"If you win, you need not have to explain. If you lose, you should not be there to explain!"When the official history of the setting is overwritten by the ones in power and their Propaganda Machine. In Real Life, it is certainly true that historical accounts can be subject to the personal bias of the writer and readers have to be wary of them, which is what the saying warns us about. However, applying the saying to all history is a very simplistic and quite frankly wrong way of looking at it. History is, in truth, written and rewritten by all sorts of people with different agendas. Funnily enough, it's very often the case of the losers writing history; since they've often been deprived of actual power after their defeat, they often spend their time sulking and writing about how things would have been so much better had they won - just ask a Neo-Nazi or a Confederate apologist. Also worth pointing out that not every "winner" is going to be slick and sly about their crimes, simply because they don't view them as crimes. Many of history's "winners" will be surprisingly honest about atrocities or even write proudly of how they brutally crushed their opponents. For example, Caesar wrote of his borderline genocide of the Gauls in his personal memoirs and didn't even try to cover it up because he saw it as glorious and honourable. Speaking of, it could argued that the spirit of this trope, as concieved simplistically, is true in pre-enlightenment societies where written records were scarce and those of defeated peoples did not usually survive their defeat, but in a modern, post-enlightenment society with widespread literacy and an inherent media-consuming culture it becomes harder and more complicated to pull off. Others argue, that in the age of mass-media, where popular consensus is seen as vital, the shaping of history continues on a more subtle but comprehensive scale than before. It's also worth pointing out the most obvious fact that even people on the same side will often disagree wildly on events and motivations behind people. This is also connected with Grey and Gray Morality in that picking one side of the story over the other in this context does not necessarily make it correct. After all, Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters. A prime belief of every Conspiracy Theorist. Sub-trope of Might Makes Right. Supertrope of Internal Retcon. Contrast You Cannot Kill An Idea.
— Adolf Hitler note
open/close all folders
Anime & Manga
- The motto of Big Bad Makoto Shishio in Rurouni Kenshin.
- In Scrapped Princess, Earth was conquered by the aliens who then rewrote history, presenting the heroes of La Résistance and Les Collaborateurs as evil and good gods, respectively.
- In One Piece, this is more or less the case with the Void Century, though it's less "written" and more "entirely ignored". The World Government absolutely forbids any research into the century immediately prior to their founding. They will murder anyone and raze entire islands to keep that secret. The only record of that time is found on indestructible tablets called Poneglyphs, written in a dead language that only one living person knows how to read. Others could before, and the government had them systematically killed.
- This trope is an explicit belief held by Donquixote Doflamingo, who says that whoever wins the war between the World Government and Whitebeard will be the ones to define what "Justice" means. Considering that Doflamingo is one of the descendants of the "winners," this is not surprising in the least.
- Saint Seiya - Cancer Deathmask subscribes to this theory, but was in the wrong side of the conflict. However, in the Hades arc, he could've been subscribing to this and just been smart for once.
- One of the tools that 20th Century Boys' Friend uses to win over all of Japan and, later, the rest of the world. It's so much easier to be a Villain with Good Publicity when the public at large is convinced that you saved the world
instead offrom that Ragtag Bunch of Misfits.
- In Death Note, Light tells the Task Force that if Kira wins, he's justice, if he loses, evil. He loses.
- Ravages Of Time so literally runs on this trope that in chapter 209, a historian employed by Prime Minister Cao Cao discusses with an old friend named Chen Gong how the historian is going to demonize the prior Prime Minister to make the current one look better.
Chen Gong: That's what happens after a dynasty change. In order to justify the rule, the enemy would have to take all the blame. Historians are but tools for propaganda.
- The backstory of the former La Résistance in the anime of RideBack, which becomes a global military, is only vaguely discussed to the mostly-cheerful populace, but there is clearly some betrayal that forms the antagonism between former teammates.
- In Pandora Hearts, it turns out that the most detailed records of the Tragedy of Sablier were written by Arthur Barma, who was manipulated by Jack Vessalius. Jack was the one who tried to throw the former capital into the Abyss, killed Glen Baskerville and put all the blame on him. As a result, the Baskervilles and their allies were treated like criminals for a century.
- In Campione!, Athena used to be Queen of the Gods, as well as the Goddess of Death. Then Zeus defeated her in battle and took over as ruler. He rewrote history and the myths so that her true role was forgotten and she was demoted to being one of his daughters.
- This is the underlying principle of all Divine Ancestors. Earth goddesses defeated by warrior gods have their power stolen and memories sealed, rendering them obedient daughters or wives of the victor. This usually appears in mythology as a hero conquering a dragon (earth goddesses often manifest as dragons) and rescuing a maiden.
- In Attack on Titan the history of the Eldian people sees this from both sides. During their reign, the Eldians depicted themselves as bringers of civilization and wealth; the Marleyans who replaced them depict the Eldians as bloodthirsty racists who tried to exterminate the Marleyans. Even their link to the Titans is subject to this, with Eldians claiming it as a divine blessing and the Marleyans as a demonic pact.
- Owl admits the truth is likely lost at this point, but probably lies somewhere between the extremes. The Eldians were imperfect humans and so could not have been perfect rulers; at the same time their rule was so long that if they had truly tried to exterminate the Marleyans none would remain.
- In an issue of Peter David's Captain Marvel, Rick Jones and Genis-Vell travel to a far-flung After the End future where the Earth is covered in desert and has been colonized by aliens. The only surviving history was written by Doctor Doom. Notably, this means that all superheroes were portrayed as evil villains who stood in the way of progress. Hitler was still a bad guy, though, because he persecuted the Roma (Doom's ethnic group).
- So, this is a literal case of history being written by the Victor (Von Doom).
- In another issue of Peter David's (this time X-Factor), Quicksilver offers his own version of the phrase: "The future is written by the winners. History is written by the survivors."
- Once upon a time, the Shi'Ar were almost destroyed by the Mephistoids, an Always Chaotic Evil race with Compelling Voice. But, in their darkest hour, T'Kyll Alabar managed to inspire bravery in the Shi'Ar troops, who fought with renewed strength and managed to turn the tide of the war and win. The Mephistoid leader was sentenced to roam the space in a Sleeper Starship, alongside the hero that defeated him. Legend Fades to Myth, until the day the ship crashed on Earth. Alabar, the living legend, explained to the Shi'Ar Deathcry that it was all Shi'Ar propaganda, that the reviled mephistoids were actually noble aliens defending their homeland from an invading Empire. And the Vision figured out something else as well. Legend says that Alabar inspired bravery on the soldiers all by himself, but does not mention how did he do it. It would be better to forget that little detail...
- In Equestria: A History Revealed, the Conspiracy Theorist Lemony Narrator seems to think that all of Equestria's history was rewritten by Celestia, despite clear evidence that this is not the case. However, Celestia does alter history a few times in eliminating Discord's name before his return, sealing away the records on the Crystal Empire, and altering some aspects of the Equestrian Civil War, which hints that the Lemony Narrator was not entirely incorrect.
- Night's Favored Child: After defeating Celestia, Nightmare Moon spends the next thousand years not only removing all traces of her from history, but also of the very concept of day, including removing words like "dusk", "dawn", "sun", and (notably) "twilight" from the lexicon.
- Legends of Equestria: When Princess Luna became Nightmare Moon, her actual goal was to re-acquire equal footing with her sister, who had taken all the power in the country for herself. Luna fully intended to restore the day and go back to business as usual afterwards. Rather than give up sole power over the country, Celestia disposed of Nightmare Moon and vilified her in the history books.
- Played with in the Pony POV Series when Celestia reveals she erased Discord from the history books because, in her mind, he didn't deserve a legacy after all he'd done. She also explained that she didn't want the memory of those like Shady who were related to Discord to be tainted by association with him.
- We later see the Sea Ponies in the Epilogue timeline are fed a completely rewritten version of history that's the complete opposite of what happened, right down to Discord blaming the Alicorns for the genocide he committed.
- The Hooviet empire does this via propaganda, so that they never have to admit to having ever lost a war.
- Cadence defies this after the Changeling battle: Cadence beats Chrysalis and becomes the Changeling Queen, Chrysalis dying of her injuries and is reincarnated as an innocent filly. Cadence then tells the Changelings to remember Chrysalis for the good she did, but also not deny the evil either.
- In Black Book of Arda, one of the most prominent Russian J. R. R. Tolkien fanfics, The Silmarillion is revised this way.
- The Last Ringbearer points out that the Red Book, which is the basis of The Lord of the Rings, is actually a history written by the winners. It's bursting full of examples. In it, the Orks and Wild Men of the south are simply people of color. The Red Book dehumanizes its enemies, makes light of Aragorn using Necromancy to defeat the Mordorians and condemns the scientific nation of Mordor as corrupters by blaming the desertification of their homeland on them. The war was started by Gandalf because the enemy technology was becoming stronger, while the magic of the eldritch elves and the wizards became only weaker as knowledge was lost. Saruman saw that the only way to stamp out science was to commit genocide and wanted nothing to do with it.
