. Unsurprisingly, the teenager had little interest in the boring work of governing an empire, and disregarded state affairs. Also unsurprisingly for a teenager suddenly thrust in a position of absolute power, and given access to untold wealth, he went nuts. Leaving the business of running China to his courtiers and officials, Zhu dove head first into enjoying life and living it up, like only a teenager who could do whatever he wanted could live it up. His extravagant and profligate lifestyle, marked by lavish spending, bizarre behavior, and poor choices, set the stage for the Ming Dynasty’s eventual downfall.

As soon as he ascended the throne, the 14 year old emperor turned over the running of the empire to trusted eunuchs, and devoted himself to pleasure seeking. With the levers of power left entirely in their hands, palace eunuchs became China’s most powerful class. Without checks or oversight, corruption became endemic and public offices were openly bought and sold, while taxes soared to pay for the emperor’s pleasures and to feather the nests of courtiers and officials.

In the meantime, the young emperor took to learning foreign languages and travelling incognito around China – although most of the time it was obvious just who he was. He was into make believe in a big way, and one of his favorite hobbies was creating elaborate alter egos for himself. One such was a general Zhu Zhu, upon whom the young emperor lavished praise and rewards. He also built a city block within the imperial palace so he could pretend to be a shopkeeper.

Less innocent and more harmful was his bandit and kidnapper for ransom alter ego. In that guise, the emperor would take his companions on thrill raids, during which they would burst into the homes of wealthy citizens. There, they would violently seize and kidnap the household’s daughters, carry them off to a hideout, and hold them for ransom. Those who criticized the emperor’s erratic and irresponsible behavior were arrested, tortured, and executed by the hundreds.

Zhu eventually drowned in 1521 when one of his pleasure barges sank, finally bringing his reign to a merciful end. Although he was dead and gone, the damage he left behind proved permanent. During his reign, without oversight from the throne, palace eunuchs achieved such power within the government’s structure that subsequent emperors were unable to dislodge them. Their endemic corruption wrecked the Ming Dynasty’s effectiveness, and was a major cause of its eventual collapse.

The Surprising Pastimes of 10 of History’s Worst Rulers Will Leave You Scratching Your Head
One of Saddam Hussein steamy romance novels, ‘Zabibah and the King’. Pintrest

Saddam Hussein Liked Writing Steamy Romances

Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein (1937 – 2006), also known as “The Butcher of Baghdad”, ruled from 1979 until his ouster in the 2003 American invasion of Iraq. His years in power were marked by extreme brutality, repression, and corruption at home, plus costly and failed wars against his neighbors. In a variety of purges and genocides against domestic opponents, real or suspected, at least a quarter of a million Iraqis were killed by Saddam’s security services. Hundreds of thousands more Iraqis were killed in Saddam’s invasions of Iran and Kuwait.

However, the Iraqi tyrant seems to have had a maudlin streak. When not engaged in the wholesale murder of his people or getting them killed in failed foreign invasions, Saddam liked to indulge in his hobby of writing steamy romance novels. During his years in power, Saddam wrote at least four novels, and a number of poems and poetry collections.

Zabibah and the King is the best known of his novels, and the most widely lampooned – it was adapted by Sacha Baron Cohen’s in his 2012 comedy, The Dictator. Written in 2000 and set in Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, in the 7th or 8th century, the novel is a convoluted love story. The main characters are Zabibah, a beautiful commoner; her perverted and cruel husband; and a powerful and handsome ruler named Hussein. Each night, the stunningly beautiful and brilliant Zabibah is summoned to Hussein’s palace, but borrowing from Arabian Nights, she fobs him off of feasting on her succulent body by giving long political speeches.

Eventually, Hussein’s attentions wander from Zabibah’s mind to her hot body, and he develops an unquenchable lust for her. Her perverted husband, fond of orgies and money and deviant sexual practices, is unhappy with the developing relationship between his wife and handsome king Hussein. So hubby disguises himself and rapes Zabibah as she walks home from the palace one night – a means of shaming her that makes sense within the cultural context of Iraqi tribal society and honor code. Handsome Hussein however loves Zabibah too much to let the rape-shame destroy the romance, so he goes after the perpetrator. After a series of adventures, Zabibah leads an army and is mortally wounded in battle, dying while proclaiming Arab nationalism with her last breath. Hussein goes on to capture and kill the rapist, avenging Zabibah’s honor.

Saddam was not a subtle writer, and the novel was intended as a ham fisted allegory, with the hints driven home as if by a sledgehammer. Zabibah represents the Iraqi people. The rapist husband represents the US. The rape represents America’s ousting of Iraq from Kuwait in 1991, and is dated January 17th – the same date as the commencement of Operation Desert Storm. The powerful and heroic king Hussein represents Saddam Hussein.

