Dark Side of Fairytale: Six Royals of Europe Who Were Mad and Eccentrics

Royal life is not all about "and they lived happily ever after". Fairytale can only be found in fantasy books because circumstances surrounding the royal court were often sad.

There are darkest tales of misadventures and outlandish behavior that kept hidden behind palace doors. Some of it barely passed the wall of the royal residences.

One of these best-kept secrets of royalty is the issue of eccentricity and lunacy.

It may sound really crazy, but there are rulers, imperial and royal highness throughout ages that not only brutal and criminally-insane but mentally disturbed, delusional, lunatic, and well, eccentric.

Eccentricity being the mildest.

Here are some of Europe's generation of mad and eccentric royals.

1. King Charles VI of France

Charles VI, King of France

King Charles VI ascended the French throne in 1380 at the age of 11. He did not actually rule France until the age of 21. He reigned during the troubled period of the Hundred Years of War, a series of military conflict between England and France that lasted 116 years.

Intelligent, charismatic and judicial, King Charles VI spearheaded reforms and measures that accelerated political and economic conditions in France and he was most loved by his subjects, earning him the epithet, “Charles the Beloved”.

However, in 1392, he started showing signs of madness that “Charles the Beloved” became “Charles the Mad”. 

The early attack of his mental illness happened one day while he and his soldiers were pursuing an enemy. One of his soldiers accidentally clanged the steel helmet with a sword producing a blasting sound. 

It sent panic to the king. He eventually became uncontrollable and violent and stormed his soldiers with his swords, thinking they were his enemies. 

Other soldiers frantically brought him to the ground to calm down but by then he already killed four of his soldiers.

Despite his insanity, he and his wife, Queen Isabeau, produced 12 children, two of whom would marry into the English throne as part of the peace treaty to end the arm conflict related to the Hundred Years of War. Princess Isabella for King Richard I, and Princess Katherine for King Henry V, the latter would produce a son that inherited Charles the Mad's mental disturbances, King Henry VI.

In between his fits of madness, King Charles would storm his household with terrifying screams, running wildly around the palace ground. 

To control his outburst, palace staff would lock him up in a secluded room. There, he would wail like a baby, tearing the silent corridors at night. 

His bout of mental illness became severe in later years. Until he suffered from glass delusion, making himself believed he was made from glass.

And to prevent himself from shattering, he would stay motionless for hours. During the attack, he would prevent people from touching him for fear of shattering himself into pieces. 

Due to his mental illness, Charles VI was declared incapable of ruling a kingdom, thus, a regency was necessary. Several regents during his minority were back. 

The regents’ contrasting views morphed into a fierce rivalry in the kingdom that ultimately triggered a serious political unrest in France. 

It resulted to a civil war, nailing the country deeper into political and economic turmoil. Rival regents and court ministers were killed including the king’s brother, Louis of Orleans.

The domestic chaos was aggravated with the ongoing campaign of the English troops to seize the French throne during the Hundred Years of War. Several attempts to reach a peace settlement was made using all possible resources including the mad king’s daughters.

The final attempt was made in 1415 following the defeat of France in the Battle of the Agincourt against King Henry V of England. 

The peace treaty allowed France to be inherited by Henry, established through a marriage negotiation between him and King Charles’ daughter, Princess Catherine. This arrangement was a failure because Henry V predeceased Charles VI. 

Charles VI had never recovered from his insanity and died in seclusion less than ten months after the birth of his grandson, Henry VI of England, who inherited his grandfather's mental illness. 

2. Queen Joanna of Castile
Joanna, Queen of Castile and Aragon

Every roundup of the most eccentric royals in Europe, Queen Joanna's name is always drawn in the list, because in her lifetime, she suffered a certain form of malady that ultimately made her a lonely, broken woman towards the end of her life. 

She was known in history as Joanna the Mad, Queen of Castile, but did not actually rule a kingdom. She was locked up in seclusion in a palace away from the court. She was only monarch by name. 

