No Historical Figures Were Harmed

Some authors borrow ideas. Others steal them outright. Regardless, one of the most common approaches is to steal from reality, inserting thinly disguised versions of historical personalities into a work of fiction.

This trope exclusively refers to characters that reference historical figures (herein defined as people who are dead at the time the work was first exhibited to the public). From emperors based on Augustus, Nero, or Caligula through modern military dictators inspired by Hitler, Stalin, Pinochet and their ilk, from revolutionaries based on Che Guevara and gangsters who homage Al Capone through pirates who owe something to Blackbeard (if male) or Anne Bonny (if female), to Howard Hughes style eccentric millionaires, fiction abounds with characters inspired by deceased real life counterparts.

This trope differs from Expy in that it refers to characters derived exclusively from real-life historical figures and not other fictional characters. It differs from No Celebrities Were Harmed because it does not describe figures who are contemporaries of the author at the time of writing, nor is it a Roman Ó Clef in which historical events are deliberately disguised. Rather it can be considered Historical Fiction or a Sidelong Glance Biopic with the Serial Numbers Filed Off to make a historical figure into someone fictional. The character need not exactly line up to the historical narrative in overall trajectory, and one shouldn't judge for accuracy since Dated History and Society Marches On abounds, and new evidence will occasionally arise to challenge preexisting conceptions. On occasion an author may also utilize a Composite Character modeled on several different figures, or a Decomposite Character who divides a single historical figure's role among more than one character. So long as the character or characters are recognizably modeled on a historical figure or figures (or at least the public perception of that figure) this trope remains in play.

Remember that almost every author bases characters on someone they know from life and reading. This is when explicit historical models supply the base, overall characteristic, themes and impressions of the character design.

Super Trope of:

May crop up as part of a Fantasy Counterpart Culture. Contrast Historical-Domain Character, where a version of the historical figure actually appears directly rather than having a fictional character based on him.

Examples:

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     Anime and Manga 

  • Mobile Suit Gundam's Principality of Zeon is essentially a mashup of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, and their leader, Gihren Zabi is what happens when Adolf Hitler is given Hideki Tojo's job. The parallels to Hitler are acknowledged in-universe by both Gihren and his beleaguered, near-powerless father, Sovereign Degwin, who as a helpless figurehead dominated by Gihren, is playing the role of Emperor Hirohito (or Hirohito as depicted in the seventies and eighties).
  • One Piece: A lot of the pirates in the verse are based on famous historical Real Life pirates, such as Bartholomew Kuma (to Bartholomew "Black Bart" Roberts), Eustass Kid (to William Kidd) and Marshall D. "Blackbeard" Teach (to Edward Thatch).
  • Rurouni Kenshin: Several characters are based on historical figures of the Japanese Meiji period or the preceding civil war (when they aren't outright Historical Domain Characters such as Saitou Hajime). This includes protagonist Himura Kenshin, whose former persona as the assassin Hitokiri Battousai was, per mangaka Nobuhiro Watsuki, based on the historical pro-revolutionary assassin Kawakami Gensai (though their fates diverged after the fall of the Tokugawa Shogunate).
  • 3-gatsu no Lion: The series has a few characters based off of real life figures who had passed away by the time of its publication. The most prominent example is Harunobu Nikaidou, whose backstory bears heavy similarities to real-life shogi player Satoshi Murayama.