Naturally, Iraqi critics lauded Zabibah to the skies, as a world class literary breakthrough. The novel became a domestic best seller, with over a million copies flying off the shelves. Saddam’s sycophants in the Iraqi Ministry of Information also saw to it that the novel was turned into a twenty part television series, which aired on and was frequently rerun on Iraqi TV. A musical was produced as well.

The Surprising Pastimes of 10 of History’s Worst Rulers Will Leave You Scratching Your Head
Newuschwanstein Castle. Travel and Leisure

Bavaria’s Mad King Ludwig Liked Building Fairy Castles

Ludwig II, or “Mad King Ludwig” (1845 – 1886), reigned in Bavaria from 1864 to 1886. A generous patron of the arts, he was a benefactor of the composer Richard Wagner. During his reign, he devoted himself to artistic and architectural projects, and his biggest hobby was building opulent fairy tale castles. He ended up bankrupting himself with their construction costs.

The Mad King withdrew from governance after Bavaria joined the German Empire in 1871, and showed little interest from then on in affairs of state. Instead, he went into a morbid seclusion and devoted himself wholly to the arts. He could not get enough of the theater and the opera, particularly the works of Richard Wagner, whose lifelong benefactor and patron he became.

Ludwig’s greatest and costliest hobby, however, was building palaces and castles in the Bavarian mountains. He started with the Linderhoff Palace, built between 1869 to 1878. Simultaneously, he commenced construction of his most famous project, Neuschwanstein, a fairy tale castle precariously situated on a crag and decorated with scenes from Wagner’s operas. Built from 1869 to 1886, it was the inspiration for Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. While that one was being built, the Mad King began an even greater project in 1878, the Herrenchiemsee Palace, a copy of Versailles. It was never completed, because Ludwig went bankrupt.

Between abandonment of his official duties, profligate spending on expensive hobbies, and withdrawal into the life of a recluse among other bizarre behavior, Ludwig’s ministers finally had enough. In 1886, he was declared insane, and sent to a remote palace. Three days later, he drowned himself in a lake, and took his psychiatrist with him.

The Surprising Pastimes of 10 of History’s Worst Rulers Will Leave You Scratching Your Head
Mao Zedong. Lapham’s Quarterly

Chairman Mao Was a Classical Poet

Mao Zedong (1893 – 1976) was China’s main Marxist theorist, and a guerrilla fighter, soldier, and statesman, who presided over his country’s communist revolution. He led the Chinese Communist Party from 1935 until his death, and after the communists won control in 1949, he ruled China from that date until his demise. During his time in power, Mao was responsible for the deaths of tens of millions Chinese. They were killed outright by his followers, or starved to death because of Mao’s disastrous economic policies.

However, there was more to Mao than a revolutionary and man of action. He had a particular fondness for classical Chinese poetry and literature. In addition to being a prolific mass murder, Mao was also a prolific writer and poet. Surprisingly, for a man so politically radical and revolutionary, he liked to write and pen verses in classical Chinese forms. It would be akin to a modern American anarchist who liked writing in the manner of Chaucer.

As with most intellectuals of his generation, Mao’s education was based on a foundation of classical Chinese literature. However, while most of his contemporaries moved on to modern styles and themes, Mao stuck with the old when it came to literature and poetry. From his youth, he composed poetry in the classical style. Indeed, his image as a poet was a significant part of his public persona as he rose to power in China.

Mao was actually considered a good poet. Not just by critics in China, who would have been foolhardy indeed to pan his poetry, but also by literary critics outside China and beyond Mao’s clutches. His poetry tended to be on romantic end of things, rather than the more modern realist genre, and hearkened back to the style of the Tang Dynasty, of the 7th to 9th centuries.

Alone I stand in the autumn cold
On the tip of Orange Island,
The Xiang flowing northward;
I see a thousand hills crimsoned through
By their serried woods deep-dyed,
And a hundred barges vying
Over crystal blue waters.
Eagles cleave the air,
Fish glide under the shallow water;
Under freezing skies a million creatures contend in freedom.
Brooding over this immensity,
I ask, on this bondless land
Who rules over man’s destiny?
I was here with a throng of companions,
Vivid yet those crowded months and years.
Young we were, schoolmates,
At life’s full flowering;
Filled with student enthusiasm
Boldly we cast all restraints aside.
Pointing to our mountains and rivers,
Setting people afire with our words,
We counted the mighty no more than muck.
Remember still
How, venturing midstream, we struck the waters
And the waves stayed the speeding boats?