Queen Joanna was born as the third child and second daughter of Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon. Queen Catherine, the first wife of King Henry VIII of England, was her younger sister. 

Joanna became the heiress presumptive of Castile and Aragon when her two older siblings, Prince John and Queen Isabella of Portugal predeceased her parents. 

She married Archduke Philip Hapsburg of Austria, called Philip the handsome, when she was 16. They had six children together, all became monarchs and Queen consorts.

When her mother died, Joanna crowned as Queen of Castile, by then Joanna started showing signs of mental disturbances. After giving birth to her last child, Catherine, Joanna was declared mad and locked up in seclusion.

However, Joanna's insanity was a matter of interesting discussion among researchers. Many would agree that she was not really mad but only hysterical and melancholic, made worse by the power struggle between her father, husband and son who wanted to usurp the throne.

Her violent temper was eventually used as an excuse to declare her mad and set up regency for Castile. Her father attempted to take over the regency from Joanna's husband, Philip, but failed.

At the height of her eccentricity, she would shout, banged the palace doors when provoked and raged her staff with terrifying tantrums. Her unstable behavior exacerbated when she discovered the extra marital affairs of her husband. 

After the regency of Castile was setup in Philip's name, he died shortly. Joanna was incensed with the circumstances and her violent behavior became even more thunderous. 

She refused to bury Philip, she also prohibited all women, even the staff, to come near the casket. On the way to the burial ground, Joanna ordered her staff to snatch the coffin. Despite the struggle of those who organized the funeral, Joanna won.

The coffin was brought back to the palace. Every night she would open it to ensure no women had ever stolen the body of Philip. She went on as far as caressing and kissing Philip's decaying body. 

Although visibly plagued by melancholia and grief, the Queen had not received any sympathy from her family, especially from her son and heir-apparent, Charles. In contrast, Charles forced his mother to declare him co-monarch. 

To yield more power in the kingdom, Charles had his mother locked up in a poorly ventilated Royal Palace in Tordesillas, accompanied only by his youngest sister, Catherine (named after Joanna's younger sister, Queen Catherine of England). The coffin of Philip was also sent as per her request.

In 1516, King Ferdinand of Aragon died, Joanna was declared Queen regnant of Aragon, by then she was already declared insane by her son and unable to rule. 

Charles ruled both Castile and Aragon which he forged into a personal union of a Spanish kingdom. He was the first Hapsburg King of Spain. 

He refused to free his mother and ordered her permanent seclusion in Tordesillas, a situation believed to have worsened the emotional and mental health of Joanna.

In 1519, Charles assumed full control of Castile and Aragon reigning under the name King Charles I of Spain. He also succeeded his grandfather, Maximilian I, in the Holy Roman Empire as Charles V.

Queen Joanna's youngest daughter, Catherine, later left her to marry King John III of Portugal. Alone, miserable and abandoned, Joanna wrapped in her own small world, devastated by her solitary confinement. She gradually became feeling lost and unloved and died a broken woman in 1555. 

Charles I married Isabella of Portugal, daughter of Joanna’s sister, Infanta Maria. Their son, Philip who briefly became the husband of Queen Mary Tudor of England, married his double first cousin Princess Maria Manuela of Portugal. 

This incestuous relationship produced a physically and mentally deformed son, Carlos, Prince of Asturias, the nightmare of Spain.

3. Carlos, Prince of Asturias
Carlos, Prince of Asturias

Prince Carlos was the first born son of King Philip II of Spain. His wife died four days after giving birth to Prince Carlos due to postpartum complications.

The famous inbreeding of this unfortunate Spanish prince's ancestors, the Hapsburg and the Braganza, resulted to multiple physical and mental deformities that affected his behavior. 

He was a very destructive child. He would inflict harm to his nannies and staff. He grew up a violent young man, his pastime were mutilating live animals, whipping women and terrorizing palace staff, even government ministers. He would make decision out of no where. 

This unstable behavior became the primary concern of his father's courtiers. The height of his madness came one day when he devised a plan to kill his father. He recruited men to do the job. The assassination plot, however, was discovered by his half-brother, who immediately informed the king. 

