Dracula, in the many instances where he is said to have been Vlad Tepes.
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Examples using real people
Media in General / Common Persons
At least in the US, Benedict Arnold, who is considered a vile, cowardly traitor, but started out as a very capable American commander during the American Revolution. However, he had made himself powerful enemies (many of whom were in congress) during the war, and it all ended when they managed to convince the congress and the upper brass that he would not deserve or need any of the promotions or additional wages for his military service (while he deserved them, there was often not enough money that the government could spare). To evade dishonourable consequences, he even attempted to resign, which Washington did not allow. In retaliation, he tried to sell the fort at West Point to the British, and now monuments that would depict him as a hero in the US only depict his boot, the foot that was injured in a major battle he had fought for America.
One of the most well-known examples is the composer Antonio Salieri, contemporary to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. History records that he was Mozart's (and Ludwig van Beethoven's) friend and collaborator. Various works of fiction, going back at least to the mid 19th century, portray him as Mozart's rival and discreet murderer. The most famous example is the play Amadeus by Peter Shaffer, which was adapted into an Oscar-winning film. This has created a bit of Reality Is Unrealistic. Salieri's talents as a composer have also declined in public perception due to the character's inferiority complex toward Mozart. While Salieri might not have been quiteas good as Mozart by most reckoning, he was still a fantastic composer. This is, of course, part of the tragedy of the character in Film/Amadeus. The scene in which he's shown examining Mozart's sheet music and listening to the composition in his head is actually quite a feat of musical ability in itself, which Salieri did indeed possess.
For a long time, General George Armstrong Custer had a Historical Hero Upgrade as a doomed hero (in large part due to the efforts of his widow, who wrote three popular books about her husband). Later books and movies tend to paint him as a flamboyant, cowardly, and idiotic bigot who spends more time curling his hair for the camera than fighting. Sometimes he's a lucky idiot at the right place at the right time. In other portrayals, he's actually a megalomaniac Creepy Crossdresser (!) who cheerfully orchestrates massacres of Native Americans and gets exactly what he deserved at Little Bighorn. The general historical consensus is that Custer was a capable, if somewhat flamboyant, cavalry commander who let his ego override his judgment in attacking a force that vastly outnumbered his. Some specific works:
In "History is Made by Stupid People", a song by The Arrogant Worms, Custer gets off pretty easily—he's described as "very dumb" and "not knowing when to run", but never actually evil.
The morality of some of his various actions was controversial, even in the standards of the time. He had in the past used human shields of women and children to win against superior numbers, which he had planned to do again in his last stand (but was repulsed). On the other hand, he was somewhat unusual among Indian War commanders in that he didn't think genocide of the Native Americans was the solution. It is also important to note that his tactic as taking civilians hostage was often a way to ensure a victory with minimal bloodshed (as opposed to just killing them all).
The historical and legendary figure Ja'far ibn Yahya al-Barmaki, vizier to Harun al-Rashid, hasn't been given a Historical Villain Upgrade exactly... but try finding an evil vizier in a story set in Arabian Nights Days whose name isn't some spelling of Jafar. Likely more due to sloppy research. Ad Avis in Quest for Glory and the cartoon character Iznogoud could be considered a Historical Villain Upgrade of Ja'far.
Sort of in Quest for Glory considering there's another character in that game called Ja'far who's a good guy.
Rasputin The Mad Monk is generally considered nowadays as a relatively harmless and eccentric religious figure, but during his life he was thought to hold the imperial family in thrall via strange supernatural powers. (This was more of a polite fiction among the aristocracy, as it allowed them to shift the blame onto him for all the bad decisions made by Nicholas II, who could not be criticized directly.) Therefore, in media he is usually depicted as a raving madman at best, an Evil Sorcerer at worst. The fact that he was apocryphally described as supernaturally resilient didn't help his reputation either. The original account of his murder was written by Prince Felix Yusupov, who supposedly organized the assassination; it was deliberately inaccurate (and changed whenever Yusupov was short on funds), but it's the one that everyone remembers.
In Don Bluth's animated film Anastasia, Rasputin is a mad undead sorcerer with animal sidekicks. The revolution that gets the heroine kicked out of the palace is given no other explanation than a rather poorly motivated sorcerous attack on the family. Most of The Nostalgia Chick review of the movie is dedicated to mocking this.
The second Shadow Hearts game casts Rasputin as an evil wizard who has fused his soul with a demon lord's, taken over a secret society of magic-users, and is manipulating the Russian royal family in order to raise said demon lord's invincible Doom Fortress in St. Petersburg.
The Hellboy comic series and movie turns Rasputin into an evil sorcerer in a Cosmic Horror Story. Athough to be fair, he only became that way after his not-quite-death death during the revolution (psychic contact by the Ogdru Jahad will do that).
In the Marvel Universe Rasputin was a mutant, which explains his Rasputinian Death. Furthermore before he died, Rasputin had transferred portions of his soul into each of the many women he impregnated and illegitimate children which would be passed on to their offspring. As part of a plot to escape death, as the number of his descendants decreased those that remained would accumulate a greater portion of his soul, and when there is only one left that person would effectively become Rasputin reincarnate. In the present, he only has a few descendants left — two of them? The X-Man Colossus and his Dark Magical Girl sister Magik.
Played with in Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. The Soulless Army, in which Rasputin does appear as a villain, except this Rasputin is actually an android sent from the future who drops the "evil incarnate" shtick after his mission is complete.
The HBO movie Rasputin: Mad Monk of Destiny tries to be as fair as it can with him. He's portrayed sympathetically, but is clearly a bit nuts. The fact that he's played by Alan Rickman helps make him more likable.
Neither of Rasputin's two operatic portrayals is flattering. Einojuhani Rautavaara manages a more rounded characterisation — his Rasputin is a religious ascetic corrupted by power, who despite his faults has a ring of Faustian poignancy. Jay Reise's Rasputin is downright sadistic and depraved.
In the Hammer Horror film Rasputin: The Mad Monk, he is a con man with Hypnotic Eyes who gets into the good graces of the Tsarina by Brainwashing her lady-in-waiting to push her son off a balcony so that he can be called upon to heal him. Being played by Christopher Lee pretty much seals the deal.
The portrayal of Rasputin by Lionel Barrymore in 1932's Rasputin and the Empress inspired a 1933 Warner Bros.. cartoon, "Wake Up The Gypsy In Me," in which "Rice-Puddin' — The Mad Monk", carries off the cartoon's heroine, until he is blown up by the peasants in "A revolution!"
Deconstructed in the Doctor WhoPast Doctor Adventures novel The Wages of Sin, where the time travelling heroes go back to pre-Revolutionary Russia and, upon encountering Rasputin, find their attitudes towards him coloured by the modern presentation of him as some kind of satanic monster, only to find him a lot more sympathetic and likeable in person.
The Old World of Darkness had an early in-joke of portraying him as one or another of the setting's main supernaturals, and not in a flattering light.
Played with in Corto Maltese, with the title character's sociopathic FriendlyEnemy/sidekick Rasputin, who, despite bearing an uncanny resemblance to the historical Rasputin, angrily denies any possible connection between them.
UsefulNotes/KingJohnOfEngland, villain of the Robin Hood stories. While John certainly deserved some of his reputation (he was a bad general and very good at alienating the nobility), he was far from the craven usurper depicted in the later legends. He also wasn't an illiterate lackwit, as some popular folk lore depicts him, having written many books on law and was considered one of the premier legal minds of his age, so much so that his judgement had often been sought prior to his kingship in regards to legal disputes. He is also recognized as the founder of the modern British navy. There's also the fact that he could never get away from being in the shadow of his brother, Richard I AKA Richard The Lion Heart. Richard I was seen as the pinnacle of knightly chivalry and a charismatic leader, but a decent peacetime leader he was not. When he was captured by the scheming Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI, who wanted to make himself look impressive after the death of his great father, Frederick Barbarossa, Richard was freed after only paying a huge ransom that left England bankrupt. Also, his being at war all the time left the nobles with too much free rein, so that when John came to power they were hostile to his attempts to take control again. There's a lot of evidence that John had an inferiority complex thanks to Richard; Richard was a military man whilst John was a bookish scholar, and when John learned of Richard's death he wept, not due to the loss of his brother, but because he didn't want to step into his shoes.
Doctor Who plays with this by portraying the real King John accurately and revealing that the stories of the villainous King John arose from when a shapeshifting android was impersonating him. Lampshaded when the Doctor and Tegan get into an argument about King John's legacy; at one point, Tegan (rather snottily) points out that she knows her history, only for the Doctor to take some rather quiet pleasure in expanding on just all the ways in which she's wrong and how King John was a much better ruler than the history books make out. Lesson learned for Tegan; never try and claim you know more about history than a time traveller. (That said, the story goes so far as to claim that King John was a passionate supporter of Magna Carta. There is not a shred of historical evidence for this and much against it, so the whole thing strays into Historical Villain Downgrade territory).
King John in the Robin Hood parody The Zany Adventures of Robin Hood actually points out his status as a Historically Upgraded Villain, claiming that he did pretty good while Richard was away by balancing the budget and making peace with Ireland.
Richard III. He probably didn't betray his elder brother Edward or murder any of his family members, and he definitely wasn't nearly as deformed as he's generally portrayed (though exhumation of his skeleton in 2013 revealed pronounced scoliosis, so his hunchback wasn't a complete fabrication). Who really killed his young nephews, the "Princes in the Tower" is unclear — Richard definitely kept them in a Gilded Cage before their disappearance, and had them declared illegitimate in order to claim the throne, but Henry also would have had motive to remove them from the line of succession when he repealed the Act which claimed their illegitimacy.
The main culprit for Richard's smear campaign is William Shakespeare's play about him, which was written over 100 years after his death and was basically created for the benefit of the direct descendant of the guy who overthrew him — Shakespeare based his play off a published 'history' that was written by one of Richard's deadliest enemies, who was then made Bishop of Canterbury after Richard's death by Henry Tudor.
Subverted in the Big Finish Audio drama The Kingmaker, while Shakespeare gets the trope.
Subverted by the first Blackadder. The first shot shows Richard as a hunchback approaching his nephew with a knife... only to reveal that the knife is a gift for the young prince, and the hunchback is a sack filled with other presents. Richard himself is portrayed as rather kindly (though his ghost is a Deadpan Snarker). The story takes place in an Alternate History where he actually defeated Henry Tudor's forces, only to be accidentally killed by his sniveling grand-nephew Edmund, whose father ended up ruling for 13 years (after which Tudor rewrote the history books to portray himself as the winner and Richard as a monster all along).
Notably averted by the University of York, where a popular legend credits him as the first person to propose establishing a university in York. The first formal proposal that we know of came during the reign of James I over a century after Richard's death, and the university itself opened in 1963; still, Richard's ties to York at least make the legend plausible.
