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Historical Hero Upgrade

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"Remember that God created all men equal!"
William Wilberforce, abolitionist, in the film Amazing Grace

"[The poor should know] that their more lowly path has been allotted to them by the hand of God; that it is their part ... contentedly to bear its inconveniences."
William Wilberforce in Real Life

OK, let's say you're still writing that movie, which is Very Loosely Based on a True Story. You've chosen a period of history that involves a lot of exciting fight scenes and explosions so your audience won't fall asleep and now you need some main characters.

But there's a problem: most of the real life figures were morally grey and complex people. How are you going to make sure that your audience knows who the hero is?

Well, all you have to do is to pick someone who was on your side. If you're American, all you have to do is choose a heroic American. Or failing that, an Irishman or a Scotsman (just as long as they fought those dastardly Englishmen/Germans/Commies/Arabs). And if you're English, you'll want to support that brave and heroic King William the Conqueror against those treacherous English bas... Hey—wait a second...


But hang on. There's another problem. Your new hero doesn't quite fit our modern standards of goodness. Maybe he was a slave trader. Or a wife-beater. Or an openly admitted racial bigot. What are you going to do now?

Well, all you have to do is give your newfound hero a few Pet-the-Dog moments, adjust his looks for modern tastes and cut out or ignore anything of his life that doesn't fit your artistic vision.

Note that just because this trope happens to a person does NOT mean that he was evil in real life; he is simply being portrayed more positively in the work of fiction than he was in real life. Also note that this is not necessarily a bad thing, as it is often done to make for a better story.

Note that this trope isn't always played seriously; sometimes, a character will be retroactively turned into something on par with a Memetic Badass purely due to Rule of Cool, upgraded in ways that are obviously intended to go far beyond any real-world heroism. The most extreme examples of this, of course, often overlap with Beethoven Was an Alien Spy.


This trope is the opposite of a Historical Villain Upgrade, although many figures often get one of those as well in works with a different viewpoint. They may also appear alongside each other when applied to different people, to make the Black and White Morality contrast even more obvious. May overlap with Historical Beauty Update, Historical Badass Upgrade, Values Dissonance, Politically Correct History, Broken Pedestal and Flanderization.

When Fan Fic writers do this to a canon character, it's Draco in Leather Pants. When it's done with original characters in an adaptation of the source work, it's Adaptational Heroism.

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Examples using real people

    Media in General / Common Persons 
  • Nazi Germany has given us some examples, perhaps out of a desire to find some good among the bad.
    • One example prolific enough to have its own Wikipedia article: the myth of the Clean Wehrmacht. Basically the very common perception that most crimes committed by the Third Reich were done by the Waffen SS or Gestapo, and that the average German soldier was basically a Punch-Clock Villain fighting for his home like any other soldier. In reality, the Wehrmacht were responsible for the deaths of millions of people and cooperated closely with the SS to exterminate Slavs and Jews, and the average German soldier was a hardcore genocidal racist who genuinely believed in the Nazi cause. The soldiers were heavily indoctrinated with Nazi ideology prior to and during the war. Even those who came to oppose Hitler (such as the July 22 plotters) did not always do so from motives we would regard as "noble." Rather, they were mostly afraid Hitler was losing the war, and another loss would ruin Germany, feeling that overthrowing him to end it with a negotiated peace would be their best outcome. Most accepted the standard antisemitic, anti-Slavic, German nationalist view, although not always to the genocidal degree of the Nazis. Some honorable exceptions existed, of course, including one extraordinary instance of Wehrmacht soldiers fighting side-by-side with U.S. soldiers and Austrian resistance members against the Waffen-SS.
    • Erwin Rommel probably has the best reputation among Those Wacky Nazis, and the myth surrounding him also has its own Wikipedia article. During the war, Rommel was renowned by the Nazis for his abilities in battle and by the Allies for being a man of honor who did not commit the war crimes that were endemic in the German military. He was also allegedly involved in the July 20 plot to assassinate Hitler and killed by the regime as a result. The popular image of Rommel as a Worthy Opponent (in the West) and "good German" (in reformed Germany) endured after the war. The truth was a lot more complicated. Rommel was arrogant, ambitious, and something of a glory hound, and he took advantage of the regime's favor to cultivate a larger-than-life reputation. While he resisted illegal decrees and possibly participated in the July 20 plot, he likely had selfish motivations for doing both. He did openly resent the SA stormtroopers and later the SS that supplanted them, but this wasn't for entirely pure-hearted reasons either. He did disapprove of their brutality, seeing them as thugs that were unworthy of Germany, but he also felt that the resources and budget that went to them rightfully belonged to the Wehrmacht. He wasn't bloodthirsty like the average Nazi or a complete paragon of virtue, but somewhere in the middle.
