Did you know that Romania was once ruled by a homosexual, an Albanian, an Italian spy, a Jew, a one-eyed man and a Greek queen? Well it’s all true.
I think that just about everyone with a passing knowledge of Romania’s rulers knows all the famous ones, from Vlad “Dracula” Tepes to Stefan cel Mare (Stephen the Great) and Mihai Viteazu/Bravu (Michael the Brave).
But I thought it would be fun to look at some of the most unusual and strange rulers who once held sway over parts of what is now modern-day Romania.
In no particular order:
1) Maria Palaiologina Kantakouzene (1269-1279)
In the entirety of Romania’s history, there has only been one female ruler, Empress Consort Maria, who was technically the ruler of Bulgaria at a time when it was a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire and controlled most of Wallachia.
Maria was married to Tsar Constantine Tikh and when he fell off a horse and was paralyzed, she took over running the (Bulgarian) empire, including engineering the poisoning of a rival to the throne.
Later, after her husband died and a man named Ivaylo, originally a swineherd (man who takes care of pigs), led a popular uprising against her reign, she expediently quelled the rebellion by marrying him.
Note: The Kantakouzene family, later written in Romanian as Cantacuzino, became a ruling (ethnic Greek) family in Romania centuries later and even today there is a Cantacuzino Palace in Bucharest which was built by her descendants.
2) Ilias of Moldova (1432-1433, 1435-1443)
Romanian noble families had two peculiarities unique to them when it came to the succession of royal rulers that differentiated them from those in western Europe. The first was that illegitimate (“bastard”) children born out of wedlock were legally able to succeed their fathers. The second was that anyone with a physical deformity was banned from royal succession (while that seems harsh, a rule like that would’ve saved Spain a lot of grief).
Ilias was the co-ruler of Moldova with his brother Stefan (Stephen) II until Stefan decided to get rid of his brother’s claims to the throne by gouging out his eyes and blinding him. Leaving Ilias alive but now with an awful physical deformity, Stefan had quickly and efficiently removed his brother’s eligibility to rule Moldova.
3) Bogdan II the One-Eyed (Bogdan al III-lea cel Chior) (1471-1517)
Bogdan III was the son of Stefan cel Mare and was born without any physical deformities.
However during a battle against invading Tatars he received an injury that blinded him in one eye. He was able to keep his throne however because the rule preventing individuals with deformities only applied to people who were crippled before they assumed the throne, a useful loophole in the law.
4) Vlad VI the Drowned (Vlad VI Inecatul) (1530-1532)
While his reign was relatively short and uneventful, the 24-year-old prince of Wallachia’s last act was holding an enormous feast near the Dambovita River just south of Bucharest. Incredibly drunk, he then rode his horse towards the river and fell into the water, thus earning his nickname in the chronicles.
5) John III the Terrible (Ioan cel Cumplit) (1572-1574)
The grandson of Stefan cel Mare and son of Bogdan III the One-Eyed, John earned his nickname by murdering hundreds of competing nobles during his short reign.
His time on the throne came to an end after he lost a battle with the Ottoman Empire. The Turks tied his body to four camels who were each facing in different directions and thus his body was pulled apart in an extremely gruesome manner.
In English, this is known as being drawn and quartered, a punishment which was popular all over Europe in the Middle Ages.
6) Peter VI the Lame (Petru Schiopul) (1574-1577, 1578-1579, 1583-1591)
Despite prohibitions on people with disabilities holding the throne of Moldova, Peter was raised in Istanbul and was apparently a personal favorite of the sultan and thus was given an exemption.
Peter is included on this list because of the unusual fact that he fell in love with a gypsy named Irina. At that time, gypsies were slaves and so Peter used his royal power to emancipate her. After he gave up his throne, he took his gypsy wife to what is now northern Italy. Irina, however, died at the young age of 25 and soon after Peter found himself a new love, a woman named Maria who was from the Caucasus Mountains (modern day Russia).
In contrast to Peter’s love of foreign and exotic women, his son became a Catholic priest and never married.
