Simply put, it's taking a well-known person from Real Life
history and using this person as a character in a work. This does mean any work of that kind, whether it's Historical Fiction
, a Hollywood History
story, or a well researched and accurate biopic
of events. Or maybe classical composers were secretly sleeper agents for extraterrestrials
. Whatever works.
Naturally this covers a lot of works (save for non-fiction), but given how often people can disagree about real history and our present, it would be hard to draw a line between which fictional works would fit and which fictional works wouldn't. Thus all are included.
Note that despite "Historical" in the name, present people are included.
Compare Public Domain Character
, Anonymous Ringer
, Roman ŕ Clef
, Real Person Fic
, Characterization Tropes
A Super Trope
Specific People (alphabetically by last name, if applicable)
General Groups of People
Works That Use This Trope:
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- In The United States, every February, President's Day is celebrated. George Washington and Abraham Lincoln's birth-dates are within a week of each other (though 77 years apart), so President's Day was introduced to turn the two holidays into one. While the purpose it to remember them, watching the TV that month would make you think our forefathers wanted nothing more than to sell you discount cars and mattresses.
Anime and Manga
- In Berserk, there are some examples:
- Guts: Götz von Berlichingen (1480–1562), a German knight, was the leader of a band of mercenary soldiers and attained the reputation as a Robin Hood figure. In 1504, his right arm was struck by enemy cannon fire and a prosthetic iron arm was developed to replace it. Guts' iron arm, in his original character concept, is very similar to Götz's iron arm kept in the Nüremberg Museum. However, Miura stated in an interview that he created Guts independently and that he did not find out about von Berlichingen until after several volumes of the manga had been published, so this appears to be a coincidence.
- Emperor Gaiseric: The Emperor Gaiseric alluded to in volume 10 was based on the actual King Genseric who ruled the Vandals' kingdom in Europe in the 5th century. He was famed as a brilliant general who was seen as a threat even to the Roman Empire. In the manga, Gaiseric is said to have created a vast empire, similar to the Romans, that was destroyed by God's wrath. He banded together his small tribe and brought them great fame as a kingdom that exercised its authority in the Mediterranean region.
- It is hinted that Emperor Gaiseric survived his fallen empire in the form of the Skull Knight, a recurring character who aids Guts and stands in opposition to the God Hand.
- Emperor Ganishka: The Emperor Ganishka, working as Griffith's enemy in Berserk, was based on King Kanishka, who ruled over the actual Kushan Empire, a vast empire in India and Central Asia during the 2nd century. He was also a profound Buddhist and adorned his empire with its respective figures and promoted it vigorously. Like his real-life counterpart, Ganishka also decorates his palace with famous Buddhist and Hindu figures, but has demonized them to suit his nature.
- Mozgus appears to be based on Ivan the Terrible, due to his daily routine of slamming his face into the ground during prayer and his biblical methods of execution.
- Aleister Crowley appears as a character in A Certain Magical Index. Of course, the real Aleister Crowley wasn't nearly so... pretty.
- Aiwass also makes an appearance as an otherworldly being who is also Crowley's mentor. "Aiwass" was the name of the voice that the real Crowley claimed to have heard in dreams that dictated the Book of the Law to him.
- Most of the cast of Rose of Versailles.
- Most of the cast of Le Chevalier d'Eon.
- Read or Die has several characters who are actually clones of historical ones, such as Beethoven and Mata Hari.
- Vision of Escaflowne has Isaac Newton as the Big Bad.
- Axis Powers Hetalia has several brief appearances of historical characters, often as the bosses of the nations.
- A subset of this is shipping said historical characters with the nations they rule over. America/Barack Obama, Prussia/Frederick the Great, France/Joan of Arc and England/Queen Elizabeth I are... quite popular among fanworkers.
- Similarly, there are having them simply interact with the nation-tans. There's even one where Benjamin Franklin figures out America's true identity.
