Sunday, April 25, 2010

Princes of the Universe

Sorry about the delay in getting a new post up. Psyduck and I were having a frank exchange of ideas about the last post. So, let's see what we've got for today.

"Give out some awards for your favorite crazy rulers."

I'm gonna need to dig me up some theme music for each of these awards. Hang on a sec...

So, there have been plenty of fairly single-minded rulers out there, obsessed with holding on to their own power. And, with a few exceptions, we can probably agree it's not exactly a good time to be under these rulers, especially with all the freedoms we're accustomed to in this day and age. However, it is fun to talk about some of the nuttier ones

Most Terrifyingly Badass

In every era, there are fanatics, willing to do extreme things in the name of their beliefs. People with strong enough beliefs are more than happy to lay down their lives for their causes, or to lay down the lives of others. After all, what measure is a human life against the greater good of the world?

So you know you've got to be pretty terrifying when the fanatics come to your house, and say, "Y'know what? I think we better skip this one." What ruler succeeded in doing this? The grand-daddy of terrifying. That's right, Vlad III of Wallachia.

Wait, what do you mean you don't know Vlad III? I know you've heard of him. Oh, wait, I know what the problem is. You probably know him by one of his other names: Vlad Tepes, Vlad the Impaler, Vlad Dracula.

That's right, folks. Friggin' DRACULA wins the award for being the most terrifyingly badass. Throughout his life, Vlad Tepes had two major obsessions: holding onto his throne (as this was era in which the Germanic regions were ruled by craploads of Princes each looking to expand their fiefdoms) and kicking Turkish ass. He was a big fan of Crusading against the Islamic people's of the East, who had frequently come in and threatened his homelands in his youth. He earned his nickname of "The Impaler" from his preferred method of disposing of Turkish Prisoners (and others who did something to get on his bad side). Frequently, Turkish armies would go out to attack European settlements, see one of Vlad's strongholds in the distance, approach it to attack, and then turn around upon the sight of their brethren sitting in front of them shish kebab style.

While he wasn't the ruler of a major empire, Vlad III of Wallachia is still terrifying enough to capture the imagination, and also to win this award.

Best Power Behind the Throne

It takes a lot of luck and a lot of skill to hold onto the power of a country for nearly fifty years. To hold onto it without being officially invested onto the throne as the ruler, though? Clearly you're doing something right. And thus, we have Empress Dowager Cixi of the Qing Dynasty in China.

The Qing Dynasty (also known occasionally as the Manchu Dynasty) started off well enough, but after a century or two of bad luck and a couple less than ideal rulers, it was on its last legs, and Cixi, the Mother of the next Emperor knew it. Colonial forces of the west were coming into China and trying to take over, while the militant inclinations of Japan, the other great power of the East, were as big a threat as always. So, what do you do if the heir to the throne is too young to rule, and the Empire is in big trouble? Time to serve as the most hardcore regent ever. Cixi served as regent during the entire time her son was growing up, and when it seemed like he wasn't going to be a competent ruler, she had him killed off and installed her nephew as ruler. She effectively remained ruler of China for somewhere in the neighborhood of Forty Seven years, through several Emperors, all in an effort to preserve the glory of the Empire.

Unfortunately, the Empire was in too much trouble for her to preserve it. Losses to the British had forced the Chinese to make concessions, and several members of the Imperial Government were corrupt and decadent. Combine this with a refusal to change military tactics and technology, and you can see why the Empire fell shortly after Empress Dowager Cixi died.

Most Out There

Most of the rulers getting awards in this post, you can probably make the case for them having some sort of mental illness. But it takes a very, VERY special kind of crazy to declare yourself the Emperor of a Democratic State, and an even MORE special kind of crazy to get treated with respect as a result. So this award goes to Emperor Joshua Norton the First, Ruler of the United States and Protector of Mexico (and Other Territories).

Emperor Norton had been a businessman, but he came on really hard times. He disappeared for a few years, and then resurfaced in San Francisco. He wrote a letter to the United States Government, saying how the state of affairs in the US were unacceptable, and that he had declared himself the Emperor, and that Congress was to disband immediately.

Naturally, the traitorous bastards that make up Congress ignored this. Despite his frequent orders.

So, Norton I would wander around San Francisco, always referring to himself as the Emperor, and investigating the State of Affairs of his favorite city. And you know what? People LOVED it. Several of his favorite restaurants started accepting his money as legal tender. Tourists FLOCKED to see the Emperor. People who met him on the street disrespected him at their peril: the one time a police officer had arrested him for vagrancy, the officer was severely reprimanded by the rest of the police department and forced to write a letter of apology to the Emperor (being the magnanimous man he was, Norton I forgave him). Even Mark Twain, a person of relative celebrity, would go out of his way to meet and make friends with Norton. And after Norton died, several members of the City of San Francisco gave money to give Norton a grave befitting his station. After all, he was the most honest ruler he had ever known.

Joshua Norton continues to capture the imagination, frequently showing up in works of fiction, such as the various books of Christopher Moore, or even in Neil Gaiman's Sandman. His charming, infectious madness lives on to this day.

The Shortest Distance Between Two Points Award

Throughout history, there have been several hot spots of conflict, places that everyone wants to get a hold of. Usually, these have some sort of religious or historical significance. Take Jerusalem, for instance. It's the Holy City for no less than three religions. The fighting over it has not stopped.