     Comic Books 
  • Batman antagonist Arnold "The Ventriloquist" Wesker deliberately modeled his dummy (and alternate personality) Scarface on Al Capone, with just enough differences that your average Gotham criminal won't notice.
  • Roderick Burgess in Neil Gaiman's The Sandman is based on Aleister Crowley, i.e. a British occultist who explores folklore via a series of rituals.
  • Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is a Deconstruction and Pastiche of literary fiction that portrays many fictional characters in the past as substitutes for historical figures:
    • Black Dossier argues that John Dee, the Elizabethan Occultist, was the inspiration for both Prospero from The Tempest and Johannes Subtil in Ben Jonson's The Alchemist.
    • Moore also argues that Harry Lime from The Third Man was based on Kim Philby, the leader of the Cambridge Soviet spies, while Horatio Hornblower replaces Admiral Nelson on the Column on Trafalgar Square.
    • Likewise the third volume explores the many versions of Aleister Crowley: Oliver Haddo, Macato, Karswell, Cosmo Gallion, many of them being occultists interested in sex and drugs as a means to access the higher mysteries.
  • Judge Dredd: Judge Cal, a more literal case of The Caligula than most. He was actually based on John Hurt's portrayal of the real Caligula in I, Claudius right down to the flowing blonde locks. He even names his pet fish as Judge.
  • Requiem Vampire Knight is no stranger to using outright using historical characters though a couple of characters are heavily inspired by them such as:
    • Queen Perfidia resembles Elizabeth I in more than one way, since her whole nation being a hellish version of the British Empire.
    • Mother Terror is strongly hinted to have been Mother Teresa, reflecting various real-life controversies surrounding her, such as the poor care given in her hospitals and misappropriation of the donations she received.
    • The Arch-Hierophante is the supreme master of the Archaeologists and was said to be an specialist at human vivisection in real life. One of the possible people he may have been inspired by is Josef Mengele, the infamous Nazi doctor who performed many gruesome human experiments.
  • The Red Star: The comic takes place in a Magitek version of the USSR, so some stand-ins for historical figures pop up. In particular, the former leader Imbohl is a stand-in for Joseph Stalin, as he was once a revolutionary sorcerer whose lust for power drove him to become a Sorcerous Overlord.