- Further, Aragorn taunts the Mordorian general after having him shot in the back during a honor duel: "The history books will say you got killed by a midget and a broad."
- Bad Future Crusaders: The official story of Twilight Sparkle's rise to power is that Princess Luna once again became Nightmare Moon after Celestia's death, conveniently "forcing" Twilight to strike her down and assume complete control of the country for herself. Even those loyalist to her don't hesitate to call this out as BS (in private, at least).
- In Of Her Story, Starlight Glimmer admits that she saw herself as the hero and Twilight Sparkle as the villain, and if she had won, the history books would have reflected that. Even though Starlight has pulled a Heel–Face Turn, she fears that history will only remember her as a lunatic who almost destroyed the world. This attitude is defied by Twilight, who asks Starlight to tell her everything about her so that it can be properly recorded.
- Braveheart, the opening monologue: "I shall tell you of William Wallace. Historians from England will say I am a liar, but history is written by those who have hanged heroes." Note, however, that both the English and the Scottish were united in calling out the film for its blatant historical inaccuracies (on the Scots' side, it sidelined an even greater national hero—the future King Robert the Bruce—in favor of Wallace, whom he is falsely portrayed as betraying).
- In the Underworld movies, Viktor rewrote vampire history to appear as if he was the original vampire, when, in fact, it was another Elder, Marcus. So this is a literal case of history being written by the Viktor. Despite this, he doesn't hide the fact that Marcus is a son of the first immortal Alexander Corvinus, although he claims it's a children's story.
- Directly addressed by former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara in the 2003 documentary The Fog of War, who admitted that firebombing 63 Japanese cities and following it up with 2 nuclear bombs would be considered a war crime if not for the fact that he was on the winning side, and then wonders why that should make any difference.
- The documentary The Act of Killing is essentially about what happens to society after war criminals win.
- Evoked in The Devil's Advocate: Kevin Lomax tells John Milton that Satan and his progeny lost in the Bible, and they're destined to lose again at the end of time. Milton retorts that of course the Bible would say that, considering who it's written by. The ironic part is that the Bible has very little to say about Satan and "the Heavenly argument", and in earlier Jewish tradition, he was even considered an ally of God. Much of the Satanic role came from later traditions of Christianity and was informed by the poet John Milton's "Paradise Lost", who was famously called "of the devil's party without knowing it".
- Invoked by Long John Silver in Muppet Treasure Island, when he sings about Sir Francis Drake:
". . .The Spanish all despise him / But to the British, he's a hero, and they idolize him."
- An important theme in Wang De Sheng Yan, where control over records and histories is shown to be a powerful tool. Empress Lü Zhi takes it Up to Eleven by having scribes record events that will happen to her enemies at court. The she makes them happen. Something of An Aesop about how powerful people falsify history.
- Nineteen Eighty-Four. This was the whole purpose of MiniTrue (The Ministry of Truth), which constantly rewrites history to suit the Party's current needs and destroys and replaces "inaccurate" accounts and records with today's official version of events — which is in turn likely to be "corrected" again tomorrow, when the Party's needs change. ("He who controls the past, controls the future; he who controls the present, controls the past.")
- Animorphs. Interestingly, it's the humans that do this, refusing to put Jake on trial for war crimes while happily trying Visser One for the same charge.
- In Arcia Chronicles, The Church rewrote history of the War of the Deer to remove all positive mentions of those heroes who didn't comply with its official doctrine.
- The same is done in Reflections of Eterna, particularly in the prequel Flame of Eterna: Rinaldi Rakan was sentenced to death by his royal brother and left in history as a monster, while he was framed by his brother and Beatrix Borrasque. In the Taligoian Ballad, his distant descendant Ramiro Alva was killed by Alan Oakdell for regicide and betraying the Cabitela City to the Maragonian Bastard. 400 years later, the last will of the "murdered" king was found and revealed that the king himself ordered Ramiro to give up the city.
- Artemis Fowl has a quote invoking this:
“If I win, I'm a prodigy. If I lose, then I'm crazy. That's the way history is written.”
- A side story in the series has a copy of Artemis' report card. The headmaster says that Artemis proposed building a Time Machine to get around this trope, and doesn't doubt Artemis would succeed if he tried.
- Subverted...kind of...in Small Gods:
Winners don't have glorious victories. That's because they're the ones who get to see what the battlefield looks like afterwards. It's only the losers who have glorious victories.
- Most people will take any excuse they can get to have had a glorious victory, but meh...this is the Discworld, after all. And the quote is from a tortoise.
- Another Discworld example, from Hogfather, as Susan tells a bedtime story:
"And then Jack chopped down what was the world's last beanstalk, adding murder and ecological terrorism to the theft, enticement and trespass charges already mentioned, and all the giant's children didn't have a daddy any more. But he got away with it and lived happily ever after without so much as a guilty twinge about what he had done. Which proves that you can be excused just about anything if you're a hero, because no-one asks inconvenient questions."
- Another Discworld example, from Hogfather, as Susan tells a bedtime story:
- 'Orientalism'' by the Palestinian-American critic Edward W. Said is a non-fiction work that explores in detail how colonialist nations abuse their control of the media and command of universities and textbooks to spread stereotypes and Flanderization of a complex, subtle and regionally diverse culture and how this comes to define the general perception of the Middle East well into the 20th Century.
- A couple examples from Larry Niven's Known Space universe where victors wrote the original history of a colony world:
- In A Gift From Earth, the official histories say that the social stratification of Plateau was initially agreed upon by the crew and colonists because the crew had done the work and taken the risks. In fact, the original crew "convinced" the original colonists at gunpoint.
- In Fleet of Worlds, the official histories say that the Puppeteers rescued a crippled human colony ship and settled its occupants on one of their worlds. In fact, the Puppeteers themselves had attacked the ship out of panic that it had discovered one of the worlds being moved into the fleet, and then enslaved the occupants in order to breed a compliant population.
- This is a major theme in For Want of a Nail, an Alternate History of the North American continent following a quelled The American Revolution. The In-Universe persona of the author has very little sympathy for them, and is called out on it by an In-Universe peer review at the end of the book, who invokes this trope to some extent.
- Santa and Pete: where young Pete asks his amateur historian grandfather, "Who was right, the Indians or the Dutch?" His grandpa laughs and answers, "Depends on who's telling the story."
- Lois McMaster Bujold's The Vor Game. Gregor hasn't heard any of the stories about his father except stuff he could dismiss as propaganda. Miles is able to assure him that the stories he has heard are not all true.
- In The Egyptian, Sinuhe muses that due to Horemheb's rewriting of history, no one will ever remember the three Pharaohs that preceeded him: Ay, Tutankhamon and Achenaton. Horemheb was, obviously, less than successfull.
- Addressed but averted in Timothy Zahn's Vision Of The Future:
Shada: What do you mean by "true" [history]? What does anyone mean by "true"? We all know history is Written by the Winners.
Jorj Car'das: History is also written by the bystanders... peoples who had no park or stake in what happened. Would you accuse them all of lying?
- George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire deals with this trope. In the present timeline, Robert Baratheon is loved as a glorious rebel king but hated by Targaryen loyalists for being The Usurper. Prince Rhaegar Targaryen, who was regarded as The Wise Prince in his lifetime, is smeared after his death as a rapist and villain.
- The tragic and poignant consequences of this trope is explored more subtly in The Sworn Sword in the case of Ser Eustace Osgrey who lost his entire family fighting for the defeated Blackfyres but continues to believe that their fight was just and honorable. He claims that because the Blackfyres lost the rebellion they're condemned as traitors and rebels, but had they won they'd be idealized heroes.
- Played with over the events of the Dance of The Dragons, particularly in that there were no winners. Black history books portray Rhaenyra as a woman trying to reclaim her birthright from a murderous usurper and his scheming mother. Green history books portray her as a mentally unstable harlot who tried to steal the throne from her brother, male-preference primogeniture be damned. In all reality, it's become increasingly clear that they were both mentally unstable murderers, and were not so different. Aegon had Rhaenyra eaten by his dragon in front of her son, as well as having one of his supporters murder Rhaenyra's son for seeking support with the Baratheons. in retaliation, Rhaenyra had two men sneak into the Red Keep and force a mother to choose which of her children she wanted dead, and then proceed to murder the other one, so the living child would spend the rest of his life knowing his mother wanted him dead. What would have happened had either of them kept the throne may never be known, but it probably wouldn't have been good.
- The Sundering reimagines The Lord of the Rings with an aversion of this trope.