Young Americans tend to learn the word "tyrant" in association with George III of Great Britain, mostly because the Declaration of Independence and a few other important documents called him one. This is particularly sad, as poor old George was probably one of Britain's better monarchs—probably the best between his great-grandfather George I and his granddaughter Queen Vicky—indeed, he's in the running for being the most fundamentally decent monarch in the history of Britain (with Elizabeth II and her father George VI being about tied for it as well). At least until that bout of insanity in his last decade, when his son (the future George IV) took over as regent...and Britain might well have been better off to just keep George III on the throne even after he lost his mind. He had virtually nothing to do with the policies that so annoyed the colonists—that was the doing of his Government, but falsely claiming that the King was responsible served the cause of the independence movement by saying that there was a structural problem between the Americans and the British Crown, rather than a political problem between two groups of Britons. George himself preferred to write about agriculture and drink tea all day; he had very little interest in politicking. He did tell John Adams (when Adams presented his credentials to him as the first US Minister to Britain) that he was "the last to consent" to independence, but also that he wished the US well as an independent country and hoped Britain and the US would get along in the future. Nevertheless: American kids are raised to think of him as a tyrant, and many Americans hardly ever figure out that they were lied to.
China's first emperor Qin Shi Huangdi gets this a lot, owing to his historical reputation as a brutal tyrant (albeit an effective one). He's the Big Bad in Bridge of Birds, in which he is also immortal and has magic powers. His Expy in World of Warcraft, Emperor Lei Shen, fares no better, givendemonic lightning powers and Nazi-style racial theories to make him look more evil. Additionally, the Emperor in the film Hero is based on him, and is sort of an uneasy mix between this trope and Historical Hero Upgrade- he wins, and many thought the film had the odd lesson of "an imperfect government is better than civil war."
While Empress Dowager Cixi is hardly a saint, the traditional view of her is of an Evil Matriarch thanks to the media. There's still a lot of debate on how much of this is true and how much of this came from Chinese politics using her image as a scapegoat: more than one biographer depicts her as an Iron Lady who could be very cruel or selfish at one moment (like amassing a huge personal fortune in times when Imperial China was falling down, and being the number 1 suspect behind her nephew's death by poisoning) and very kind at the other (like thanking a nurse who took care of her when she was ill by releasing her from footbinding and making sure she healed completely).
In films featuring Mary, Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I gets this treatment. If the film is about Elizabeth, Mary, Queen of Scots, Mary Tudor, and/or Philip II of Spain will be treated this way.
Queen Elizabeth: The Golden Age bombed in Spain precisely because of this trope. Spanish audiences were insulted with its depiction of Philip II (a remarkably pious man) as — quoting one critic — "a cackling, Spanish Doctor Doom." And its prequel, Elizabeth, certainly followed the formula insofar as both her sister Mary and the Catholic Church at large were concerned.
This trend stretches back to Schiller's play Mary Stuart (1800) and even earlier.
The 1940 German film Das Herz der Königin ("The Heart of the Queen"), viewed by many critics as an anti-British propaganda movie, portrays Mary (Zarah Leander) as a beautiful saintly martyr (she sings, too), while Elizabeth is a bitter malicious dried up spinster who will stop at nothing to make her cousin miserable and eventually murder her.
The BBC miniseries Gunpowder, Treason, and Plot treated Mary far more sympathetically than Elizabeth. Ironically, it portrayed James I, the main character, as quite a Jerk Ass. (It should be noted that depicting James I as a Jerk Ass may be more Truth in Television than it is this trope. Still, John Donne seems to have thought well of him.)
Donatien Alphonse François de Sade, better known as the Marquis de Sade, gets this a lot, so much that the word sadistic is derived from his name. Popular culture tends to portray him as a misogynistic rapist who imprisons and brutally tortures women. In truth, while De Sade was imprisoned for raping several people (of both sexes), and it appears he was guilty, modern stories of his crimes are very much exaggerated. In truth, his crimes were little more than those of the common sex offender, and the more elaborate claims are based on his pornographic books-which have no known basis in reality. During the French Revolution, De Sade was on the far left and campaigned for the working class (he was among the first to advocate what we now call communism) and the abolition of capital punishment and even criticized the Terror, for which he was sent to prison.
Louis XVI of France (king during the French Revolution) is generally seen as a tyrant, and few media will ever depict him as anything less. His actual problem was that he was too weak and indecisive a ruler, while a stronger one might have been able to prevent the revolution. Louis XVI's actual policies, which include positive and enlightened measures (e. g. in favor of Jews in the Alsace and of potato-farming) and military and political successes (victory over the old enemy across the Channel in the War of American Independence) also tend to be forgotten. Even in America, where if France's role is acknowledged at all it gets credited entirely to the Marquis de Lafayette.
Marie Antoinette, wife to Louis XVI, also got a hefty dose of this trope. Depictions of her tend to vary from an airhead who does not realize that cakes and bread are made of the same grain, to a decadent noble who spends all her time and state money on partying and dresses while callously ignoring the suffering of the people. In reality she most likely was a kind young woman who was unprepared for becoming a queen (she was the youngest of several daughters, but her older sisters died of smallpox with one exception, who ended up with facial scars) and tried to cope with things the best she could. The royal couple during the French Revolution overall got a lot of this as the widespread problems in the kingdom were projected to be their personal fault. And contrary to claims of Revolutionary propaganda etc. which liked to portray l'Autrichienne as the real power behind the throne, Marie-Antoinette had no influence whatsoever on her husband's policies—Louis XVI did not consult or even inform her of matters of state.
On the flip-side, the French Revolutionaries as a whole get this, especially Maximilien Robespierre, who eventually came to be seen as proto-Lenin and proto-Stalin. Critics point out that he was a man of great integrity, to the point of being described as L'Incorruptible and that he had in fact argued against the War with Austria that escalated the Revolution and made France a target of invasion. He had initially opposed the death penalty. He was loved in his lifetime as a champion of the poor and the working class and did much to clear out the corruption in the military and society, and furthermore he became the first lawmaker in the history of the Western World to outright abolish slavery by law. Even critics of the Reign of Terror point out that Robespierre justified it as a wartime necessity only and in fact tried to moderate the excesses of the very people who later stabbed him in the back and guillotined him, the same people who called him a tyrant and dictator, which he wasn't.
There are several conspiracy theories surrounding the Illuminati, who are often portrayed as a group trying to take over the world and create a Big Brother-style dystopia. However, in their time (end of the 18th century, not before, not later), they weren't really all too different from your regular Brotherhood of Funny Hats. Their New World Order was in fact referring to republican form of government and legislation based on fundamental human rights (think of the French Revolution). Indeed, this is how the conspiracy theories on them got started-in 1798 a royalist wrote a book blaming the French Revolution on Masons and Illuminati, which then grew steadily over the years. Examples of these in fiction include:
Historical Illuminatus Chronicles turns Count Cagliostro, historically a mountebank and fraud into the leader of a murderous conspiracy that would one day swell up to become the Illuminati.
This is seen in the short film The American Dream which portrays the Rothschilds (referred to as red-shields) as tentacled horrors ruining the economies of America and England through wars, central banking and the Federal Reserve For the Evulz.
In the same vein, 19th Century Freemason Albert Pike also gets this. In real life he isn't really well known outside of Freemasonry circles, but once again works of fiction and conspiracy theories portray him as the man who planned and engineered the concepts for the two world wars and a apocalyptic third one-all in the 1870s, all of wars which will bring about a Satanic One World Empire, all of these plans being recorded on a letter. The reality is that the letter was forged from an unknown source, through anti-mason Leo Taxil seemed to be the most likely culprit.
The serial killer called Jack the Ripper (assuming he was only one person and was indeed a "he", and that the murders were even related at all) was never identified, and only committed five murders. They were tragic, of course, but there were far worse serial killers both before and since then, so much that a case like this would hardly get any attention in modern times. Still, the fact that the brutal murders were never solved make people depict him as the worst Serial Killer in history, and the case is a favorite among fiction writers, who often tend to portray him as far more than any mortal man in their depictions. (For specific examples, see his own Trope page.)
The 1932 novelization of the Mutiny on the Bounty, and the 1935 and 1962 film adaptions, depict Captain William Bligh as a ruthless autocrat. For his day, he would have been considered fairly strict, but fair, and not as strict as he could have been. Modern historians place the blame more on the crew's long vacation in the tropics, causing them to become overly sensitive to discipline; a lesser emphasis is placed on his tendency towards relentless micromanagement and acerbic wit. The 1984 film The Bounty takes a revisionist and more historically accurate view of Bligh, depicting both his good and bad points, along with the part most depictions completely omit-his almost 4,000 mile long voyage to safely reach Timor in the boat he and the loyal crewman were set adrift on, a remarkable feat by any standard.
Kenesaw Mountain Landis, first Commissioner of Baseball. Firstly for the allegation that he had dealt with the Black Sox scandal in a ham-handed and unfair manner (aided by pro-Black Sox portrayals in films like Eight Men Out or Field of Dreams), with the greatest scorn coming for his treatment of "Shoeless" Joe Jackson (who while he didn't participate in rigging the World Series, was not completely innocent since he still took money from the cheaters and kept his teammates' actions secret). This ignores how hated the participating players in the Scandal were at the time, and the implications the scandal held for all of baseball. Secondly, it's often been claimed that Landis was the sole reason for baseball's "color barrier", even to the extent of claiming the Ohio-born-and-raised Landis was an old-school Southern racist. Landis himself stated that the question was up to the owners (most of whom at the time were against integration), and invited black sports reporters to make their case to them. There was also the rather important (up until Branch Rickey said "screw it," and all the other owners followed suit) question of what compensation would be due to Negro League teams in exchange for drafting all their best players; the Negro League teams were profitable business entities in their own right and at the time of integration were predominately owned by African Americans.
Just about any film made about the sinking of the RMS Titanic is sure to portray the relatively blameless J. Bruce Ismay, the president of the shipping lane, as an arrogant, bullying prick who forces the Captain to run the ship full speed into an ice field and then act like sniffling coward who hops aboard the first available lifeboat. While it's perhaps easy to see where this reputation comes from — jumping into a lifeboat to save yourself while there's still hundreds of women and children aboard the ship is perhaps not going to cast you in the bravest or manliest of lights — the truth is a bit more complicated, with eyewitness accounts suggesting Ismay was diligent in helping load and lower the lifeboats and only took his seat in one after making sure that there were no women or children there to take it instead.
The musical Titanic plays around with this in a trio where Ismay, Captain Edward Smith, and architect Thomas Andrews take turns blaming each other for causing the disaster—ultimately revealing that the tragedy was the result of a perfect storm of circumstances nobody could have predicted. Ismay still manages to come off worse than the other two, possibly because he survives and they don't.
Lizzie Borden, who was tried - and acquitted - of murdering her father and stepmother in 1892, is almost universally demonized in the media, where she tends to be portrayed as an unrepentant sociopath, on the same level as Jason Voorhees in some cases. In truth, this perception of her was due to the brutal nature of the crime itself, ostracism from her community, and the intense media attention given to it; some have compared it to other landmarks of public interest in the history of American legal proceedings, such as the trials of Bruno Hauptmann, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, and O.J. Simpson. While her guilt or innocence continues to be debated, she definitely was not on the same level as most serial killers-her motive, if guilty, apparently stemmed from a family dispute.