Philip II was so incensed he ordered the arrest of Prince Carlos. Finally convinced his son would be a liability to Spain, King Philip had him banished to an imprisonment camp and was never to be freed again. 

His meals were controlled by staff and only passed through a window of his room. This made Prince Carlos even more erratic and paranoid.

The meals prepared might have something on it because the prince became bloated as months progressed.

Six months later, he was found dead in his room. No illness or health findings were established at the time of his death, many presumed, he died from poisoning, possibly at the order of his father.

4. King Ludwig II of Bavaria
Ludwig II, King of Bavaria

He was famous in history as the Swan king or Fairytale king because of his strong affinity to all things fairytale. He almost bankrupted his kingdom because of his fantasy to build whimsical castles.

One of these castles is the most popular fairytale tourist spot in Europe, and the symbol of Germany's glorious royal past, the Neuschwanstein Castle.

It is a splended Romanesque revival architecture perched above the rugged cliff on the village of Hohenschwangau near Füssen, in the region of Bavaria in Germany.

The most popular among the dreamy castles in Europe, Neuschwanstein Castle appeared many times in fairytale movies and was the basis of Walt Disney's construction of its castle.

Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria

It was originally intended by King Ludwig as a personal homage to his favorite German composer, Richard Wagner but left unfinished at the time of his death.

King Ludwig II descended from the royal German house of Wittelsbach and came from the family of eccentrics.

He had at least a grandfather, Ludwig I, and aunt, Princess Alexandra Amelie, of that category. Princess Alexandra Amelie was the most peculiar, despite her intelligent and creativity, she suffered from what have known later as a glass delusion.  

Princess Alexandra made herself believed she swallowed a glass piano and would enter the palace doors sideways to prevent the piano in her stomach from shattering. She died with that perception and was never recovered. 

King Ludwig II succeeded his father, Maximilian II, in 1864 at the age of 18 and his first act was to summon Wagner to stage an opera in the palace.

For the next years of his reign, the king would spend most of his time alone in the palace. He detested state and social functions and preferred to just watch Wagner's opera.

With his fantasy-indulge nature, it was most unlikely that he would be interested to take a wife. Nonetheless, he made an effort to look for a suitable bride to provide the throne with heirs.

He eventually announced his engagement to Duchess Sophie Charlotte of Bavaria. During this time, his peculiarities became obvious. He would write letters to Sophie with words far from reality.

Perplexed with what marriage could do to his life and whether it was really what he needed, the king showed signs of disinterest in pursuing the arrangement. He had postponed the wedding date several times until he thoroughly cancelled it. 

He then sent a bizarre letter to the Duchess, “My beloved Elsa! Your cruel father has torn us apart, eternally yours, Heinrich”, to the amusement of everyone because Elsa and Heinrich were characters from Wagner’s opera.

Ludwig did not pursue any romance. And concentrated on planning to build more castles. These elaborate projects prompted Bavaria to undergo a financial crisis and the king was buried in debt.

With his uncontrollable appetite for fantasy and disinterest in the affairs of the state, the court ministers were convinced the king was on the brink of going mad. They devised a plan to depose him but one that would not enrage his subjects.

They used his mental illness as the center of the issue. Among evidences gathered, which they considered signs of serious mental disturbances, were the supposed conversation with imaginary people and his preference over solitary confinement, his refusal to attend gatherings, his fascination over weird things like dining outdoors on a cold weather and wearing heavy overcoats during summer and staging moonlit sleigh rides complete with footmen dressed in an 18th century livery.

The king was arrested and brought to Berg Castle near Lake Starnberg in Munich. A day later, he was found dead floating in the lake.

The death was speculated a murder because the king was a good swimmer and the water in the lake was only above the knee. However, it was not proven.

He was succeeded by his brother, Otto, who was also declared later as insane. The Bavarian throne then passed to Otto's son, King Ludwig III. He was the last monarch to reign in Bavaria.

