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5 Monarchs Who Suffered Horrible Deaths

Monarchs have always enjoyed prosperous lifestyles. While others struggled to survive, they benefited from wealth, security, and power, and this trend has been consistent throughout history.

But being a monarch doesn’t make you immune to hardship. Even with an abundance of fortune and influence, these five monarchs couldn’t escape their terrible fate.

1. Emperor Vitellius

An engraving of Emperor Vitellius by Giovanni Battista de’ Cavalieri, 1583 (Wikimedia Commons)

Emperor Vitellius ruled the Roman Empire for just eight months in 69 AD. Ancient sources describe him as a cruel, extravagant, and perverted man who loved gluttony and gambling.

In July, the armies in the east of the Roman Empire declared themselves in favour of Titus Flavius Vespasianus, the Governor of Judaea. These armies marched on the capital, which led to the Battle of Bedriacum.

Vitellius was defeated but refused to abdicate, so Vespasianus’s army captured the emperor, bound his hands, put a noose around his neck, and dragged him half-naked to the Forum, a famous square in the middle of Rome.

The people mocked and abused the emperor and pelted him with dung. Vitellius was then tortured on the Stairs of Mourning before being dragged off with a hook and dumped in the Tiber River.

Having killed Vitellius, Vespasianus became the new Emperor of Rome and reigned for ten years.

2. Emperor Andronikos I

A portrait of Emperor Andronikos I by an unknown artist, c. fifteenth century (Wikimedia Commons)

Emperor Andronikos I ruled the Byzantine Empire from 1183 to 1185. After overthrowing the teenager Alexios II, Andronikos introduced harsh regulations to limit the power of feudal landowners and the nobility.

As the number of executions increased, the Byzantine Empire transformed into a terror state. This led to various uprisings, including an invasion from King William II of Sicily. Eventually, Andronikos was overthrown by Isaac Angelos, who was an extended member of the Komnenos family.

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Desperate to escape the city of Constantinople, Andronikos boarded a ship with his wife and mistresses and attempted to get to Russia via the Black Sea. But he was apprehended before he could escape and brought back to the city.

Here, Andronikos suffered a slow and gruesome death. For several days, the city mob dismembered and mutilated Andronikos. They gouged out his eyes, ripped out his teeth, and chopped off various body parts.

Andronikos’s corpse was placed between two pillars, and Angelos became the new Emperor of the Byzantine Empire.

3. King Henry II

A painting of King Henry II by François Clouet, 1559 (Wikimedia Commons)

King Henry II was the French monarch from 1547 to 1559. He was successful in matters of diplomacy and war, overseeing the capture of Calais and the Three Bishoprics.

Henry was also a keen jouster, and to celebrate the signing of the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis, he hosted a jousting tournament in Paris at the Place des Vosges, a public square in the Marais district.

Though Henry was forty years old, he still wanted to compete in the tournament. During his joust against Gabriel de Montgomery, Henry was struck in the head, and several wooden splinters penetrated the skin above his right eye. One of the splinters also pierced the king’s brain.

The best physicians in France attended to Henry’s wounds for several days. Though he initially showed some signs of improvement, his fever worsened over time, and he developed blood poisoning.

Henry died soon after and was succeeded by his son Francis II.

4. Chhatrapati Sambhaji

A depiction of Chhatrapati Sambhaji by an unknown author, c. late seventeenth century (Wikimedia Commons)

Chhatrapati Sambhaji was the ruler of the Maratha Empire from 1681 to 1689. He was constantly at war with the Mughal Empire and was ultimately captured by Mughal troops in the town of Sangameshwar.

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The troops took Sambhaji to Emperor Aurangzeb, the ruler of the Mughal Empire. Sambhaji was forced to dress like a fool and tethered to a camel before being paraded in front of the Mughal troops.

Aurangzeb offered to spare Sambhaji’s life if he surrendered his forts and disclosed his hidden treasures. Far from accepting these terms, Sambhaji mocked Aurangzeb by requesting to marry his daughter.

In response, Aurangzeb tortured Sambhaji for several weeks. As well as being blinded and having his tongue removed, Sambhaji’s limbs were hacked off and thrown to a pack of dogs. Sambhaji was then beheaded beside the River Bhima.

Sambhaji was succeeded by his half-brother Chhatrapati Rajaram I, who also spent his reign battling against the Mughal Empire.

5. Tsar Nicholas II

A photograph of Tsar Nicholas II by an unknown photographer, 1912 (Wikimedia Commons)

Tsar Nicholas II was the Russian monarch from 1894 to 1917. After the Bolshevik Revolution, a civil war took place between the supporters of the revolution (the Red Army) and the supporters of the old regime (the White Army).

During the conflict, the Red Army imprisoned Nicholas and his family in a large mansion in Yekaterinburg known as the Ipatiev House. The Red Army stole their possessions and confined the family to their rooms except for meal times.

Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the Bolshevik Party, was worried that the White Army would rescue the tsar, so he ordered his men to execute Nicholas and his family. They were taken to a small room underneath the house and told they were being moved for protection, as there was fighting going on outside.

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After entering the room, Nicholas, his wife, and their five children were shot by the Red Army. The youngest child was just thirteen years old. The executioners stripped the corpses of any jewellery before burning them in the woods, disfiguring their faces with acid, and burying them in a mine.

Nicholas was Russia’s last monarch. The Red Army won the war and built upon their revolution by creating one of the most infamous regimes in human history: the Soviet Union.


Henry II, King of France, 1547-1559 (1988) by Frederic Baumgartner

Encyclopedia of Indian Events & Dates (2009) by S. B. Bhattacherje

The Marathas, 1600-1818 (2007) by Stewart Gordon

The Road to Communism (2002) by Ted Gottfried

The Roman Emperors: A Biographical Guide to the Rulers of Imperial Rome (1985) by Michael Grant

Byzantium and the Crusades (2003) by Jonathan Harris

The Oxford Dictionary Of Byzantium (1991) by Alexander Kazhdan

French Renaissance Monarchy: Francis I and Henry II (1984) by Robert Jean Knecht

Advanced Study in the History of Modern India, 1707-1813 (2005) by Jaswant Lal Mehta

Russia of the Tsars (1998) by Jim Strickler

The Lives of the Twelve Caesars (1914) by C. Suetonius Tranquillus

A History of the Byzantine State and Society (1997) by Warren Treadgold