Whenever you hear the words “worst queens in history”, French queen Marie Antoinette comes to mind first right? However, history is littered with other queens who were equally worse if not more. It is often said that the ill-behaved always make it to the books. Over the years, we’ve heard of royals who changed the course of history, in both good ways and bad. These queens are just like us; however, they assumed that they could get away with anything. A few of them were strong rulers but were heartless and the others were simply deranged.
Take a look at the 12 worst Queens in history.
1. Maria Eleonora of Brandenburg thought her daughter was a “monster”
Maria Eleonora of Brandenburg, born on November 11, 1599, and died on March 28, 1655, held the title of Queen of Sweden from 1620 to 1632 as the wife of King Gustav II Adolph (Gustavus Adolphus). Coming from a noble German family, she belonged to the prestigious House of Hohenzollern. Her parents were John Sigismund, Elector of Brandenburg, and Anna, Duchess of Prussia, who was the daughter of Albert Frederick, Duke of Prussia.
However, when Maria and Gustav had a baby girl with a genetic condition causing excessive hair growth, Maria was deeply shocked. The unexpected appearance of her daughter, combined with societal beauty expectations, pushed Maria to her limits. She considered her daughter ugly and refused to care for what she perceived as a monstrous child.
During her husband’s battles, Maria tortured their daughter, Christina. When Gustav died when Christina was only seven, Maria blamed her for his death. For a year, Maria subjected Christina to harsh punishment, confining her to blacked-out, darkened rooms to mourn her father in solitude for extended periods. Maria even placed Gustav’s open casket in Christina’s room and demanded she sleep next to it.
Maria’s mental state deteriorated, leading to Christina’s removal from her custody. In her later years, Maria Eleonora attempted to escape Sweden several times. Disliking the country intensely, she made desperate efforts to reach Denmark and its king, Christian IV, for a change of scenery. She first tried to contact the king through a letter, but when that failed, she resorted to more extreme measures.
Finally, in the 1630s, at almost 40 years old, Maria Eleonora successfully escaped her challenging circumstances. With her lady-in-waiting, she clandestinely left through a window, boarded a boat and carriage, and swiftly sailed to Denmark in pursuit of what she perceived as “freedom.”
2. Wu Zetian – The Empress who killed her mother and grandchildren
Wu Zetian, also known as Wu Zhao, left an indelible mark on Chinese history as the sole female emperor of China. She reigned from 665 to 705, initially as empress consort and later as empress dowager. Eventually, she established the Wu Zhou dynasty and ruled as the female emperor from 690 to 705.
Wu’s rise to power involved strategic maneuvers and political alliances. She initially gained Emperor Gaozong’s favor, surpassing her romantic rival, Empress Wang, in influence. In 652, she gave birth to her first son, Li Hong, followed by another son, Li Xián, in 653. However, Gaozong had designated his eldest son from Consort Liu, Li Zhong, as his heir, as a token of gratitude for her support.
By 654, both Empress Wang and Consort Xiao had fallen out of favor, while Wu consolidated her power. Demonstrating his affection, Gaozong even honored Wu’s deceased father, Wu Shiyue. However, tragedy struck when Wu gave birth to a daughter. Disturbingly, accounts suggest that Wu smothered the infant and falsely blamed the emperor’s wife for the child’s demise. To compound the cruelty, she orchestrated the brutal execution of the emperor’s wife—her legs and feet were severed before she was drowned in wine.
While historical portrayals have often depicted Wu Zetian as a ruthless and morally questionable ruler, it is crucial to approach these accounts with a critical lens, considering potential biases and political motivations. Scholars have recently reevaluated her reign, examining her accomplishments and contributions to the empire.
Wu Zetian’s legacy is complex, sparking intrigue and controversy. Regardless of the controversies surrounding her rule, she undeniably challenged traditional gender roles and left an enduring legacy as the first and only female emperor of China.