- The Gundam saga uses expies of historical characters instead: e.g. Char Aznable is an expy of Red Baron von Richthofen, Andrew Waltfeld is an expy of Erwin Rommel (the original Magnificent Bastard), etc. Things get complicated when later series start featuring expies of expies of historical people...
- From Seikon No Qwaser, Eva Silver is actually Eva Braun, the former mistress of Adolf Hitler. And even major protagonist Katje is somehow connected to the last royal family of Russia, though it's not exactly clear if she's merely their descendant, or actually some sort of time-warped/cloned version of Tsaritsa Alexandra Fyodorovna.
- Many of the Characters in Vinland Saga are actually historic people, among them Canute and Sweyn, and possibly even the Jomsvikings. There was also an actuall Thorkell the Tall who fought for the English and joined Canute, but it's not known if he was really a 3 meter giant who could kill a hundred men with his bare hands.
- Steins;Gate uses a rather strange example in the form of John Titor, a forum poster back in 2000 and 2001 who claimed to be a time traveler - Only this time, Okarin's discovery of time travel changed the arrival date to 2010, the claims (though slightly different this time around) are true, and her real name is Suzuha Amane.
- The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, by Don Rosa, sets its main character in various decades from the 1870s to the 1940s, featuring such characters as Murdo Mac Kenzie, Wyatt Earp, and Theodore Roosevelt.
- Jonatan Hickman's S.H.I.E.L.D.. Every single scientific genius since Imhotep was a member of the Ancient Tradition of The Shield. And, as of the 1950s, Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton and Nostradamus still are.
- In the Elseworld Dark Masterpiece, Leonardo da Vinci inspired a Renaissance Batman. In the Elseworld Scar of the Bat Eliot Ness becomes a 1920s Batman!
- Another Elseworld, Detective #27, features Theodore Roosevelt, Allan Pinkerton and Kate Warne as founders of "The Secret Society of Detectives". Later, the story includes Babe Ruth (leading to an inevitable pun on "bat-man" and a subtler one on All-Star #3), Sigmund Freud, and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
- Gaius Julius Caesar frequently appears in Astérix. Less frequent, but still recurring, are Cleopatra and Brutus. Pompey's the main villain of one story, and Vercingetorix is only shown a couple of times from behind but is extremely significant in the backstory. More obscure figures occasionally show up, like Cassivellaunus.
- Lucky Luke has met many historical figures of the Wild West: such encounters are one of the main drivers of the series and whole albums are devoted to his confrontation with Jesse James, Billy the Kid, Calamity Jane and many others. In an early album, he opposes the Dalton gang, whose fictional cousins Joe, Jack, William and Averell later become his collective nemesis.
- Various historic storylines worked into The Sandman, especially the "Distant Mirrors" arc, which features Emperor Augustus ("August"); Maximilien Robespierre ("Thermidor") Emperor Norton ("Four Septembers and a January") and Harun Al Rashid ("Ramadan"). William Shakespeare also appears, cameoing with Christopher Marlowe in "Men of Good Fortune" and then getting two stories of his own - "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "The Tempest", the latter being the series epilogue.
Film — Animated
Film — Live Action
- Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides features Blackbeard, with smaller appearances by King George II of England and some of his ministers, and a brief cameo by King Ferdinand VI of Spain.
- William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe and Queen Elizabeth I, as well as the rest of the theatre company, in Shakespeare in Love.
- Grand Duchess Anastasia and her grandmother from the 1950s film Anastasia and its animated remake.
- The 1939 film of The Hunchback of Notre Dame features King Louis XI of France.
- The MST3K-bait film Quest Of The Delta Knights has a young Leonardo Da Vinci as a central character - then proceeds to posit that all his great ideas were just ripped off from Archimedes.
- Nikola Tesla appears in The Prestige.
- Shanghai Knights includes as a supporting character a young Arthur Conan Doyle.
- Shanghai Noon reveals at the end that major character Roy O'Bannon is actually Wyatt Earp.
- Sherlock Holmes meets Dr. Sigmund Freud in The Seven Percent Solution.