Richard Nixon is an unusual example- he gets this treatment in many, many works but rarely ones that deal directly with his original term of office. We say "original" because the upgrade tends to occur in Bad Future alternate timelines where America has become a Dystopia (such as Watchmen or Back to the Future II). We know they are dystopias because one of the features is that Nixon is still President, usually on his totally unconstitutional third, fourth or fifth term, implying he's running a de facto dictatorship. While he's rarely the Big Bad of these settings (in fact he's usually The Ghost), it still fits this trope that the writers thought that Nixon would a) so much as attempt something like this, and b) use his Presidency as further evidence that the setting is a Crapsack World (they are Crapsack, of course; its just a bit much to think that Nixon is one of the main reasons for it). Played for Laughs in Futurama where in the distant future he's a Head In A JarLarge HamCard-Carrying Villain (and once again, President, though this time via Loophole Abuse rather than outright corruption).
Averted, for once in X-Men: Days of Future Past, in spite of common portrayals in fiction relaying the public opinion of him after the Watergate scandal. He treats the growth of the mutant population as another issue to solve as Commander-In-Chief instead of resorting to Fantastic Racism, and chooses to discontinue the Sentinel program after a few mutants prevent his death at the hands of Magneto.
Oda Nobunaga has basically become Japan's go-to guy whenever a series needs an Evil Overlord. While Nobunaga was clearly not a very nice man in Real Life, it is very unlikely that he was ever literally the king of Hell like many series like to claim. Indeed, he knew that uniting Japan would benefit the people; he didn't particularly care, but he knew. In that sense, he's a good deal like Otto Von Bismarck—and the only things that people ever bring up about Bismarck are his genius and cunning. He may have been a ruthless badass during his lifetime even among the already vicious Lords of Japan, but modern works tend to take this to ridiculous (and often evil) extremes.
Many of his positive actions include tolerating Christians, open borders, modernizing the military and generally attempting to kick start a Japanese Renaissance. Though all of that can be filed under Pragmatic Villainy - tolerating Christians meant he could buy rifles from them, open borders enabled him to hire foreign mercenaries, modernizing his military is self-explanatory, as is his desire for a modern empire rather than a pre-Renaissance one.
As alluded to in the Literature section, almost any adaptation of The Three Musketeers will dump the original novel's moral ambiguities and do this to poor Cardinal Richelieu.
The Norse and other Germanic tribesmen tend to suffer from this, with the media often depicting them as brutish, bloodthirsty and violent raiders, plunderers and killers. Sometimes even in media in which they're meant to be the protagonists! In reality, they were no more savage or prone to violence than any other people at the time, with a very sophisticated culture. Most media fails to acknowledge that the "vikings" are not even a culture of their own, but a specific profession (that is, pirates-which is roughly what "viking" in Old Norse actually means).
However, since pirates were typically "brutish, bloodthirsty and violent raiders, plunderers and killers", the depiction of vikings is not too far off.
With the polarized view of American foreign policy worldwide, as well as the backlash as said foreign policy it is not uncommon to see this trope applied to every single one of the US presidents in countries with an extremely negative view of US foreign policy. And that is all that will be said.
Thomas Edison often gets this in works about Nikola Tesla. While Edison was indeed a Jerkass in Real Life, he is often given sole blame for Nikola Tesla's never getting some of his inventions out, even the ones that genuinely didn't work or that Tesla never actually intended to be used. Though it is true the pair did share an intense one-sided rivalry on Edison's part, who used his influence with the American business community to limit Tesla's opportunities, and slandered his alternating current, making Edison's direct current (a less efficient form) the standard model.
The entire country of France gets depicted this way in the context of World War II, with the Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys and French Jerk tropes being combined. Partly in reaction to the myriad stories of French maquis (resistance fighters) bravely defying the Germans, a "black legend" of sorts has arisen claiming that most French people not only didn't put up a fight, but actually welcomed the Germans and became Nazis themselves. The truth is somewhere in between: those relatively few French who did oppose the Nazis were at best passively resistant; but most French people, whether resistance fighters or not, were not happy about being occupied. The French Army was also forced to surrender because Paris had already been invaded and the Nazis threatened to blow the city up. Also, most of the French who cooperated with the fascist Vichy government during the war had held fascist beliefs to begin with, and were to some degree using the invasion as a pretext.
Older works about The American Civil War and the Reconstruction Era, such as The Birth of a Nation, do this to Congressman Thaddeus Stevens as a matter of course. He'll be portrayed as a fanatical, vengeful villain obsessed with further punishing the poor, defeated South. What did he do that was so bad? Well, that was the truly heinous act of getting Congress to grant civil rights and suffrage to the newly-freed black people. How could anyone do something so horrible? Newer works, like Steven Spielberg's Lincoln, portray him much more positively and accurately.
This is a common tendency when depicting some of the more notorious Emperors in Roman History. This wasn't helped by the fact that histories of the Roman Emperors were often written by their critics once they were dead- some of which decades, if not centuries after the fact - who had no compunction against simply inventing negative stories about them.
Emperor Caligula gets this a lot, even on this very wiki. Most sources agree that he was a terrible emperor, although modern historians have come to question whether this wasn't exaggerated. Also, most sources agree that he was a very good emperor in the first six months or so of his reign, and that he then went insane. Philo of Alexandria, for example, claimed that he became mad after nearly dying of a serious illness in the eighth month of his reign, leading modern historians to speculate that he may have suffered brain damage as a result of a prolonged high fever. In short, while he may have indeed done bad things, those things are probably exaggerated, and were probably not entirely his fault.
Emperor Nero has a reputation for, at best, playing the lyre during the Great Fire of Rome, or at worse setting the city on fire deliberately. In fact the most reliable source on the fire, Tacitus, states that Nero hurried back to the city to oversee the relief efforts, paying out of his own pockets quite generously. Although his actions immediately following this; taking advantage of the situation by clearing out 100-300 acres of the burnt-out city to built his lavish Domus Aurea, quickly extinguished whatever good will he earned from this gesture. It's generally regarded by historians that much of Nero's reputation as a monster comes from his having favored the common people, which didn't sit well with the aristocrats who wrote all the historical accounts since the common people tended to be illiterate.
To a lesser extent, Augustus is also at the receiving end of this in some works. They tend to play up his perceived cowardliness (which he earned due to his frequent bouts of sickness forcing him to not participate in battles), sociopathy, and keen skill in manipulating people. Common Historical consensus on the man agree that he was an extremely ambitious man with a mind for politics over warfare (which is no slight against him; Roman politics were a jungle of conspiracies, corruption, and assassinations), was very loyal to those who chose to side with him (as seen with his long relationship with Marcus Agrippa), managed to drag Rome out of decades of civil war and turn it into an Empire which lasted for five centuries, and was capable of both extreme acts of leniency and stunning acts of cruelty to make it happen.
Emperor Commodus almost certainly did not assassinate his father, Marcus Aurelius, to become Emperor: most evidence points to the Antonine plague doing him in, and there's no evidence that Aurelius intended for anyone else to succeed him. He was certainly a terrible emperor as well, but claims that he single-handedly ended the Pax Romana and was the cause of the Empire's eventual destruction is also an exaggeration: he certainly accelerated the decline, but the growing conglomeration of Germanic tribes to the north, Rome being ravaged by the aforementioned plague, and economic meltdowns caused by hyper-inflation are also to blame, all of which happened without Commodus' involvement.
Niccolò Machiavelli was commonly given historical villain upgrades in late Renaissance works, including Shakespeare and Marlowe. In fact his reputation was so bad that "Nick" became a name for the Devil. History Marches On has largely discredited this one, though; almost any recent fictional portrayal of him is more sympathetic.
Le Chevalier D Eon turned several real life historical figures (including the title character) into heroes and villains of a life and death struggle for control of the world. The Big Bad of the series ultimately turned out to be King Louis XV.
Rose of Versailles turned some historical figures (like Madame du Barry and specially both the Countess of Polignac and the Duke of Orleans) into series antagonists, which result in some God-awful moments for people who actually know a thing or two about those characters.
In Drifters, the so-called Drifters are dead heroes from our world. They are sent to other worlds to battle the Offscourings - also heroes from our world, but decidedly anti-humanity. Amongst the Offscourings are people like Jeanne d'Arc (a Pyro Maniac) and Anastasia Romanova (An Ice Person). It's implied that Drifters are generally less-than-stellar paragons of humanity who died as they lived (Oda Nobunaga is a drifter), while Offscourings are people who were noble and good in real life but died unjustly (explaining why they've obtained a violent hatred of humans). The leader of the Offscourings is implied to be Jesus.
Souten Kouro's Zhang Rang, leader of the 10 eunuchs. He manages to rape Shui Jing despite not having the necessary instrument.
One Piece has many characters named after real pirates. Blackbeard for example is similar to... Blackbeard, except that One Piece's Blackbeard has the abilities of unholy darkness and earthquakes that can sink entire islands, and he is being set up as the most probable Big Bad of the entire series.
JoJo's Bizarre Adventure Part 1 turned Jack the Ripper into a vampire working for the Big Bad, Dio Brando. It also explains why he disappeared, The main character, Johnathan Joestar disintegrated him. To top it all off, he fights by shooting scalpels embedded in his muscles!
In a similar vein, Black Butler turns Jack the Ripper into Grell (a clumsy butler who is actually a sadistic chainsaw-weilding Shinigami) and Madame Red (the protagonist Ciel's aunt and an abortion doctor, who was angry that her victims could get preganant when they didn't want children and thus chose to get abortions, when she herself wished to get pregnant and could not).
Benjamin Franklin betrayed the American Revolutionary movement after being bribed with titles of nobility. This led to an British ambush where George Washington was murdered and the American Revolution was crushed into fine dust.
In Vinland Saga, the Danish chief Thorkell the Tall who was one of the commanders in the occupation of England, is turned into a larger than life Blood KnightPsycho for Hire who will work for almost everyone when it promisses to get him into lots of brutal battles.
Pretty much all of the villains in Read or Die are this where they are given weapons based on what they created. Though they are actually clones of said historical people.
The first season of Black Butler does this to Queen Victoria, of all people, who sides with Angela/Ash the angel in an attempt to "cleanse" the world of sin with the implication that she sided with him/her after her husband Prince Albert died and it unhinged her. She's a straight Cool Old Lady in the manga, however.
In Big FinishFifth Doctor story the Kingmaker, Richard the III is actually confronted by his own Historical Villain Upgrade. The reason why this entry isn't under the In-Universe page is because: This story does the same to William Shakespeare, who became very bitter due to the way the Fifth Doctor treated him, and nabbed a Time Machine and was willing to assassinate him, and his companions, and due to a Timey-Wimey Ball ends up becoming Richard the III at his last battle, and Richard the III takes up the mantle of William Shakespeare.
Atomic Robo also depicts a heroic Tesla (creator of Robo) as the opponent of a supervillainous Edison who, among other things, uses the ghost of Rasputin in an attempt to murder Tesla and nearly blows up Manhattan in an attempt to contain the "Odic Force."