Mao Zedong – Changsha

The Surprising Pastimes of 10 of History’s Worst Rulers Will Leave You Scratching Your Head
Nero strumming a lyre as Rome burns. The Daily Mail

Nero Fancied Himself a Musician and Olympic Athlete

Nero (37 – 68 AD) was one of Rome’s worst rulers. He was born in 37, a nephew of the emperor Caligula, and grand nephew of his successor, the emperor Claudius. Claudius fell in love with his niece and Nero’s mother, Agrippina. He married her and adopted Nero, naming him his heir and successor. Agrippina had Claudius poisoned in 54 AD, and her teenaged son became emperor.

Nero was dominated by his mother during the first five years of his rule, so to escape her smothering embrace, he decided to murder her. He tried to make it look accidental, such as with a roof designed to collapse and crush her. The roof fell on and crushed one of her maids, instead. Next, Nero give his mother a gift of a pleasure barge, which was rigged to capsize in the middle of a lake. Before Nero’s horrified gaze, as he watched from a villa overlooking the lake, his mother swam from the sinking barge to shore like an otter. At his wit’s end, and dreading an awkward confrontation, Nero sent in some sailor to club her death with oars.

Free at last from his mother, Nero gave free rein to his impulses and indulged himself to the fullest. Fancying himself a talented musician, he threw exceptionally long concerts, during which he would sing while playing a lyre. Few dared leave before completion, or observe with anything less than rapt attention. The performances were so bad that women faked labor in order to leave, and men faked heart attacks or death so they could get carried out.

Nero had also dreamt since childhood of becoming an Olympics champion. So he arranged for the games to be delayed for two years until he could visit Greece. He competed in chariot racing, and his competitors tried to throw the race by slowing down. Still, Nero failed to reach the finish line because he crashed and wrecked his chariot. The judges, combining sycophancy with fear of an unstable man who could have them crucified with a snap of his fingers, awarded him the victor’s wreath anyhow, on the theory that he would have won but for the crash. They also awarded him victor’s wreaths for every event in which he competed, for events in which he did not compete, and for events that were not part of the Olympic competition, such as singing and lyre playing.

Nero spent extravagantly in pursuit of his hobbies and to satisfy his whims, until the treasury was emptied. In the meantime, he left the business of running the government to incompetent and corrupt cronies who wrecked it. By 68 AD, the Roman Empire had had enough, and numerous rebellions broke out. In Rome, the Senate officially declared Nero a public enemy, and his Praetorian Guard abandoned him.

Nero toyed with impractical ideas, such as throwing himself upon the mercy of the public and begging their forgiveness. He reasoned that if he sang for them while playing the lyre, it would “soften their hearts”, and he would be allowed to retire to an out of the way province as its governor. He composed a speech and wrote a song, but changed his mind after it was pointed out that he would probably be torn apart by a mob as soon as he was sighted in public, before he got the chance to orate or sing.

While mulling alternatives, news came that he had been declared a public enemy by the Senate, had been sentenced to be publicly beaten to death, and that soldiers were on the way to arrest him. All hope gone, Nero decided to end his life. Unable to do it himself, he had a freedman stab him, crying out before the fatal blow: “Oh, what an artist dies in me!

The Surprising Pastimes of 10 of History’s Worst Rulers Will Leave You Scratching Your Head
Benito Mussolini. Ireland’s Own

Mussolini Was a Prolific Writer of Erotic Letters

Benito Mussolini (1883 – 1945) was the founder of Italy’s Fascist Party, who went on to become Italy’s prime minister and leader from 1922 to 1943. He was the first European fascist dictator, and was an inspirational figure for Adolf Hitler, who sought to model himself after Mussolini during his own rise to power. Eventually, the Italian dictator was overshadowed by his German imitator, and Mussolini ended up as Hitler’s sidekick.

He had delusions of grandeur, and sought to revive the Roman Empire. Neither he nor Italy were up to the task, however, and Mussolini kept biting more than he or his country could chew. The results were often farcical, ending in humiliating setbacks and defeats. Towards the end of his career, having dragged an unprepared Italy into WWII and bungled it badly, Mussolini’s image had morphed from that of a great statesman to a hapless buffoon. It ended badly for him, when his countrymen captured him in the final days of WWII in Europe. They killed him and his mistress, and displayed both in downtown Milan, suspended upside down by their ankles from meat hooks.

When he was not inspiring would be fascist dictators, or getting his unwarlike countrymen into wars they neither wanted nor could win, Mussolini liked to unwind by writing erotic letters. And often cringe-worthy erotic letters, as was discovered when the diary of Clara Petacci, the mistress killed and strung up by his side, came to light in 2009.

