Andrew Parker

17 Historical Figures Glorified by Society but Truly Horrible People

We all love a good hero story, but what if we told you that some of our most celebrated historical figures had a bit of a dark side. Even the most glorified people had their flaws. Today, we’re looking at 25 historical figures who people still praise but were evil. 

Christopher Columbus

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Christopher Columbus is a household name since he helped start European expeditions to the Americas, but there’s more to this story. When he arrived on the Americas shores in 1492, he wasn’t the best guest. He brutally murdered and caused severe problems for the native people by enslaving them and spreading diseases.

Thomas Jefferson

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Thomas Jefferson was the leading man behind the Declaration of Independence and knew how to write about liberty—but putting it into practice? That’s a different story. He owned hundreds of slaves at his Monticello estate, which is pretty ironic. His words spoke of freedom, but his actions didn’t quite match.

Winston Churchill

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Many people know Winston Churchill as the tough guy who stood up to Hitler, and they love him for that. But did you know his decisions during the war caused a massive famine in Bengal? His policies weren’t always progressive, leading to millions of people going hungry. And the less said about his views on race, the better.

Mother Theresa

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Most people think Mother Theresa was completely selfless, although it turns out that even saints have critics. Some argue that her hospices in Kolkata didn’t give their patients proper medical care, while her approach to suffering was a little questionable. She’s not exactly the person we thought she was.

Andrew Jackson

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Many people celebrate Andrew Jackson’s populist approach, but he also had some significant flaws. The biggest of these were his anti-Native American policies, which caused the infamous Trail of Tears. This brutally forced many Native Americans to relocate and caused thousands of them to die. His iron often brought a lot of suffering.

Genghis Khan 

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Genghis Khan created one of the largest empires ever, although he didn’t play nice to get there. His conquests involved a lot of killing and destruction, and he wasn’t a fan of sparing civilians or preserving cultures. He might’ve been a military genius, but we can’t forget his brutal tactics.

John F. Kennedy 

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Everyone loves JFK for his charm and how he could hold a crowd. Yet most of us forget that he also had a ton of secrets, especially with his love life, that weren’t so admirable. He had a public image as the perfect family man, but he was busy having affairs in a way that would make today’s tabloids go wild.

Pablo Picasso

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Picasso changed the art game forever, leaving us with simply stunning pieces. But his take on relationships? Let’s just say he wasn’t exactly painting pretty pictures. He had a habit of treating his ladies pretty poorly. While he tried to be the sensitive artist type, he was a pretty mean person.

Mao Zedong

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Most of the West will know that Mao Zedong wasn’t a good person, but not in China. They see him as a hero there for making the nation what it is today. A few of his ideas backfired quite a bit, like the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. These plans ended up causing a ton of grief and loss for millions of Chinese people. 

Henry VIII

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Henry VIII is probably most famous for having his many wives, and there’s a reason. His complicated love life came from his fierce temper and his lack of mercy when things didn’t go his way. It doesn’t matter if it was his wives or political enemies because Henry knew how to wield an axe.

Che Guevara

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On a t-shirt, Che Guevera looks cool, but the real guy was a bit more intense than that. He fought for what he believed in, including creating some pretty harsh labor camps. He wasn’t afraid to crack down on anyone who didn’t fall in line, which involved much more than fiery speeches.

Queen Elizabeth I

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Queen Elizabeth gave the Brits their Golden Age of English culture, although she wasn’t the nicest with her subjects. Forget about Shakespeare and those fancy dresses because she had a tough side when dealing with rebels or people who didn’t follow her strict rules. She didn’t mind playing hardball to keep her throne secure.

Woodrow Wilson

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Woodrow talked a lot about peace, and he helped create the League of Nations, an early form of the United Nations. But back home, his approach to racial equality was pretty behind the times, as his administration increased segregation between black and white Americans. Peace? He believed it was only for some.

Benjamin Franklin

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What do you think of when you hear the name Benjamin Franklin? We’re guessing he was a founding father and all-around American icon, but he also had a dark side. He was quite a ladies’ man and had affairs, even with his public moral views. His legacy was more than flying kites and drafting declarations.

Julius Caesar

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Julius Caesar was a Roman hero and master of political strategy, although that doesn’t come easily. He was ruthless and did all kinds of evil things to keep his power, including eliminating his rivals. This led him straight to the top, but it also led to his infamous end on the Ides of March.

Albert Einstein

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There’s no denying that Einstein changed our understanding of the universe, but his personal life wasn’t so revolutionary. He had a challenging marriage and family life, including a tense relationship with his first wife and children. Even geniuses can be stupid in their everyday human relationships.

Marco Polo

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Marco Polo went to Asia and returned with stories that had everyone buzzing. But let’s be honest; some of those tales might’ve been a tad over the top. Although he opened our eyes to the wonders of the East, he also might’ve thrown a few dragons in where there were none. This doesn’t make him a horrible person, but he may have been a bit of a liar.

Elvis Presley

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Elvis was the swivel-hipped King of Rock ‘n’ Roll who had the world at his feet and a song ready to go. Sadly, behind those glitzy jumpsuits and iconic tunes was a very different story. He met his ex-wife, Priscilla, when she was 14 and he was 24, and he started a relationship with her. You don’t need us to tell you why that’s so disgusting.

Alexander the Great

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Alexander the Great conquered more land than anyone else before him, but at what cost? His path to glory included a ton of destruction and way too many lost lives. Winning isn’t everything, especially when it leaves the world messier than you found it. And when he lost his temper, whole cities would have to pay.


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Mahatma Gandhi may have been the poster guy for nonviolence, but he had some complicated views, too. Believe it or not, he tested his willpower to stay celibate by sleeping next to young women. He also had some extreme opinions about African Americans that weren’t what you’d expect from someone who loved peace.

Isaac Newton

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Undoubtedly, Isaac Newton was a genius, and he completely changed how we think about the world. Unfortunately, he could also hold a grudge like nobody’s business and refused to let any feuds go. Even in his personal life, he didn’t play nice with those around him.

Marie Antoinette

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Marie Antoinette never actually said, “Let them eat cake,” but she did love living a lavish life. At the time, French people were struggling to eat food, yet she bought expensive jewelry and threw massive parties at Versailles. It wasn’t a great look and didn’t do her any favors with the people outside her fancy gates.


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Nero didn’t fiddle while Rome burned since it wasn’t even around yet, although he did some other shady things. For example, he may have started that fire just to clear space for his new palace. He also killed his mom, which makes our family drama look tame in comparison. He liked killing random people in the street just for the fun of it.

Charles Darwin

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It’s weird to think that someone like Charles Darwin could be significantly behind the times with his approach to race. He used his views on evolution to support his belief that other races were inferior to white people, and he was also pretty sexist. Even great minds can make some great mistakes.

Teddy Roosevelt

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We’ve got another president for you here with Teddy Roosevelt. He helped create the Panama Canal and was pretty progressive with some of his policies. He wasn’t shy about using force to give the USA more power in other countries, which often caused some serious harm.

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