    • Hitler's chief architect and later Minister of Armaments Albert Speer tends to be cast in a relatively favorable light as a Punch-Clock Villain by many movies that take his (logically) biased memoirs at face value. It also helps that he is one of the only Nazis who declared himself The Atoner at the Nuremberg Trials, as well not being particularly obsessed with the whole racial purity thing. But they often tend to overlook his eager use of slave labor, disposession of Jewish tenants for his architectural plans, and his sheer efficiency at managing the German economy prolonging the war unnecessarily. To what extent he knew about The Holocaust is also up for debate. It's also debated how sincere his desire for atonement was, and whether he simply realized that for the Nuremberg Trials to be seen as legitimate the Allies needed a repentant Nazi who would confess his crimes and give an insider account of the crimes of the Nazi regime as a whole, making him simply a war criminal who got the equivalent of a plea bargain in exchange for testifying against his accomplices. While not as horrible as someone like Himmler, filmmakers are too easy with swinging the pendulum in the other direction, when in real life he was a very morally ambiguous man. The German docudrama Speer Und Er at least got this right by never downplaying his personal failings.
  • The very few portrayals of Boudica and historical writings tend to paint her as a native freedom fighter opposing Always Chaotic Evil Romans, and in Britain some see her as a National Hero (she ranked #35 in Greatest Britons), while feminists see her as a victim of abuse reacting against a cruel patriarchy. The fact that she systematically mass murdered tens of thousands by killing every man, woman, and child in the cities of Colchester, London, and St. Albans is at times glorified as an example of More Deadly Than the Male (by the likes of Alan Moore who invokes her positively in From Hell). There is even a statue of Boudica outside Colchester built specifically to honor the revolt, despite the fact that there is a layer of ash and rubble underneath it from all the buildings she and her forces burnt. These gruesome atrocities are often downplayed or even treated as justified on the basis that Roman soldiers raped her daughters - despite the fact that those civilians had nothing to do with it. Also ignored is the fact that her defeat at the Battle of Watling Street is extremely impressive from the Roman perspective (20,000 Romans held off 200,000 Bretons using nothing but discipline and determination [at least according to the Roman authors who recorded the rebellion]).
  • Wyatt Earp, in portrayals such as My Darling Clementine (1946) and The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp (1955), is portrayed as the paragon of the Western lawman. Even more modern takes like Tombstone still can't uncouple themselves entirely from this image. Earp's legend likely in part derives from the fact that he acted as an "adviser" on a number of early Western movies - he was good at branding himself. The reality is somewhat more complicated. As a US Marshal, Earp had authority to deputize others and serve arrest warrants, but on the other hand, the Earp Vendetta Ride which took place after the attempted assassination and actual assassination of two of his brothers was a clear example of frontier justice, with Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and their deputized companions hunting down several outlaw Cowboys who they believed were responsible for the assassination and attempted assassination of his family members - a very clear conflict of interest. In the end, the Earp party arrested one, killed four men, and fled Arizona to escape murder charges. However, it was widely believed in Tombstone that the local authorities were corrupt and would never bring the outlaw Cowboys to justice, even if they committed murder. Many regarded the Earps as heroes who were standing up to cattle-rustling, murderous outlaws, and in the end authorities outside of Tombstone decided not to extradite the Earp party back there to face murder charges.
  • Galileo Galilei is often seen as the man who proved that a Heliocentric model of outer space was correct, only to be declared a heretic and see his findings suppressed by the Catholic Church. This was not quite what happened. Many of his findings — his observation that Venus had phases like The Moon, for example — certainly cast doubt on geocentrism, but they didn't outright prove it incorrect. Galileo was convinced that heliocentrism was right, but he didn't have definitive, incontrovertible proof. One of the main issues was that he could not counter the strongest argument against it, one that Aristotle himself had put forth: the apparent lack of observable parallax shifts in the positions of the stars. What got the Church angry at him was not his belief in heliocentrism, but him saying it was true without definitive proof. Then Galileo doubled down, insisting that The Bible be rewritten to conform with his theories, and later publicly insulting The Pope and alienating the Jesuits, thus leading to the infamous trial. The Church never explicitly condemned him as a heretic, though it considered his behavior suspicious. While Galileo did make many important astronomical discoveries, and his writings are still considered masterpieces, presenting him as an innocent intellectual ruthlessly suppressed by overbearing religious authorities is one-sided and inaccurate. See Heresies and Heretics for more details (he has his own folder).
