History is in no short supply of mad kings, embarrassing princes, and monarchs who just couldn’t keep their eyes from wandering.
From escort chasing princes, the first-ever burning man, to the man who started the Church of England just so he could get a divorce, here are 10 bizarre royal scandals from history.
10. The Duke of Kent
Prince George, the Duke of Kent, would have given today’s rock stars a run for their money. You might say he was a fan of debauchery and was often seen publicly absconding both with men and women. This and his heavy drug use were a constant source of embarrassment for the Royal Crown. But he was also extremely popular with the public.
The forgotten son would officially earn his namesake in 1942, when his plane crashed into a hillside in Scotland, killing 14 passengers. Many people suspect the royal crown may have planned for the prince to be taken out of the spotlight. This theory isn’t helped by the fact that the exact cause of the crash still remains a mystery.
Though Prince George had a less than stellar career in the navy, he had logged more than 60,000 hours flying, and it’s been suggested that the likelihood for pilot error is improbable.
9. The Ball of the Burning Man
It was important to keep King Charles VI of France placated, a fact illustrated by his other title, Charles the Mad. What began as an innocent display meant to celebrate the marriage of one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting, the king and five of his knights dressed up as wild men. Their costumes did a good job of hiding their identities, so well in fact that the king managed to hide amongst the other knights during their little dance.
There was just one problem. The costumes were made of linen and resin, and nobody told the king’s drunk brother not to bring anything flammable to the party.
But that is exactly what happened. King Charles VI’s own brother arrived with his entourage, carrying a lit torch.
As you can imagine, things did not go well from here, as Louis, Duc D’Orléans, set one of the dancers on fire. The dancer spun around, desperately attempting to put himself out, inadvertently lighting the other four men, including the king himself, on fire.
Luckily, Duchess de Berr, only 14 at the time, recognized the king as he was burning, and put him under her skirts, snuffing out the fire and sneaking him away from the party.
As for the dancers, one of the knights saved himself by jumping into a barrel of wine. The other four perished.
The people were understandably upset that the king’s life could be risked in such a frivolous manner and the court was forced to do public penance.
8. Friendly Fire
On the morning of August 2, 1100 CE, King William II woke from a frightening dream, one whereby some accounts he met the devil who told him they would be meeting very soon (though, other accounts suggest that he dreamed he had been left bleeding by a surgeon and that the stream, reached all the way to heaven, where it blocked out the light of day).
Whatever his nightmares really contained, they bothered William II. His spirits did not lift until the afternoon. By most accounts, his friends and attendants suggested that it was such a lovely day, that it would be a waste not to spend it in the saddle. So they went hunting.
Joining him in the forest were his brother Henry, some courtiers, and Walter Tirel, an incredible marksman.
The king’s courtiers went with his brother, and the king rode off with Walter, handing him two of the six arrows given to him.
The sun was setting by the time they saw their first stag and the king managed to wound it slightly. The king tracked the stag through the forest, using one of his hands to keep the setting sun’s light out of his eyes.
Walter Tirel then let his own arrow fly and gasped.
He’d accidentally fatally wounded the king by shooting him through the heart.
Walter Tirel panicked, getting up onto his horse, and fleeing all the way back to France.
Commentators on the situation, even at the time, suggested that the king’s brother may have put Tirel up to it, as Henry did rush to get himself crowned, even as the king was still bleeding out.
Tirel would go on to swear that he was nowhere near the king on that day, and much of what happened is still a mystery.
7. Henry VIII’s Divorce
Who doesn’t love a good sex scandal? Britain’s Royal Crown is no stranger to such things, but Henry the VIII’s need for a male heir and six marriages put most of Britain’s scandals to shame. British children often are taught to memorize the king’s order of wives by reciting “Divorced, Beheaded, Died: Divorced, Beheaded, Survived.”
Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon and his infatuation with Anne Boleyn ruined his relationship with his main advisor and friend Thomas Wolsey, and simultaneously caught the ire of the Catholic Church.
Now, ordinarily, the king probably wouldn’t have had to go through so much trouble in getting permission from the Pope to set his current wife aside and marry another, but since Rome had been attacked, and the Roman Catholic Church was now under imperial sway, the title of Holy Roman Emperor passed to King Charles V of Spain—Catherine of Aragon’s nephew, of all people. And the Holy Roman Emperor was not going to allow the king to get out of his vows.
Fortunately for the king, clergyman Thomas Cranmer and the king’s influential adviser Thomas Cromwell both agreed that under Protestant tradition, the king should not be subject to the will of the Holy Roman Emperor. So, the king made Cranmer the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Henry’s divorce from Catherine was completed, ending with a very pregnant Anne Boleyn being crowned queen by 1533 CE.
This would lead to a scandal, of course, leading to the king’s excommunication from the Catholic church by Pope Paul III in 1538 CE.
Bizarrely enough, if it weren’t for King Henry VIII’s selfish desires, the Church of England probably wouldn’t have been formed, and the Catholic Church’s stranglehold over most of the known world wouldn’t have been broken at that time.
