The Surprising Pastimes of 10 of History's Worst Rulers Will Leave You Scratching Your Head

The Surprising Pastimes of 10 of History’s Worst Rulers Will Leave You Scratching Your Head

By Khalid Elhassan

Running a government or being in charge of a country could be demanding work, so it is unsurprising that many rulers throughout history have turned to hobbies in their free time. For most, the choice of hobby and leisure pastime was unremarkable. Their preferred pursuits, such as hunting, fishing, hiking, writing, singing, painting, etc, were not odd in the context of their environment and personality. Others, however, picked pastimes and hobbies that were quite remarkable, indeed. Either because the chosen activities were wacky in of themselves, or because they were in jarring contrast with the image and public persona of that particular bigwig.

History is littered with bad rulers whose brutality, venality, corruption, and ineptness caused untold misery and brought immeasurable suffering to millions around the world. But even kleptocrats, tyrants, despots and all around monsters, like to take the occasional break from making mankind miserable, and unwind with some leisure activity. The choice of hobby or other form of relaxation chosen by some of those bad rulers could be surprising. Of course, the odd hobbies chosen by some of these bad actors do not humanize or otherwise detract from their misdeeds: a Hitler remains a Hitler, even if he liked petting cuddly animals. But their weird pastimes are interesting, nonetheless.

Saddam Hussein liked writing steamy romance novels. Utne Reader

Following are ten bad rulers, who had some peculiar hobbies and pastimes.

Imelda Marcos at the Shoe Museum. Imelda Marcos

Imelda Marcos Was Obsessed With Designer Shoes

Imelda Marcos (1929 – ) is a Philippine public figure, and the widow of former dictator and president Ferdinand Marcos, who ruled from 1966 to 1986. During her years as First Lady of the Philippines, she held various government posts and wielded great power, such that she became a de facto co-ruler of the country towards the end of the Marcos dictatorship. Known as the “Steel Butterfly” for her combination of fashion sense and steely resolve, Imelda took full advantage of her access to power to enrich herself with rampant corruption and blatant graft. The Marcos dictatorship was a kleptocracy, and the ruling couple plundered the country to their hearts’ content.

The kleptocrat couple were eventually overthrown in a 1986 popular uprising, and were forced to flee the Philippines. By then they had stashed enough wealth in secret Swiss bank accounts, and accumulated various properties overseas, that they were able to afford an extremely comfortable retirement in Hawaii. However, they were unable to take all their ill gotten gains and goodies with them. When the revolutionaries entered the Marcos palaces, they found evidence of an extravagant and opulent lifestyle.

What attracted the most attention was Imelda Marcos’ apparent obsession with expensive designer shoes. The former First Lady had been splurging on extremely pricey shoes, accumulating thousands of pairs. When protesters stormed one of her former residences, the Malacang Palace, they discovered over 2700 pairs of designer shoes in Imelda’s wardrobe. Thousands more of her shoes were found in other palaces, mansions, and villas throughout the Philippines. A single pair of those pricey pumps could cost more than an entire city block in a lower class Philippine neighborhood earned in a year.

After the 1986 revolt, Imelda Marcos’s shoes were displayed at the presidential palace as a symbol of the dictatorship’s corruption. Eventually, hundreds of  her shoes found a permanent home in the Shoe Museum, in the northern city of Marikina.  The collection became a symbol of excess in a country where many walked barefoot in abject poverty. However, because life is often unfair, Imelda Marcos never paid for her corruption. She was eventually allowed back in the Philippines, was elected to Parliament, and as of 2017, is one of that country’s wealthiest women. She even turned the shoe scandal into an asset, and has been a frequent visitor to the Shoe Museum. There, she signs autographs and proudly poses for photos next to the display cases of her collection.