20 Terrible People and Entities in History Who Actually Were Not So Bad

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Today we’re going to look at some notorious “bad guys” in history who, as it turns out, may not have been all that bad. From misunderstood Greek gods to uncredited dentists, we’re diving into the stories behind some of history’s most vilified figures.

It’s incredible how easy it is to garner a bad reputation; sometimes something you say is taken completely out of context. Maybe nobody cares about your discovery, or they don’t realize you were being sarcastic instead of serious. Maybe Shakespeare writes you up in a play during the reign of one of your adversaries, and he’s got to make you look bad to protect his own neck. You never know what’s going to get you blacklisted in the history books! Here are who folks from a popular online community volunteered as “not the bad guys.”

1. Robert the Bruce From Braveheart

Robert the Bruce in Braveheart
Photo Credit: Icon Productions.

Historical portrayals can always be contested for accuracy, and Braveheart’s case proves just that. For example, someone pointed out how Robert the Bruce was loyal to William Wallace, unlike what the movie showcases.

While sometimes events are rewritten for entertainment value, one person argued that the original story was more exciting and could’ve been portrayed as is. Someone should have told Mel Gibson to do his research.

2. Niccolo Machiavelli

Statue of Niccolo Machiavelli
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History is full of stories about unfortunate, misunderstood men, and Machiavelli is one of them. As many pointed out, his name is wrongly muddled with vices such as dishonesty, manipulation, and lies.

In reality, The Prince was more of an observation about how governments are rather than a suggestion regarding how they should be.

3. The First Persian Empire From 300

Wall from Persian Empire building
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Okay, this is no longer about bad guys but bad empires. But hear me out. If you recall the film 300, you can remember how the First Persian Empire really got the short end of the stick. As someone mentioned, the movie was made from a Spartan point of view, making it a biased depiction.

Of course, no empire was perfect, but it is always important to point out if a negative characterization is unwarranted. 

4. Captain Hazelwood of the Exxon Valdez

Exxon logo
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Finding someone talking passionately about Captain Hazelwood in immense detail was amusing. However, to cut it short, the man is often considered a drunk captain who couldn’t manage his ship.

In reality, Hazelwood was not even in command during the spill. The man just wanted a nap, and suddenly, he’s a drunken pirate? Give him a break!

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5. William McMaster Murdoch From Titanic

Captain Murdock in the Titanic
Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures and 20th Century Fox.

I can’t think of anyone who hasn’t seen the film Titanic. Inevitably, most of us thought of Murdoch as a horrible person.

It is often forgotten that he was a real guy who saved many lives during the incident.

6. Hades From Greek Mythology

Statue of Hades
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Hades wasn’t a bad guy, or at least not as bad as other Greek Gods. As one person mentioned, he was loyal to his wife (for the most part, at least).

He’s not as bad as everyone thinks. I mean, he named his dog Spot. That’s just too cute!

7. Tom From Tom & Jerry

Figurine of Tom from Tom and Jerry
Photo Credit: HI_Pictures / Shutterstock.

Let’s delve into the classic skirmish between Tom and Jerry. Controversial, I know! However, many folks think that Tom wasn’t all that bad. One person speculated that the duo was putting on a show to avoid getting kicked out by their owners.

Of course, most episodes are disconnected from each other and portray vastly different versions of the relationship between Tom and Jerry.

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8. William Thomas Green Morton 

Doctor giving patient anesthesia
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William Thomas was an unfortunate dentist who did not get enough attention to discovering anesthesia. This may be because doctors at the time didn’t take him seriously.

Many folks commented that his discovery is the only reason modern-day surgery is possible. It’s a shame he didn’t get the credit he deserved, but dentists and doctors have always been at odds.

9. Herbert Hoover

Herbert Hoover on coin
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Hoover won the 1929 elections and took office as the US President. Unfortunately, he was subject to too much criticism as the world faced a horrific economic depression shortly after his tenure began.

In reality, as someone commented, Hoover had brilliant administrative skills, which led him to win in the first place. However, a series of unfortunate circumstances brought forth a lot of criticism. 

