5 Mind-blowing Facts About Historical Rulers


Leaders are both benevolent and autocratic. They are both intelligent and eccentric. They are both brave and cowardly. Leadership is, of course, subjective. But its foundation stems from one thing: the ability of an individual to establish a following among other individuals, groups, communities and countries. As Shakespeare rightly said, “Some men are born great, some acquire greatness, while some have greatness thrust on them.”
Brought to you here are 5 snippets about such great, noble and ignoble men.

1. The White Rajahs

For over a century, Sarawak, on the island of Borneo, was ruled as an independent state by a family of English white rajahs. The founder of the dynasty was James Brooke, an ex-employee of the East India Company. While sailing along the Borneo coast, Brooke helped the Sultan of Brunei to suppress a revolt and, as a reward, the grateful sultan made him Rajah of Sarawak in 1841.

The country prospered under Brooke’s rule and that of his successor, his nephew, Sir Charles Brooke. Though Sir Charles placed Sarawak under British protection in 1888, the country retained its independence until the Japanese invaded it during the Second World War. After the defeat of Japan, the third and last of the white rajahs, Sir Charles Vyner Brooke, relinquished all his rights to Britain in 1946. In 1963, Sarawak became a part of the newly independent state of Malaysia.

2. Tamerlane the Terrible

The 14th century Tartar warlord Tamerlane (1336 – 1405), who built an empire stretching from China to Turkey, had an insatiable appetite for death. In 1387, after a rebellious mob in Isfahan (in present day Iran) had massacred 3000 of his occupying troops, Tamerlane ordered his commanders to collect a sickening ransom in human heads. By the time the army moved on, 70,000 heads were heaped in grisly pyramids outside the city walls.
The city of Sivas in Turkey fell victim to a lethal trick. Tamerlane is said to have promised the city elders that not a drop of the defenders’ would be shed if the city surrendered. He kept his promise to the letter: 4000 Armenian soldiers who had led the city’s resistance were buried alive; Christians were strangled or tied up and tossed in a moat to drown and children were herded into a field to be trampled to death Tamerlane’s Mongol cavalry.
Despite his love for war, Tamerlane did not die on the battlefield. He died in bed, possibly from the effects of a wild drinking party.

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3. What Killed Napoleon?

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769 – 1821) tried to poison himself once, in April 1814 after surrendering to the Allies. But the phial he used was two years old and had lost its potency. It merely gave him a violent attack of hiccups which made him vomit and saved his life.
Seven years later, by the time Napoleon died in the island of St. Helena in 1821 at the age of 52, he was a very sick man. But the nature of the illness that killed him has never been established for certain. Some doctors have argued that he died of cancer, others that he was poisoned by one of his retainers. Still others have argued that his death was hastened accidentally by toxic vapours from wallpaper dyed with arsenic in his house on St. Helena.
In 1982, however, a US specialist, Dr. Robert Greenblatt, came up with a new diagnosis: suggesting that, far from being a sick man, the former emperor of France was becoming a sick woman. Dr. Greenblatt, who specialised in the study of hormones, said that Napoleon was suffering from a glandular disease called the Zollinger-Ellison syndrome. The disease, he said, explained why one of the doctors who examined the emperor’s body after his death observed: “His type of plumpness was not masculine, he had beautiful arms, rounded breasts, white, soft skin (and) no hair.”
The disease, which was not understood at the time, left another clue, according to Dr. Greenblatt. Napoleon was an ardent lover during his marriage to his first wife, Josephine. But he himself admitted that he had little interest in love-making after he married his second wife, Marie Louise, in 1810.

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Napoleon Bonaparte
Napoleon Bonaparte

4. Funeral For a Leg

A Mexican president once held a funeral for his own leg. The president, Antonio de Santa Anna, was the general who in 1836 led Mexican troops to victory over Texan rebels at the siege of the Alamo. American frontiersmen James Bowie – after whom the Bowie knife was named – and Davy Crockett died in the siege. Santa Anna’s leg was amputated below the knee after he was wounded during a battle with French troops in December 1838. Santa Anna kept the leg at his hacienda near Veracruz for four years, during which he rose to become effectively dictator of Mexico and the centre on an adoring political cult.
On September 26, 1842, his supporters solemnly paraded the leg through the streets of Mexico City to the accompaniment of bands and orchestras, then laid it to rest in a national shrine known as the Pantheon of Saint Paula. Two years later, however, the leg was stolen during the riots that surrounded Santa Anna’s fall from power. Santa Anna died in 1876 at the age of 62 – poor, blind and ignored. The fate of his leg remains unknown.

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5. White Chief of The Zulus

Africa’s powerful Zulu tribe once had an Englishman for a chief. His name was John Dunn and he grew up as an orphan in the 19th century British colony of Natal, South Africa. Dunn was making a living as a big game hunter when, in the 1850s, he met the Zulu king, Cetewayo. Cetewayo was so impressed by Dunn that he appointed him a royal adviser. By the end of the Anglo-Zulu War in 1872, Dunn had become a power behind the Zulu throne, and after the Zulu’s defeat, he was made ruler of the largest of the States into which the British partitioned Zululand.

By the time Dunn died in 1895, he had 50 wives and 117 children, and had accumulated so many descendents that the colonial government set aside a special 4000 hectare reserve for them near the Tugela River in Natal.