10 Wicked Humans from History

10 Wicked Humans from History

Peter Baxter - July 10, 2018

We all love a juicy story, and there is nothing juicier than the revelation that some arch villain has done something so utterly unspeakable that we just have to hear more. A certain United State’s president and a cigar, for example, or a fraudulent investor stacking up billions in a Ponzi scheme of the power hungry despot for whom no trick is too low to get into, and to stay in power. Then, of course, there is the humble low-life taking advantage of lonely hearts, and feeding a Swiss bank account. Both fact and fiction are full of characters like that, and we all love ‘em. Or love to hate them.

It is, perhaps, ironic that many of the men listed here were deemed extravagant names such as “Herod the Great” or “Peter the Great”- while many of their acts during their lives proved to be not so great…

In celebration of some of the most scurrilous bastards in history, we are going to kick off this list with a fiction character who almost defines the very word. However, all the rest are for real. Some are included because of their scandalous activities, some for a complete lack of humanity and others for fetishes and appetites that really should be discussed with a medical professional.

10 Wicked Humans from History

Harry Flashman: the Original Lovable Cad

‘There’s a point, you know, where treachery is so complete and unashamed that it becomes statesmanship’

Old Harry Flashman is the man the British most loved to revile throughout most of the twentieth century. The words ‘Cad’ and ‘Bounder’ are Victorian terms that were usually spoken aghast at some shameless deed that offended the exaggerated morality of Victorian England. So long as no one was ever critically compromised, however, these expressions of incredulity were usually followed by ‘but tell me more!’ That, of course, is why the Harry Flashman books were so popular for so long, and even today, old Harry still has quite a following.

The character Harry Flashman was born in the 1857 novel ‘Tom Brown’s School Days’, by Thomas Hughes. The novel was set at Rugby School, a fairly typical English public school, where boys were turned into English gentlemen by the rigorous application of the cane and frequent buggery. Harry Flashman was a character in the novel as the arch bully who tormented poor Tom Brown, and who was generally an unprincipled, self serving and thoroughly untrustworthy character.

He then appeared as spinoff in a series of novels written by George McDonald Frazer, known collectively as the Flashman Chronicles, and first published in 1925. Flashman, who lived from 1822 to 1915, was a commissioned officer of the 11th Regiment of Light Dragoons, and pursued a career replete with acts of cowardice, shameless betrayal, the cuckolding of many a powerful aristocrat and the seduction of any number of credulous women. By one means or another he always managed to get away with it, and lived to a ripe old age to reflect on a lecherous life within which not one virtuous act, no single episode of selflessness and no opportunity of glory and gratification was turned down.

Harry Flashman’s uninhibited misogyny, his wenching, his lip curling at the natives and his utter lack of moral character certainly have no place in the modern world, and most of his books are out of print now, but as the man who we all loved to hate, Flashman has become the basis of many a good fictional character who we all love to love.

10 Wicked Humans from History
John Christie and his wife Ethel. Islington Gazette

John Christie: A Very Nasty Man, Liar, and Murderer

From good old Harry Flashman were are now going to pry a little into the life and affairs of a man of similar moral bankruptcy, but of much darker and more sinister nature. In the spring of 1948, Timothy and Beryl Evans, along with their infant daughter Geraldine, moved into rooms at number 10 Rillington Place, Ladbroke Grove, London. These they were renting from the homeowner, John Christie, a balding and bespectacled man, somewhat obsequious, and in every respect unremarkable. Timothy Evans, however, would, in modern parlance, be regarded as having learning difficulties.

On the surface, John Christie, a Royal Mail counter clerk and sometime Special Constable, was a quiet and retiring man who lived an ordinary life on the lower floors of the building, along with his wife Ethel. Behind the scenes, however, Christie was a serial killer, a back street abortionist and a man with a deeply disturbed sexuality. He had already murdered a number of women in a sexual/sadistic manner. His interest was immediately captured by Beryl Evans, who, like her husband, was of low IQ, and very vulnerable as a consequence. When, in 1849, Beryl discovered she was pregnant once again, she and Timothy Evans agreed that she would seek an abortion. This, of course, was Christie’s way in, and in the course of the procedure, Christie had his way with the heavily drugged young mother, using mains gas from the cooker to anesthetize her, after which she and Geraldine were strangled.