3. Spain’s Queen Isabella forced Catholicism on the people of her kingdom
Queen Isabella co-ruled Spain with King Ferdinand II from 1451 to 1504. During her reign, she wished to get rid of the Spanish Muslims and jews from her kingdom. In 1492, she ordered that either all Jews convert to Catholicism or get thrown out. The jews were then brought to the Spanish court to either pledge their faith to Catholicism or get expelled.
4. Hungary’s blood thirsty serial killer Elizabeth Báthory– One of the worst Queens in history
Elizabeth Báthory, a Hungarian countess from the infamous Báthory family, is the subject of a dark and haunting tale that has captured the imagination of generations. Depending on the account, she is either portrayed as a sadistic serial killer or a victim of a conspiracy designed to seize her vast wealth and power.
Báthory is often labeled as the most prolific female serial killer in history, accused of brutally slaying over 600 young women within the confines of her opulent castles. Legend has it that she believed bathing in the blood of virgins would grant her eternal youth, forever cementing her name in infamy.
However, the charges against Báthory have sparked debate among historians, with some arguing that she was a victim of a witch-hunt. Supporters of this view claim that the accusations were based on unreliable testimony and exaggerations. Nevertheless, there are accounts from more than 300 individuals at the time of her arrest, describing physical evidence and the presence of mutilated and imprisoned girls.
The tales of Báthory’s vampiric tendencies, such as bathing in virgin blood, emerged long after her death and are regarded as unreliable. While some believe she may have served as the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, there is no direct evidence to support this hypothesis in Stoker’s own notes. She has been associated with epithets like “The Blood Countess” and “Countess Dracula.”
Báthory’s early life was marked by seizures, potentially linked to epilepsy. At the time, epilepsy was often diagnosed as “falling sickness,” and treatments involved the use of blood from non-sufferers. Some propose that her upbringing and training by her family may have contributed to her later cruelty.
Reports suggest that Báthory began her killing spree by targeting daughters of the lesser gentry, who were sent to her to learn courtly etiquette. Witnesses testified about the use of needles and various forms of torture inflicted by Báthory. Some witnesses even claimed to have seen signs of torture on the bodies of the deceased, some buried in graveyards and others in undisclosed locations.
At the age of 13, Báthory was engaged to Count Ferenc Nádasdy, an 18-year-old from another influential Hungarian family. They married two years later and went on to have four children. Their residence at Nádasdy Castle in Sárvár, western Hungary, became a site of unspeakable horrors. Count Nádasdy himself was known to have engaged in acts of extreme cruelty, teaching Báthory the art of torture. Báthory’s aunt, Clara, further corrupted her by introducing her to orgies and a clandestine circle of individuals believed to be sorcerers, witches, and alchemists.
The stories of Báthory’s malevolence towards her servants became so widespread that local families would go to great lengths to keep their daughters away from her service, fearing for their safety.
Elizabeth Báthory’s legacy is one of darkness and brutality, shrouded in legends and contested accounts. While the truth may never be fully unraveled, her name continues to be synonymous with female serial killers and remains a chilling chapter in history.
5. Empress Irene of Athens ordered her son’s eyes to be gouged out
Byzantine empress, Irene of Athens, ruled between 797 to 802 CE. She co-ruled with her son for two decades before leading the kingdom by herself. Her son Emperor Constantine VI was an unpopular Emperor; the mother-son duo was indeed a Greek tragedy. The Empress was an ambitious woman and wanted full control of the Byzantine Empire. With the help of some political allies, Irene led a conspiracy against her own son.
Ultimately, the mother and son reconciled; however, that wasn’t the end. In 786, the public turned against Constantine after he decided to divorce his wife and marry his mistress. Irene took advantage of this and once again conspired against her son. She ordered the arrest of Constantine and gouged his eyes out.
6. Queen Ranavalona I, one of the worst Queens in history who subjected her mother to extreme hunger
Queen Ranavalona I ruled Madagascar between 1828 and 1861. There is no doubt that she was fierce and would do anything for her kingdom. After King Radama I, her husband, passed away, she took over the crown. During her reign, she got her uncle executed to protect her power and some records state that she ended her mother’s life by subjecting her to extreme hunger.
