The Most ‘Evil’ Rulers of the Middle Ages

These medieval rulers would earn nicknames like the Bad, the Cruel and the Accursed! While many rulers in the Middle Ages could be described as harsh and destructive, the following six men earned particular notoriety for their treachery towards even their family members and the hatred they received from their contemporaries.

Andronikos I Komnenos – Byzantine Emperor (1183-5)

“I shall fall upon your family like a lion pouncing on a large prey, and I shall exact fitting revenge for the injuries I have sustained at your hands.” – after having spent years imprisoned by his family members, Andronikos would work his way back to power in Byzantium and eliminate much of the Imperial family. His two-year reign was marked by numerous sexual liaisons and incest, increasing paranoia and creating a state of terror. One historian describes Andronikos as “a man of violence, cruelty, mutilation and murder.” When his rule collapsed, he would be caught by a mob in Constantinople and tortured for three days before being torn apart.

Death of Andronikos I Komnenos depicted in Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS Français 68 fol. 385r

Pedro the Cruel – King of Castile and León (1350-69)

He got his nickname for the wave of executions he ordered (he did some personally), including that of his wife and half-brothers. Pedro would meet his end in The Most Dramatic Moment of the Middle Ages!

BnF MS Français 2813.

John – King of England (1199-1216)

Before becoming king, John had already betrayed and rebelled against his father Henry II and brother Richard I. His reign is marked by his imprisoning and probable murder of his nephew Arthur, losing Normandy, and having his English subjects rebel and force him to sign the Magna Carta.


William the Bad – King of Sicily (1154-66)

According to one chronicler, when his subjects rebelled and tried to put his nin-year-old son on the throne, William responded this way:

Their story was that when the boy ran up to congratulate his father after his release, the father was angry that his enemies had, so to speak, preferred him to himself and kicked him, hitting him with as much force as he could. The boy managed to get away with some difficulty, and told the queen what had happened to him;  he did not survive for long after that.

Sviatopolk the Accursed – Grand Prince of Rus’ (1015-9)

Even though he succeeded to the throne on the death of his father, he feared that his brothers Boris and Gleb would challenge him, so Sviatopolk had assassins murder them.

Sviatopolk the Accursed by V. Sheremetiev in 1867

Christian the Tyrant – King of Norway and Denmark (1513-23)

His most notorious act was the Stockholm Bloodbath of 1520, when he executed 82 nobles in the Swedish capital after promising them amnesty.

The drawing was made by Johan Litheim 1690–1691 as a copy of an engraving made by the Dutch artist Dionysius Padtbrügge on behalf of the antiquarian Johan Hadorph. This engraving was in turn a copy of a woodcut commissioned by the Swedish king Gustav Vasa in Antwerp in 1524, made by Kort Steinkamp and Hans Kruse. The woodcut was lost in the Cruuska palatset at the Riddarholm fire in 1802. Wikimedia Commons