In 1918, after the defeat of  Germany in World War I, the monarchy was abolished and Bavaria was reduced to a dukedom. 

Today, the House of Wittelsbach is headed by Ludwig III's grandson, Prince Franz, Duke of Bavaria.

5. King Christian VII of Denmark

Christain VII, King of Denmark and Norway

He was unimaginably weird! King Christian VII of Denmark and Norway could not be characterized as neurotic but just eccentric, peculiar, and well, loony. 

He was the son of King Frederick V of Denmark and Norway who was also mad, and Princess Louise, sister of King George II of Britain. He married his cousin, Princess Caroline Mathilda, sister of King George III of Britain.

King Christian VII's incoherent decision-making, mental disturbances and unbecoming behavior were so frequent he was eventually declared unfit to rule a kingdom.

A regency was setup to govern the kingdom under his name.

The king suffered from mild mental derangement where he mixed serious state affairs with stupid jokes. In one amusing account during a serious government discussions, the king suddenly stood up and slapped everyone in the face, well, just for fun.

He would make childish pranks for his own amusement, squirting anything to people just to see them jump. In one occasion, he stuck pins under the chair of his stepmother, Queen Juliana, because he wanted her to see leap and scream.

His delusions became severe. He would order his servants to check his room for any assassins hiding beneath the bed. Or would tell bizarre stories of murders and executions that actually did not happen.

He enjoyed the idea of killing, sort of Emperor Caligula, the psychotic Roman emperor, and would often stage a fake execution in the palace to entertain himself.

He frequented a brothel and took many extra marital affairs because in his words, "it is unfashionable for a man to love only his wife".


The king's mental health gradually deteriorated. In 1784, the regency was transferred to his son, who would become King Frederick VI. 

King Christian VII died in March 1808 from stroke, allegedly brought by shock after seeing the Spanish troops entered Denmark during Napoleonic War.

6. King George III of the United Kingdom

George III, King of the United Kingdom

George III reigned for 60 years in the United Kingdom, the third longest reigning monarch in British history surpassed only by his granddaughter, Queen Victoria, and great-great-great-great granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth II.

He inherited the British throne at the age of 22 upon the death of his grandfather, King George II.  His father, Frederick, Prince of Wales, predeceased George III.

He was the first Hanoverian king to be born in England and who could speak the English language fluently. However, his reign was marred with Britain's defeat in the American Revolution and the unpopularity of his rebellious sons whose lives were marked with scandals, either living with mistresses or sired children outside marriage.

The king showed signs of mental illness in the summer of 1788. By the end of the year, he became seriously unstable and delusional, continuously speaking nonsense for many hours without a pause until his mouth foamed.

At some point, he was seen shaking his hands with a tree at Hyde Park because he made himself believed the tree was the King of Prussia. 

His doctors could not understand his illness. They initially believed it was caused by the blood disease, Porphyria, that also affected most of the Tudors.

The parliament was convinced the king could no longer perform his stately duties, thus, a regent was necessary. But before the Regency Bill could be passed, the king had recovered with some degree of clarity. 

In 1800, an Act of Union, uniting England and Ireland, was passed, making George King of Great Britain and Ireland. 

Around this time, he suffered a relapse of his insanity. Gradually, he became melancholic and gravely ill, aggravated by the death of his favorite daughter and youngest child, Princess Amelia. 

By 1811, the parliament acknowledged the need of a regent, the king’s eldest son, George, the Prince of Wales, assumed the regency.

By the end of the year, George III was never seen in public again. He was permanently moved to Windsor Castle, lived in seclusion and became completely blind. 

He had a difficult way of remembering that he was King of Hanover in 1814 or that his wife, Queen Charlotte, already died in 1818.

He also did not know that his only legitimate granddaughter and heir presumptive of the Prince of Wales, Princess Charlotte, died in 1817 due to a difficult childbirth.

In 1819, his condition became worse, speaking nonsense for 58 hours at Christmas. He went to live for another year but could no longer walk due to rheumatism. 

In 1820, he died without recovering from mental illness.

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