  • King Richard I of England has entered mythology as Richard the Lionheart, paragon of knighthood, King Arthur come again. The real Richard was a deeply complex individual: warlike, greedy (according to one story, Richard claimed he would sell London to finance his wars if he could find a buyer), probably not actually an Anglophone (his only interest in England aside from its revenues was that it afforded him the title of King), and not above stabbing someone in the back; this becomes a case of Values Dissonance. Terry Jones even claims that after he died records were calling him grasping and portraying him in a negative light, but John becoming the bad King means Richard changed back to being a good King. He did have a good sense of humor, being one of the few medieval kings of whom amusing quips are recorded. Not a cardboard villain, but not the cardboard angel of Ivanhoe and The Adventures of Robin Hood either.
    • Richard's reputation as one of the great kings of England is particularly odd as historians generally agree that he spent very little of his reign (as little as six months by some estimates) actually ruling England. Most of his time was spent on the Third Crusade, ultimately unsuccessful, in captivity in Austria (the ransom of which helped bankrupt England, ultimately contributing to the Baron's rebellion against King John and the signing of the Magna Carta) or defending his French possessions (Normandy, Brittany and Acquataine). He died in France and was buried there, not having been to England for the last five years of his life. Nevertheless in popular culture, as seen in various Robin Hood stories, he is consistently portrayed as a champion of England and one of the few kings known more by his epithet (Lionheart) than his regnal number.
  • Saladin, Richard's opponent during the Third Crusade, also gets this treatment. During his lifetime, the Crusaders — especially Richard — considered him a "good Saracen" and a Worthy Opponent, a reputation he retained for centuries after his death. More recently, Arab nationalists have used him as a symbol of their struggle against the West, and Kurdish nationalists have also adopted his image. While Saladin was more tolerant and humane than one might expect of a figure from the Crusades, he wasn't always consistently so. For example, after the Battle of the Horns of Hattin, he ordered the summary execution of 200 Templars and Hospitallers at the hands of men unfamiliar with the use of weapons, causing them to die in agony. He put down a Sudanese revolt in Egypt by burning down their quarter of Cairo with their women and children still inside their homes. After the Sudanese surrendered, he promised them safe passage up the Nile, only to have them massacred when they left Cairo in smaller, disorganized groups. When he besieged Jerusalem, he — by his own admission — intended to sack the city, only abstaining from doing so when the city's commander, Balian d'Ibelin, threatened to destroy the Muslim holy places and slaughter thousands of Muslim prisoners. Saladin, though hardly as bad as a number of other figures of the Crusades, was not quite as heroic as his reputation suggests.
  • Traditionally, the Crusader (and first ruler of the Kingdom of Jerusalem) Godfrey of Bouillon was idealized as the epitome of the virtues of the "Christian Soldier", to the point that he was considered one of the three Christian figures of the Nine Worthies (the other two being King Arthur and Charlemagne). Now, to be fair, this is at least understandable to some extent. Godfrey was famous for his courage, piety, and (especially) humility, the latter of which is epitomized by his refusal to take the title of King of Jerusalem, saying the title belonged to Jesus and Him alone. Instead, he took the relatively modest title "Advocate of the Holy Sepulchre". On the other hand, Godfrey could be incredibly brutal, as shown by his being one of the leaders of a brutal large-scale massacre of Jews, Muslims and (possibly) Eastern Christians in Jerusalem after the city's capture.
  • General Charles George Gordon, also known as "Chinese" Gordon or Gordon Pasha, was lionized as a hero in the late Victorian era, so much so, an entire expedition, The River War was launched to "avenge" him after his death at the Siege of Khartoum in 1885. Novelists like Rudyard Kipling, Andrew Mason (of The Four Feathers) and the film Khartoum glorified Gordon's Last Stand as an epitome of an English fortitude.
    • Gordon did possess important virtues as an officer (he was incorruptible, generally tried to ensure that his soldiers were well paid and had proper equipment) but he was also erratic and eccentric, prone to sudden and unexpected rages, harsh punishments and summary executions, and privately a religious fanatic. In contrast to his reputation as a British officer, Gordon built his fame and earned most of his honours as a mercenary for foreign governments, whether it's the Imperial Chinese government where he led the Ever Victorious Army to suppress the Taiping Rebellion, or the Khedivate of Egypt for whom he campaigned against the North African Slave Trade, albeit for the profit-driven motive of farming cheap (albeit free) labour for the lucrative ivory trade. Before he was called up to relieve Khartoum and oversee the retreat of the Egyptian forces in Khartoum, Gordon had accepted a contract to serve King Leopold's government in the Congo, and it was largely on account of self-promotion and his media reputation, that the British government sent him to Khartoum.