Swedish superhero parody comic Kapten Stofil does this fairly regularly. For example, one issue features Jules Verne as an evil superscientist inventing a Mecha Queen Victoria to exploit colonial India, until it is defeated by Indra and Ganesh.
In Neil Gaiman's Marvel 1602 ("Marvel superheroes in 1602 AD"), several historical characters suffer from this, most notably King James VI of Scotland and I of England, whose Burn the Witch! tendencies become his main character trait in a world filled with superpowered individuals.
The Red Menace has Roy Cohn as a supervillain, the eponymous Red Menace (who doesn't appear until late in the series).
Chester Brown's biography of Louis Riel turns Sir John A MacDonald into a Machiavellian schemer who provoked Riel in order to raise publicity for his railroad project.
In Jonathan Hickman's S.H.I.E.L.D., the immortal Isaac Newton seems to represent Bad Science, in contrast with the time-traveling Leonardo da Vinci, who represents Good Science. Newton, in addition to torturing Nostradamus to get details about The End of the World as We Know It, which he then seems disinclined to prevent, also murdered Galileo to take his place as leader of SHIELD. The SHIELD Infinity one-shot reveals he even has his own Supervillain Calling Card — in the Marvel Universe Newton's rivals Hooke, Flamsteed, Pascal and Liebniz were all found dead with an apple beside them.
The Chilean comic book 1899 paints the Peruvian Manuel Grau as a mad scientist and cyborg, while it can be argued that he was not heroic it cannot be argued from a Chilean perspective; he was a traitor to Peru's cause because his gentleness lead him to rescue his adversaries from the water in which they had fell. Conversely there is a hero upgrade in Chilean characters. Furthermore, Chile was the invading army and Peru had involved itself in the war only to defend Bolivia, which then left the war early when Peru could no longer avoid the continuing conflict.
The Marvel Comics version of Louisiana Voodoo Priestess Marie Laveaunote who got a slightly more sympathetic treatment on American Horror Story: Coven was initially a victim of circumstance but as time went on she developed into a villain desperate for immortality and later still for employing assassins.
Brazilian cartoonist Carlos Latuff does this to many figures from recent history. For instance, while George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Tony Blair, Ariel Sharon, and the nation of Israel as a whole are polarizing topics and likely always will be, it is highly improbable that they ever personally machine-gunned civilians For the Evulz, committed Prison Rape, seek to Take Over the World, or bathed in human blood. Many political cartoonists portray their ideological opponents as ignorant buffoons, but Latuff is one of a select few to portray them as Bond-style supervillains.
Don Rosa's"The Sharpie of the Culebra Cut" has "General Estaban" as the villain, based of the real life Esteban Huertas. In his author's notes on the story, Rosa admits that the real Huertas wasn't actually a bad guy, and that naming the fictional character "General Estaban" was meant to differentiate him from the real Huertas.
Films — Animated
Governor Ratcliffe from Disney's Pocahontas. The real John Ratcliffe seems to have been more foolishly trusting than villainous. By the way, he was tortured to death (flayed alive, actually) by the Powhatan Indians, who seem to have received a bit of a Historical Hero Upgrade in the movie.
Granted, the Huns weren't all that nice, but Disney's demonic portrayal of them in Mulan (complete with inhuman yellow eyes) is pretty extreme. They shouldn't even have been Huns. The tribe that Mulan fought against were the Xiongnu, a similar but distinct tribe.
Fitting in with the other depictions of Prince John, listed above, Disney's Robin Hood portrays the guy as an effeminate Large Ham who is prone to childish tantrums upon mention of his brother and always begins sobbing at the mention of his mother. He also taxes Nottingham until most of the citizens are in jail because they invented a song that insulted him and plans to have Friar Tuck hanged to lure out Robin Hood.
In Don Bluth's Anastasia Rasputin is an undead evil sorcerer who sold his soul in exchanged for a demon powered reliquary, and sparked the Russian Revolution to kill the Romanovs, and is out to kill Anastasia. In real life, he was an eccentric but staunch ally of the Romanovs, and is revered to this day in his native Russia.
Films — Live-Action
Cinderella Man depicts heavyweight boxer Max Baer as a brutish thug who brags about having killed two men in the ring. In reality, Baer is remembered as a Nice Guy with a lighthearted personality and was celebrated as an American hero for his defeat of Nazi Germany's champion Max Schmeling while wearing a Star of David on his trunks. Although one of his opponents did die in the ring with him, the opponent had the flu beforehand and the incident haunted him for the rest of his life, to the point where he regularly gave money to the opponent's family. Baer's son, Max Baer, Jr., who later became famous on his own account as Jethro Bodine on The Beverly Hillbillies, was outspoken in his criticism of the portrayal.
Tavington from The Patriot. While Banastre Tarleton, the historical Colonel Tavington, was notoriously ruthless (cf his actions at the Waxhaws Massacre and his fervent support for the Slave Trade as an MP), the film greatly exaggerates his actual misdeeds. Some of the worst atrocities presented in the film were in fact inspired by the ones committed in World War 2: erasing entire villages, locking all the townsfolk into their church and burning it down.
Dan Devine from Rudy. In the film, he was the jerkass Notre Dame head coach who wouldn't let Rudy play at all, only relenting after the entire team threatened to walk. In real life, he was the one who suggested that Rudy play! Dan Devine was a consultant on the film, and was actually ok with having himself portrayed this way, as they needed a villain, it was felt.
Tom Norman, who exhibited Joseph Merrick at his freak show, was by most accounts fairly humane — he was conflated, both in the David Lynch and Bernard Pomerance versions of The Elephant Man with a different manager (identity unclear) who robbed him and abandoned him in Belgium.
The old Universal horror film The Mummy (1932) and its later The Mummy Trilogy does this to Imhotep. The historical Imhotep was a priest, official, and architect mostly known for inventing the pyramid, not for messing with Pharaoh's mistress and being buried alive to torment meddling Westerners thousands of years later. However, since both film versions also lived approximately 1300 years after the time of the historical Imhotep, it's possible to interpret this Imhotep as just a different guy with the same name as the historical figure.
The Scorpion King, who gets both a Historical Hero Upgradeand a Historical Villain Upgrade throughout the film series, and resembles the real man only in name and general location — although very little is known about the real-life Scorpion King, even if he was real at all. The Scorpion King's direct-to-DVD prequel gives this treatment to Sargon the Magnificent.
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor: The Dragon Emperor was almost the same as the real Emperor Qin Shi Huang of the Ch'in Dynasty, who if anything was even worse than the one in the movie. They simply added supernatural powers to him - and a plan to Take Over the World with his animated Terracota army (QSH pretty much took over the known world when he was alive, the result was that what was once a dozen of independent states were forever unified in a single state, China). The writers didn't take the risk of having the movie Banned in China for having its founder as a villain and called him Emperor Han.
In reality, the Persian Empire was one of the most cultured and progressive civilizations of its era. In the film they're a numberless horde of Faceless Goons, containing an elite faction of monster ninjas, a Giant Mook cannibal ogre, and a demonic executioner with sawblades for arms, firebomb-flinging sorcerers, and a bevvy of unwholesome diplomats covered in gold piercings.
Xerxes himself is reimagined as a nine-foot androgynous Scary Black Man covered in gold chains, who calls himself a god and spends his spare time in a smoky harem tent / opium den full of mutated freak-show performers, amputee concubines and pot-smoking goat demons. The real guy just had a tall hat and a funky beard. Compare this◊ and ... this◊.
The Spartan Ephors are transformed from the equivalent of five Senators who run Spartan government into deformed molester priests who betray their people.
Even in the Muslim accounts of the war, Guy de Lusignan was never portrayed as the foppish, racist douche-bag he is here. Certainly, the historical Guy most likely held many of the views concerning Muslims he expresses in the film, but then so would have the vast majority of other figures, including those the enlightened heroes of the film were based on.
The Patriarch of Jerusalem, who is portrayed, as a cowardly, self-absorbed jerk, blinded by his faith, and mostly spending his time on spreading prejudice against the Muslims. In reality, while almost everything we know about him comes from the writings of his rivals, we still know that it was him along with Balian who negotiated the surrender of Jerusalem and they rounded up the money to ransom the citizens who couldn't afford to ransom themselves. As for his cowardice, he along with Balian offered themselves as ransom for those who they couldn't afford to ransom, which Saladin declined.
Blackbeard in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is a sorcerer who enslaves and zombifies people to serve on his crew. In reality, Blackbeard was just a fairly successful pirate captain with a regular crew of fellow pirates.
Among various other historical inaccuracies in U571, the film portrays a German U-boat crew gunning down defenceless sailors that are stranded in the North Atlantic. Never mind that in Real Life such an instance had only occurred once throughout the entire war and it was far more common for German sailors to assist all survivors. (Which was only good sense: A captured enemy can be interrogated, used as a bargaining chip, or sometimes even convinced to switch sides; a corpse cannot.) Such a courtesy only came to an end when it became apparent allied forces would attack U-boats on sight, regardless of whether they were carrying rescued merchant men.
Comparatively mild case in The Young Victoria, where King Leopold I of Belgium is portrayed as a pushy manipulator trying to use his nephew Prince Albert to gain control over the eponymous Victoria. In reality, Leopold was Victoria's favourite uncle. Also, while Sir John Conroy was by no means a friendly personality, even he would never dare manhandle the future monarch of the United Kingdom.
In James Cameron's Titanic, pretty much every crew member other than Captain Smith is depicted as, at best, incompetant or easily duped and evil at worst. Harold Lowe might be an exception, seeing as he is the one crew member who tries to make space in his lifeboat and rescue the people in the water. The ship's first officer, William Murdoch, is portrayed shooting two innocent men to prevent them from boarding a lifeboat, and subsequently putting a bullet through his own brain out of guilt. This portrayal was so at odds with the historical record that a studio executive travelled to Murdoch's hometown, apologized, and made a donation to boost the local high school's William Murdoch Memorial Prize, and Cameron himself later apologized in the DVD commentary. This was still nothing compared to his portrayal in the famously horrid animated feature Titanic: The Legend Goes On, in which he's a Stupid EvilJerk Ass who at times seems as though he's trying to get as many people killed as possible.
The HBO TV film Conspiracy about the Wannsee Conference gives one of these to Gerhard Klopfer. Whilst undoubtedly a foul racist and war criminal in Real Life, Conspiracy turns it Up to Eleven: The film-Klopfer is morbidly obese, lecherous, ugly (hint: he's portrayed by Ian McNeice, who also played Baron Vladimir Harkonnen in the Dune miniseries), does unpleasant impressions of gassed Jews, is so disgusting as to make the other Nazis uncomfortable and is even hinted to be a pedophile.
Octavian was a Magnificent Bastard in Antony and Cleopatra - a scarily competent Chessmaster, a reasonably proficient strategist and the only man in Asia Minor who can resist Cleopatra. It is pretty much stated that Octy will rule the world better than Antony would have. It is his portrayal as totally inept that is objected to, especially when he was one of the more (possibly the most) competent Emperors.