- And Thubten Gyatso in Sherlock Holmes: The Missing Years. (This is referred to in "Empty House", but the pastiche is worth noting because the author is one of the more warlike proponents of a free Tibet, so the thirteenth Dalai Lama is right up his alley.)
- The Cinderella adaptationEver After has Leonardo da Vinci as the eventual fairy godmother figure.
- Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure has loads in order to pass a history exam.
- Manfred von Richthofen (the Red Baron) appears in several WW 1 movies, amongst which Wings, Hells Angels and The Blue Max, and has a rather large role in several movies named after him.
- Eliot Ness, Al Capone, and Frank Nitti in The Untouchables.
- The Swedish comedy The Adventures Of Picasso does this with Pablo Picasso and many of his contemporaries.
- Of course, many Alternate History stories feature real historical figures, both major and minor.
- The Temeraire series has a whole list of them in various supporting roles.
- Harry Turtledove's Worldwar series features Molotov among the major characters, as well as more minor historical personages as Walter Dornberger and Mordechai Anielewicz. Some big figures (such as Einstein and Mao) get cameos.
- Turtledove's Timeline-191 also uses a number of real-life historical figures in roles both major and minor, including Samuel Clemens, Abraham Lincoln, George Armstrong Custer, James Longstreet, James G. Blaine, Theodore Roosevelt, Clarence Darrow, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Upton Sinclair, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Louis Armstrong, Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan and even an unnamed (identity confirmed by the author, though) cameo by Adolf Hitler
- There is a very odd tendency lately to turn historical people into detectives. This includes Elizabeth I, Abigail Adams, and Jane Austen of all people.
- The Trope Maker for this sub genre may be Theodore Mathieson, 1950s author of "Captain Cook: Detective", "Leonardo da Vinci: Detective", "Florence Nightingale: Detective" etc., etc.'
- The still-more recent tendency to turn historical people into monsters and/or monster hunters is even odder.
- Spanish novelist and war journalist Arturo Pérez-Reverte noticed that his 12-year-old daughter's History book had only a paragraph for the 17th century, the Spanish Golden Century. Wanting to solve the situation, he wrote a series of adventure books starring a fictional sword-for-hire, Captain Alatriste, who gets involved in state conspiracies and meets kings and important figure and fights in important battles. Spanish writer Francisco De Quevedo is a recurrent character as Alatriste's personal friend. They made a movie of the series.
- Philippa Ballantine's novel Chasing The Bard is about Will Shakespeare saving not one but two worlds from an Eldritch Abomination type being.
- Most of the characters in Conqueror. The protagonist is Genghis Khan.
- Low-key example in The English Patient: Almasy and the Cliftons. Real people, with minor historical significance.
- "The Night's Dawn Trilogy," by Peter F Hamilton, brings back 2 characters from the past as souls possessing bodies of the living: Fletcher Christian and... wait for it... Al Capone.
- Stephen Baxter's and Arthur C. Clarke's novel, Time's Eye, has a large host of characters from various time periods: Alexander the Great, Genghis the Khan, and Thomas Edison, to name several.
- The Divine Comedy is full of these. Granted, the most famous ones are all Take Thats. And no-one has heard of most of Dante's historical figures, except for his saints and one or two guys in Limbo. Farinata degli Uberti? Arnaut Daniel? Charles Martel of Anjou (not even the famous Charles Martel)? Who remembers them for anything but being in the Commedia?
- George Eliot's Romola, set in fifteenth-century Florence, features Savonarola in a prominent role. It also includes walk-ons by figures like a very young Niccolo Machiavelli.
- The entire cast of Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, which stars Thomas Cromwell (a Third-Person Person) and features, among others, Cardinal Wolsey, Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, and so on, and so on. Includes an extensive Take That against Thomas More.
- Similarly, the entire cast of Hilary Mantel's A Place Of Greater Safety, which stars Robespierre, Camille Desmoulins, Danton, and many others.
- Robespierre, Danton, and Marat appear in Victor Hugo's Ninety-Three.
- Teddy Roosevelt and J.P. Morgan appear in The Alienist.