So, historians think that Henry VIII’s selfish actions and desire for a male heir inadvertently paved the way for the Britain we know today.
6. The Ottoman Sex Addict
Being raised for the first 23 years in a room with no windows would probably be enough to drive anyone insane, but that is exactly how Ibrahim I of the Ottoman Empire was raised. Murad IV, the previous Sultan before Ibrahim, actually ordered Ibrahim’s death as he passed away in bed, but Ibrahim’s mother did not allow it, and the boy who had never been allowed to leave his room would be proclaimed Sultan.
As Sultan, Ibrahim I would attempt to reclaim his lost 23 years by engaging in every kind of debauchery that he could, and his mother would even encourage it. The Sultan could not be bothered with politics, so most of the governing was left to his mother.
But it was slow going at first, as the 23-year-old Sultan suffered from impotence. This impotence greatly concerned his supporters, who thought he might never be able to take a concubine to bed properly, let alone bring a male heir into the world.
Unfortunately for his supporters, Ibrahim became a full-on sex addict, and would end up fathering many, many children through these acts. He was also prone to great bouts of rage, endangering his sons by throwing one in a pool, and stabbing another in the face. He also had his people plundered during a few of his fits of rage.
This made him very unpopular to say the least, and Ibrahim I would end up right where he started, in his cage, awaiting death at the hands of the very people he appointed to positions of power. He would die by strangulation, while holding the Koran and pleading for his life.
5. Prince Harry’s Naked Romp Through Vegas
Even in modern times, it seems that the tradition of eccentric men embarrassing the Royal Crown has not ended. In 2012, the Sun was the first to publish images of Prince Harry partying nude in a hotel room in Las Vegas.
Harry’s then girlfriend promptly dumped him, and the Royal Crown was greatly embarrassed, though this did nothing to harm the Prince’s popularity with the public.
In fact, the act went viral with people in the military sending him images of themselves naked, saluting, to show their support.
4. King Edward VIII Marries an American Actress
When King Edward VIII publicly stated his intent to marry his twice divorced mistress, American actress Wallis Simpson, the Church of England was strictly opposed to the idea, and this would plunge Britain into a constitutional crisis that would see the king abdicate from his position of power in 1936 and marry the woman anyway.
1936 was a big year for Edward. Not only did his father, King George V, die in bed, thus making him next in line for the title. But he would later shock the world when his relationship to Wallis Simpson was exposed during a Mediterranean cruise to Nahlin.
Now, this was particularly scandalous, especially in 1936, since Simpson was still married, and wouldn’t receive her divorce decree until later that year.
But as soon as she did, Edward rushed off to the royal microphone to abdicate.
Not long after pledging his loyalty to his brother and explaining the situation to the entire country over a live radio broadcast, Edward VIII left the country. But, as ex-king, his name, as well as the name of his wife-to-be would live on in infamy.
3. The Drowned Queen
Tragedy would strike Queen Sunanda Kumariratana in 1880, while en route to her summer palace at Bang Pa-In. Her royal boat capsized and, despite being surrounded by onlookers, she drowned.
The onlookers watched in horror as the queen’s guard told them to do nothing from the safety of another boat.
This is because ancient law forbade commoners at the time from touching the queen, on threat of execution even.
To add to the controversy, the queen was pregnant at the time of her drowning.
The guard who ordered the commoners to stay put would be punished, and the funeral meant to honor the late queen would be one of the most expensive in the country’s history.
2. Playboy Prince
The future King Edward VII would earn his mother’s lifelong ire after being caught seeing an “actress” while stationed in Ireland with an army unit. He would continue to see her, and after sneaking her into Windsor Castle, he would get a scathing letter from his father, and his mother would refuse to write him or even send for him until it was certain his father was about to die.
The Playboy Prince would meet his father in the dead of night the following week to discuss things man-to-man. But his father would contract Typhoid upon his return home. Edward VII would be summoned to his father’s deathbed mere minutes before he passed, and his mother would never forgive him, or let him forget his brief relationship with the prostitute.
The Playboy Prince wouldn’t forget it, either, and would go on to not only be king, but also abscond with plenty of married women and prostitutes while he was at it.
1. The Duke of York
Sometimes, just knowing someone with a questionable past can ruin your life.
In November 2020, it was reported that the Queen of England officially gave Prince Andrew permission to be relieved of his royal duties after the questionable death of Jeffrey Epstein caused the media to begin examining the Prince’s relationship to Epstein with a microscope.
Jeffrey Epstein was convicted for some extremely heinous crimes, which most of you will be familiar with. Epstein’s crimes have cast a shadow over anyone who was friends, or business partners with him.
To complicate this particular scandal, the Duke of York is being accused of having relations with an underage American woman named Virginia Giuffre, one of Epstein’s accusers, though Prince Andrew denies the allegations and publicly regrets doing business with Epstein.
The scandal is so bad, that some foreign policy commentators have suggested it could ruin the royal family. Especially if the people of Britain start asking why they allow the royal family to get away with so much.