- Swordspoint: In The Fall of the Kings, earlier in the setting world's history, the kings and their wizards were overthrown and the ruling nobility burned all the works about magic that they could find and made it illegal even to claim that magic was real. This causes some frustration for one of the protagonists, a historian living 200 years later who has trouble finding reliable sources for his research on the wizards. Especially when he proposes a debate to prove that the wizards' magic was real, disregarding the fact that the aforementioned law is still on the books...
- Referenced in 1632 by Cardinal Richelieu, as to why he isn't surprised or bothered all that much by how villainous he looks in our uptime media.
- In a BattleTech novel, a character counters to someone stating this that "History is written by the survivors" and that "given my track record, you should hope I remember you fondly".
- In the Doctor Who New Adventures novel Just War, the Doctor deconstructs this mindset in a Russian Roulette confrontation with a captured Nazi, pointing out that even if you get to write the history books it doesn't make you and your cause good:
The Doctor: You can't create anything with a gun, Herr Wolfe, let alone Utopia, authority, or truth. You can dress up in a scary black uniform and talk about destiny. You can use the full power of the state to rewrite biology, mythology, genealogy, history, and geography. Burn all the books you disagree with, burn all the people who wrote or read them. Hold a parade in every street, attend a thousand Party rallies. Gang up on the weak, persecute the minorities. Win the war. It still won't make you right.
- Played with in Ender's Game. The eponymous character wins the war, and then goes on to write its history from his defeated enemy's point of view, leading him to be vilified as a war criminal for thousands of years. The winners write the history books, but that doesn't mean they have to cast themselves as the heroes.
- Subverted in the Alternate History novel Resurrection Day, in which the Cuban Missile Crisis turned into WW 3. The Soviet Union has been obliterated while the United States has been reduced to a virtual Third World country. President Kennedy, who died in the war, has been blamed for the situation, but the actual culprit is the General Ripper who now runs the US as a military dictatorship. As one character states, in this case history has been written by the survivors.
- In The Bartimaeus Trilogy, history classes are mandatory for commoners' children, where they're taught a version of history that uplifts the magicians on the side of the British government and casts commoners in general as weak and unable to rule. Foreign governments are vilified, and the Czechs have a particularly bad time of it, this being the ruling government prior to Britain. Questions are generally discouraged and regarded with disdain. Ironically, the government has whitewashed things so thoroughly that even the magicians themselves are never taught the full truth and actually wholeheartedly believe the state line in many things. This being ironic because if they did know the real history it would help them identify certain recurring patterns and thus, at least for a time, help them maintain their faltering power.
- Black Adder shows how Henry Tudor, after winning the War Of The Roses, completely removed Richard IV and his family from the historical timeline and changed Richard III into a child-killing madman.
- Star Trek: Voyager - In an inversion, in the episode "Living Witness", the history was written from the perspective of the losers who were relegated to second class citizenry, and the winning faction was very annoyed at being portrayed as vicious, bloodthirsty tyrants who slaughtered innocents and made martyrs out of people that turned out to be pirates and raiders. As it turns out, both sides weren't exactly saints to begin with.
- It is very likely the history was originally written by the winners and only turned to favor the other side in the centuries of coexistence later. The story still puts almost all the blame on Voyager rather than the winners themselves. In the propaganda simulation, even the representative of the victorious species who made the deal for Voyager's involvement is horrified at their atrocities, but his objections are ignored.
- Ultimately subverted at the end of the episode when we flash forward to the future to see that both sides have reconciled their differences (thanks in large part to the Doctor). The old anti-Voyager propaganda simulations are still on display, but only as an example of how past prejudices once pushed them apart.
- Tom Zarek uses this theory to gloss over murdering Laird and The Quorum on Battlestar Galactica. He loses.
- Not that it mattered since history was one of the many, many things that the Colonials decided to jettison upon reaching Earth.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation
- "Contagion": Picard says this in reference to the Iconians.
- Another episode has Picard asking for some help from his good buddy Gowron. Gowron himself was letting the press know that he did not have as much help from Picard as there really was; this trope's name was given word for word.
- "The High Ground" has Kyril Finn point out to a captive Dr. Crusher that if George Washington had lost his war, he'd be remembered as a terrorist, and not a revolutionary.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - the two-parter "The Way of the Warrior", Gowron quotes it again just before the Klingon fleet and Deep Space Nine engage in battle.
- Star Trek: Enterprise. The Mirror Universe episode opens with the conclusion of Star Trek: First Contact, but instead of returning the Vulcan's Strange Salute, Mirror!Zephram Cochrane pulls out a shotgun and murders him, whereupon the humans storm the spaceship brandishing firearms. Mirror!Archer is later shown proudly showing off this shotgun from his antique Wall of Weapons.
Archer: I wonder how history would have played out if Cochrane hadn't turned the tables on your invasion force.
- In one episode of Red Dwarf, Rimmer invokes this with regard to Robert Scott, pointing out that his diary is the only record of Laurence Oates' Heroic Sacrifice, and that if Rimmer had been Scott he'd have bludgeoned Oates to death with a frozen husky and eaten him, telling everyone that he had sacrificed himself. As is immediately pointed out by Lister, however, Rimmer is an exceptionally self-centred and ignoble person.
- A variation in that they didn't really "win", but the version of the Peacekeeper battle against the Venek Horde that Aeryn relates in the Farscape episode Different Destinations. Subofficer Dacon was a cook and only ended up negotiating the ceasefire because everyone else was killed. Alternatively, if this is a case of a Stable-ish Time Loop, he was just following Aeryn's instructions in the first place.
- Becomes a plot point in the Community episode "Alternative History of the German Invasion", which helps the study group come to a Heel Realization regarding their presence at Greendale.
- Crops up in the Once Upon a Time episode "Tallahassee". Captain Hook tells the Human-Giant wars as a war against brutal giants who came down to pillage the land and kill humans. Humans drove them back up the beanstalk, and killed all but one, the most vicious of them all. The last surviving giant claims humans started the war and slaughtered giants for no real reason, but since they won got to paint history how they wanted.The giant was telling the truth. Humans started the war for the giant's gold and magic beans, and gleefully slaughtered them.
- Babylon 5: After conquering the Narns a second time, the Centauri lay the blame for the conflict squarely on their shoulders, to the point of placing every member of the Narn ruling council on trial for war crimes (this just after the Centauri used orbital bombardment with meteors on the Narn homeworld, something which is outlawed by every civilized government in the setting). Then again, the two powers have been taking stabs at each other ever since the Centauri overthrew the Narns the first time. And the Centauri are still not willing to acknowledge that the first time even happened either. They keep claiming that they landed peacefully on Narn and uplifted the primitives, who repaid their generosity with violence. The Narn on the other hand claim they peacefully greeted the strange alien visitors, who then conquered and enslaved them. Given that G'Kar's father was hung from a tree by his thumbs until he died three days later (for the crime of accidentally spilling a cup of tea on a Centauri woman), it renders the Centauri account a bit questionable.
- Spartacus: War of the Damned:
Agron: One day, Rome will crumble and fall. But your name will be remembered forever.
- Invoked. Crassus muses that both he and Spartacus see themselves as the hero of the tale, and their opponent as the villain. Crassus then states that only history will judge who the hero was; he, of course, wins.
- Defied, however, by Agron, who swears that it is ultimately Spartacus who history will see as the hero.
- Referenced in Stargate SG-1. Woolsey initially helps Kinsey in trying to shut down the SGC. He eventually realizes what kind of person Kinsey is, and then gives the President evidence of Kinsey's crimes. The following conversation then takes place:
Woolsey: I also hope that one day history recognizes that I tried to do the right thing.President Hayes: Whose version of history, Mr. Woolsey?
- Lost Girl. Trick mentions that this is the only reason people have a favorable opinion of the ancient Blood King. Considering that the Blood King has reality warping powers when writing with his blood, he may mean this literally. Also, since Trick is the Blood King, this doubles as him recognizing his own past crimes and mistakes.
- Julius Caesar in Rome is a walking, talking example of this.
Caesar: "It's only hubris if I fail."
- The Man in the High Castle: This trope is in full effect here. Several characters of the Greater Nazi Reich sometimes mention the "American genocide", referring to the mass murder of the Indians in their history. By accentuating these negative events, the victors portray the Americans they conquered as a savage people with a tendency to brutally kill off whoever gets in their way, making the victors look more sympathetic (or, alternatively, as proof that the Americans already had Nazi-like tendencies before the Axis invaded). The Nazis also refer to their genocide against the Jews as their war against Semite terrorists. This chillingly shows that the winners of a war can portray the losers as terrible as they want them to be, distracting the people from their own wrongdoings.