Louis Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, receives a big one in the 1938 film Marie Antoinette. The real Orléans was a genuine believer in the principles of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Montesquieu, who used his position to foster support for liberalism and democratic reform. He was initially supportive of The French Revolution, but eventually turned against its excesses, saved several people from being executed, and was eventually guillotined himself. In the movie, however, Orléans is, in fact, the primary orchestrator of the entire Revolution, which he cooked up as part of an insidious plot to seize the throne, after failing to seduce Marie Antoinette. During the so-called "Affair of the Diamond Necklace," he becomes a full-blown Diabolical Mastermind, using forgery and impersonation to frame the Queen for fraud. Eventually, he maliciously casts the deciding vote in favor of executing Louis XVI, before being executed offscreen by the rabble (he did vote in favor of it, but was hardly the decider, though some people did take that as an attempt by him to get rid of the king and seize the crown for himself).
In a truly bizarre example, the 2004 version of Around the World in 80 Days has as its Big Bad Lord Kelvin, a physicist responsible for formulating the first and second laws of thermodynamics, discovering the concept of absolute zero temperature (and getting the resulting scale named after him to boot), and many other worthy scientific achievements. He received his knighthood for his work on the Transatlantic Telegraph Cable, including several inventions used in the project. The film turns him into a sniveling, conniving backstabber who attempts to stop Phineas Fogg out of little more than professional jealousy.
While Frost/Nixon avoids casting Richard Nixon in an overly negative light, his chief of staff Jack Brennan is not so lucky. In the film, he comes across as a humorless military man who has no problem bullying and outright threatening people in order to protect the image of the president. At one point, he even shuts down production to stop Nixon saying something bad and threatens to ruin Frost if he makes him look bad. The real Brennan, a former Marine, is known to friends and colleagues for his friendly, good-natured personality, with Diane Sawyer describing him as "The funniest man you'll ever meet." Frost described him as a "wonderful man" and even said Brennan and his colleagues could have talked Nixon out of Watergate in the first place had they been his staff.
Werwolf, Nazi resistance after WWII was, in fact, just a bunch of unskilled and inefficent partisans, who were quickly destroyed in a few months, but in Lars von Trier's film Europa, they are portrayed as a mighty underground network with spies everywhere, assassinating occupational leaders, committing large-scale terrorist acts, and generally being a serious threat to the Allies.
Any Filipino movie will portray the Spaniards as ruthless imperialists who run a Corrupt Church.
This was the major complaint about Moneyball, given that it wasn't all that "historical" and all of the guys being portrayed as villains were still around and able to come to their own defense. Perhaps no one got it worse than the team's scouting director, Grady Fuson, who was portrayed being fired for insubordination after almost physically assaulting Billy Beane over his disagreement with Beane's sabermetrics strategies. In reality, Fuson voluntarily left the A's for another job with the Texas Rangers (in fact, the A's forced the Rangers to compensate them for losing him).
Most film adaptations of The Three Musketeers combine this with Adaptational Villainy and make Cardinal Richelieu the primary antagonist, turning him into an evil, would-be usurper. In real life, Richelieu is considered a national hero in France since his actions were responsible for not only helping turn the nation into a 17th century superpower, but also saving it from being encircled and destroyed by the rival Habsburgs.
The film Dangerous Beauty depicts Veronica Franco as being accused of witchcraft and being tried by the Roman Catholic Inquisition. That really did happen. The film, however, also depicts the Inquisition as frothing-at-the-mouth witch-hunters determined in advance not only to convict Franco, but prepared to believe that Venetian society was rife with witchcraft, and eager to conduct mass burnings of witches. In reality, witchcraft trials conducted by the Inquisition almost always had the goal of calming public hysteria, not rooting out witches, and they almost always let the accused go.
King Arthur does this to Cerdic and Cynric, the first and second kings of Wessex; a particularly impressive feat, given that almost no accurate information on them exists due to the Saxons not keeping written records until well after they had died. It is pretty much certain (given that he succeeded him) that Cynric did not die several minutes before his father, however. Both they and Arthur are associated with the Battle of Badon Hill, which functions as the film's climax, despite the fact that no one will likely ever know if they were there, if they fought Arthur, or if Arthur existed at all.
Most of the "cowboys" in Tombstone receive this treatment. The conflict between the Earp clan and the cowboys was not nearly so black and white. In particular, the film shows Ringo as a remorseless killer, but historic research can only point to him committing one murder. At one point in his life, he even served as a town marshal, and was to all accounts a conscientious and efficient lawman. It's his awesome name (Johnny Ringo) plus Ringo's mysterious death several months after the events this film depicts, that has the various movies on the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral boost his status as a lethal counterpart to Doc Holliday.
Anonymous effectively turned William Shakespeare into an illiterate drunkard and the true killer of Christopher Marlowe.
Zulu: The film makes a Composite Character out of Corporal Hooke. In real life, he was a model soldier who won the Victoria Cross for his bravery. In the film, he is combined with the convict soldiers who were also at the battle, turning him into a cowardly and lazy malingerer who rises to the occasion and becomes a hero by the end of the film.
Cao Cao was a very capable ruler, well-versed in matters military (he annotated Sun Tzu's The Art of War) and literary (he was also an accomplished poet). In the book he's simultaneously upgraded to the Big Bad of the tale (despite there being three kingdoms, remember?) and downgraded to a chump whose schemes to take over the whole of China get persistently foiled by Zhuge Liang.
Lu Bu, who in real life was a brilliant administrator as well a good shot with the bow, is treated as a Blood Knight who is only out for himself while he can't run an empire worth a damn. The reason why the story turns him into a dumb villain is because he was the antithesis of Confucian ethics, along with the unpleasant fact that he had an affair with Dong Zhuo's maid.
Minor warlord Zhang Lu. In the novel, he's greedy and craves power/territory as a means of playing up the righteousness of Shu and Ma Chao (who's a definite case of Historical Hero Upgrade). In Real Life, Zhang Lu was one of the more fair rulers of the time, building roads with free rest stops and food and using taxes collected to support the commoners instead of indulging himself. In fact, when he was forced to retreat during Cao Cao's invasion of his territory he explicitly left behind his wealth proclaiming that it belonged to the country and not him, an act which greatly impressed Cao Cao, causing him to let Zhang Lu peacefully surrender.
Sima Yi was one of Cao Cao's trusted officers who was one of Wei's loyal officers but the movel depicted him as an Evil Chancellor who destroyed Wei from within.
In a particularly weird literature example, the villain of The Wild Road, who performs cruel experiments on cats to learn their magic, turns out to be Isaac Newton. He tries to ascend to godhood by trying to surgically add cat body parts to himself and wields an evil magical staff powered by cat skulls.
Cardinal Richelieu is something of an Anti-Villain and Well-Intentioned Extremist. Although he hires the main villain of the first book, Milady de Winter, uses underhanded methods, and stands in opposition to the heroes, Dumas takes some time out to note that he's still a loyal and skilled servant of France (and very grateful to D'Artagnan for disposing of Milady when she went rogue.) His overt villainization is reserved for condensed and simplified adaptations—especially the movies.
Eventually, Dumas had to write another novel (The Red Sphinx) portraying Richelieu in a sympathetic light just to reassure people he really wasn't trying to demonize him. To this day, Richelieu is considered one of the greatest statesmen of France who helped make France a superpower later in the 17th century.
Richelieu's successor Mazarin is portrayed as greedy, vain and cowardly, but he's also very shrewd. The stories emphasize how unfairly he's judged by the French for his Italian heritage.
Several of the RedSwords in Paladins. Gray's sword is implied to be Genghis Khan and believes in solving every problemwithslaughter, and though we don't have any specifics on the Sandoval the time period and the name suggest Emil Sandoval may have been an alternate history version of a famous Conquistador with the rest of his achievements left in the dust in favor of playing up speculated abuses of the natives.
In 1632, Richelieu is one of the larger villains of the series. Series creator Eric Flint himself said that he would've liked to make Richelieu one of the good guys, but he needed someone intelligent to oppose the heroes.
In Gone with the Wind, the "Yankees" (Northerners) are a faceless mass of soldiers and later politicians (the infamous "carpetbaggers") invading happy Southern land. The one Yankee soldier to appear onscreen was a deserter shot by Scarlett before he could rob and (it is implied) rape her. As you might expect, the film kind of glosses over the whole slavery thing (unlike the book).
In Rafael Sabatini's Captain Blood: His Odyssey (as in the film based thereon), the British King James II has the title character and his rebellious fellows sold into slavery for a profit. As such with the story being from their point of view, they see that King as foul tyrant and treat the news of his deposing in favor of William of Orange as a moment of celebration, especially since the new King is eager to emancipate them and recruit them for his navy.
Count-Duke of Olivares became a Manipulative Bastard and/or a Chessmaster (although not a Magnificent Bastard) in Alatriste. In real life, he was the power behind a weak king, and of course not exactly a fan favorite of the peasants; however the author provides Olivares with realistic opportunities to be a villain.
William Makepeace Thackeray's historical novel Henry Esmond has an extremely negative presentation of John Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough, presenting him as an amoral Magnificent Bastard willing to betray anyone to advance himself. His wife, Sarah, is presented as a social climbing bitch. Worth noting is that John's descendant, Winston Churchill was prompted to write about his ancestors in part to address the portrayal in the novel
It's hard to upgrade history's most famous serial killer, but Jack the Ripper gets a lot of the treatment anyway. In the short story "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper", his murders prove to be an occult means of extending his lifespan and he's still alive today to kill the narrator.
Not all of the Jury of the Damned in "The Devil and Daniel Webster" were really that evil in reality. In particular, Thomas Morton was only evil in the sense of being an enemy of Puritans and was an early proponent of treating Native Americans decently.
A lot in The Royal Diaries book series, which are fictional diaries about real princesses. An example is Mary I in Red Rose of the House of Tudor, who is portrayed as devious, cunning, and hateful towards her younger siblings. While her relationships with Elizabeth and Edward certainly cooled later in life, during their childhoods, the much-older Mary acted as a mother figure, and was on record as being hopelessly naive and guileless. The enmity between her and Elizabeth didn't really kick into gear until after Mary became queen; it's not until she starts burning Protestants that she really deserves this.
Gregory Maguire's Mirror, Mirror combines history with the tale of Snow White and casts Lucrezia Borgia in the role of the wicked queen. Though the Borgias were not a nice family, there's little evidence Lucrezia had the expertise in poisoning she was later accused of (in fact, the attributes of the poison she was most famous for don't even exist in any real substance). And, obviously, the Snow-White-like events of the novel don't have much basis in real history either.
Bernard Cornwell does this on occasion in his historical fiction, but at least he's polite about it. In the Author's Notes for the books of his series The Saxon Chronicles, Cornwell apologizes to Æthelred of Mercia for depicting him as a weak and devious snake and terrible husband, a characterization with no support in the historic record, but which makes for a better story.
Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu in the Sano Ichiro series. He indeed ruined the currency system of the time, and instituted policies that did nothing to alleviate suffering under the shogun's rule, but nothing indicates he was as scheming, vicious and relentless as he is in the books. He was little more than a yes man to the shogun.