- As the titles suggest, William Shakespeare appears in The Science of Discworld II: The Globe and Charles Darwin appears in The Science of Discworld III: Darwin's Watch.
- In Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan, Charles Darwin not only creates the theory of evolution by means of natural selection, but also the 'Life threads' or DNA and how to genetically enhance and manipulate/combine elements of animals. Also, Nora Barlow, his granddaughter, is a major character. Though they have yet to appear, Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph, then first lord of the admiralty Winston Churchill, and several other major political leaders have had a bearing on the plot.
- The Grimnoir Chronicles has John Joseph Pershing and John Moses Browning as major characters, and Sullivan has some unpleasant dealings with J. Edgar Hoover near the beginning.
- The Sano Ichiro series, which takes place in Edo-period Japan and uses at least two real-life figures from that period in every book: Shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, who employs Sano as his sosakan, and Chamberlain Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu, who has received a Historical Villain Upgrade and serves as Sano's main antagonist for many of the books. The Shogun's real-life mother, Keisho-in, also makes several appearances throughout the series.
- Several appear in the novels of J.T. Edson. Calamity Jane got her own series, and Belle Starr plays a major role in several novels. Outlaw John Wesley Hardin and Cattle Baron Charles Goodnight play significant roles in individual novels.
- With the exception of Flashman, his wife and his father-in-law, nearly every major and minor character in the Flashman series is one of these.
- Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, plays a role in the Gaslamp Fantasy Sorcery & Cecelia..
- Hiob von Luzern and Alexander the Great appear in Dirge for Prester John.
- Some real life Hollywood people would show up at the parties described in Bride of the Rat God.
- Almost all humans in The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel except the two main characters Sophie and Josh.
- The Shardlake books, by C.J. Sansom, are set during the reign of Henry VIII and feature real people and events mixed in with the ficticious ones - with a handy postscript by the author to assist the reader in distinguishing the one from the other, and explaining any anachronisms the author has knowingly committed. Sansom was a historian before becoming a writer, and likes to show his work.
- Most of Tim Powers works rely heavily on this trope or its subtropes.
Live Action TV
- HBO has had several dramas in historical settings that make use of this trope. Deadwood, Rome, and Boardwalk Empire are period dramas with many such characters. Showtime has also mined this territory with The Tudors and The Borgias.
- Frequently done (with various degrees of historical fidelity) in series involving Time Travel, such as Doctor Who, The Time Tunnel and later seasons of Quantum Leap.
- Nu-Who, in particular, has the "Historic Celebrity Episode" every season. Series 1 had Charles Dickens, series 2 Queen Vicky and Madame de Pompadour, series 3 William Shakespeare and Elizabeth I, series 4 Agatha Christie, series 5 Winston Churchill and Vincent Van Gogh and series 6 Richard Nixon, Pirate Captain Avery, Adolf Hitler and alternate universe versions of Dickens and Churchill (though the last three weren't the focus of the story). Series 7 gave us an encounter with the World's Most Beautiful Woman, Queen Nefertiti of Ancient Egypt.
- The classic Doctor Who series had a few scattered around as well, particularly in the First Doctor's era-Marco Polo, Kublai Khan, Maximilien Robespierre and Napoleon Bonaparte, Nero and Richard The Lionheart, Abraham Lincoln, Catherine de Medici, Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp, just to name a few. The Fourth Doctor nearly had a run-in with Leonardo da Vinci. The Fifth Doctor (kind of) had a run in with King John. The Sixth Doctor also ran into George Stephenson and H.G. Wells, while the Seventh Doctor had to deal with the Rani kidnapping Albert Einstein and Louis Pasteur. References to other famous figures of history were constantly dropped by each incarnation of the Doctor.
- The official headcount of historic characters, as of the 50th anniversary, is 51.
- Jack of All Trades, which portrayed Napoleon Bonaparte as... ah... a crazy little person foaming at the mouth.
- Eliot Ness and Al Capone of The Untouchables.
- Practically every important historical figure who lived in the early 20th century (1908-1920) appeared as a major or minor character in almost every episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.