- Since WCW was bought out, WWE mostly only provides its own account of the Monday Night Wars, and spends a lot of time mocking WCW for its silly gimmicks (while the WWF had plenty of its own) and the mismanagement that led to its downfall. You'll seldom hear much about why Nitro beat Raw in their ratings war for so long, just that it happened. ECW, on the other hand, gets treated like a Worthy Opponent and gets much more respect (perhaps because it's more marketable, perhaps because they were writing checks to ECW during its run). WWE will seldom admit to getting most of their ideas from ECW during their so called "attitude era" all the same.
- In the past decade it seems as if this trend has slowly been changing. Eric Bischoff wrote his pro-WCW, anti-WWE expose book Controversy Creates Cash while still working for WWE. And with Sting's long-awaited arrival in WWE in 2014, the WCW legacy has been getting a lot more respect from its vanquisher, with Triple H depicted as a heel for wanting to expunge Sting's existence from the wrestling archives. Heck, at the WrestleMania match between these two, D-Generation X were the heels and the New World Order (one of the most notorious heel stables of all time) were the faces!
- Some Satan Is Good beliefs held this about The Bible.
- Averted in Classical Mythology, where it is established that Chronos ruled over a Golden Age, so the Olympians didn't bother to hide that.
- Virtually every religious text will describe the founder of their religion as a impossibly perfect and good human being. They're all basically hagiographies in which you're never able to check how much of it is true or how much less heroic stuff has been left out.
- This goes so far that some theologians in fact apply a "rule of embarrassment" to find out which things are likely to have happened. A tale of Jesus being wrong would have no place in a hagiography and hence some theologians argue that it only found its way into a story written by a Christian because it actually happened.
- In Eberron, there was the War of the Mark, the first half of which was basically genocide preformed by the dragon mark houses against those with aberrant dragon marks, and the second half was a war because the victimized party got organized and put up a valiant effort; anyways, it didn't end well. Most people don't like and fear aberrant dragon mark wielders, although the extent of the prejudice is up to the DM. The dragon marked houses, however, are quite accepted, and while many people know of the War of the Mark (despite it happening almost 2,500 years ago), almost none know what actually happened.
- This helps explain the untidiness affecting a lot of Warhammer 40,000's backstory. The Space Wolves know that the Thousand Sons were traitorous sorcerers that their forebearers rightfully punished for using forbidden magics, while the Thousand Sons know they suffered an unjust and unprovoked attack ordered by the Emperor they up until then had loyally served. The Horus Heresy novels reveal that while the Thousand Sons were using sorcery, they were trying to warn the Emperor about the imminent rebellion, but then the true traitor, Warmaster Horus, changed the Space Wolves' orders from "bring in for questioning" to "kill them all," and the psyker-hating Space Wolves were happy to oblige. Nowadays the idea that the Space Wolves were played or that the Emperor should have believed the Thousand Sons' warning are treated as heresy.
- Another example is the history of the Dark Angels. Outsiders know the chapter to be one of the original First Founding legions and exemplars of loyalty. The chapter itself is wracked with guilt over how fully half their members turned traitor during the Horus Heresy, a secret they jealously guard and which drives them to obsessively hunt these Fallen Angels. Meanwhile, there's hints that the Dark Angels' primarch may have been sitting out the civil war altogether, and the "Fallen" were merely defending themselves against their possibly traitorous kin...
- This Trope and the Lion's ultimate allegiance are dealt with in the Age of Darkness anthology story Savage Weapons, Lion'el is absolutely loyal to the Emperor, but his campaign against the Night Lords, and the Chaos Gods' intervention in the Warp will prevent him from ever reaching Terra to aid in the defence. Night Haunter himself directly taunts Jonson stating that the Lion's character will always be questioned because he not was at Terra.
- Another example is the history of the Dark Angels. Outsiders know the chapter to be one of the original First Founding legions and exemplars of loyalty. The chapter itself is wracked with guilt over how fully half their members turned traitor during the Horus Heresy, a secret they jealously guard and which drives them to obsessively hunt these Fallen Angels. Meanwhile, there's hints that the Dark Angels' primarch may have been sitting out the civil war altogether, and the "Fallen" were merely defending themselves against their possibly traitorous kin...
- Paranoia: It's the year 214. It's always the year 214. We are at war with the Communists, always were, and always will be. The Computer Is Your Friend, and this is the history the Computer tells you. Questioning the Computer's history of the world is treason. Treason is punishable by death.
- The history of the Realm in Exalted proclaims there was a time when the world was ruled over by demonic "Anathema" who harrowed and tormented mankind, and it was only through the overwhelming force of the Dragon-Blooded that they were driven back into the shadows. While this isn't entirely inaccurate from what sometimes happened under the rule of the Solars, it sure does obscure a lot of the nuances.
- Some of it is flat out wrong — namely, they say that the Anathema are humans possessed by demons (or demons in human form) rather than humans given power by gods that steadily drives them mad.
- The majority of William Shakespeare's Histories (That is: King John, Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V, Henry VI, Richard III and Henry VIII) feature this to a greater or lesser degree, seeing as how Shakespeare wrote histories for the winners, his 'sponsors'. The other wiki's article is a brief introduction to this.
- The Wizard's song "Wonderful" in Wicked is all about this. ("A man's called a traitor — or a liberator. A rich man's a thief — or philanthropist. Is one a crusader, or ruthless invader? It's all in which label is able to persist.") Of course, he's used this to his advantage by wielding the Propaganda Machine against his political opponents.
- The Count of Monte Cristo, the musical, has the Villain Song called "A Story Told", referring to how "history is a story told by the men who make the laws". The three conspirators convene and choose to frame Edmond Dantés for crimes to further their own cause with the understanding that because he can't disprove the accusation, he will be remembered as guilty by everyone, and that's more real to the rest of the world than what actually happened.
- Invoked mockingly in The Complete History Of America Abridged:
"I believe it was Benjamin Franklin who said, 'History is written by the winners.' Well, tonight it's our turn."
- Valkyria Chronicles: The known history has The Valkyria as demigods who arrived from the north and saved the land from the Darcsen race, who were fighting devastating wars with Ragnite weapons. The Valkyria are still worshiped as gods and saviors, and the Darcsen are prosecuted and marginalized. In truth, the Darcsen were peaceful, and the Valkyria were invaders who enslaved them - as well as causing enormous destruction with their ragnite weapons. They rewrote history to suit themselves, and hid the truth from all but their own descendants.
- Star Trek: Birth Of The Federation - When you choose to play the Cardassians, their opening claims this as one of their motivating principles.
- Fire Emblem Tellius reminds you that Chaos Is Evil. Uh, then you uncover the millenium-long cover-up setup by the one survivor of the Law vs Chaos War. And he's the King of Dragons!
- Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones has a variant of this. The common myth is that the Demon King was defeated by the "Five Heroes" led by Grado. It turns out that the "Five Heroes" were led by Morva, the leader of the dragonkin. Together, they defeat the Demon King; Morva is even the one to land the killing blow. However, as centuries pass, the human nations which the heroes founded eventually forgot about Morva. The people of Caer Pelyn are rather unhappy about this, believing the other nations are being ungrateful to the Great Dragon who saved mankind, but Morva himself doesn't really mind.
- ''Fire Emblem: The Blazing Sword has a rather half-hearted version of this. The prologue states that the Scouring, a brutal war between dragons and humans, began when humans broke the peace for no explained reason. Yet it doesn't go on to question the fact that the human "heroes" of that war are held in religious reverence and the one who joins your party is something of the mentor.
- In Tales of Symphonia, quite a bit of the legend of Mithos the Hero is false, created by Mithos himself.
- In Last Scenario, pretty much all of the standard history is a load of crap. This is used as part of the game's subversion of Video Game Tropes of all kinds, as it means the opening Info Dump lies to you.
- Legacy of Kain
Kain: "Oh, Sebastian. Our destiny could have been glorious. The land was ours for the taking. History would have been rewritten in our image."
- Legacy Of Kain: Defiance This is what Raziel says upon finding out what the Hylden have to say about their war with the Ancients.
- In Blood Omen 2, Kain combines this with In Their Own Image;
- This point is made by Captain Price and General Shepherd in Modern Warfare 2. One of them is very much counting on it.
- History is written by the victor. History is filled with liars.
- Assassin's Creed posits that all of history is deliberately distorted by The Knights Templar to strengthen their position, cover up their existence, and vilify the Assassins. This Hand Wave permits the dev team to stuff the series with exquisite research while still taking creative license with history when necessary for the sake of the story.
- Invoked in the Thief series, as the Keepers' motto is "Propaganda is written by the winners. History is written by the observer."
- In Red Dead Redemption, after the final mission, no matter how high or low you go on the Karma Meter, Edgar Ross sees to it that John Marston is remembered by most as a vile monster.