7) Peter Earring (Petru Cercel) (1583-1585)
Although there is no hard historical evidence to prove it, it is very likely that Peter was Romania’s only openly homosexual leader.
He obtained his nickname because he loved to wear earrings and dress up in effeminate clothes, having been a merry partner in the French king Henri III’s circle of flamboyant men who loved to party and dress up in colorful costumes.
8) Vasile the Wolf (Vasile Lupu) (1634-1653)
Vasile was an ethnic Albanian born in a village in Bulgaria and was later brought to Romania by a ruling prince. Through an extremely complicated series of political machinations he came to the throne of Moldova.
Known today most famously for having built the Trei Ierhari (Three Hierarchs) Church in Iasi, one of that city’s most iconic and beautiful churches.
9) Mihnea the Evil (Mihnea cel Rau) (1508-1509)
One of the many sons of Vlad “Dracula” Tepes, Mihnea earned his nickname by murdering countless numbers of rival noblemen.
According to a contemporaneous account written by a priest, Mihnea also had a penchant for capturing and enslaving noblemen, sometimes cutting off their lips and noses (again, to prevent them from succeeding to the throne) and “sleeping with their wives in front of them”.
10) Aaron the Tyrant (Aron Tiranul) (1591-1595)
During the days when the Ottoman Empire ruled over Moldova, it was possible to just buy the position as ruler. Emanuel Aaron, the only royal Jewish leader in Romanian history, simply bought the throne outright from the Turks after borrowing an enormous sum of money from his fellow Jews.
Once he was in office, however, he immediately began to murder and imprison some of his Jewish creditors. The Turks responded by (briefly) removing him from the throne, only to re-instate him after his (surviving) creditors pointed out that without him on the throne and collecting taxes, he’d never be able to pay them back and so thus he was restored by the same Turks who had removed him just months earlier.
11) Gasparo Graziani (1619-1620)
Probably one of the most interesting characters to ever hold the throne, Graziani was born in the Venetian province of Dalmatia (now modern-day Croatia) and learned many languages, including English. He held a variety of posts, including as ambassador for the Ottoman Empire, spy for the Holy Roman Empire and envoy of the Spanish ruler of Naples.
For all of his work on behalf of the Turks, he was effectively given the throne of Moldova as a gift from the Sultan.
12) Serban Cantacuzino (1678-1688)
One of the many royal rulers who were descendants of the famous Cantacuzino family, Serban is most famous for having done two important things during his short reign as the ruler of Wallachia.
He was responsible for introducing corn (maize) to Romania, thus forever changing the dietary habits of the country. Prior to Serban, the classic dish mamaliga was made from millet (Ro: mei) but nowadays only the oldest and most rustic versions of this dish are made that way.
Serban Cantacuzino also paid for the very first Romanian-language version of the Bible, which you can read in all of its antiquated spelling and linguistic glory here.
You might notice if you look closely that it lists the date of printing as 1688 and just above that la anul de la facerea lumii 7197 (7197 years since the Earth was created). That refers to the now (mostly) defunct belief that if you calculate all the ages of people in the Bible and add them up you can thus “deduce” the date that the world was created (7197 years before 1688 AD would be 5509 B.C).
An Irish Catholic priest names James Ussher did the same thing and “calculated” that the world was created in 4404 BC so obviously the Orthodox Church came to a different date in their “calculations”.
Of course, the ancient residents of Catalhoyuk and even Jericho, to say nothing of our homo erectus ancestors, would’ve been very surprised indeed to learn that they were living on Earth before it was created LOL but that however was the prevalent belief in Europe in the 17th century.
Interestingly, the famous King James Bible was published in 1611, also one of the first royally-approved versions of the Bible written in the local language. Strangely though, while no Romanian church today uses the 1688 Cantacuzino Bible, many Protestant and Evangelical denominations of Christianity (particularly in the United States) still use the King James translation, even though the king was Catholic.
Does that make sense? Not really.
BUT NOW YOU KNOW ABOUT 12 OF ROMANIA’S STRANGEST RULERS!