Police suspicion immediately focused on Timothy Evans himself, which was not helped at all by his clumsy and confused testimony, and even less by Christie. John Christie’s police statement heavily implicated Timothy Evans in domestic violence, painting a picture of an unhappy marriage, and an often expressed desire on Evan’s part to somehow get rid of his wife. A more intelligent man than he would probably have been able to answer the charges more coherently, but Timothy Evans was such an obvious suspect that the police really looked no further. After fumbling his way through a long trial, Timothy Evans was found guilty, and sentenced to death. Christie, and his wife Ethel, were, of course, key witnesses, and the guilty verdict was based largely on their testimony.

On March 9, Timothy Evans was led to the gallows, and as he stood waiting for the drop, he repeated several time the now famous phrase ‘Christie done it!’

And Christie did indeed do it, and killed his own wife soon afterwards. He was eventually caught, however, when the stench of her rotting corpse under the floorboards led to his discovery. It then became clear that it was him and not Timothy Evans who was guilty of Beryl Evans’ murder. In 1966, Timothy Evans was posthumously pardoned, and John Christie was executed in London’s Pentonville Prison on July 15, 1953.

10 Wicked Humans from History
Peter the Great, a caring parent he was not. Famous Biographies

Peter the (not so) Great: The Man Who Tortured and Killed His Own Son

Dynastic politics is never a pretty business, and a great deal of evil has been done in the world in both the pursuit of power and the retention of it. The story of the Russian Tsar Peter the Great and his son Alexei is one such story, poignant in its tragedy and shocking in its cruelty.

Peter the Great, probably the greatest Russian imperial ruler, was a man of titanic capabilities, vast appetites and great artistic sensibility. Like all rulers of the age, in particular those at the head of great empires, in his mind the sanctity and security of the crown superseded all and every other earthy concern. In a political environment where the king – or in this case the Tsar – sits above the law, bad things are bound to happen to anyone suspected of treachery, and manipulation of the facts and tampering with justice were often a small price to pay for royal security.

In a nutshell, the Tsarevich Alexei was the firstborn son of Peter the Great, born of his unloved first wife who was exiled to a convent soon after the birth. For the first nineteen years of his life, Alexei saw little if anything of his father, but the great Sword of Damocles that hung over his head was his status as first in line for the succession. Peter had fixed ideas on what he wanted from his heir, and Alexei, who was, by all accounts, a frail and weak minded character, offered none of them

There were also rumors that Alexi was under the influence of Russian aristocrats opposing Peter’s various reforms and projects, which may or may not have been true, but it all gave Peter fair grounds for suspicion. Alexei, however, had absolutely interest in the Russian Crown, or power, or any such thing. He wanted merely to live quietly, in anonymity and as far away from his father as he could. Thus, Peter despised his son, and simply could accommodate the idea that such a weakling as he would one day inherit the empire.

This, of course, was an extremely perilous situation, and Alexis eventually made the smart decision to seek exile in Austria. However, in the complex power play of imperial Europe, a Russian prince would have no hope of being forgotten, and soon enough, drifting south to Italy, Alexei found himself under pressure to return. Peter promised not to punish him, and Alexei pleaded for nothing more than a normal life in a village somewhere.

No such thing, however, for no sooner was he back in Peter’s orbit than official charges were laid, and a confession extracted under the most blood chilling torture. Under those circumstances, Alexei was prepared to admit to anything, implicate anyone and sign whatever was set before him. A rampage of grotesque reprisal killings then followed, and in the end Alexei died at the age of twenty-eight after two concluding sessions of flogging with the dreaded knout.

The bottom line in all of this is that, no matter how you despise your family, how do you do that to them? Peter the Great may well have been a towering figure of Russian history, but he was also an utter bastard.

10 Wicked Humans from History
Peter O’Toole playing Tiberius is the film Caligula. Rotten Tomatos

Tiberius: One of the Great Sexual Deviants of History

It would be tough to compile a list such as this without touching on the deeds and misdeeds of one or two Romans. The list, of course, is long, and when you have a cast of characters that include the infamous Caligula, then there are plenty to chose from. Caligula, however, was a product of his environment, and although his father, Gaius Germanicus, exposed him to the military life, it was his grandfather, the Emperor Tiberius, who gifted him with his sense of sexual deviancy and entitlement.

Tiberius was the second emperor of Rome, successor to the great Caesar Augustus and predecessor to Caligula. His merits as an emperor have been frequently debated, and the jury is still out, but in his pleasure palace on the island of Capri, his antics were legendary. Roman historian Suetonius had this to say about a weekend at Tiberius’ villa:

‘On retiring to Capreae he made himself a private sporting-house, where sexual extravagances were practiced for his secret pleasure. Bevies of girls and young men, whom he had collected from all over the Empire as adepts in unusual practices, and known as spintriae, would copulate before him in groups of three, to excite his waning passions. A number of small rooms were furnished with the most indecent pictures and statuary obtainable, also certain erotic manuals from Elephantis in Egypt; the inmates of the establishment would know from these exactly what was expected of them.’