Another example from the past is Constantinople. It was the Seat of the Eastern Roman Empire, the Crown Jewel of that region. Any Islamic Ruler who could conquer it would prove their greatness, and gain the respect of their peers, and would earn a place in history. Of course, the Christian rulers of the city made it as difficult as possible to conquer, with vast numbers of troops and thick walls. So the standard conquest tactic of, "Send guys over the walls on ladders until we take the city" tended not to work out so well. But what else could they do?

Well, Mehmed II, Sultan of Rûm, came up with a way.

"Y'know, going OVER the wall isn't working so well. And we can build cannons. Why not go THROUGH the wall?"

That's right. He found a Hungarian gunfounder who was willing to build him a cannon. And not just any cannon: it was called the Great Turkish Bombard. It was gigantic. The force of a few shots would cause it to break. But a few shots was all it needed.

By blowing the crap out of Constantinople, Mehmed II was able to bring the city down, thus ending the Byzantine Empire, and bringing about the beginning of the Ottoman Empire.

Magnificent Bastard Award

There are many styles of rule out there. Some monarchs like to take a direct hand in things, show off their personal power, go out there and kick some ass. Some rulers like to to let local underlings handle the running of the kingdom while they party all the time. Some just play their different would-be usurpers against each other.

If you're a Magnificent Bastard, you do all of these at the same time: you delegate authority where you need to, play your enemies off each other, and when you need to, get your hands dirty. And that's exactly what Tokugawa Ieyasu, first of the Tokugawa Shoguns, did.

Tokugawa was a high level Daimyo in Feudal Japan, and was on the Council of Regents for the son of the first commoner de facto ruler of Japan. The idea of a Council of Regents is simple: all members would be too busy fighting each other to gain influence to be able to properly overthrow the heir.

No one was counting on Tokugawa. Some of his actions included manipulating a shipwrecked trader from the West into training Tokugawa's navy, going to deliberate war with other Daimyo, feigning madness and depression, deliberate lying, giving cannons to rivals as gifts in order to use them as an excuse to go to war, and many, many other crazy actions. He successfully outlasted all his rivals, and was named the Shogun of Japan, beginning the Edo period of Japan, which lasted 250 years.

Naturally, he wouldn't see all of that because he died about thirteen years into his reign, at age 73. Possibly of syphilis. Way to go, Tokugawa Ieyasu.

Most Mysterious Madman

There are plenty of rulers who have legitimately earned a bad rap. But are there any who we're not sure if they deserve the hate they got? Definitely, and some of them might surprise you. For example, the winner of this award: The Roman Emperor Caligula.


Yes, that Caligula. Most people hear about him and think of a psychotic ruler who appointed a horse to the Senate, boffed anything that moved, attempted to run the Empire into the ground, referred to himself as a god, and was assassinated by his grateful subjects, and good riddance to that freeloading bastard.

The thing is, though, we're not entirely sure how much of that reputation is entirely true. We know he attempted to build at least one opulent residence for himself, and we know he was assassinated by some of his advisors and succeeded by his uncle Claudius, but beyond that, records of his reign are incredibly vague.

It is known that some of the projects that Claudius is known for finishing, such as some new aquaducts and roads, were actually started by ol' Boot. So it's entirely possible that he actually wasn't a terrible Emperor, just one who wasn't as malleable as the would-be powers behind the throne had hoped. It's possible they killed him off and placed Claudius (the Poster Child for Obfuscating Stupidity) in an effort to get their own way, and then destroyed all records of Caligula and spread rumors of his horrible behavior.

It's also known that his behavior did get at least a little more erratic (possibly to the levels of madman, possibly to just "eccentric") as his short reign went on. One prevailing theory is that he had actually gotten a case of neurosyphilis, and was starting to show the effects of the brain damage from it. But again, we really don't know.

But hey, we got a play by Camus out of it, right?

Best Weird Title

One of the ways any leader can convince their subjects that they've brought in a new era of freedom, joy, and good times is by changing their ruling title. Whether this actually brings about actual change is entirely up to debate. But hey, we get cool names for a ruler out of it. The winner of this award, a controversial figure in history, has what is perhaps my favorite ruling title of all time.


Oliver Cromwell was a merchant who became a Puritan Military Leader and a Member of Parliament in the 1600s. Somewhere along the line, he and his followers decided that King Charles I was a terrible, decadent ruler, and that they needed to replace the government. So thus, he reformed England as a Commonwealth, with an ostensibly Republican form of Government, and with himself as LORD PROTECTOR OF ENGLAND.

His reign is controversial, at best. There are those who see him as a power hungry madman, trying to garner authority for himself. There are others who see him as a symbol of liberty from the oppression of the British monarchs. And there's a third group, who think he was just a genocidal madman who hated the Irish and wanted them dead (perhaps he felt they were too pretty). You can make cases for each one: on one hand, Charles I was by no means a pleasant ruler, and Oliver Cromwell did successfully conquer Ireland and Scotland for the Commonwealth. On the other hand, he did have a habit of dismissing members of Parliament he didn't like, he was a military ruler, and the Commonwealth era of England only lasted about ten years before the English People installed Charles II as King.

But hey, Monty Python seemed to like the guy, so he couldn't have been all bad. And he had such a cool title!


So, that's it for this awards show. This is J. K. Lantern, signing off for now!

1 comment:

  1. I demand that you include Haroun al-rashid as a cool ruler. He inspired the 1001 nights! I also demand Alexander the Great! And Kang the Conqueror!