    • Regarding his activities in China with the Ever Victorious Army, he can't even claim that. The Ever Victorious Army was actually created and led by an American Mercenary, Fredrick T. Ward. Ward and his lieutenant Li Hongzhang were able to integrate western style tactics, training and very fast light infantry units which were the reasons for its success. After years of leading the army, Ward died in battle and was subsequently replaced by Gordon, who only led the army for at most two years. Gordon's successes were due entirely to Ward's prior training and tactics being ingrained in the army. However, Gordon's horrible treatment of the Army caused massive desertions. After only 9 months under Gordon, desertions reduced the army from 5,000 to a fraction of its former self. It was so bad that Gordon had to resort to essentially press gang prisoners to fill the gaps. Less than a year later, the army was composed nearly entirely of press ganged "recruits." The ineffectiveness of the Ever Victorious Army was so prominent that Imperial army ordered it to be disbanded. And yet somehow, Gordon earned the name "Chinese" from this whole mess.
    • That being said, however, Gordon's harsh treatment of his men was completely necessary as the members of this Ever Victorious Army were essentially thugs and bandits who would loot, pillage and rape at the slightest chance. Indeed, he even tried to prevent this harsh treatment by constantly ensuring his men were well payed, which infuriated many of the paymasters in the Imperial Army who would have preferred a more fiscally responsible method like pillaging towns. Gordon was disliked by many commanders in the Imperial army for his treatment of prisoners (they were upset that he didn't execute the spouses and children of rebels). Essentially, there is a lot of Values Dissonance influencing his reputation. While his successes in China may be misattributed to him in many ways, and he was certainly overly romanticized, his reputation is not entirely undeserved.
    • At Khartoum, Gordon greatly exceeded his command and as biographers and later writers noted, he seemed to have become Death Seeker hoping to drive the British to conquer Sudan (which the British govenrment did not want to do), repeatedly turning down requests to retreat from his impossible positions and refusing offers to leave by the leader of the Mahdist revolt with whom he exchanged letters. As a result of Gordon's actions, neither surrendering to The Siege or withdrawing from his position as per his original commands, he, his fellows soldiers and the entire garrison at Khartoum were murdered.
  • Ancient Athens and its system of direct democracy, in which citizens vote on legislation themselves, gets this reaction among many people frustrated with the shortcomings of modern representative democracy, feeling that a return to this system would go a long way in rooting out political corruption. This ignores the fact that Athenian democracy had many traits that would be regarded as extremely undemocratic today, including permitting slavery and restricting the vote to male property-holders (a tiny minority of the population), and that a system that worked for one city would likely be unwieldy at best for a modern country with millions of citizens.
  • Marcus Junius Brutus:
    • Plutarch wrote in his book of historical biographies, Parallel Lives, that Brutus was the last great republican. William Shakespeare saw him as a man who died for the Republic's interests. For a long time the prevailing opinion among liberal-minded intellectuals that Brutus was a shining paragon of republicanism and Caesar a grasping tyrant. In the age of The Enlightenment, intellectuals across England, France and America claimed Brutus as a proto-revolutionary hero while Orson Welles' famous anti-fascist production of Shakespeare's play portrayed Brutus and the conspirators as proto-La Résistance.
    • Much of this portrayal derives in large part from The Roman Republic getting a hero upgrade courtesy of the Good Republic, Evil Empire dichotomy that existed during the struggle of Europe against the monarchy. This naturally led to some facts being elided. Namely that Brutus was in fact an optimate, a member and defender of the aristocratic senate. Cicero's letters note that Brutus was a vicious moneylender who charged poor supplicants exorbitant interest, far more than other optimates. The idea of Brutus as a defender of conservative order against a popular reformer (which was how Caesar started out) underpinned John Wilkes Booth's citation of Brutus as an inspiration for killing Lincoln, but it rarely colors the discourse of most adaptations. Michael Parenti's book The Assassination of Julius Caesar goes into detail about this (including that Cicero apparently was the equivalent of a cruel slum lord) and Caesar was more in line with modern leftist values regarding how he treated the poor (proposing land reforms, for instance) which drew the ire of the optimate faction.