- The SyFy channel original series Sanctuary has Nikola Tesla and Jack the Ripper among its regular cast.
- Deadliest Warrior does this with William Wallace vs. Shaka Zulu, Jesse James Gang vs. Al Capone Crew, Attila the Hun vs. Alexander the Great, and Vlad the Impaler vs. Sun Tzu. Hannibal Barca (Hannibal of Carthage) is also confirmed to be in Season Three.
- Murdoch Mysteries has featured Arthur Conan Doyle, Nikola Tesla, Buffallo Bill and Annie Oakley, H. G. Wells, Inspector Marcel Guillaume of the Surete (the Real Life inspiration for Maigret) and Canadian Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier.
- Mad Men, went the obscure route. Despite being a period drama, they only had one semi-major historical character was the season 3 client Conrad "Connie" Hilton (of the hotel chain).
- The Wild Wild West features appearances by President Ulysses S. Grant of the U. S. and President Juarez of Mexico.
- Comes up in Highlander: The Series when Lord Byron (yes, that Lord Byron) turns out to be an Immortal and acquaintance of MacLeod's. Mary Shelley appears in the same episode, where it's revealed she was inspired to write Frankenstein after witnessing Lord Byron return to life following a Quickeningnote
- Used frequently in Star Trek:
- Evita is a Rock Opera musical about the life of Eva Perón, First Lady of Argentina from 1946 to 1952. Other historical domain characters include Juan Perón, her husband and President of Argentina, Agustín Magaldi, a tango singer, and Che Guevara as the story's Interactive Narrator.
- In Little Shop of Horrors, Clare Booth Luce puts in an appearance, though she's referred to simply as "Mrs. Luce".
- The German musical Elisabeth is about Elisabeth (Sisi), the wife of Habsburg Emperor Franz Josef II, and focuses on an ongoing romance she has with Death himself.
- In Dorothy L. Sayers's The Emperor Constantine, most of the characters.
- The characters in Swedish and Finnish Spexes tends to be almost exclusively historical domain characters, often mixed up with little regard for historical correctness and even anachronistically mixing characters from from widely different eras and places in order to create comedy.
- The minimalist opera Nixon In China by John C. Adams focuses on the historic visit of Richard Nixon to China and his meeting with Mao Zedong. All major characters save Mao were still alive when the opera premiered in 1987.
- Dr Atomic, also by Adams, is about the Manhattan Project—specifically, the day of the Trinity test—with most of the major characters (J. Robert Oppenheimer, his wife Kitty Oppenheimer, project military director Gen. Leslie Graves, and the physicists Edward Teller and Robert R. Wilson) being historical figures.
- 1776 does take some liberties with the characterization of the Founding Fathers (to start with, that they sang and danced their way through the writing of the Declaration), but every named character—from John Adams down to MacNair the Congressional custodian—was a historically-documented person. A good deal of the dialogue and lyrics are taken from the actual writings of the people involved.
- Lincoln, Washington and Einstein are the three only specific, real life people (excluding the developers that can be summoned in Scribblenauts.
- Leonardo da Vinci as a Bishōnen, and Lisa del Giocondo as his love interest, in Elite Beat Agents. The real Lisa was already married, but this is not the kind of game where that matters. And it's not like he ever courted someone to the music of Queen, anyways.
- In a similar vein, the first Ouendan has a fat Cleopatra who decided to have her slaves build a pyramid... to lose weight and impress Mark Antony.
- Chopin, in Eternal Sonata.
- Practically the entire cast of Jeanne Darc.
- Lionheart: Legacy of the Crusader managed to incorporate Leonardo, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Cortez, Joan of Arc, Torquemada, and Queen Elizabeth I all into a single narrative, and even managed to Hand Wave most of them living within a few blocks of each other in 1588 Barcelona.
- The indisputable master of this trope has to be Martian Dreams, a Worlds of Ultima game. It features a plethora of 19th century big names in an adventure on Mars, including Sigmund Freud, Theodore Roosevelt, Wyatt Earp, Marie Curie, and Rasputin.