It is unlikely that General José de Urrea was anywhere near as black as J.T. Edson paints him in Get Urrea!. In particular, historians now believe that the Goliad Massacre was perpetrated at the orders of Santa Anna and not Urrea. Also, while public opinion varies greatly on where Wyatt Earp lies on the scale of heroism and villainy, Edson always portrays him as a petty and vindictive thug with no redeeming qualities whatsoever.
In the Divine Comedy, Brutus, Judas Iscariot and Cassius are depicted as the ultimate traitors, being gnawed upon by Satan for eternity. Judas being there is understandable (being the betrayer of Christ) but Dante considered the assassination of Gaius Julius Caesar, the crime committed by the other two, to be the second-worst crime ever committed, as it represented the destruction of a unified Italy and the killing of the man who was divinely appointed to govern the world. (Again, this is Dante's personal opinion.)(In fact, the book has a lot of historical figures - many of which are obscure to modern readers - suffering in Hell; for example, Cleopatra VII is among those in the Second Layer, devoted to the Lustful, while The Prophet Muhammad - described by the author as a schismatic - is in the Ninth Bolga of the Eighth Layer, the place for Sowers of Discord. The structure of the layers of Hell and who belonged there is entirely based on Dante's opinion of what is perceived as sin and who he believed belonged there.)
In Kim Newman's Anno Dracula short story "Vampire Romance", the villain turns out to be a vampirised Richard III, who is worse than Shakespeare portrayed him. He resents Will for saying he sent someone to kill the Princes in the Tower; he dealt with them personally.
A Study in Scarlet, the first Sherlock Holmes novel, includes a mild case with Brigham Young. He doesn't serve as an antagonist for Holmes, but he's portrayed as a crazed religious zealot with zero sympathy for anyone outside his devoted group of followers, and he turns out to be directly responsible for the events motivating the sympathetic vigilante who commits the murders.
In Musashi, the titular character's Foil and Worthy OpponentSasaki Kojiro is given this. Although not without noble qualities, he is for the most part arrogant, sadistic, and only interested in his innate talent so much as it can make him rich and famous. In Real Life, the main thing against him is that he was killed by Folk HeroMiyamoto Musashi. Debate still rages as to whether or not Musashi cheated or if he had been ambushed and murdered by a group, with or without Musashi's knowledge.
The first book makes Archbishop Samuel "Soapy Sam" Wilberforce into a mad scientist who kidnaps women to turn them into a facial scrub that gives him his astonishingly youthful appearance. (He is in his late thirties, but looks like he's in his mid-thirties.)
The third book makes Wagner into an unrepentant smear artist, working for Nietzsche, who has constructed a huge robot suit in order to crush Europe beneath his boot. He is doing this because he thinks it will impress girls.
The fourth book features Napoleon, and while he's not given much of a "villain upgrade", he does become the Pirate Captain's Sitcom Arch-Nemesis.
Double The Fist presents to us the man who discovered Australia, Captain James Cook, as an egotistical Space Pirate who barely flinches at the sight of the ballistic Fist Team. Cook is not generally regarded as a villain, but he fits the bill to some, having essentially taken over an already inhabited land (as with many explorers of the era).
I, Claudius shows Livia, wife of Augustus, as a manipulative, scheming Evil Matriarch who carefully eliminates all of Augustus's potential successors, and finally, Augustus himself, so that her son Tiberius would become Emperor. While it is true that Livia did lobby for Augustus to name Tiberius as his successor, even Suetonius (who's notorious among historians for being a gossip-monger) admits that there is no real proof that she was behind any of the deaths of Augustus's adopted heirs. The circumstances of Gaius and Lucius's deaths are also much less suspicious than most let on; in ancient times, death from disease (or an infected battle wound, as was Lucius' cause of death according to some accounts) was far from uncommon. The accusation that she was behind Augustus's death seems especially flimsy when taking into account that he was seventy-five when he died, and had a history of sickliness that made his contemporaries wonder how he could even live to that age.
The second episode is about Halley and Isaac Newton squaring off against Robert Hooke at the Royal Society. Although Tyson summarizes Hooke's genuine accomplishments, the episode is about the conflict between the three men, in which Hooke can't back up his claims and accuses Newton of plagiarizing his work.
Humphry Davy in "The Electric Boy" is portrayed as giving Faraday a futile project to replicate Josef Fraunhofer's perfect optical glass solely to keep Faraday from showing him up again. While Davy was not happy about his lab assistant inventing an electric motor (and indeed falsely accused Faraday of plagiarism), the British government was backing the glass project and it wasn't until a couple of years after Davy's death that Faraday ultimately quit the effort. On the other hand, the episode leaves out the time when Davy invited Faraday on a tour of Europe as a servant, during which time Mrs. Davy frequently mistreated and belittled him.
Another Roman example: seductive, manipulative Atia of the Juli in Rome who is essentially unrecognizable from the prim and proper and rather boring historical woman.
Although, as noted above, Prince John often gets this treatment in Robin Hood stories, The New Adventures Of Robin Hood deserves special mention. In it Prince John, rather than merely being an evil king, gleefully sacrifices peasants to Celtic goddesses.
Common on "expose" made-for-TV movies about popular TV shows: the most controversial cast member will inevitably be depicted as evil incarnate, or very close to it. In a few cases, this has been at the direction of another cast member, indicating some bad blood there:
The Gilligan's Island TV movie turned Tina Louise (Ginger) into a selfish, primadonna diva who was furious that this broad slapstick comedy named for another actor's character was not all about her and how glamorous she really, truly was. Who was behind this portrayal? None other than Mary Ann herself, Dawn Wells.
The Three's Company TV movie likewise depicted Suzanne Sommers (Chrissy) as a stupid and self-centered diva with no regard for anyone. This one was even more blatant in its intentions, for who was always the biggest victim of Sommers's schemes? Why, Joyce DeWitt, who played Janet. And who co-produced the movie, as it happens. Even John Ritter was depicted as having spurned DeWitt (by passing her over for the short-lived spinoff, Three's A Crowd, as if that was his decision) and being 100% in the wrong for it.
Piero de' Medici is the Big Bad of Leonardo, leading The Conspiracy to use Leo's inventions to overthrow the Duke of Florence. In Real Life Piero was a fairly typical Renaissance nobleman, and the Medicis had been the de facto rulers of Florence since 1434 (since there wasn't a Duke until 1532, when the title was granted to ... the Medicis).
CBC's miniseries Prairie Giant: The Tommy Douglas Story met with criticism in Saskatchewan (the province where Douglas used to be premier) for its portrayal of his political opponent James Gardiner. They kicked up so much of a fuss that CBC stopped airing it on CBC. The other wiki has more on it .
Helena might count as well, if it wasn't for the Heel-Face Revolving Door. Although arguably she's sufficiently detached from the real H. G. Wells to count as an original character.
Season 4 gives us Paracelsus as the Big Bad. Granted, the real Paracelsus was not the most pleasant person to be around, but here he's not only evil enough to merit getting bronzed, but he's so evil that that the Regents expunged the records of what he did to merit getting bronzed.
Of all the reimagined characters in Deadwood, the one that gets it worst is the town's provisional sheriff, Con Stapleton. In real life, Stapleton was a popular, tall Boisterous BruiserIrishman in his 20s that did his best to keep order in the growing camp for a year, until he was replaced by Seth Bullock and fell into obscurity. The TV show paints him instead as a pathetic, 50-something fat Butt Monkey and Dirty Coward, that is in Al Swearengen's pocket before becoming the Bumbling Sidekick of the even worse Cy Tolliver. Con is even handpicked as Sheriff by Swearengen because he will suck at it (his first plan was to leave the position vacant) and renounces the job less than a week later after being confronted by Bullock. The other times Deadwood changed "boring" historical characters for more interesting fictional scumbags at least they bothered to rename them.
The BBC/Starz series The White Queen gives this treatment to both Margaret of Anjou and her son, Edward of Westminster. Margaret is repeatedly described as having ordered the brutal murder of Richard of York by means of having him torn to pieces. In fact, Richard died in battle at Wakefield. It is true that his severed head was put on display. More generally, the show more or less accepts uncritically the view of Margaret of Anjou as a monstrous tyrant. It is true that she was a bad ruler, but that was more because she was a foreigner who did not really understand English politics and customs, and who trusted the wrong people. She was not actively trying to cause harm. Of course, the only reason she had to run the country in the first place was that her husband, King Henry VI, suffered from some sort of mental disease that made him incapable of ruling. As for Henry and Margaret's son, Edward of Westminster, he is depicted as raping his wife, Anne Neville, on their wedding night. There is no evidence for this whatsoever.
Interestingly, the show gives a very positive portrayal of the Woodvilles, while at the same time portraying both Jacquetta Woodville, and her daughter Queen Elizabeth, as literal witches.
In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Spectre of the Gun", this Trope was applied in the complete opposite way as it was in the movie Tombstone. Here, the infamous Cowboys - whom Kirk, Spock, Bones, Scotty, and Chekov are forced to portray-are regarded as simply Lovable Rogues, while the Earp Brothers and Doc Holiday are depicted as corrupt and tyrannical lawmen intent on murdering them. Of course, the whole setup is an illusion created by a group of Sufficiently Advanced Aliens called the Melkotians, used to punish the crew for trespassing by forcing them to reenact the famous gunfight at the OK-Corral on the losing side, but it is taken from Kirk's memory (and thus interpretation) of the event. (And Spock realizes that the whole thing is flawed when Chekov - who portrays Billy Claiborne - is apparently killed prematurely, remembering that the actual Billy Claiborne survived the gunfight.)
It is fair to say that Adolf Hitler was, by all descriptions, a deplorable human being. However, CBS docu-drama Hitler The Rise Of Evil somehow manages to take this overboard. As a child, Hitler manages to kill his father simply by giving him an evil stare. Apparently deciding that this wasn't enough, the writers also twisted the incident of Hitler being awarded the Iron Cross-in real life, for several cases of genuine bravery-into a political farce. Furthermore, the film takes the relationship between Hitler and his niece, Geli Raubal, and presents it as being one of sexual abuse-Hitler's political opponent once threw out such an accusation, but there is no historical documented evidence which supports it. In general, Hitler's every action is accompanied by ominous background music, and when he isn't violently stamping on a dog's head before emptying bullets into its face, he's behaving like the villain from a Saturday morning cartoon show. In addition, the only rhetoric he is ever shown as presenting is antisemitism, with anti-Communism having a brief mention. This carriers rather Unfortunate Implications, as it implies that Germans supported the Nazi Party purely because it was anti-Semitic, without taking into account all the other factors. Also, given that Hitler's war with the Soviet Union is often thought of as the climax (or at least a high point) of his destructive warmongering (with at least 12 million civilian deaths), skimming over his anti-Communist intentions isn't just bad history, it might be an unintentional brush aside. In general, it is Hollywood History at its very worst.
