From Treachery, Poisons, and Vengeance: Ten Mysterious Historical Figures…
I suspect that most of the people who have made it into the history books were deeply flawed men and women, but a few were genuinely heroic while still human enough to allow us to identify with them, and those few deserve to live again in historical fiction. The following is a short list:
Charles II was King of England from 1660 until his death in 1685. His life was upended by the English Civil Wars, which began when he was twelve years old. His father, the king, lost the first war and was taken prisoner, and at the age of sixteen Charles had to flee the country. Shortly thereafter, his father was beheaded and for the next eleven years, until the English changed their minds and invited him to return, Charles lived a life that was certainly adventurous.
Oliver Cromwell was Lord Protector of England during much of the time Charles was in exile. He was a military genius and a masterful politician who was more or less forced to take power. Even his enemies admired him. It is testimony to his greatness that there are only two statues in front of the British Houses of Parliament. One is of Winston Churchill and the other is of Oliver Cromwell.
Henry VII of England in his early years led a life much like that of Charles II. He was an exile and a hunted fugitive during his young manhood. Through various historical accidents he was the principal male heir of the House of Lancaster, but the House of York occupied the throne and they wanted Henry dead. At last, when enough important people had grown tired of Richard III, Henry landed an army in England and defeated Richard at the Battle of Bosworth Field. Richard, whose skeleton was only recently discovered under a parking lot, was killed, and Henry declared himself king. He was one of the best monarchs England ever had.
Alfred the Great was a Saxon king whom we have largely to thank for what Old English literature has come down to us. He was a scholarly man forced to spend most of his life as a warrior because the Danes kept invading his country. The folk stories about him are legion.
Julianus, known in history as Julian the Apostate, was originally trained to become a priest, but at some point he changed his mind about Christianity and became a pagan. His family had a hard time of it as their cousin, the Roman emperor, kept executing them. He executed Julianus’s brother for lack of success in commanding the Roman armies along the Rhine and then sent Julianus, who had no military training, to assume the same command. To everyone’s surprise including his own, he turned out to be a brilliant general and was popular with his men because he shared their hardships. Some of his writings survive and reveal an interesting mind.
Queen Boudica was the widow of Prasutagus, king of the Iceni, who in his will ceded half his kingdom to Rome, intending that his two daughters would inherit the other half. Under Roman law, only males could inherit, so they took the whole kingdom. When Boudica objected, she was lashed and her two daughters were raped. She then organized an army, which she herself commanded, and made war against the occupying Romans. She is said to have led from the front, bare-breasted, painted blue, and driving a chariot. Eventually, however, the Romans overcame her army and, since she was not captured, historians assume she committed suicide. In my novel, she would somehow survive. It seems only fair.
Caratacus was another British opponent of Roman rule. He fought a brilliant war but the Romans eventually defeated him. He was condemned to death and taken back to Rome as a prisoner. There he was presented to the Roman Senate, where he refused to plead for mercy and made a speech to the effect that “if you invade our country, don’t be surprised if we resist.” The Romans were so impressed with his courage and dignity of bearing that they rescinded the death sentence and awarded him a pension. He lived out the rest of his life in Rome.
Herod Agrippa was the last King of the Jews. He had been raised in Rome after his grandfather, Herod the Great, executed his father, and was a favorite of the Imperial family, although the emperor Tiberias jailed him for a while. He was also a popular king. He died quite suddenly and his death was a disaster for his subjects. He led an interesting life but is on this list mainly because I just like the guy.
Vercingetorix was a Gallic chieftain who rallied the tribes of Gaul to oppose Julius Caesar, one of the authentic villains of ancient history. He was eventually defeated and executed in Rome. He is considered the first French national hero.
Philip II of Macedon was the father of Alexander the Great and a far greater man than his son. He was the third son in an astonishingly dysfunctional family. He assumed the throne after his brother Perdikkas and several thousand Macedonian soldiers were ambushed and slaughtered. Macedon was surrounded by enemies but through diplomacy and war, Philip ended up master of the Greek world. No one should feel compelled to write a novel about him, however, because I’ve already done it. The Macedonian will be coming out next year.
NICHOLAS GUILD has published a dozen novels, several of which were international bestsellers, including The Assyrian, Blood Star, and Angel. His most recent historical thriller is THE SPARTAN DAGGER. When the peasant Protos loses his parents to a bloody Spartan rite of passage the Spartans have no idea how terrible an enemy they have called forth. Nothing could have prepared them for Protos, whose name means “destined,” whose cunning and inborn skill with weapons renders his enemies almost defenseless, and whose heart knows no pity. Guild has combined extensive research, a deep understanding of the ancient world, and an exciting tale in THE SPARTAN DAGGER to create the perfect read for fans of historical thrillers. You can find him online at www.nicholasguild.com.