What sticks to a person harder than a super-glued overly-attached girlfriend/boyfriend? Slander. It takes years or a life-time of effort to build a reputation and only seconds to destroy it. Which is probably why inventing false rumors about one’s adversaries or falsely portraying them in a negative manner is such an effective and cheap way of sowing their destruction so one can: rule the world, take over their commercial empire, get their job, [insert that which thou covetest here] etc.
Of course, once the no-limits, all-is-allowed Rumor Extravaganza begins, no one is safe because hey, what’s to stop your besmirched and compromised adversary to do the same to you? And thus is the whole of society lessened, not by punches, swords or guns, but by mere words. Think of slander as the chemical or nuclear weapons of politics.
And read below a bit about 5 famous people slandered by their opponents so that at least a doubt will always be cast upon their image in history.
1. England’s Queen “Bloody Mary”
When you hear about a British Queen being called “Bloody” and you take into consideration that the British Monarchy’s history presents it as one of the most ruthless, treacherous and bloody ever, you expect Mary to have been positively and cheerfully swimming in the blood of her opponents from Breakfast ’till her pre-bed Tea.
But recent and more thorough investigations of her reign prove this to be an exaggeration, probably purported by her Protestant opponents, since Mary was a devout Catholic and desired Catholicism’s return as the state religion. Not to mention that she was the first British Queen in history, which might have had something to do with it as well.
True, she did burn alive a lot of protestants in her 5 year reign, but also true is that she really tried not to execute the members of a Protestant group who had organised a coup against her, until they proved repeatedly that they will not stop trying. Also true is that her successor, Elizabeth the First, burned just as many Catholics if not more. So, overall Mary was quite within the norms.
2. Elvis Presley
Among Elvis’ other criticisms, a peculiar and very likely false one is that he was a racist. The odd part is that this whole thing is based on pretty much one thing that Elvis is said to have said, in the vein of: “The only thing Negroes can do for me is shine my shoes and buy my records.”. Key words being “said to have said”, because attempts to trace this quote beyond doubt have yielded only a mention of this in the Sepia magazine, where it is claimed that they got it from an interview with an “anonymous person on the street”. Wow! Proper journalism methodology right there.
Also worth noting are the following: Elvis consistently and vehemently denied he ever said anything even similar to that, he occasionally went to a black church led by Reverend W. Herbert Brewster, had many black friends and when an audience referred to him by his King of Rock title for the first time, he thanked it but said they should call Fats Domino that.
3. The Borgias
No, not the cast of the TV series you might have seen, the actual, real-life historical figures that the show is based on.
The Borgia family is portrayed as beyond depraved and criminal, ranging from incest to theft to embezzlement to murder as their reported forms of everyday-business (or entertainment). It is said that Rodrigo Lanzol Borgia murdered left and right to become pope Alexander VI and that his daughter Lurezia had sex with everybody, including him, her brother and Vatican officials.
On the first count, it’s probably true that Rodrigo gained his papacy by murder, but then again in that period it appears that EVERY position in the Vatican was gained this way, so the means itself is fairly “normal”. As to the frequency, it’s worth mentioning that the Borgias came from Spain, ergo foreigners, ergo evil, just ripe to demonize.
On the second count, there is historical evidence that Lucrezia’s bad reputation starts at the hands of an ex-husband (Giovanni Sforza), whom the Pope humiliated by declaring a divorce between him and his daughter, because he wanted a better political marriage for her, on the (probably false) basis of non-consummation (a.k.a. no sex between them in 4 years of marriage).
4. Pius XII
Often referred to as “Hitler’s Pope”, because he refused to ex-communicate Hitler or condemn Nazism, along with a supposed anti-Semitic inclination, this reputation was actually cast as true via John Cornwall’s best seller “Hitler’s Pope” (1999). However, most serious historians consider the book to be badly researched speculation and interpretation.
And there is historical evidence confirming that the Pope actually saved thousands of Jews from the Nazi authorities, by identifying them as Catholic and issuing them travel visas so they can escape in this way.
So, it would appear that the whole Nazi-sympathizer thing was just a clever ruse, an image to be perpetuated specifically so that he could maintain his influence and so, be able to help others.
5. Countess Elizabeth Bathory
The fascination of many criminologists, psychologists, (possibly some serial killers), grim-frostbitten metalheads and just “regular” popular media aficionados alike. With a penchant for slaying virgins and bathing in their blood so she could remain youthful forever. With more kills to her name than Rambo (though he admittedly got those in just around 2 hours of action). ~650 kills, to be a bit more precise. Charles Manson should be impressed.
Or should he? And should we all be appalled at “The Blood Countess”?
Despite the long history of her “confirmed” reputation (more than three centuries), a closer look at those confirmations reveals a pretty suspicious context. The accusations started pouring in immediately after her husband’s death. The King himself owed her a large sum of money. Her relatives all coveted the massive fortune she and her husband had amassed (including lands and a castle), of which she was now the sole governor. When rumors started circulating of her dubious past-times, the King and her family were eager to have things “investigated”. Said investigations produced “testimonies”, got in the usual medieval fashion, namely torture until confession. Put all of these things together and it would seem that this time a conspiracy is indeed plausible.