Spartacus: Blood and Sand: The pilot episode portrays the Getae people as inhuman savages, in comparison to the noble Thracians. In reality, the Getae were so similar to the Thracians that historians are still a little unsure what the difference was.
Played for laughs in Blackadder II, where Queen Elizabeth (called "Queenie" by fans) is a ludicrously exaggerated version of Elizabeth I, using the extremes of anti-Elizabethan propaganda to produce a Psychopathic Womanchild who orders executions on a whim and never does any actual governing.
Rasputin in the Pathfinder module Reign Of Winter gets both this and a Historical Badass Upgrade. Pathfinder's Rasputin is a canonically Neutral Evil high-level divine spellcaster who is also the estranged son of Baba Yaga and has a sinister scheme to steal her power through occult means. He's the Big Bad of one of the major story arcs, and, appropriately, needs to be killed more than once for it to stick.
In Warhammer 40K, Doombreed is one of Khornes's most ancient and powerful Daemon Princes, older even the Primarchs, has a cloak made of a thousand Space Marine skulls, and was elevated for the slaughter he carried out on a massive scale. It is more or less implied that in life, he was better known by the name Genghis Khan.
In Knickerbocker Holiday, Peter Stuyvesant seizes power in New Amsterdam and becomes a corrupt, warmongering dictator with obvious fascist leanings. This glaring historical inaccuracy is lampshaded in the final scene where Washington Irving steps in to prevent Stuyvesant from killing everyone else, saying that's not how posterity would want to remember him.
In 1776 John Dickinson gets something of an historical villain upgrade. While opposed to the Declaration of Independence, it was more a case of he thought it should not be done at that time, because the structure of government was too uncertain and the Americans had no European allies at that point. Rather than being John Adams' antagonist, he avoided attending the Continental Congress, while independence was being debated and voted upon. He went on to fight the British, in the militia-as a private and a brigadier general, on different occasions. He had a moderately successful political career afterward, including being a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. A little of this is hinted at in the film in the character's last speech, but up to then, the musical presents him as a nascent Benedict Arnold.
Alexander Pushkin's Mozart and Salieri was the first work to portray Antonio Salieri as a villain, written less than 50 years after Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's death. The film Amadeus is based on Peter Shaffer's play of the same name, which is a spiritual descendant of Pushkin's play. In Real Life, their relationship was at worst a respectful rivalry, and some sources claim they were even friends.
William Shakespeare was a major purveyor of this trope out of necessity, writing histories to support the royal family's prejudices (not that he might not have agreed with them-but who knows?).
The Real LifeMacbeth was one of Scotland's better early kings, and was especially known for his charity toward the poor. He defeated Duncan, a young tyrant invader, in a fair fight in battle, reigning successfully for 17 years before being defeated and killed in battle himself; he was succeeded first by his stepson, then by Malcolm III, the thane who had defeated him. Shakespeare's Macbeth is nothing like the original, partly because his source got a lot of things wrong, but also because Shakespeare was writing the play to appeal to King James I, who was descended from Duncan; portraying an ancestor of King James as weak, ineffective, and/or tyrannical (even if he really was) may have been tantamount to treason. The play echoes James's belief that kings were chosen by God and that God's will, no matter how thwarted in the short term by tyrants, could not fail in the end. Lady Macbeth's characterization is pure fabrication, as almost nothing is known about her beyond her name, Gruoch (?!).
Richard III in the eponymous play is written as having his two nephews murdered, for which there's little evidence (they simply disappeared, their fate unknown to this day). And while he likely committed some atrocities and heinous crimes, it can certainly be argued that he wasn't any more or less ruthless than kings who had preceded or followed him. But Shakespeare was writing in the time of Elizabeth I, whose grandfather Henry VII overthrew Richard at the end of the War of the Roses. Thus, the official party line was that Richard was a monster and not a legitimate king of England.
There are actually a number of historians who believe that Shakespeare's later tragedies were set in more esoteric times so he could criticize the mores of his own time under the radar (at least occasionally; his play Richard II, about the overthrow of a childless king, was set late in the reign of Elizabeth I when the succession was much in doubt). In particular, Macbeth nowadays isn't seen as a political story (rightful king is overthrown by usurper; son restores rightful line), but rather a personal story (Macbeth and his wife's ambition overrides their own sense of right and wrong to the point that they are haunted by it).
Pope Pius XII got this treatment in Rolf Hochhuth's highly tendentious play The Deputy, a Christian tragedy (German: Der Stellvertreter. Ein christliches Trauerspiel) (1963), which was produced to undermine the influence of the Catholic Church, perhaps particularly in the Soviet bloc. Some revisionist modern historians, ignoring the testimony of former Soviet spies like the Romanian Ion Mihai Pacepa who say that the play was a deliberate (and successful) attempt to cast Pius and the Church in the worst possible light, ran with it and produced the idea of "Hitler's Pope." Pius' actions regarding the Holocaust remain a source of controversy, but most likely it was a case of, if anything, not doing enough to help Jews.
Cyrano de Bergerac defies this trope with a popular villain: CardenalRichelieu offers his help to the protagonist instead of opposing him. In fact, it's Cyranowho coldly rejects his patronage. Edmond Rostand gives Dumas a metaphorical "What the hell, dude?" by including a scene where Richelieu can be observed patronizing a play written by Dumas that depicts him as a villain.
A famous example is Abigail Williams, the first accuser in the Salem Witch Trials and main villain of Arthur Miller's The Crucible. In Real Life she was more or less an Unwitting Instigator of Doom, an attention-seeking teen who acted out, was accused of witchcraft, and accused someone else to take the heat off herself (then that person accused someone else, etc.). Miller turns her into a twenty-something Alpha Bitch whose goal in starting the witch hysteria was getting her ex's wife bumped off. Admitted by Miller in the prologue, as he needed the accuser to be actively malicious to complete the allegory to the Red Scare. Ironically, the actual Red Scare was more like the historical Salem witch trials than in his play-suspected Communists accusing other to save themselves, with a domino effect. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the House Un-American Activities Committee recognized the allegory, was not amused, and questioned Miller, who refused to name others and was held in contempt of Congress.
For example, Rodrigo Borgia was certainly a murderous, conniving asshole in real life and as Alexander VI, generally considered to be the worst pope in the history of the Catholic Church; it turns out he was secretly the cacklingleader of the Templars during the Renaissance. Oh, and he thought Christianity was bunk, but became Pope anyway just for the power.
Giacomo Savonarola in the Bonfire of the Vanities DLC, although in fairness AC was hardly the first to come up with this portrayal. Granted he was definitely extreme by modern standards, but people forget that the reason Savonarola was able to carry out his famous Bonfire was because the people of Florence were sick and tired of watching wealthy Italian families flaunt their vast fortunes by commissioning ludicrously expensive sculptures and paintings while the rest of society was beset by plague and poverty. By the standards of the time he was practically a popular revolutionary. Hell, in the 1990s he was even nominated as a candidate for sainthood (he didn't win though).
In a more modern context: Antonin Scalia, long-serving conservative Supreme Court Justice, has, apparently, was instrumental in manipulating the Supreme Court's decisions since at least 2000, when he got the Templar-aligned puppet George W. Bush into the White House. In addition, since then he's had Templar-allied appointees filling up the court system. That's...yeah.
Assassin's Creed III has "The Tyranny of King Washington" DLC, which is an Alternate History that postulates a What If? storyline where George Washington accepted the offer to become King instead of President, and the United Kingdom of America becomes an even worse tyrannical power than England ever was at the time. In this case, it turns out to be a shared vision of both Connor and Washington's brought on by the Apple of Eden that ultimately convinces Washington that a democracy is the best form of government for the United States.
On the other hand, however, Kessen III gives Akechi Mitsuhide a Historical Villain Upgrade since Nobunaga got a more sympathetic portrayal there. Although in Basara, when Nobunaga gets a great dose of villain upgrade, Mitsuhide is also a nasty villain on his own.
Warriors Orochi does make Oda Nobunaga one the other group aside from Shu as one of those who fight to resist Orochi's army and he is the only major leader present in the game, most of the other major leaders were missing in action.
Toyotomi Hideyoshi gets it even worse. Even though he's usually portrayed as evil, Oda Nobunaga is at least handled with a sort of respect. Toyotomi Hideyoshi, when he appears, is generally portrayed as a Smug Snake type — an incompetent would-be manipulator, and often a pervert to boot. May be class-based, considering that he was born a commoner (and couldn't become shogun for that reason). Even Samurai Warriors 2, which mostly portrayed him as sympathetic and basically a nice guy, had him as an only vaguely competent, concubine-loving goofball who was outclassed by his wife in intelligence and skill. Sengoku Basara attempts to partway avert this by turning the "mountain monkey" into an eight-foot tall Well-Intentioned Extremist and an Expy of Raoh from Fist of the North Star; he's certainly competent and quite awe-inspiring, but also very clearly a villain.
Well, starting a war with Korea right after you're done with a civil war isn't going to make you popular.
Hell, the Sengoku Jidai period was chock full of this. Even Tokugawa Ieyasu is not safe from this. He comes off sympathetic in Samurai Warriors, but everyone else wants a piece of him, since there are more Western people than Eastern people, and Koei made them to be the ones 'fighting for honor'. And similar to Hideyoshi, he mostly won the battle through sheer luck or the help of other people. And Koei seems to take favoritism to the Western side, and in the upcoming DS game Saihai no Yukue (An Ace Attorney-like game featuring Sengoku Jidai), Ieyasu becomes a full-blown smoking fat villain whereas his rival Ishida Mitsunari becomes the Bishōnen hero. And if anything... He's probably the next in line of the villains for the Onimusha series. At least Sengoku Basara presents him as sympathetic (if extremely ineffectual).
And seemingly reversed in the third game when he has grown some balls, gets aged up and Took a Level in Badass. And when compared with the other new main character, Ishida Mitsunari, Ieyasu seems to be the more virtuous guy. Then Capcom subverts it in that while he looks virtuous, Ieyasu has taken some levels in hypocrisy and even Mitsunari's anger towards him seems justified.
Perhaps worth noting that this is largely averted in the original Kessen. While the enemy are generally depicted in a negative light, it depends entirely on which campaign your playing; as the East, Toyotomi is an ineffectual puppet, Ishida is a ruthless tyrant and Tokugawa is nobly attempting to fulfil Oda's ambition of a unified Japan, while as the West, Ishida is the noble protector of Toyotomi, the inexperience-but-willing true heir, and Tokugawa and the Easterners are dishonourable usurpers.
Also to note, while the Tokugawa seemed safe enough, villainizing Tokugawa and Ieyasu became rather standard practice once the Tokugawa Shogunate started to decline and they took liking to the oppositions of Tokugawa, the most prominent being Sanada Yukimura (and occasionally the aforementioned Mitsunari). Some serieshas followed this suite.
Except in his debut in Samurai Warriors Chronicles 2nd, where Munenori is instead being that 'virtuous badass swordsman'.
Fuuma Kotarou was, by all accounts, not a very nice man... but Samurai Warriors 2 exaggerates him from merely a ninja who turned to petty banditry after the fall of the Late Hojo to a chaos-worshiping madman who actively tries to extend the Sengoku period for his own amusement.