10. Pharaoh Cleopatra

Drawing of Pharaoh and Cleopatra
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Contrary to popular belief, Cleopatra was not an exploitative ruler. She’s not just a pretty face, folks. She was intelligent and dedicated as a leader. So, let’s give credit where credit is due!

In truth, one person mentioned how she was incredibly focused on the development and welfare of her nation. “You get a pyramid, and you get a pyramid, and you get a pyramid!”

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11. Napoleon Bonaparte

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We all think of Napoleon as the evil Frenchman who tried to take over Europe. And while he did try to take over Europe, he wasn’t actually French, and he also codified law so that there were far fewer fiefdoms and the feudal system began to disappear. This shift made laws and taxes more universal, and less capricious and personal. This wasn’t new to all parts of the world, but he brought it with him to much of Europe and helped to end the feudal era entirely.

12. The Vikings

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They’re recorded as so evil in large part because they frequently attacked cultures with better literacy than they had; so the records that exist are all one-sided. New information shows that the Vikings actually often had better cleanliness and hygiene, and they actually rowed themselves to battle rather than keeping slaves to do it for them. So yes, we’re not exactly praising the Vikings but they don’t deserve all the hate they get.

13. The Mongols

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While they were violent under Genghis Kahn, they also unified may warring city-states throughout Asia, including Russia and parts of the middle east. Some of the descendants of Kahn were peaceful rulers, and the Mongol empire saw the creation of the silk road, the advance of printing, science and medicine, freedom of religion, and other progress. Credit where credit is due, we suppose!

14. Richard the Third

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Henry VII organized a smear campaign and had Richard 3 cast as a malformed crazy man who killed his nephews, but actually Richard the 3rd loved his nephews. Shakespeare and Henry VII are responsible for the misinformation. All due respect to Shakespeare, but you’ve got to wonder if he had any idea we were going to use him, a dramatic playwright, as one of our main character references for various historical characters.

15. Antonio Saleri

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Saleri is painted as the evil competitor for Mozart all his life, and he’s even suspected as the one responsible for taking Mozart’s life at the end. But in reality, they were mostly friendly competitors as court composers. It’s only natural that they competed over the same gigs sometimes. And sure, maybe he tried to give Mozart a nasty shock at the end of his life, but Mozart was already very ill and wasn’t going to recover.

16. Edward Longshanks

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Longshanks did take over Scotland, and Braveheart paints him as a terrible villain. But Scotland may also have been on the cusp of civil war, and it seems they invited him to come help settle the dispute, even offering to let him keep and rule Scotland when he was reluctant to step in. And yes, he refused to liberate Scotland after that point, but also he spent much of his reign over England writing laws that would eventually become the constitution… so having a king make good laws to protect the people and the country after he’s dead is maybe actually a good thing.

17. Spain During the Spanish Flu

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The Spanish Flu got its name because the Spanish were the main people reporting the actual statistics of the epidemic. Naturally, most of us tend to think it originated in Spain, but in reality there are several theories as to where the flu started, included in the trenches of WWI, in Kansas, United States, or somewhere in China. So maybe let’s give Spain a break on that one.

18. Neville Chamberlain

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Chamberlain is accused of being weak and conciliatory towards Germany during World War II. While that’s true, it’s also true that England wasn’t ready for war. If they’d entered the fray earlier, the results of World War II might have been very different. As it was, the war stretched on for years, and in the end, Chamberlain probably made the best call in some really tough circumstances.

19. Marie Antoinette

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It’s likely she never said, “let them eat cake,” her famous line. And while she was out of touch with the plight of the lower classes, the whole palace at Versailles was very isolated and insulated, and she was a very young woman when she married. So yes, there’s plenty of reason for the French Revolution, but Marie Antoinette did not deserve the terrible reputation she developed.

20. Tokyo Rose

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If you’ve heard of the Tokyo Rose, you’ve probably heard that she was intentionally spreading anti-allied-forces propaganda. But while there were actually several women broadcasting who did that, the actual Tokyo Rose was part of a secret, prisoner-of-war effort within Japan to subvert radio broadcasts against the allied forces. To avoid being caught, they used Iva Toguri for her deep, almost masculine voice and made a subtle mockery of other broadcasts.

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