- Final Fantasy Tactics is full of this trope. Saint Ajora, the leading messiah of the Church, was not a saint, but in fact a human possessed by a demon at best, and a actual demon at worst. The official history of Ramza has him as a heretic and usurper, while the truth is that he was just as influential, if not more so, in the kingdom's history that the eventual peasant king Delita. The Church, however, refused to acknowledge his role as his actions would have exposed massive corruption and generally unethical behavior, and suppressed everything that tried to tell the truth, including burning the author of the Durai Reports at the stake as a heretic. Possibly subverted by the Durai Reports though, causing Ramza to be Vindicated by History.
- In Guild Wars, White Mantle history records Saul D'Alessio's final battle against the Charr as a defeat. In fact, D'Alessio won the battle, but his gods murdered most of his followers and abducted him, never to be seen again. Ironically, this would lead to D'Alessio being villified by the people who overthrew the White Mantle when he would have likely sympathized with their cause.
- Charr history of the Searing and the following war against Adelbern has been written largely to reflect the glory of their victories, excising all mention of how it was Shamans who gave them their greatest victories and the important role of the Ebon Vanguard in killing their "gods".
- Likewise, Ascalonian history tends to focus on the Charr attempting to invade from the north many times before the Searing while conveniently glossing over the fact that Ascalon used to be Charr territory before the humans invaded, drove them north, and built a wall to keep them out.
- Mentioned by developers of League of Legends as the reason why Demacia is perceived as "good", while Noxus is "evil".
- The Journal of Justice is written by the League (neutral organization) and averts this trope (see also Morgana vs Kayle).
- Mentioned in the Russian campaign of Empire Earth.
- The Fallout 3 expansion Operation: Anchorage has this as part of its backstory — a General Chase commissioned an elaborate virtual reality simulation of the Alaska campaign of the Sino-American War, in which he played a key role. But instead of serving as an adviser, he kept tweaking and changing the script, even as the world shuddered towards nuclear war, until the events depicted in the simulation bore little resemblance to what actually happened (including entirely fictional Chinese secret weapons). The technicians developing the program privately worried that the man had gone insane. Then they all died in a nuclear apocalypse.
- The aptly named Borderlands 2 mini-mission "Written By The Victors" has you take a quick tour of the history of Hyperion and Handsome Jack. Naturally, every word of it is utter bull.
- Hyperion hasn't "won" anything yet, but they're winning, and they own the news media on Pandora. Hyperion spreads its version of events through Hyperion Truth Broadcasting, where DJ Hunter Hellquist is always spinning reality to make Handsome Jack look like the hero and the Crimson Raiders look like the most vile villains imaginable. Luckily, you get to shoot him in the face.
- In Captain Qwark's log in Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal, he claims to have defeated the previous game's final boss, which ate him before Ratchet defeated it.
- Baten Kaitos is centered around the aftereffects of an ancient mythical battle between the god of evil and the gods of good. The prequel reveals that this essentially has the morality of the parties backwards - it's just that the good guys (who were a group, not an individual as history recorded) had made a Deal with the Devil with an unrelated and forgotten third party.
- In Dragon Ball Online, it is revealed in the guide Dragon Ball Online Chronicles that the majority of humans in the future have forgotten the protagonists' existence in favor of Mr. Satan.
- Singularity has a variation:
Demichev: History is rewritten by the victors. YOU LOST-*Renko shoots the pistol out of Demichev's hand*
- In Robopon, Dr. Zero calls out Prince Tail for this; the King was defeated by Zero and only 'won' due to nearly killing him, but told everyone that he defeated Zero to begin with.
- The Elder Scrolls
- In the backstory, as shown most prominently in Morrowind: Because of Nerevar's death, the disappearance of the Dwemer, Dagoth Ur's presumed death, and the fact that Azura is a Daedric Prince who doesn't often openly communicate with mortals, the Tribunal were the only ones present for the events following the Battle of Red Mountain left in a position to declare how the events there took place. As such, the Tribunal Temple's official story about what happened is the most widely accepted version, even though it is clearly the version most full of Blatant Lies and Metaphorical Truths out of those that comprise The Rashomon once you've done a little research. All stories to the contrary are considered heresy, kept alive only by the actions of the Ashlander Nerevarine Cult and the Dissident Priests.
- Between Oblivion and Skyrim, the Thalmor were the most intact organization at the end of the Oblivion Crisis (by virtue of not being there to lose half their army), and were able to spread enough propaganda and threaten enough countries to write a completely false series of legends as historical canon and get away with it. Specifically, anything that people, especially Mer, praised? "We did it". Saved the world from Mehrunes Dagon? "We did it". Brought back the twin moons that are worshipped by the Khajiit? "We did it".
- Blindsprings’ winners are the Academists and the losers are Orphics. Cue 300 years of Fantastic Racism, Un Equal Rites style.
- Discussed by the messenger of the Conclave in Roommates, when he declared the winner of the Kings War arc and said winner protested the late intervention:
Ariel: History is written by the winners, not in the middle.
Jareth: History is written by he who rules despotically over the goblin scribes.
- And as the spin-off Girls Next Door parodied it, when the Sarah (the winner) got confronted with the distorted account of her adventure:
- One of the SCP Foundation's more bizarre entries is Bigfoot. According to the general clearance section, just seeing it causes you to have a percentile chance of instantly dying that increases the longer you spend looking at it. Except that's complete bull. The truth is that Bigfoot, Sasquatch and Yeti were a nocturnal sentient race far more advanced than humans, being masters of Organic Technology, while humans were basically their own wild men of the forest. Man went from hunted to hunter, destroying 70% of their population in a single day and using their newly-acquired technology to rewrite the Sasquatch and their own memories to what we know today. They can communicate, and this is what they have to say:
we forgive you;
given choice for now, not forever;
let us back in
- Spoofed on Twitter by the popular comedy account The Tweet Of God:
People say history is written by the winners, but actually history is written by historians, and most of them are losers.
- In the Avatar: The Last Airbender episode "The Headband", Aang (in disguise) attends a Fire Nation school for a day. During the class's history lesson, the teacher quizzes the students on how Fire Lord Sozin defeated the "Air Nation Army". Of course, Aang (and the viewers) know full well that the Air Nomads were a mostly peaceful population of monks, who didn't even have an established government, much less an army, and that Sozin's attack against them wasn't so much a battle as it was outright genocide. When Aang tries to point this out, the teacher snaps that, unless he was actually around 100 years ago, he shouldn't be questioning the Fire Nation's history books.
- Aang's quest to topple the Fire Lord would ultimately fix this.
- In the Christmas Episode of The Real Ghostbusters, the quartet gets taken back to the time of A Christmas Carol and accidentally catch the spirits of Christmas past, present, and yet to come. Now with nothing existing to make him undergo his Heel–Face Turn, a vengeful Ebeneezer Scrooge proceeds to write a bestseller making him look like the big hero and the holiday to look like one huge joke, which in turn causes everyone to hate Christmas.
- In the Star vs. the Forces of Evil episode "Mewnipendence Day", Star is horrified and saddened to realize that her ancestors were not heroes who cleared the land of evil monsters like she had been taught, but invaders who kicked the land's original inhabitants out because they were stronger and better armed.
- In Gargoyles, Macbeth is shown to have been an honorable man and a good and wise king, while Duncan was cruel and spiteful. Word of God is that the account given in Shakespeare's play is largely due to the King of England at the time being one of Duncan's descendants.
To minimize the danger of history politicizing discussion, please refrain from adding examples that are less than 200 years in the past.
- Pretty much anything you were taught about Christopher Columbus or the story of Thanksgiving in Elementary School, if you're American. Though this is slowly changing.
- The American Revolution. America won, so the war is written as downtrodden citizens rising up against an oppressive ruler. If America lost, it would have gone down as a minor footnote in the long history of the Anglo-French wars and the longer list of insurrections against Britain (of which the American Revolution would not even be the biggest or the costliest).
- The only contemporary account of the Battle of Thermopylae to survive is by Herodotus, who came from a Greek town ruled by the Persian Empire but settled in Athens and wrote primarily for an Athenian audience. Other, later accounts from antiquity were also written by Greeks and are based either on Herodotus or other Greek historians, whose works have been lost. The Persian view of the battle, either in some form of historiography or in official documents, has not been handed down to us after the wars of Alexander the Great and the fall of the Achaemenid Empire. Later historians could note that the numbers given by Herodotus, especially for Xerxes' army, are too fantastic to be true, but are left to speculate as to what the actual ones may have been according to what they think is probable. This often can depend on where they come from.
- The French Revolution. Of course, even at the time people knew it involved a lot of Gray and Grey Morality because of extremists on both sides, but nowadays we know that Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were not nearly as bad of people as their contemporaries made them out to be. At best, they were victims of a corruption within the system that made a revolution almost inevitable regardless of their actions taken, and at worst they were just naive and incompetent.