    • Archaeological discoveries have found coins with Brutus' name and likeness commemorating Caesar's assassination with the word Libertas on it. Putting the face and name of a living Roman on coinage was in the Republican era, a mark of autocracy, as was more or less glorifying the death of a fellow Roman (which is what the conspirators accused Caesar of doing in a triumph where he celebrated Cato's death). It was moroever illegal and the fact that Pompey the Great started doing it, followed later by Caesar himself, and now Brutus, complicates the traditional view of Brutus as a principled statesman and preserver of norms. If nothing else, the existence of these coins does mean that the reluctant vacillating figure in Shakespeare's play was not true and that Brutus did have some amount of ambition and saw himself as the Leader of the conspirators, and was certainly acknowledged as such. Ultimately, he might have died a Republican before living long enough to be a Dictator or Emperor.
  • Mexican Revolution figure Pancho Villa is a frequent recipient of this treatment. It's true that he was a talented and accomplished man who was A Father to His Men and genuinely wanted to help the less fortunate. But that didn't make him a saint, even if some of the people he fought against were hardly likable. Villa had his share of atrocities, such as personally shooting a woman who blamed him for her husband's death and a priest who begged him to show mercy to some villagers. When the Woodrow Wilson administration shifted its support from Villa and his allies to the Carranza government, his forces massacred eighteen American citizens, and he later ordered a cross-border raid into the United States that destroyed the New Mexican town of Columbus.
  • Depictions of Guan Yu tend to gloss over his more questionable decisions before his downfall and/or tone down his arrogance, making him into an embodiment of righteousness and loyalty.
  • This trope can happen to animals as well as humans. In the popular imagination, Balto was the greatest hero of all the dogs who participated in the 1925 Nome serum run. While he did play an important role (being the lead dog of the sled team that completed the last leg of the run), his leg of the relay wasn't the longest or the most dangerous. Historical consensus is that another dog named Togo led the team played the most important part in the run and faced the greatest challenges, but he's far more obscure today than Balto.
  • Gamal Abdel Nasser is today widely viewed as a symbol of Arab dignity and an Egyptian national hero. To be sure, he did do quite a bit of good for his country and his people. Under his regime, ordinary citizens enjoyed unprecedented access to things like housing and education, and Egypt underwent an economic boom and cultural flourishing. But while Egypt was prosperous, it was hardly what one would call free. Nasser was a very authoritarian leader who effectively held all governing power in the country and violated human rights. His autocratic style of leadership is generally believed to have had significant negative consequences for Egypt, such as the Egyptian involvement in the Six-Day War which saw Egypt lose at least ten thousand soldiers and (temporarily) the Sinai Peninsula. Nasser was also an anti-Semite who imprisoned and/or expelled much of Egypt's Jewish population and even expressed skepticism (if not outright denial) of the Holocaust in an interview with an East German newspaper. He may not have been an outright monster like some other Middle Eastern dictators, but he wasn't as good as he's frequently remembered either.
  • Works about The French Revolution will often tend to cast Georges Danton as a moderate liberal revolutionary killed by the revolutionary excesses of the Reign of Terror. Danton was less enthusiastic about the Terror than many of the Jacobins, but unlike them he commanded huge respect and loyalty from the militant Parisian crowd, which was often even more extreme than the Jacobins. He was also quite corrupt, accepting bribes from foreign diplomats and lived a lavish lifestyle during a time of wartime deprivation and wide starvation. He was also quite willing to use violence to get what he wanted and it was him, not Maximilien Robespierre, who built the instruments of the Terror: the Revolutionary tribunals and the Committee of Public Safety, justifying it by saying that "let us be terrible so that people don't have to be."
  • Marie Antoinette was scapegoated during her own lifetime for royalist excess. Cartoons in her lifetime depicted her as an airhead who does not realize that cakes and bread are made of the same grain, to a decadent noble who spends all her time and state money on partying and dresses while callously ignoring the suffering of the people, or someone willing to expend money on a Diamond Necklace. Yet after she died, she became a sentimental favorite for French Restoration Royalists (and through them, British and American pop culture), where many saw her as a Tragic Hero who was Innocently Insensitive and became a scapegoat for a misogynist barbarian mob, which has infected most depictions of her since then:
    • Now, it is a fact that all of the above caricatures and rumors were false. They were deliberately so since Pre-Revolutionary satirists were prevented from making direct criticisms of the state, but indirectly they could attack it by discrediting it and Antoinette proved ideal for it, since her genuine clueless nature and clumsiness made her an easy mark. She was kind to her servants and favorites, and would dole out charity, and not cruel at all. She was a young woman who was unprepared at becoming a queen (she was the youngest of several daughters, but her older sisters died of smallpox with one exception, who ended up with facial scars) and tried to cope with things the best she could. She wasn't as excessive as other French aristocrats and there was more than a little xenophobia in mocking the Austrian Woman and her trial was misogynistic even by the standards of her time.