Even into his seventies, Tiberius had one overriding obsession, and that was sex. The Romans in general were extremely sexually liberated. There was very little that was off the menu at a Roman orgy, but even the freethinking citizens of Rome balked at the stories that filtered back from Capri. Bestiality, homosexuality, incest pedophilia, voyeurism and sadism were all in a day’s pleasure for Tiberius. The story is told that during a sacrificial ceremony he found himself attracted to two brothers, both acolytes, who he ordered into his bedroom. When they refused some particularly revolting request, their legs were broken.

A great many other such discerning prospects as this ended up broken at the bottom of the cliffs below Tiberius’ Villa, proving that rebuffing the Emperor’s lecherous advances could be deadly. In the matter of political Machiavellianism, well that is another story, and Tiberius was no less slippery, treacherous and cruel. The Emperor Tiberius was indeed a world class sexually deviant creep.

10 Wicked Humans from History
Louis Calhern and James Mason as Caesar and Brutus, the original stab in the back. Pininterest

Brutus: Don’t Turn Your Back on Him

Et tu Brut, one of the great misquotes of history, nonetheless tells the story of a bewildered Julius Caesar as his friend and confidante Marcus Junius Brutus stuck a knife in his back.

The power politics of a great empire will always supersede the minor considerations of friends and family. As General Charles de Gaulle once so sagely remarked, there are no friends, only interests. This truism was proven on February 15, 44 BCE when more than thirty Roman senators attacked Caesar, and put an end to a meteoric career that threatened the republican nature of Rome.

The whole business was a betrayal, but not quite to the same extent as the personal betrayal that this represented on the part of Brutus. If one was to search ‘the greatest betrayals of all time’ you can bet that Judas Iscariot would top the list, but Brutus would be running a close runner up. The question, however, is: how close were these two men? Roman history is founded on just one or two written resources, with the weight of follow-on history drawn largely from these, and added to from material and archeological sources unearthed since. Our understanding of the relationship between Julius Caesar and Brutus is derived largely from Shakespeare’s rendering of the tale in his famous play, and in that context, Brutus is presented as a close friend and confidante of the great general, the one he would turn to above all others.

When one looks at the situation through that context, that stab in the back was one of the worst in history. The thesis of Shakespeare’s play, however, is simply that Julius Caesar returned from his monumental military campaigns at the head of an army determined to crown their general emperor. Caesar, of course, forswore any such ambition, but we all know better than that, and to save the integrity of the republic, and as a consequence of his ambition, Caesar had to go.

Brutus needed to get out of Dodge fairly quickly after the act, and the Republic did not survive for long after that, but for better or worse, the name ‘Brutus’ is synonymous with betrayal of the most heinous and personal kind.

10 Wicked Humans from History
Nero, not a nice fellow. Famous Biographies.

The Emperor Nero: Sometimes Misunderstood, Sometimes a Monster

History has, in recent years, rehabilitated the reputation of this most venal and corrupt Roman Emperor, casting doubt over his most famously unforgivable act – fiddling while Rome burned. In fact, as the story is now told, Nero was right in the thick of it when the great fire of Rome broke out in 64 CE, passing the proverbial bucket and nurturing orphans as they were dragged from the flaming rubble.

The episode did, however, present the Emperor with an opportunity to point the finger at a small but worrisome sect known as the Christians, which began the first great bout of persecution against this then peaceful and innocuous band of believers. It is said that he used burning Christians to light his way at night, which is also probably apocryphal, but it is hard to believe a man could achieve a reputation as heinous as that without there being some fire to go with the smoke.

Nero’s mother was the notoriously vindictive and manipulative Agrippina, who’s own list of crimes against decency is quite long, and with her as a mentor, Nero could hardly have turned out otherwise. It was through her devious machination that Nero was engineered onto the throne, and just to be sure that she never had a chance to use the same guile against him, he had her killed. To quiet any claims to his throne, he had his brother done away with as well.

Then there is the story of his brutal beating to death of his pregnant second wife, or perhaps more accurately, kicking her to death, and afterwards marrying a boy who resembled her. Again, modern historians have tended to soften Nero’s culpability in this regard, but again there is that damned smoke that never seems to be around without a fire.