- Maximilien Robespierre is the biggest casualty of this. He was a popular leader, beloved by the French public up to and during the Reign of Terror. He campaigned for minority rights, extending the right to vote to Protestants, Jews and French Blacks, supported education for women. He also abolished slavery in 1794 and planned schemes for wealth redistribution. He was by no means the sole dictator of the Reign of Terror, though many of the death warrants were directly signed by him. Nevertheless, once he started to speak out against the corruption of the Committee they went against him, had him guillotined and tarnished his reputation for all time. To this day, there is no street in Paris with his name on it, or any major monument except in working class areas such as Marseilles.
- The Jacobin party as a whole were vilified as extremists by the Girondins and Royalists who succeeded to power after Thermidor and had prime positions under Bonaparte. The Jacobins were not innocent, but their actions were far from unjustified. The Girondins were engaged in high level corruption and behind the scenes dealing with Austria and England, they later declared a war against Austria, which Robespierre denounced as a Bread and Circuses move to divert away from the reforms they had consistently failed to uphold, and when the early phase of the war had started going against France, leading to Austria coming in hair's breadth of occupying Paris, the Jacobins supported by the Paris crowd went in open insurrection to protect the Revolution and the French people. It was the Jacobin party that led France to victory in the early stages of the Revolutionary Wars thanks to their open meritocracy, their culling of aristocratic nobles and royals from army positions and introduction of Conscription.
- Likewise the execution of King Louis was not a mindless act of cruelty but sparked by the King and Queen's attempt to go to the enemy side, where troops of 10,000 royalists were ready, primed to attack the King's own subjects. This action and the discovery of documents showing the King had planned to shift the revolution back to the Ancien Regime status quo turned public opinion completely against him and Marie Antoinette(who WAS complicit in this scheme).
- Vlad the Impaler benefited from this. Sure, he was incredibly brutal, but it was that brutality that kept at bay the Ottomans who were trying to conquer Wallachia at every turn, at least for a time (Vlad ultimately failed to keep Wallachia free and ended his days in a Hungarian prison). As a result, modern Romanians consider him a national hero, who was "harsh but fair". Pretty good deal for a guy who spent decades putting people's heads on pikes. Of course, since those heads generally didn't belong to his own citizens, he did better than some of his contemporaries.
- Nearly all of our information about the Roman Empire comes from Roman sources; these are often unreliable, as rewriting history to suit the present generation (or people in power) was a long-established Roman tradition. The only reason we are at all aware of the Romans ever doing anything bad is because of Values Dissonance (they wrote about something that seemed good to them, like efficiently exterminating a particularly troublesome tribe). And then, our information about the Roman Empire has been mostly processed through Christianity, which means we need to keep in mind the possibility of Historical Hero Upgrade and Historical Villain Upgrade, particularly with regards to Christian and Pagan emperors.
- There is little evidence outside a few passages in Suetonius to suggest that Tiberius had a rape palace built on Capri. It is also worth remembering that Suetonius was commissioned to write his history by the Flavian dynasty which succeeded Tiberius's own Julio-Claudians. The Flavians were akin to modern "family values" politicians who espoused a return to the piety of Augustus and the Republic, in deliberate contrast to the supposed excesses of the later Julio-Claudians.
- Domitian and Nero seem to have gotten the shaft from Christian scholars, for example, while Constantine is very well thought of. Of course, Domitian and Nero also had contemporary detractors who made sure their names were vilified, possibly with cause, at least partially. Caligula wasn't nearly as batty as he's portrayed by Suetonius, and Nero wasn't anywhere near Rome when it burned; when he returned, he organised massive aid for the city, despite the rumors he contributed to the damage. Also, he played the lyre, not the fiddle (which did not exist then), so the fiddling thing is wrong anyway.
- While the Flanderization of Caligula is surreal enough, it's nothing compared to what his daughter and sister got (measured in surrealness rather then evilness). The official history on the emperor Caligula teaches us that the conspiracy that had him murdered was very brave, wise, and benevolent. Not only was Caligula so evil and mad that he totally deserved to die, his two-year-old daughter who was murdered at the same time (because she was his only heir and thus a threat to the usurper) was also so evil that she totally deserved to die. The same history writing tell us not only that all political decisions he ever made were evil, crazy, and stupid, but also that many of them were very popular... but that's only because the population is stupid. The later theory was also used to Hand Wave why empress Drusilla was considered a popular politician... while using unsubstantiated slander to Retcon her into a mere Sex Slave of her brother.
- The objective historical truth about Drusilla is that the imperial oath was aimed at her as well as her brother, that the coins of the empire depicted her like they would depict any emperor, that she had an imperial cult around her just like the other emperors had, and that there was a national mourning when she died. Also, that she was married to another man and that her brother was married to another woman. Two of the funny quirks about the rumors about Brother-Sister Incest is that 1) they seem to have started after Caligula's death, and thus long after Drusilla's death. 2) that the story was simplified by pretending that Drusilla's husband and Caligula's wife didn't exist, rather than commenting on how they reacted to the stories.
- A more direct Roman example is their own writings about their enemies, especially the Celtic and Germanic tribes. The Romans were happy to malign them, and since they had little in the way of a written culture, historians pretty much took the Romans' word for it until the second half of the twentieth century. For example, all the evidence we have of druidic human sacrifice derives from Roman sources. However, there is archeological evidence (ritually killed corpses) to back up some human sacrifice at least, though it may well have been exaggerated.
- Richard III of England is a good example. While he wasn't the nicest guy around, he was also not the monster that the dynasty that succeeded him portrayed him as, either, as the modern research shows. It doesn't help that William Shakespeare was with the Tudors on this issue. The discovery of his remains in early 2013 and evidence of his death in battle served to reignite the debate over his Historical Villain Upgrade and in 2015, he was given a royal burial.
- In much the same manner of Richard III, Macbeth, King of Scotland, was rather unsurprisingly vilified by some rather biased English scholars after his death. In truth, none of the contemporary sources of the time dubbed him a tyrant. In reality, Macbeth's rule was by many accounts very successful, not to mention lengthy. In a period where monarchs were being killed and overthrown in short accord, his reign lasted 17 years. In fact, his reign was so secure he was even able to safely make a pilgrimage to Rome, a journey few rulers of the time would have undertaken for fear of being usurped in their lengthy absence.
- A rare subversion can be seen in the Mongol conquests of everything from China to Hungary. In addition to more conventional tools of war, among their most effective weapon was their reputation. They deliberately committed horrific atrocities, and actively encouraged the spread and exaggeration of the stories (which were pretty bad to begin with by any standard). The primary purpose of this was to make their enemies shake in their boots when the Mongols came knocking, breaking the enemy morale, and leading many adversaries to outright surrender without a fight (it was that or be butchered down to the last man, woman, child, and dog).
The sheer amount of those who chose to surrender due to hearing such gruesome tales may have even saved lives in the long run, at the cost of absolutely brutalizing those that did die. This is a subversion as both winners and losers agree on their version of events — the losers because they were powerless to stop the flow of rumors counter-productive to the war effort, and the winners because it suits them to have a reputation as bloodthirsty warmongers that only give you one chance to surrender before they take everything you own, slaughter your children, rape your wife, burn down your house, use you as a human shield against your own soldiers (often by filling a spiked trench with corpses so that they could ride over it) and then have a good laugh about it, not necessarily in that order.
- Peter I of Castile is Peter the Lawful in chronicles written by his supporters and Peter the Cruel in those written by his enemies. Since he lost the civil war that dethroned him, the second version is the one that has stuck to the modern day.
- In Sweden, the Danish King Christian II is remembered as "Christian the Tyrant" because of his mass execution of Swedish nobility and ultimately failed attempts to re-take control of the rebellious Swedes. This name largely stuck because of the efforts of King Gustaf I Vasa, the revolutionary leader who deposed him from the Swedish throne, who was an absolute master of propaganda and slander against his opponents. There is a common belief among Swedes that King Christian II is called "Christian the Good" or "Christian the Peasant-Friend" in Denmark. This is not actually true, but the Urban Legend has survived because it is such a great illustration of this trope.
- Subverted a few times where the events in question were much more important and significant to the losing side than to the winning one.
- The popular image of the Hundred Years War is very much shaped by the English narrative (partly helped by William Shakespeare) and what people remember are the three great victories of Crecy, Poitiers (Maupertuis), and Agincourt, while even the French hardly remember their resounding victories at Patay, Formigny, and Castillon, preferring to focus on tragic heroine Joan of Arc — and even in her case more on the comparatively minor achievement in the relief of Orléans instead of her involvement at Patay, and her death.
