The former king of Spain, Juan Carlos, announced two weeks ago that he would go into exile . The 82-year-old ex-monarch, who abdicated in favour of his son, King Felipe VI , in June 2014, is being investigated at home and abroad for alleged corruption amounting to at least US$100 million. Juan Carlos was popular with the Spanish people for decades, having played an important role in Spain’s democratisation from the mid-1970s, but his legacy has been tainted by these corruption charges. If these allegations turn out to be true, most of us would find his avarice unfathomable. Constitutional monarchs of stable democracies are already at the pinnacle of human hierarchy. While they are not all-powerful rulers who can do as they please, and the state is no longer their personal property, they hardly live in deprivation. The trappings of their office and the material comforts they enjoy, often at the expense of the state and the people, is something we plebeians cannot even begin to imagine. Most kings, queens, sultans and whatnots are rich to begin with, their private family wealth accumulated over generations. Unless they are concerned about being deposed and left to scratch a penurious existence as ex-royals, there is no reason for them to destroy their public image and that of the monarchy by being so greedy. One of China’s most notorious rulers was the Wanli Emperor, whose long reign from 1572 until his death in 1620 contributed to the Ming dynasty’s demise 20 years later. Known for his greed, to satisfy his rapaciousness he devised multiple ways of extracting riches from his subjects, including requiring provincial officials to pay “tributes” to the throne on top of the taxes paid to the central government. Given that the officials’ careers depended on how much they gave, Wanli amassed vast quantities of silver. All manner of taxes were imposed, particularly on mining, even in locations where there were no mines. Much of the monies paid ended up in the private purse of the emperor, which was separate from the state coffers. Wanli was stingy as well, often at the expense of his country’s and people’s well-being. Despite the riches he accumulated, he would not spend it. Whenever his ministers begged him to dip into the imperial privy purse to mitigate natural disasters or fund wars, such as repelling the Japanese invasion of Korea, a vassal state of China, it was like extracting blood from a stone. When he eventually yielded to their entreaties, the amount he gave would be minuscule. There was so much silver stored in his private warehouses that the metal turned black and disintegrated. Historians and amateur psychoanalysts have attempted to explain Wanli’s behaviour by tracing it back to his childhood. Even after he became emperor, aged 10, his mother continued to be very strict with his upbringing. His tutor Zhang Juzheng, the most senior minister at court, was exceptionally stern, especially on the subject of thrift, often scolding the youthful emperor for minor extravagances. After Zhang died, Wanli’s resentment against him manifested in perverse greed and other misdemeanours that brought the Ming dynasty down.