However, killing his own mother, locking the audience in so that they could not escape his malodorous theater performances and executing a poisoner by having her raped by a giraffe does not a bastard make. What makes him a true bastard was ordering rape on the wife of a dinner guest who was forced to sit and watch. No one can disagree that was the behavior of an out and out bastard.

10 Wicked Humans from History
Herod the Great, remembered for all the wrong reasons. Wikipedia

King Herod the Great: The Original Baby Killer

If history is a drama, then King Herod has been cast as the eternal villain. The role he is remembered most for would be in the story of Jesus Christ: King Herod opposed the Christian figure and wished him dead. So it is no surprise his life is remembered as an evil one.

Herod, however, notwithstanding that he was a Roman client king, was responsible for quite a lot more than simply playing the antihero in the great Christian drama. Perhaps his most famous achievement was the building, or the extension of the Second Temple of Jerusalem, along with numerous other monumental building projects that added the ‘Great’ to his name quite deservedly.

The New Testament, however, portrays Herod as a tyrant, and Jesus of Nazareth was born under his vicious rule. Had he not taken that role, however, it is quite probable that the legacy of Christ would have been stillborn, since no tragedy can fully evolve without a villain; and Herod certainly played that role. It is the Gospel of Luke that describes the quintessential ‘Herodian” episode, and the essence of it is simply that Pontius Pilate, Roman prefect of Judea, passed the responsibility to judge Jesus of Nazareth on to Herod, under whose jurisdiction he technically lay. After mocking him, goading him to perform miracles and generally making fun of the whole affair, Jesus was tossed back across the net to Pilate, and the rest, of course, is history.

What gives Herod a place in this particular pantheon, however, was one act that could not easily be explained away. The ‘Massacre of the Innocents’ was the fiendish scheme to slaughter all male infants in the vicinity of Bethlehem once the prophetic news had reached him that a king had been born in that settlement. According to the Bible, Mary and Joseph, the parents of Jesus, were warned by angels, and fled to Egypt ahead of the massacre. But behind them in Bethlehem, Herod’s troops conducted the infamous deed of slaughtering the innocents.

History, of course, has picked over the bones of this story ever since, and in the end probably only twenty or so infants were killed, but just coming up with an idea like that puts a man right in the frame of being an absolute and utter bastard, no doubt about it.

10 Wicked Humans from History
The beautiful but treacherous Elizabeth Báthory. Fandom

Elizabeth Báthory: the World’s Greatest Serial Killer

All of the rotten scoundrels on this list have so far been men, but here is a woman just to prove that the fairer sex has its own inclination towards occasional deviancy. In the sixteenth century, somewhere in rural Hungary, there stood a castle, isolated in the beautiful rural Transylvanian countryside. Therein lived a woman with powerful appetites and deeply disturbed, sociopathic tendencies. She lived in the feudal world where power was absolute, and the aristocracy was above the law. The potential for insane killers to freely explore their appetites was almost uninhibited, so long as those killers were born into the right class.

Báthory’s family included kings, cardinals, knights and judges. Among these, Elizabeth was not alone in cultivating habits of sado-sexual torture, which was her particular specialty. At age fifteen, she married Count Ferenc Nádasdy de Nádasd et Fogarasföld. Under her direction, he built her a custom torture chamber. This chamber’s victims were typically servants and local peasants; young girls lured by the promise of employment.

The Count was a complicated figure in this tale. While he was certainly no saint and indulged his wife’s activities, he protected her and acted as a check against her darkest interests. When he died, however, that limitation disappeared, and it seems then Elizabeth set to work on the local peasantry in earnest.

What did she actually do? Well history is not specific, but tales emerged from the castle of the usual pleasures of branding, burning, lacerating, stretching and bending, with occasional whispers of cannibalism. All of this, of course, had a sexual/sadistic character, and as Elizabeth aged, her practices grew more varied and creative, but also more brazen and more risky.

The disappearance of a steady stream of peasants was a curiosity, but nothing to cause an investigation. Orgies of bloodshed and torture became traditional at family celebrations, including her daughter’s wedding, and after a while Elizabeth ceased to hide her activities, and was quite open about what she was doing. Things changed, however, as she began to select from among the daughters of the aristocracy, and as they began to disappear, the authorities sat up and took notice.

The investigation that eventually got her was conducted by the Palatine of Hungary György Thurzó, who visited the castle on December 30, 1610, and there caught Elizabeth Báthory in full costume. One young women was on the rack, dying of some unnamed brutality, others lay ready for disposal, and yet others locked up awaiting their turn. A year later, after an exhaustive investigation, Elizabeth Báthory and a number of accomplices were put on trial, and Christendom was riveted as details of what had been going on for all of those years emerged. Eighty counts of murder were laid on the table, and all involved were charged and convicted. Most were put to death, but again class and privilege prevailed, and Elizabeth Báthory escaped with a version of house arrest that isolated her from any contact at all. She was fifty four years old in August 1614 when she was found dead in her bricked up chambers.