- The popular image of the English-Scottish wars from the middle ages to the last "1745" Jacobite rebellion seem largely dominated by Scottish narratives, probably because these wars are important in defining the Scottish identity, while they were of relatively minor importance to the English, who had bigger fish to fry in wars against e.g. the French and Spanish or among themselves. Thus while Stirling Bridge and Bannockburn are well-remembered, not a lot of Englishmen care to remember Culloden with pride and even battles where the English forces achieved brilliant and resounding victories despite being outnumbered, like Flodden Field and Dunbar (1650), are almost unknown.
- For patriotic Serbians, the lost Battle of Kosovo (1389) is perhaps the defining moment of their country's history. For the Turks it is one hard-fought Ottoman victory among many. The battle ended up in a draw, with both army commanders being killed and both armies being crippled and unable to continue the fight. Family ties (the Serbian prince Lazar's daughter married Murad's son) and shifting of allegiances (some Serbians lords, including Lazar's son, were allies of the Ottoman empire) muddle the issue even more.
- Similar to the Scottish example but even more extreme, every battle in which the Irish faced the English is almost completely forgotten about in England while being seen as watershed moments in Irish history. This includes not only the rare occasions when the Irish actually won, such as Yellow Ford (1598) but also occasions like the Battle of Kinsale (1601) when English commanders pulled off spectacular victories. The one partial exception seems to be the Battle of the Boyne (1690) — and even there it is only recalled in England because Ulster Unionists are so vocal about it.
- The British Empire during the height of its reign tended to paint itself as more benevolent and just than the Spanish, French and Belgian colonials. To some extent this was true, as almost nothing in English colonization equalled the horror that was King Leopold in Congo and the British enjoyed giving themselves credit for spreading The Common Law across the world. In actual practise, they were fairly brutal, tended to promote ethnic nationalism in regions that had none, played Divide and Conquer and gamed the laws to ensure that it bleeds the land dry for cheap labour and resources. While some Empire apologists believed that the English spread democracy, they rarely enjoyed seeing it being practised against them as seen in numerous absurd laws in India which people protested repeatedly only to face imprisonment on trumped up charges.
One curious example is the case of the 1857 Indian Mutiny. In its day, the British regarded as it as a colonial rebellion and painted the locals as uncivilized rabble and used instances of atrocities committed by the Mutineers (Cawnpore, Meerut) to rally public outrage. In India, years after independence, the 1857 event is now called the "1857 Uprising" or "First War of Independence" and the predominant narrative is the English atrocities committed after they took over Delhi, while the Mutineers are lionized as "freedom fighters" (with barely a cursory mention of their atrocities). One memorial in India honoring the British civilians and soldiers killed, later had a sign posted to note that it honored the actions of the brave men who revolted against England.
- The case of various Native American nations in North America. Whereas the predominate view was of "civilized" European people bring civilization to the frontier by defeating the "savages," now the popular view is the tragedy of the Native Peoples fighting a Hopeless War against the rapacious European conquerors. In fact, evidence exists that North America actually had a very large native population before foreign illnesses brought over from Europe wiped out the vast majority of the people living there. By the time the settlers showed up for good, there were very few people left to resist them compared to before.
- The Battle of the Little Big Horn, for instance, was originally depicted as Custer tragically dying in a heroic last stand against overwhelming numbers, whereas now it's more of an idiot general charging heedlessly into battle against the advice of his scouts, getting all his men killed along with himself in the process, and rightly so, as they had attacked the natives simply defending their land.
- It actually works the other way as well. A popular view of pre-Columbian Native Culture is one of great nobility and peace. While individual tribes may have been somewhat peaceful, tribes fought each other just as much as European states did and for the same reasons. One way to tell is by common tribal name. If the common name was given by the tribe itself, it likely means "the people" or something similar. If given a name by Europeans, it often refers to a nearby natural characteristic (lake, waterfall, etc...). If named by another tribe, there's a very good chance it means something close to "enemy". For instance, "Apache" comes from a Zuni word meaning "enemy". They call themselves the Ndee.
- Both the settlers and the Native Americans occasionally kidnapped each other's children and tried to convert them, however settlers converting Native American children has always been more likely to be portrayed as "saving them" than the other way around, best evidenced by the boarding schools that openly discouraged students from any behavior that wasn't European-inspired.
- In a strange inversion, Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms (very loosely novelized as Romance of the Three Kingdoms) was officially commissioned by a supporter of the losing side (Shu) after the fact, and as a result many historical characters from Wu and Shu (who lost) are lionized, while Wei, the victor, is demonized. Cao Cao, in particular: he was historically rather a good ruler.
- Privateers get this naturally... some of the biggest and most well known? Sir Francis Drake and Capt. Morgan (the one who... you know... has a certain drink named after him). Celebrated heroes in England... demons of history to Spain.
- From a class perspective as opposed to a national one: Most of history (at least until modern times) focused on ruling and upper class males because ruling and upper class males dominated society, were generally the ones who knew how to write history, and were only interested in the affairs of their peers (i.e. other ruling and upper class males). There were remarkably few historical works that focus exclusively on women, members of the peasant classes, or the bourgeoisie. Indeed, the development of sociology in the 19th Century, led to what came to be called in the 20th Century as "history from below" with the intention of correcting and deconstructing the victor's history.
- The early 19th century Merina conquest of Madagascar. The official account, taught in schools, is told from the Merina perspective: a tiny highlander kingdom that manages to unite and modernize the whole island through diplomacy and brilliant military strategies. For many non-Merina, though, the story goes differently: the conquest was a series of bloody wars led by the megalomaniac Merina monarchy with help by foreigners (mainly the English). To this day, the whole thing still causes friction, mainly in that Merina politicians are often distrusted by the other ethnicities and (actively or not) are often prevented from reaching leadership positions.
- In many cases, it was also a case of history being written by those who could write, period. Or the chance of which accounts survived into posterity.
- The battle of Kadesh (1274 B.C.) is a well-known example. It is practically only documented from the Egyptian side, which should have something to do with the fact that the Hittite Empire was overthrown, never to return, about a century later while the Egyptian Empire survived in one form or another until Roman times and so was much more effective in preserving Ramasses II's ebullient accounts and monuments. Historians are still debating on whether, once you subtract Pharaonic propaganda, the battle should in truth be regarded as an Egyptian victory, a Hittite one, or a draw.
- The Peloponnesian War was won by Sparta and its allies over Athenes and its allies, but since Spartans did not write histories (or indeed much literature of any kind), it is essentially handed down to us in the writings of two Athenians, Thucydides and Xenophon.
- In European history it is quite common for histories of a large war to come from everyone concerned. That is because despite all of Europe's wars it is rare that a major state is actually eliminated. Usually they just hold a Peace Conference, exchange provinces, and then get back to planning what to do next.
- Invoked by Winston Churchill, who is also the Trope Namer. Indeed, he is the only leader of any of the major powers (those that survived, at any rate) to have written a multi-volume account of the war from his personal perspective.
"History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it."
- All accounts of the Battle of Hastings, the most famous being the Bayeux Tapestry, were created by the Norman conquerors. No Saxon account of the battle survives. There's a nuance to this because the Bayeux Tapestry was commissioned by Normans, but actually made by Saxon needle workers. Some historians think they could have smuggled the implication that Harold swore allegiance to William only under duress onto the Tapestry under the noses of the Normans.
- That Christians were executed for their religion by Romans is true enough, but it's not often told that after the Edict of Milan, Roman pagans were executed in the exact same way, except that the executions only stopped when the last non-Christian was dead.
- Seeing that Nero persecuted Christians and Rome became Christian only a few centuries later it's not difficult to see that his legacy has made him a lot more evil than he might have been in real life.
- Not to mention that, although Christians were persecuted, the extent has been somewhat exaggerated, with it going in waves at different periods of the late Roman Empire. Martyrdom in fact was very popular among some Christians, to the extent that some in fact sought it out by provoking others (the Circumcellions). Stories of martyrs were very popular, the more gruesome the better, to the point that it became something akin to torture porn. After the Christians gained power, the persecutions became reversed as mentioned above — pagans were killed, pagan temples destroyed, and eventually paganism banned entirely, along with the Greek philosophy schools.
- Common practice in Imperial China was that when one dynasty got overthrown and another took over, the new dynasty would write off the last Emperor of the former dynasty as a weak ruler. This was accepted as the way things naturally worked. There was even a "standard excuse" for this, namely writing the former Emperor off as a drunken sod who was occupied by women all day and had a corrupt eunuch as chancellor. However, each dynasty also kept a record of its own rule, so most of the times they were protected somewhat from this trope.
- The way people would decide when it was time to overthrow the old Emperor was when he had lost the Mandate of Heaven, which was Heaven no longer accepting him as a ruler because he was bad at it. In response to this, all sorts of disaster struck the land the Emperor ruled over, like droughts, floods, severely corrupted tax collectors and eunuchs... Considering that this land always included the Yangtze river, which tends to flood a lot, some people now believe that it was not Heaven which had decided the old Emperor should go, but that the last Emperor of a dynasty just had the bad luck that all those disasters happened during his reign, making the populace unruly, which a noble could then take advantage of in order to become Emperor himself (or herself, on one occasion).