     Film 

    Literature 
  • Harry Turtledove has a thing for this in both his alternate history and fantasy series:
    • The Darkness Series is a retelling of WWII in a fantasy setting, featuring fantasy counterparts of everyone from Adolf Hitler (Big Bad King Mezentio) and Josef Stalin (the insane King Swemmel of Unkerlant) on down to the Manhattan Project scientists.
    • War Between the Provinces is a fantasy world version of the American Civil War. King Avram is Abraham Lincoln, King Geoffrey is Jefferson Davis, etc, etc.
    • Timeline-191 takes place in an alternate universe wherein the Confederacy won the American Civil War and slowly transitioned into a fascist state, complete with historical knockoffs of much of the Nazi leadership, with Jake "The Snake" Featherston as Adolf Hitler, Saul Goldman (a Jew!) as Goebbels, Clarence Potter as Wilhelm Canaris, and Jefferson Pinkard as a cross between Adolf Eichmann and Rudolf Hoess. You've also got ex-slave Cassius as Vladimir Lenin, Flora Hamburger as a combination Rosa Luxemburg and Eleanor Roosevelt, Irving Morrell as Erwin Rommel (but living in the USA and doing Eisenhower's job), and an unnamed Hatian runner who takes on the role of Jesse Owens in the Richmond Olympics, humiliating Jake.
  • Guy Gavriel Kay:
    • The Last Light of the Sun takes place in an era modeled on Dark Ages Europe and tells the story of the last great Erling (Viking) raid on Angelcyn (England). Parallel characters include King Aeldred of Angelcyn, a clear stand-in for Alfred the Great who unified the English against the historical Viking raids, while Big Bad Ivarr Ragnarson is a fairly transparent knockoff of the semi-historical Ivar the Boneless.
    • The Lions of Al-Rassan has Rodrigo Belmont, a soldier of fortune who goes down in history as his world's version of El Cid.
    • Children of Earth and Sky: Grand Khalif Gurcu the Destroyer is Mehmed the Conqueror, while Emperor Rodolfo is Rudolf II of the Holy Roman Empire.
  • The fantasy novel The Grace of Kings is to some degree a serial-numbers filed off take on Chinese history following the death of the First Emperor, particularly in terms of the Chu-Han Contention. Among many examples:
    • Emperor Mapidere, a Visionary Villain who united warring states is a stand-in for China's First Emperor Qin Shi Huang (with building a Chunnel-like structure substituting for building the Great Wall)
    • Mapidere's sheltered Royal Brat son and successor Erishi is a stand-in for Qin Shi Huang's Royal Brat son and successor Er Shi.
    • Kuni Garu, a Brilliant, but Lazy student and layabout in youth who was a minor functionary before leading a rebellion and becoming Emperor (the good kind is Liu Bang/Emperor Gaozu, the founder of the Han Dynasty, whose backstory is identical to this in the (semi-legendary) historical accounts.
    • Mata Zyndu, the scion of a noble house victimized by the First Emperor who takes part in the rebellion and becomes Kuni's Evil Former Friend/ Rival Turned Evil is likewise based on Liu Bang's ally turned enemy Xiang Yu. Like his historical counterpart, Mata is ambiguously both an honorable warrior (and surprisingly good poet) and brutal war criminal. Mata is also eight-feet tall and has double-pupiled eyes, features inspired by legends regarding Xiang Yu.
    • Gin Mazoti, a Satisfied Street Rat turned military strategist and beloved general is a Distaff Counterpart of Han Xin, who likewise came from an impoverished/abusive upbringing before establishing himself aided by a study of military strategy. The novel ends with an implication that Gin could be destined for trouble due to being "too popular", which suggests she might experience a similar downfall as the historical Han Xin.
  • Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed: Odo the Posthumous Character who inspires the Ambiguous Utopia of Annares is modeled on the anarchist writer Emma Goldman, namely that she wrote about an anarchist society despite being exiled and on the margins of every real-life society she lived in.
  • J. K. Rowling modelled the Black Family in Harry Potter on the famous Mitford sisters.
    • Bellatrix Lestrange's fanatical devotion to Voldemort is based on Unity Valkyrie Mitford who was obssessed with Adolf Hitler and socialized in his circle in the 30s and was believed to have tried to attract the generally asexual Hitler, and was in Berlin when Hitler declared war on Britain, and was so broken that she tried to commit suicide, failed and sent back to England where she was committed to an asylum.
    • Narcissa Malfoy is based on Diana Mitford who married Oswald Moseley of the British Union of Fascists (a marriage with Hitler and Goebbels as witnesses).
    • Andromeda Tonks and Sirius Black are based on Jessica Mitford (one of Rowling's heroes), the family White Sheep who ran away from them to fight in the Spanish Civil War and became a lifelong leftist.
  • David Weber's Honor Harrington features the Commitee of Public Safety of New Haven, led by Rob S. Pierre and Oscar St. Just (after Louis Antoine de Saint Just) who institute a Reign of Terror much like their historical inspirations.
  • Victor Hugo's Les MisÚrables features two famous examples:
    • Enjolras, a youthful charismatic revolutionary with angelic features, stoic determination and a wealthy background, based on the real-life Louis Antoine de Saint-Just, known for his cold nature and amazing beauty who was nicknamed the Angel of Death in his lifetime.
    • Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert, are Decomposite Character of François Vidocq, a crook turned policeman.
  • The Shadow Campaigns: Johan Maurisk, as an idealistic revolutionary turned dictatorial mass murderer is a more overtly villainous Maximilien Robespierre, particularly once he starts having perceived traitors executed via "the Spike", the setting's answer to the guillotine.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin is an epic fantasy with the feel and depth of historical fiction and has many characters drawn from historical accounts of Wars of the Roses and The Hundred Years War, with a little side-helpings here and there from later eras. A specific example is Richard III on whom no less than four characters (Theon, Ned Stark, Stannis Baratheon, Tyrion Lannister) are directly patterned on.
  • Discworld has a handful of characters that are counterparts of real historic figures: Hwel is William Shakespeare, Casanunda is Giacomo Casanova and Leonard of Quirm is Leonardo da Vinci, for example.
  • Chaos Warmaster Varan the Undefeatable in Ciaphas Cain: Cain's Last Stand is based on Adolf Hitler, being a short man with a silly mustache prone to grandiloquent speeches that incite people to hatred. Though Hitler, as far as we know, didn't have Compelling Voice or Voluntary Shapeshifting powers.
  • Greg Egan's science fiction short story "Oracle" stars thinly-veiled alternate universe versions of Alan Turing and C.S. Lewis.