For all his shortcomings, one thing Il Duce (Italian for leader) had going for him was an incredible libido and remarkable sexual stamina. As described by Petacci, Mussolini often had up to 14 mistresses at a time, and would regularly go through 3 or 4 different women in a single evening. He was also jarringly loud while having sex: “his screams seem like those of a wounded beast“, as Petacci put it.

He was a total hound, who seemed to lust after every woman he met. As he described it, after his first sexual encounter with a hooker at age 17: “Naked women entered my life, my dreams, my desires. I undressed them with my eyes, the girls that I met, I lusted after them violently with my thoughts“. Luckily for him, many Italian women had the hots for him as well, and at the height of his power, thousands of women sent letters propositioning him every day.

Mussolini had underlings sort the letters by senders into “known” and “new”. After police background checks on the “new” women, the more interesting ones were put in folders and passed on to him. The ones who caught his eye – usually big breasted and broad hipped – would then be summoned for an afternoon liaison at his palace. He wasted no time, and usually got down to sex quickly on the carpet, against the wall, or on a stone window seat.

Those who pleased him would get added to his many mistresses, and in correspondence with them, Mussolini held little back. E.g.; ” Orgasm is good for you: it sharpens your thoughts, it widens your horizons, it helps your brain, makes it vivid and brilliant“. Or “Be afraid of my love. It’s like a cyclone. It’s tremendous; it overwhelms everything. You must tremble.” And “I tremble in telling you, but I have a feverish desire for your delicious little body which I want to kiss all over. And you must adore my body, your giant…“. Or “Your flesh has got me – from now on I’m a slave to your flesh.” And ” I’m bad – hit me, hurt me, punish me, but don’t suffer. I love you. I think about you all day, even when I’m working.”

The Surprising Pastimes of 10 of History’s Worst Rulers Will Leave You Scratching Your Head
Ibrahim the Mad. The Daily Mirror

Ibrahim the Mad Liked Feeding Fish Gold Coins, and Collecting Concubines With Cow-Like Vaginas

Ottoman Sultan Ibrahim I (1615 – 1648), or Ibrahim the Mad, reigned from 1640 to 1648. When his older brother Murad IV became sultan, he had the then-8 year old Ibrahim sent to the Kafes, or “Cage” – a secluded part of the Harem where possible successors to the throne were confined. There, they were kept under house arrest, under surveillance, and isolated from the outside world to prevent intrigues and plots.

While Ibrahim was in the Cage, sultan Murad executed his other brothers, one by one, until Ibrahim was the last one left, constantly terrified that he might be next. He remained in confinement until his brother’s death without issue in 1640. When he was taken out of the Cage and told that he would be crowned sultan, Ibrahim refused at first. He rushed back to the Cage to barricade himself inside, suspecting it was a trick to entrap him into saying or doing something that his fratricidal brother would take as treasonous.

Finally, his brother’s corpse was brought to the door for him to examine. Even then, it still took the pleas of his mother, “who had to coax him out like a kitten with food“, for Ibrahim to come out and accept the throne. However, the years of isolation, and the ever present fear of execution, had unhinged Ibrahim. His condition was worsened by depression over the death of his brother, whom he loved in a Stockholm Syndrome type of way.

The new Sultan’s habit feeding of fish in the palace pool with coins instead of food was an early worrying sign. As it became clear that Ibrahim was insane, his mother ruled for him. To keep him busy, the sultan was encouraged to spend as much time as possible in the Harem with his nearly 300 concubines. It was intended to keep him out of his mother’s hair and out of trouble, and to father male heirs since, by then, he was the last surviving Ottoman.

For years, Ibrahim took to the Harem with relish, fathering 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”. The insanity never went away, however: one day he woke up, and out of the blue, ordered his entire Harem tied in weighted sacks and drowned in the sea.

Ibrahim also had a thing for fat women. One time he got turned on by a cow’s vagina, so he commissioned gold copies and sent them around the empire, to find a woman with a similar looking vagina. Searchers eventually found a 350 pound woman with matching parts, who became one of his favorite concubines. He also had a fetish for fur, decorating his clothes, curtains, walls, and furniture with it. He stuffed his pillows with it, and liked having sex on sable furs.

When he saw the beautiful daughter of the Grand Mufti, the empire’s highest religious authority, he asked for her hand in marriage. Aware of Ibrahim’s depravities, the 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 sending her back to her father.

Eventually, he exiled his mother and assumed personal control of the government. The results were disastrous: after ordering the execution of his most capable ministers, Ibrahim spent like only a madman can. Eventually, he emptied the treasury, even as he got himself into a series of wars and managed them poorly. By 1647, between heavy taxes, the bungled wars, and with a Venetian blockade bringing the Ottoman capital to the brink of starvation, discontent 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 6 year old son. A fatwa was then issued for Ibrahim’s execution, which was carried out by strangulation.

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