10 Wicked Humans from History
Joseph Goebbels, as nasty as they come. WWII Today

Joseph Goebbels: a Sly, Ambitious and Scheming Little bastard

The definition of a bastard is vague, and a list like this is likely top be informed by the personal antipathies of the author, and this is certainly the case with our penultimate bastard. Yes, there are those who were simply cruel, others spectacularly dishonest, most in one way or another self-serving and egotistical, but Joseph Goebbels was one of the few with all of those traits, and more. He was, in the opinion of this author, the poster child of the arch bastard.

And what did he do to earn this unenviable epitaph? Where do we begin!?

While it is unfair to point to a person’s physical appearance as evidence of their evil nature, and it obviously can have no bearing on it, Goebbels certainly could hardly have been cast by Hollywood more suitably. He was slight, crooked, hawkish, black eyed and impaired by a club foot and a thoroughly clammy and unhealthy complexion. And the role he played was as propaganda minister in the administration of Adolf Hitler.

Now, of course, Hitler surrounded himself with deviants of various colors in order to further his agenda of racial purity and global domination. The business of propaganda, in this regard, was to whitewash the worst of what was going on, and to create an alternative reality to mask the horror. It should never be said that Goebbels was a fool, because he certainly was not that. It was he who put the matter in perspective with this infamous snippet of wisdom:

‘If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.’

It was Goebbels’ job to manufacture the Hitler myth and organize the big rallies and suchlike. Behind the scenes, however, it was also his job to orchestrate the enforcement campaigns on the street, and to stoke up political tensions to justify much of what Hitler would subsequently do. He led the now iconic book burning that represent part of the Nazi iconography, stating that ‘the era of extreme Jewish intellectualism is at an end.’

And, of course, Goebbels led the march of anti-Jewish propaganda, setting the ideological tone for the greatest crime against humanity in the modern age.

The litany of Joseph Goebbels’ malice is long, and in a nutshell, he was the most pernicious little s**t in a rogues gallery of bastards, and although he was only 5′ 5″, he stood head and shoulders above the rest. In the end, knowing what to expect, he and his wife committed suicide, some say the cowards way out, and in his case, who can deny it?

10 Wicked Humans from History
Judas Iscariot, the mother of them all. The Independent

Judas Iscariot: He Who Passed the Poison Chalice

While, of course, everyone knows the story, the greatest betrayal in history cannot be left off the list. Yes indeed, the darkest villain in history is he who betrayed Christ, but like Herod and Pilate, the drama of Jesus Christ could have not been complete without some poor sap being landed with the role of Judas.

Judas, who betrayed his lord with a kiss, the most intimate of gestures, might put up a reasonable defense if he had ever had the opportunity to do so. A betrayal such as this, if seen in the context of wider dynamic, might have been regarded as a necessary device to complete the circle. If one takes the familiar lines of the story, Jesus knew that his ministry would end in some spectacular death that would imprint his martyrdom on the human consciousness forever. It was necessary that he shoulder the entire burden of human sin, and with his death expunge it. The lamb of God, sacrificed for the failing of mankind. It is a neat tale, but to complete it, one of the twelve was required to betray the messiah.

In some renditions of the story, Judas attempts to make the point that the radical ministry of Jesus had the potential to bring disaster on the Jewish people, then under the occupation by Rome. Certainly the Romans would want no talk of a radical, populist king in one of their provinces, and they certainly had the power to clamp down on any suggestion of an uprising. Also the fact that the Shakespearean qualities of the New testament drama would never have been complete without a twist along the lines of ‘this is my blood and this is my flesh’.

However it happened, and indeed, whether it happened at all, the most unfortunate role in history for a man to play was given to Judas, and as necessary as it was to carry the plot, Judas is certainly owed the top spot as the world’s greatest bastard.


Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“The first Romanov political exile: How Peter the Great’s son fled Russia.” Russia Today. Oleg Yegarov, November 2016

“Top 10 Worst Roman Emperors.” Listverse. Flamehorse, May 2010

“The real story behind the assassination of Julius Caesar.” New York Post. Larry Getlin, March 2015

“The Most Sadistic And Twisted Things Nero Ever Did .” Ranker, Justin Andress

“Hungarian Countesses’ Torturous Escapades are Exposed” History, 2009