World Heroes portrays Fuuma as a cocky, arrogant and quite active sort of fellow, if that counts for anything.
Finally, there's the Sengoku Basara presentation of Otani Yoshitsugu. In real life he was known for being a leper and a courtier who was Ishida Mitsunari's best friend. In the game, he's a leprous Manipulative Bastard, an Evil Sorcerer and Misanthrope Supreme who hopes to plunge all of Japan into eternal misery by killing Ieyasu. His only redeeming feature is his strange fondness for Mitsunari, who in his own words is the only man in Japan more miserable than he.
City of Heroes has Romulus Augustus, who is 8 feet tall, can wear what looks like hundreds of pounds of armor, can stand up to multiple super-powered punches, blasts, mental assaults, etc... and that's BEFORE he gets bonded with an evil alien parasite which makes him even stronger!
MediEvil 2 does this to infamous serial killer Jack The Ripper. Like in real life, he's a serial killer, but unlike in real life, he's a giant, green skinned demon with absurdly long claws, and he doesn't mutilate his victims here, he devours their souls. Oh, and just like the real Jack, he completely gets away with his crimes. The first time you meet him, anyway.
The arcade version of Double Dragon 3 (as well as the Famicom version) features a revived Cleopatra as the final boss.
The game Martian Dreams, the premise of which is pretty much "famous historical personages of the late 19th/early 20th century, colonizing Mars!", has a few historical villains, including the ever-popular Rasputin and anarchist activist Emma Goldman. To be fair, though, Rasputin turned out to be possessed by an evil Martian and Goldman didn't know what his plans truly were.
Some interesting cases in Shikkoku No Sharnoth. Any time you meet a historical figure, there's about a fifty/fifty chance that they're an antagonist, though not necessarily evil. The first is Josef Capek, oddly enough.
In an extremely strange version of this trope, Grover Cleveland, U.S. President, in Casey and Andy. Even though the two main characters are set in current time, the story arcs have now coalesced in a situation where Grover Cleveland has hired a supervillain as his advisor, and is about to marry Satan (it's complicated).
Guttersnipe portrays Stanford-educated president Herbert Hoover as a bumbling manchild — literally, with an oval office full of baby toys.
Played with in Hark! A Vagrant's Genghis Khancomic. An amiable Genghis Khan reassures a terrified man that he's more than a "scary warlord," informing him that he's a nation-builder who runs a meritocracy. In the last panel:
Genghis: We still kill all our enemies though.
Man: Oh no doubt.
Genghis: I'm not gonna lie, it's pretty brutal.
The internet gives this treatment to Lewis Carroll. In real life, he was a kind, innocent and cheerful man, and Alice Lidell was one of his most fondest friends. But, as far as the internet is concerned, Carroll was a drug-addicted pedophile, and Lidell was his number-one victim.
The three Thomas More stories at this site, being James Bond parodies set in an Alternate History version of 16th century Europe, inevitably rely on this as well, giving several prominent historical figures of the Reformation and the thereabouts a Historical Bond Villain Upgrade. Here's a quote to demonstrate:
The site seems dedicated to giving this treatment to Thomas Edison whenever possible.
In Epic Rap Battles of History, Tesla finishes his rap by saying "If they knew you prevented me from making power free, they would curse the name Edison with every utility". This is presumably referring to the Wardclyffe Tower, which didn't actually work in the first place.
The biggest victim is Duchess Helene of Wittelsbach. Oh GOD, poor Helene. In Real Life, Nene actually got over Franz and was Happily Married to Prince Maximillian of Thurn und Taxis, and not to mention she and Sisi got along well enough to have Sisi as the recipient of Nene's Famous Last Words. In the series, she's an ungrateful and clingy Gold Digger who wants to ruin Sisi and Franz's happiness at any costs.
Not to mention that in order to make the villianousness complete they erased familiar ties between them. Nene was Elisabeths older sister, not some duchess from I-don't-know-where and Sophie was her aunt. (weeeeeell... I can see why they removed the hint of Sissi and Franz being cousins, kids show and all that). Sophie at worst was adamant on holding up tradition and tried her best to make her daughter-in-law a good emperess, which clashed with Elisabeth's own free-spirited nature. Most basis for the villainous portrayal of Sophie comes from Elisabeth herself, while other sources described her as stern and strict but very caring and actually pretty worried for her daughter-in-law.
As stated above, the Earp brothers and Doc Holiday were clearly no angels; however, when they appeared in one episode as restless spirits in they were clearly evil, tormenting the living for no apparent reason other than the fact that they felt like it.
Al Capone was the villain in another episode, and... Well, despite the fact that he was ruling a hellish dimension that resembled Prohibition era Chicago with a gang of demonic mobsters (and had magical powers to go with it), this may have been a downgrade, given the things the real one was responsible for (his kill-count in the actual episode was zero, given the type of cartoon it was, even though it did borrow a lot from the one in The Untouchables, perhaps).
One episode of The Smurfs portrayed a cabal of Druids as evil sorcerers, who had been imprisoned inside a tree by more benign wizards centuries ago. While there is evidence that the real Druids (a class of priests among the Celtic peoples of Gaul, Britain, Ireland, and possibly elsewhere during the Iron Age) engaged in Human Sacrifice and other sinister acts, they were certainly not demonic practitioners of black magic as shown here-the leader didn't even seem human; he looked more like some robed ghost with glowing, red eyes peering out of a hood that hid the rest of his face.
Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle. Princess Emeraude of the Country of Jade is remembered as a fiend who kidnapped children by luring them away to her castle with the power of one of Sakura's feathers, and the townsfolk believe her ghost is at it again when local children start going missing. In reality, Emeraude was a Friend to All Children who had used the feather's power to set up her castle as a safe haven for them during a time of plague. When Syaoran and the others set off to continue their journey, they leave behind proof of their discovery and ask the townsfolk to start spreading the real story of Princess Emeraude.
Naruto has the Fourth Kazekage, who we only meet after his death and mostly showed up in flashbacks of the son he abused. By the time he actually showed up for readers to objectively see, he'd been solidly in the villain category for years. Turns out her was more along the lines of an extremely pragmatic ruler who faced a lot of sadistic choices in his life. Though most generally agree that his decision to force Gaara's caretaker to tell him that he hated him and that he was and never would be loved after attacking him in order to measure his worth was just downright stupid, which he later on came to acknowledge.
Madara Uchiha was primarily remembered in Konoha for betraying and fighting the first Hokage and summoning the Kyuubi out of jealousy, with his sole monument dedicated to that battle. The truth ended up being a lot more complex. His reputation was even worse in other nations, and the current Tsuchikage of Iwa remembers him as a war criminal (though that reputation may have been more justified).
Kakashi's father Sakumo Hatake was disgraced for botching a mission in order to save his comrades. A young Kakashi was seriously shocked when his peer Obito Uchiha admitted to admiring Sakumo's actions, and it's implied Kakashi had always pushed himself so hard to make up for his father's disgrace.
Intentionally done by Itachi Uchiha who wanted to be the villain so his brother could be the hero. However lately the truth's been starting to come out in-universe as well.
Calamity Jane suffers this in Lucky Luke book Ghost Hunt, where a legend spreads about her being a cruel witch and demoness who died cursing a town, and is now haunting its ruins as a cannibalistic ghost. It's eventually revealed to be a Scooby-Doo Hoax created by a group of bandits who wanted to keep unwanted people away from a deserted town where they discovered a new gold mine. She was not amused.
This also happened to her in the very early Lucky Luke story The Gang Of Joss Jamon where Joss Jamon calls in a jury made of the worst people from the Wild West, including Early Installment Weirdness and unrecognizable versions of Billy The Kid, Jesse James and Calamity Jane, clearly made in a time that author Morris had no clue (or documentation) to see how these people looked on photographs. The inclusion of Calamity Jane as evil is particularly odd.
The entire premise of Maleficent is that Fantastic Racism between humans and fairies has given rise to many widespread works of anti-Maleficent propaganda (namely Disney's own Sleeping Beauty) and the events depicted here are the story as it truly happened. Lord knows who at Disney gave the okay on this concept, considering how notoriously protective they are of their animated canon.
How I Met Your Mother. In season 4, Ted's fiancée, Stella, leaves him at the altar to get back together with her ex, Tony. Then, at the end of season 5 Tony, who has become a successful screenwriter, makes a movie called "The Wedding Bride" which is the same basic story but takes Ted's douche qualities Up to Eleven with the catchphrase "No can do's-ville, baby doll."
Used in the episode "Living Witness" of Star Trek: Voyager. The Voyager crew and an alien species they were trading with are depicted as a conquering and merciless group of sadistic monsters by the historians of another civilization, even engaging in massive genocide against their ancestors.
In Once Upon a Time, after the Curse was broken and everyone in Storybrooke got their real memories back, Doctor Whale increasingly begins to show up for work drunk, acting depressed and even contemplates suicide at one point. He reveals that the reason for his depression is because in our world, the name "Frankenstein" has become synonymous with Mad Scientist, or those who perform unethical experiments; when his sole intention was to prevent death and save lives. His "monster" was actually his own brother, who was accidentally killed whilst saving his life.
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: In the episode It Was a "Very Good Year," Tommy Grazetti is known for being a club owner and former ruthless gangster who murdered up and coming piano player Ledo Wright way back in the day. At the end of the episode the team learns that Grazetti and Wright were actually friends and Grazetti was the one who died, choking on a chicken bone listening to Wright and their friends. The Grazetti that was being investigated is actually Wright, whose friends convinced him to take Grazetti's identity in order to dodge the draft. The rumor was spread to dodge suspicion.
Klaus Wulfenbach. Stories featuring him with the Heterodynes have depicted him as both a cowardly sidekick and a outright villain.
This is also an in-universe example of Characterization Marches On. Before Klaus made himself hugely unpopular by... you know... blowing stuff up and invading places no-one could spell, he was portrayed as a more classic Side Kick, slightly naive and clueless and very accident-prone, but competent and unfailingly loyal.
Nightmare Moon of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. Word of God is that Princess Luna's transformation into her was due to some form of Demonic Possession or similar outside influence, but this didn't make it into the legends we see in the show. On top of that, Equestria's equivalent of Halloween is based around a Historical Villain Upgrade which suggests she flies around one night every year looking for ponies to eat. Not surprisingly, she didn't take this particularly well when she found out.
In one episode of The Fairly Oddparents, Cosmo has to learn to be evil for a day, so Timmy asks Wanda to introduce him to the most evil person in history; she ultimately comes back with... Genghis Khan. Played for Laughs and blatantly due to the fact that anyone worse than him would be un-PC for a kids' show, but he's still not the usual figure most would apply that lofty label to.
In G.I. Joe this was taken Up to Eleven and then completely Inverted with Serpentor. He was a clone created by splicing the DNA of dozens of notorious historical tyrants and conquerors, and due to errors and incompetence involved in his creation, would likely have caused every one of them to be embarrassed to be associated with him. He was barely better than the guy he replaced.