    • Having said all that, recent films and books about her go so far to the other direction that they can only be called hagiographic, with some even claiming her as a fashion icon and feminist symbol. Before the Revolution, Antoinette's attitude was more or less Slumming It, dressing up as an Arcadian peasant in "simple" clothing (which was actually incredibly expensive). She also made excessive demands for silk and expected it at a cheap rate that Lyon's textile industry was badly affected by her. Likewise, Antoinette largely cared about her station, rank and privilege, and that of her children, and she wasn't exactly fond of the Woman's March to Versailles and didn't have much very sympathy for the poor Parisian market women complaining about expensive bread and royal indifference. So while she did not say "Let them eat cake" and wasn't literally like the caricature of the time, the fact is that she could be just as obnoxious, callous and contemptuous of the poor as any aristocrat of her rank and station was and the people making fun of her with cartoons and rumors, weren't entirely wrong about the kind of person she was.
    • During the Revolution, Antoinette proved to be quite a formidable and ruthless political operator. She played a major role in some of the incredibly terrible decisions made by her husband Louis XVI more or less enabling his paranoia and indecisiveness. She became the leader of the reactionary faction after 1789, urging Louis XVI to avoid compromise and accommodation with the new revolutionary order and attempting to manipulate Mirabeau to divide the revolutionaries. Moreover, she embezzled the Civil List to support the reactionaries and may have encouraged her brother Emperor Leopold II to invade France, which would have made her guilty of treason and indeed historians such as Timothy Tackett and David A. Bell do believe that she was a traitor, someone who knowingly provoked the 1792 War in the hope that France would lose and the neighboring Kingdoms would restore the French Monarchy.
  • To complete the French Revolution-era list, Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade, is depicted in sympathetic fictional works (others giving him a Historical Villain Upgrade) such as Marat/Sade, Quills, and The Invisibles as at best a noble pioneer of sexual libertarianism and campaigner against hypocritical moralism, and at worst an essentially harmless pornographer and Lovable Sex Maniac who never seriously hurt anyone. In actual fact, he frequently engaged in rape and torture of servants and other working-class women, and it was largely because of that, rather than his writings and political ideas, that he was repeatedly imprisoned.
  • Jean-Jaques Dessalines was a leader of the Haitian Revolution and one of the first independent rulers of Haiti. He crowned himself Emperor in 1804, and proceeded to rule Haiti with an iron fist. In that same year he led his army to every city on the Haitian side of the island and gave his soldiers explicit orders to kill every single white French civilian, including their children and any French woman who wouldn't marry one of his soldiers. Dessalines made a point of insisting that mixed-race soldiers to take part in the massacre so the blame wouldn't fall entirely upon Haiti's black population, and he would lure any survivors out of hiding with false promises of amnesty. He didn't even try to hide what he did, bragging about it by stating "For our declaration of independence, we should have the skin of a white man for parchment, his skull for an inkwell, his blood for ink, and a bayonet for a pen!". By the time the massacre was completed, 3000 - 5000 defenseless civilians were dead. After the massacre, Dessalines forced all black citizens on the island to either serve in his army or work on the plantations. Unsurprisingly, he became unpopular and was assassinated by his own followers just two years into his reign and was reviled by Haitians for the rest of the 19th century because of his autocratic ways. However in the 20th century onward, many Haitians decided that his role in winning their country's independence excused his atrocities. Currently a Haitian City and the Haitian National Anthem are both named after him.
  • Jeanne d'Arc, of course, does this to Joan of Arc. Another, more peculiar example lies in Gilles de Rais, who was an infamous serial killer in real life, but here he is one of Joan's most steadfast allies. By all accounts he WAS a loyal French royalist AND a savage, possibly, Satanic murderer. The two aren't incompatible. That, and there is no small amount of dispute over WHEN his murders started.
    • Mark Twain's Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, by the Sieur Louis de Conte, which Twain called his favorite of all his books, is a rare example of near-total Sarcasm Failure on Twain's part, being a straight, starry-eyed depiction of a Lady of War and her noble death at the hands of evil. A lot of people called him out on this, including George Bernard Shaw, who kept Joan the traditional heroine in his play Saint Joan, but felt that her enemies had been the victims of a Historical Villain Upgrade and opted for White and Grey Morality in his version of events. Quite incorrectly, however, as regards Peter Cauchon, Bishop of Beauvais, who was a swine.
    • It should be noted that it is possible (and in fact most likely) that Joan of Arc never knew that Gilles de Rais was a serial killer. In any case, the fact that he is often forgotten completely is evidence of historical hero upgrade.