- Sengoku Basara
- Used pretty regularly in Samurai Shodown. Hanzo, Amakusa, Andrew Jackson...
- The Shadow Hearts series contains numerous examples, both well known and obscure, as heroes, villains, and cameo characters. Notably includes Edward Plunkett, Roger Bacon, Margaretha Zelle, Anastasia Romanov, Grigori Rasputin, Yoshiko and Naniwa Kawashima, T.E. Lawrence, Al Capone, and Elliot Ness. Many of these include some form of Historical Upgrade.
- Although he only appears in flashbacks, Leonardo da Vinci is (as the title suggests) heavily involved with the plot of Secrets of da Vinci: The Forbidden Manuscript. One of the French kings is also a character in the game.
- In the Sierra city-building game Pharaoh, you play your way through all of the ruling dynasties of ancient Egypt; this includes the final ruling house, the Ptolemies, if you add the expansion pack Cleopatra: Queen of Kings.
- Every title in Assassin's Creed features historical characters, ranging from the famous Richard The Lionheart, Leonardo da Vinci, George Washington, and Blackbeard to the more obscure Garnier de Naplouse, Jacopo de Pazzi, Thomas Hickey, and Benjamin Hornigold.
- It's the findings of famous people that drive the plots of the Uncharted games. The first game had Sir Francis Drake (who Nate claims to be a descendant of), the second game had Marco Polo and the third game will have Lawrence of Arabia.
- Hakuōki is focused on the Shinsengumi, and thus is full of historical figures both in and outside of that organization.
- Tesla The Weather Man features Nikola Tesla and Mark Twain as the heroes and Thomas Edison as the villain.
- Crusader Kings II has a lot of these, including the majority of characters that can be selected as your start character. Many even have Wikipedia links (or, in mods with fictional settings, links to the appropriate wiki) in their character pages. As gameplay diverges from history (generally after the first generation or two of your dynasty, there will be none left).
- The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage. With occasional cameos from characters like Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Queen Victoria, and Charles Darwin.
- Amazoness! features Sappho as a recurring character.
- Dawn of Time has Gideon Mantell and Richard Owen.
- The Dreamer has many historical figures in it, including Nathan Hale.
- Dresden Codak features several historical figures in cameo roles, but a recurring character is Tiny Carl Jung.
- Pretty much the main premise of Hark! A Vagrant.
- The New Adventures of Queen Victoria, of course, has several.
- Kevin & Kell has Dorothy's paramour Douglas who turns out to be the legendary hijacker D.B. Cooper. Fun fact: in this universe, he's a squirrel.
- Balderduck is full of historical characters. Some of them include Julius Ceasar with bad parenting skills, Sir Francis Drake working at McDonald's and Van Gogh watching Reservoir Dogs.
- Lovecraft Is Missing is all about . . . H. P. Lovecraft going missing.
- Mayonaka Densha being a time travel murder mystery involving Jack the Ripper includes not only the man himself but cameos from various other figures involved with the case such as Inspector Abberline, Mary Kelly and various other Ripper victims (Including speculated and unconfirmed ones).
- This is much of the point of Epic Rap Battles of History, where figures such as Genghis Khan, Bruce Lee, Nikola Tesla or even Justin Bieber can wind up as part of the latest battle. That said, fictional characters have also been a part of the mix since Episode 2, which featured Darth Vader vs. Adolf Hitler.
- Many unpublished Alternate History stories, such as those on Alternate History.com, also include appearances by historical figures. For example, A World of Laughter, a World of Tears has its point of divergence from actual history with Walt Disney becoming President of the United States.
- Many bit part and recurring characters in Liberty's Kids.
- Several minor characters in Futurama, though mostly as only as heads in jars.
- Princess Sissi is about Elizabeth of Bavaria.
- Time Squad is about a small police unit traveling through time making sure famous people do what they're historically famous for — if Copernicus ever forgets the Sun existed or George Washington Carver manifests an Evil Twin, the Time Squad will be there to fix it.