7. The Queen with no heart – Catherine de Medici
It was no new news that Henri II of France had a lifelong affair with his mistress Diane de Poitiers. While on his death bed, he begged his wife, Queen Catherine de Medici, to allow him to see her. However, the queen didn’t give in to his plea and even denied Diane entry into the room. The King died a lonely and painful death without his love by his side. However, that wasn’t what made her a terrible Queen.
The Queen Mother had a rebellious daughter named Margaret who dared to cross her and Catherine took her revenge for this. Catherine would fight over her married daughter’s adultery and affairs. It is said that Catherine’s screams could be heard echoing throughout the palace. During one instance when the Queen Mother found out about her daughter’s new romantic interest, she locked her up in a castle and never saw her again.
We understand that these emotions may have stemmed from the fact that Catherine’s husband had a mistress. But, she proved herself as one of the worst queens in history when she ordered her daughter’s romantic interest to be executed in front of her! Her son, King Henry, found that cruel as well. He had him executed, but not in front of his sister.
8. One of the all-time hated queens, Marie Antoinette
France’s Queen between 1774 and 1792 was Marie Antoinette. She was also the last Queen before the French Revolution. Marie Antoinette had quite a reputation for splurging on expensive things and found herself in many scandals.
One such scandal was the Affair of the Diamond Necklace. Countess de La Mott, a young lady, pretended to be the Queen’s friend and entered the French court in 1785. She fooled a high society member into believing that Antoinette loved him. She even hired a prostitute and disguised her as the queen and convinced the man that Antoinette wanted to purchase a diamond necklace. The jewelry cost $1,600,000 Livres then, which is almost $12,000,000 today. The money was never paid and the Queen had no clue about what had taken place. Although Antoinette was innocent, the public despised her.
History’s most hated Queens, Marie Antoinette, is known for her infamous dialogue. When the French subjects could not afford bread, she said, “Let them eat cake” – which fueled the French Revolution and ultimately led to her execution. Till date, Antoinette is regarded as one of the worst queens in history. However, historians now believe this was all just clever propaganda. Read about 5 Myth-busting Facts about Marie Antoinette.
9. The “Bloody Mary”, Mary I burned Protestants alive
Mary I, also known as “Bloody Mary”, ruled a Protestant county as a Catholic queen. Although Mary I was the first real Queen of Britain, her reign only lasted five years. She ordered war against the Protestants and slew several of them for heresy. She even burned some on the spot; the Queen was responsible for burning over 300 Protestants.
10. Queen of Castile caressed her husband’s dead body for years
Juana la Loca was the Queen of Castile from 1504 to 1516 and she suffered from various mental disorders. After her husband died in 1506, her father buried his body. However, Juana used to open the tomb and caress her husband’s dead body. Ultimately she ordered to dig out the body and kissed her husband’s feet. Additionally, she would carry his coffin everywhere with her and kept it under her bed. Years later, she allowed his burial outside her window.
11. Queen Catherine allegedly murdered her husband
Queen Catherine the Great of Russia wasn’t Russian and her name wasn’t Catherine either. After her mother-in-law died in 1762, Catherine came into power. Her husband Peter became the Emperor. However, people didn’t like him much as he showed a very obvious dislike for Russia. Catherine, on seeing this, decided to overthrow her husband. Although there is no evidence of the queen’s involvement, Peter was assassinated and Catherine was crowned as Empress Catherine II. Records state that “it was committed by her supporters, and public opinion held her responsible.” Although she was a strong ruler, she is also known as one of the worst queens in history.
12. Diane de Poitiers- The one who made Catherine de Medici a third wheel
Since we included Catherine de Medici in our list, it’s only fair to bring up her husband’s beloved mistress. During King Henry II’s reign, Diane was more than just a regular mistress. She was intellectually and politically sound. Due to this, she wrote several of Henry II’s official letters. She would even sign for him, with his permission of course. Moreover, he even allowed her to add her signature to some of these letters. Sometimes, they even signed the letters with their couple name “HenriDiane.” Cringe!
If you thought these Queens were bad, check out these madmen and their antics 10 Crazy Rulers In History and their antics