    • It is worth noting that it is a commonly held theory that Gilles de Rais was innocent. The Duke of Brittany, who was the person given the authority to prosecute the case, was also the one to receive all of Gilles de Rais' titles and lands after the conviction. In addition, none of the physical evidence brought forth was particularly tied specifically to Gilles de Rais, the confessions were forced under torture and threat of excommunication, the only accomplices that were punished were servants despite the claim that other nobles were involved, the confessions had very different methods cited, and there were a range of other charges added on top of the murders with little to no attempt to justify this. Regardless of his guilt or innocence, he was known for his Blood Knight tendencies and his violent nature on the battlefield.
  • Empress/Queen Consort Elisabeth of Austria-Hungary aka Sisi/Sissi got many "biographical novels" describing her as a mix of a grown Manic Pixie Dream Girl and a Princess Classic (if not a full-blown Purity Sue who never does anything wrong), is utterly hated or bullied by her Evil Matriarch mother-in-law Sophie (who was more of an Almighty Mom and Ignored Expert) and pretty much brings sun and love to everyone else, solving their problems with much class and sweetness. This reaches egregious levels with the Sissi movie trilogy and the Princess Sissi animated TV series. The real Elisabeth, however, was much closer to a mixture of Broken Bird and Rebellious Princess, unable to withstand the terrible pressure coming from the Habsburg Court and plagued by disgraces and mental illnesses. (Arguably, the most down-to-Earth and realistic portrayal of Sissi in media would Brigitte Hamann's biography, The Reluctant Empress). Pretty much inverted by the musical Elisabeth, which presents her as so damaged and unstable that she spends her entire adult life hallucinating that Death (in the form of a beautiful young man) is trying to seduce her.
  • Christopher Columbus's heroic upgrade has been zig-zagged throughout American history. Columbus became a celebrated figure in early American history as an enlightened and heroic explorer who convinced Europe that the Earth is round by discovering America. Washington Irving's lionizing biography A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus significantly contributed to this narrative. These misconceptions permeated American pop culture to the point that they were often taught to children as fact, and Columbus Day was established to celebrate the man as a hero. However, growing backlash against Columbus over the past two or three decades has completely flipped the narrative, often portraying him as a hilariously incompetent moron and genocidal maniac. This is also untrue. Ultimately Columbus was a complicated figure. While his voyages did suffer from miscalculations and misconceptions, he was not an idiot and did ultimately open up the New World to European exploration. His governorship could be cruel to the native population, especially by modern standards, but he was not a bloodthirsty psychopath, particularly for his era.
  • New Zealand Prime Minister David Lange got this treatment for several reasons. The most famous reason was his standing up to the Reagan administration and banning nuclear ships from New Zealand's ports. It made him a hero of the anti-nuclear movement, but in fact Lange was not an especially ardent believer in disarmament. The Labour Party also fondly remembers him (likely due to his charisma and amazing sense of humor), but they tend to gloss over the fact that the policies of his Finance Minister Roger Douglas (who is persona non grata in Labour circles today) ended up splitting the party and destroying his government.
  • David Ben-Gurion was Israel's primary founder and first Prime Minister. To this day, he is remembered as one of the greatest leaders in Israeli history. Now, his reputation is at least partly deserved — his military leadership played a major role in the victory of the Jews in 1948, he had a large hand in his country's rapid development, and he firmly advocated against discrimination. But that's not to say he didn't have his flaws or commit questionable actions. His party, Mapai, often governed through rather corrupt and authoritarian means — such as firing teachers who voted for the ‘wrong’ party (or even weren’t members of the workers’ association associated with the party) and bribing workers during elections. In his diaries, Ben-Gurion blamed all sorts of atrocities committed by the IDF in its early days (the most notorious case being the massacre at Kafr Qasim) on Holocaust survivors note , when they were largely committed by Jews who were born and raised in Israel. Ben-Gurion also had a bad habit of exceeding his authority, such as ordering Operation Olive Leaves — an attack on Syrian fortifications in retaliation for repeated attacks on Israeli fishing vessels in the Sea of Galilee — without consulting the cabinet first.
  • Matthias Corvinus ruled Hungary with an iron fist. He was known for imprisoning the nobles who crowned him king, and instituting high taxes to maintain his army of Elite Mooks. Despite this, he is known as Hungary's greatest and most iconic folk hero, for his sense of justice and his rumoured habit of mingling with the common folk. The fact that the kingdom of Hungary was living its golden age during his rule, and practically died with him, also helps his case.