    Newspaper Comics 

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer:
    • Repanse de Lyonesse is the setting's version of Joan of Arc, though she repelled Chaos invaders rather than the English (or the elves that correspond with England's location).
    • Leonardo of Miragliano, inventor of the steam tank, is an obvious one of Leonardo da Vinci.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Ursakar Creed for Winston Churchill, down to the enormous cigar.
    • Solar Macharius for Alexander the Great, including being stopped mid-conquest because his men demanded they turn around (although in this case, it's because going further would more than likely have resulted in becoming lost in the Warp).
    • Many armies are based on historical army uniforms and equipment: the Praetorians are Anglo-Zulu War-era British troops (red uniforms, pith helmets and glorious mustaches), Kriegers are Gas Mask Mooks who specialize in WWI trench warfare, the Vostroyans are Tsarist Russian soldiers, the Valhallans are (the Western vision of) Soviet conscripts...
    • Jaghatai Khan for Genghis Khan and Mogul Kamir for Attila the Hun. The actual Genghis Khan is implied to now be the oldest and most powerful of Khorne's daemon princes, Doombreed.
    • According to some, the ork warlord Ghazkull Mag Uruk Thraka is a Take That! to Margaret Thatcher, by virtue of entirely destroying an industrial planet.
  • Pathfinder:

     Video Games 
  • Assassin's Creed enjoys using actual Historical-Domain Character most of the time, but when it can't find history interesting enough, it creates fictional characters directly patterned on historical figures.
    • Assassin's Creed III uses Decomposite Character to divide the historical Charles Lee into a character that is mostly In-Name-Only in both looks and background, while Haytham Kenway, the true Big Bad shares more in common with the real Lee, namely his romance with a Mohawk chieftain's daughter resulting in the birth of a son (the Player Character Connor).note 
    • Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is Historical Fiction of real-life pirates in the Caribbean, but the main Player Character Edward Kenway is based on Edward Low, with similarities mirroring the pirate (his troubled marriage, affection for his daughter). An explicit Allohistorical Allusion has Kenway promising to cut Governor Torres' lips and stuff it down his throat, something the real life Low actually did carry out.
    • Assassin's Creed: Unity has two unusual examples:
      • The Big Bad Francois-Thomas Germain shares a name and surface background with a highly obscure historical silversmith, but his overall character and persona, a leader of an illuminati-esque cabal that ushers the Revolution and secretly being a reincarnation of an immortal is derived from the legend of Comte de Saint Germain, who often appeared periodically in many 19th Century stories by Alexandre Dumas and Aleksandr Pushkin as a Humanoid Abomination Evil Sorceror The Man Behind the Man manipulator much like his counterpart in the game.
      • Likewise the Templar La Touche has greater biographical and visual resemblance to Maximilien Robespierre than the game's own portrayal of Robespierre. He starts out as a honest bureaucract who slowly resorts to violence, wears a pair of spectacles (much like the real man) and finally quotes a famous speech of Robespierre saying that Terror "is nothing but justice, prompt, severe and inflexible."
  • Andrew Ryan in BioShock is based on Ayn Rand, while visually he's Mr. Alt Disney. His ideology of classical liberalism, private ownership and anti-altruism is essentially Objectivism, with his paranoid and authoritatarian control over his subordinates derived from Rand's own domineering leadership of Objectivist circles.
  • Dishonored has Anton Sokolov, a Renaissance Man artist and inventor/scientist of deadly weapons based on Leonardo da Vinci.
  • Samurai Shodown series has various historical cameos in their characters: Hattori Hanzo, Yagyu Jubei and Amakusa Shiro are ported straighly, so there're others with changed names like Haohmaru (Miyamoto Musashi) and Tachibana Ukyo (Sasaki Kojiro), not to mention an american called just as "Andrew."

    Western Animation 
  • Phaeton, the Big Bad of Exosquad, is clearly based off Adolf Hitler, from being a disillusioned veteran of the previous war between Neosapiens (his own species) and Terrans, to building his popularity on species supremacist rhetoric. Like Hitler, he starts off claiming that the Neosapiens' superiority obligates them to take care of the inferior Terrans, but after a series of military defeats, becomes more and more unhinged and begins hoarding Terrans into death camps, executing his most capable supporters, etc. that puts his empire into a death spiral. Also, the show loves using the Hitler Cam effect on him whenever he is giving his demagogue speeches.

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