- Knights, albeit they both won and lost various wars, so this is more on them as a social/political class. Much like how we found out more recently with the samurai, the knights in most cases weren't the nicest of people. Sure, the Knight in Shining Armor existed, but they were in no way the majority. Most knights were essentially mercenaries who just happened to be much more heavily armed than the average one. Most nobles didn't trust them as far as they could throw them, King Philip IV of France had the original Knights Templar almost completely wiped out (primarily because he didn't want to pay off France's monetary debt to them), with his son having the pope finish the job. From the 10th to 16th centuries, most knights were pretty infamous for being particularly brutal and (ironically) honorless. Some of this did exist in writing from the time, like when Geoffrey Chaucer sneaked in a comment about the sacking of Alexandria in the Knight's Prolouge, which was historically known for a battle where the knights raped and pillaged everything they saw. Most of this part of knight history went away when the knights jazzed up their stories for the nobility. When not officially at war, knights commonly started waging private wars against each other. They were more like rival gangs at times than anything to do with "chivalry".
- American popular history, and a wealth of historical documents written by the Founding Fathers, portrays the American Revolution as a glorious crusade for republicanism against the cruel tyranny of monarchism. In truth, the powers of the English monarch had been steadily eroding since the civil war over a hundred years prior, in particular by the Bill of Rights of 1689, which was influenced, as was the United States, by the ideas of John Locke. By the late 1700s, George III was a convenient scapegoat for the Founding Fathers to avoid slandering Parliament, who the nascent US would eventually have to negotiate with. Similarly, the effect of Somerset v Stewart, which held that chattel slavery was unlawful in the British Isles, on American sentiment (they weren't happy) is usually glossed right over.
- The Spanish nobleman the Duke of Alva enjoys a good reputation in Spain, but in Belgium and the Netherlands he is remembered as an evil man who came to their country in the 16th century to persecute everyone who resisted the Spanish occupation and burn them on the stake. Since the Dutch won the Eighty Years' War against Spain he and king Philippe II of Spain are naturally seen as villains who were justifiably defeated.
- The Spanish in general have a term called "Black legend" where they note that writers of The Enlightenment such as Voltaire note as well as English writers tended to paint Spain as autocratic, backward, medieval and generally less enlightened than the Northern European nations. English writers made much of the New World colonization and treatment of indigenous peoples and likewise exaggerated the early bloody years of The Inquisition to a period stretching for centuries. In actual practice, the Inquisition executed fewer people in its entire period (it ended during Napoleon Bonaparte's invasion) than the numbers killed in the reign of Elizabeth alone, and practiced none of the witch burnings which were active in the Protestant nations, but the famous Cate Blanchett biopic will give you the opposite impression.
- Seeing that most of Western history has been written by Christians naturally you're going to get a very Christian centered view of history:
- All the Roman emperors who persecuted Christianity? Why, naturally they were all perverted, decadent and cruel leaders. Emperor Constantine who made Christianity the state religion in the Roman Empire? Well, naturally he was a good and noble man whom we shall remember as Constantine the Great.
- Charlemagne, who is credited with Christianizing Europe in the 6th and 7th century. In Western history books he is hailed as a hero, the Catholic Church praises him too, but the fact of the matter is that his troops invaded several European regions to forcibly convert pagans to Christianity. Thousands of people were massacred in order to obtain this goal (4,000 Saxons were killed for refusing to become Christians at Verdun, in one infamous incident) and those kept alive were naturally very willing to accept him as their new king and Christianity as their new faith.
- It's only in the 20th Century, for fairly obvious reasons, that Christian persecution of Jews (alternatively condoned and opposed but never entirely discredited until the latter half of the 20th Century) began to be applied to the whole of the Church history. Kings, Emperors, Priests, reformers and popes came to be measured on how kind and fair they were to minorities. The otherwise corrupt Pope Alexander VI came to be seen as A Lighter Shade Of Gray since he was religiously tolerant, while the likes of reformist Protestant Martin Luther came to be seen as a Politically Incorrect Hero for his very bigoted tracts. note
- All the explorers and missionaries in European colonies who converted the local African, Latin American, Asian and Australian tribes to Christianity are also remembered as good, well-intentioned people. In reality they all invaded civilizations that had existed centuries before them and had the audacity to tell the locals that they were primitive people who needed to be guided by European colonials and change to their faith, because theirs was just ridiculous.
- The reverse also applies. In cases of traditionalist societies such as India, "conversion" is always regarded as "forced" and that Christian communities are really "Hindus waiting to be brought back". The idea that lower caste people were genuinely attracted to the egalitarian nature of Christianity (and Islam or Buddhism), that they would want to reject the casteist aspects of Hinduism out of religious freedom, naturally doesn't enter into this discourse. Even the likes of Mahatma Gandhi, while peacable and tolerant, projected this vision.
- The Vikings are another exception. While the Norse (i.e. the Scandinavians) eventually wrote their history, it was 200-300 years later and their accounts are considered mostly semi-legendary. The contemporary accounts were written by monks and Arab travelers.
- For some reason, Napoleon the master propagandist is considered a reliable witness of the era he helped shape, so his lapidary judgments on his contemporaries often take up a disproportionate amount of place. Even when he talks about his Republican rivals or potential rivals (Hoche, Desaix, Moreau, Kléber...). Of course Napoleon did win over them.
- The most common misconceptions about Napoleon, namely his height (The Napoleon) comes from the success of English propaganda and the rise of the Anglophone. It is a fact that Napoleon was of average height for his timenote and no historian has found conclusive proof that Napoleon was driven to conquest because of insecurity regarding his height. On the flip-side, it should be noted that Napoleon published his memoirs a mere few years after his defeat, and it became an instant best-seller and cemented his legend, so even though Napoleon lost, he did write his own take on history, a highly self-centered and self-pitying one at that, but equally influential nonetheless.
- The discourse of The Napoleonic Wars itself. The British argue that they were defending and liberating Europe from a tyranny, conveniently forgetting that they were the ones who first broke the Treaty of Amiens and started the war, after refusing to honor the terms of the original agreement (removing ships from Malta) and that they were themselves an Empire. Napoleonic supporters emphasize his meritocracy, modernization, secularisation (liberation of Jews from ghettoes) while ignoring the fact that he brought back slavery after Revolutionary France had abolished it, and the large scale colonisation and War for Fun and Profit that underpined Napoleon's administration.
- The wars of independence in Latin America at the early 19th century will usually get this treatment. It was a glorious war between The Empire (Spain and the royalists) and La Résistance (the South Americans fighting for their freedom). But initially, it was a Civil War between the supporters of the factions that sought to rule Spain when the king was captured by Napoleon. One example may be Manuel Belgrano, sent from Buenos Aires (modern Argentina) to fight against the royalists in Asunción (modern Paraguay). For Argentine history, Belgrano was a model of virtue and moral values, akin to George Washington or Thomas Jefferson. For Paraguayan history, Belgrano was a ruthless expansionist conqueror, akin to Attila the Hun.
- The Battle of Tours/Poitiers during the Arab Islamic wars of expansion was inflated by Frankish historians as the pinnacle battle that prevented the conquest of Europe by the Islamic armies. Arab scholars of the post-battle period rarely mention this defeat, but do describe a much more important one: the failure to capture Constantinople, capital of the surviving Roman Empire. The Arab army that the Franks faced was a much smaller expeditionary force that was already 4000 miles from their homeland when they crossed the Pyrenees.
- Inverted with the chronicles of the Anglo-Saxon conquest of Britain in the mid to late-5th century. All known records dating to the time of the Saxon migrations into Britain were written either by the Britons themselves, or historians sympathetic to the Britons (read: Christian monks and chroniclers). The main source dating to the period was Gildas, whose work was openly hostile and formed the basis of even the later Anglo-Saxon historians such as Bede. The Saxons themselves didn't begin keeping written records until a couple centuries later (the time of Bede). The Anglo-Saxons, therefore, received a significant Historical Villain Upgrade (especially once they got tied into Arthurian myth).
- The American Civil War - well into the twentieth century the Southern perspective dominated, even though they lost the war. This was mostly due to Northerners not caring as much and the first movies being made by recent immigrants or their children who had no skin in the game and wanted to avoid it getting banned in the South for being too critical of the South. This also colors the view of Reconstruction (which failed due to white Southern resistance and a lack of Northern commitment) which briefly gave the rights African Americans had in theory but would not regain in practice until the 1960s. Only after the civil rights movement did a view of the Civil War as caused by slavery and won by the "right side" gain currency and become the dominating narrative it today is.