  • Jesse James. American film and media portray him as a Robin Hood figure of the Wild West thanks to the popularity of the Dime Novels in the late 19th century. In reality, he started his career as a pro-slavery bushwacker serving under the terrorists William Quantrill and Bloody Bill Anderson, and willingly participated in the Centralia Massacre where 24 Union soldiers were scalped and dismembered. He robbed medicines intended for the sick and unhealthy, and was known for dressing up as a woman (because he was handsome enough to be a really convincing one), seducing unionists to a brothel and then shanking and shanghaing his targets. The myth of Jesse James was in fact a PR Stunt developed by anti-Reconstruction journalists since his targets were Unionists and Union Republicans. Almost no movie deals with this, even something like The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford avoids dealing with the political baggage of James' crimes, or his early life, and the fact that his family were slaveowners.
  • Much like Jesse James above, Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker have been romanticized as dashing outlaw lovebirds to the point that it's easy to forget that their "flaunting of society's rules" left a lot of dead bodies in its wake, both police and civilian. As a rule, criminals generally don't get four machine guns emptied into their bodies in an ambush without a very good reason, and that was because they were considered The Dreaded. They gunned down civilians at the mere hint of resistance, killed several police officers in unprovoked shootings, and often robbed small stores instead of banks, with one instance leading to Clyde beating and shooting an unarmed shopkeeper dead for $60. Historians now believe the motivation for the crime spree was Clyde seeking revenge against society for his 2 year stay in the infamously brutal Eastham Prison Farm, and not anger against banks as popularized in the 1967 film based on the pair.
  • Aside from being the highest selling T-shirt image, Che Guevara is given this treatment in pop culture, at least via the massive merchandise and logos. He is often seen as a hero figure who represents civil disobedience, rebellion, and freedom. Less known is the fact that Che oversaw the Revolutionary Tribunals in La Cabana that killed hundreds of people, a fact which he admitted several times, without any shame or remorse whatsoever. He also expressed his desire to nuke the United States (and was angry that Russia didn't), even though he knew it would kill millions of people. Scholarly assessments of Guevara's virtues and flaws is more mixed than the pop culture version, with the exception of works like Spain Rodriquez' graphic biography (which is pro-Che) and Steven Soderbergh's biopic (which is detached but not entirely critical). In most cases, Che is invoked as a holdover of counterculture iconography without any of the context.
  • The Knights Templar in general and Jacques de Molay, their last Grand Master, in particular. Thanks to The Accursed Kings of Maurice Druon for adding to this. While executing every member of the order is horrific and on top of that was done for overtly corrupt reasons (King Philip IV of France owed the Templar Order a lot of money, and decided to eliminate his debt by eliminating the Templars), this does not mean that the Knights Templar were saints. It was a case of Black and Gray Morality, which some treat like Black and White Morality. Russian bard "Chancellor Gi" wrote a mocking song The plea of Jacques de Molay about said dead Templar worrying how he's going to be canonized, and remembering details such as his bastards and shifty way of his ascension to the chair.
  • While 19th Century Abolitionists were not racist for their time, many modern audiences assume that they held 21st Century conventional views on race. In fact, most of them believed blacks to be inferior to whites, but also thought it wrong to enslave them anyway. The vast majority of them would be considered very very racist in this day and age, and indeed Frederick Douglass considered them racist in their day and age as well.
  • The American Founding Fathers are almost without question portrayed with "founders' chic" that more or less makes them out to be Cool People Rebel Against Authority. This happens regardless of the political spectrum, whether right or left:
    • George Washington is usually portrayed as a freedom fighter and a pillar of moral character who established that the president will step down in a peaceful transition of power after a brief rule. This view glosses over his ownership of slavesFor example , his controversial tactical decisions during the Revolutionary WarFor example , his brutal and highly successful campaigns against the Native Americans while leading a portion of the Virginia Regiment, an embarrassing friendly fire incident during the Forbes Expedition to take Fort Duquesne, and the little fact that he kinda sorta ignited the French and Indian War (which led to the tax laws that Parliament passed to pay veterans of said war, which led to the unrest that resulted in the American Revolution) by ambushing a French patrol, leading to the Battle of Jumoville Glen. Whoops. Is it any wonder John Adams referred to him as "Old Muttonhead"? Even the ideas that Washington was some kind of naive humble hero and Cincinnatus belies the fact that much of this reading comes from propaganda that Washington himself spread about him. In truth, he was a highly ambitious man (he blatantly campaigned to get the Continental Congress to appoint him as the commanding general), an adept political operator, who was quite good at putting on airs of non-partisanship while passing the buck of the actual policy-making and the stigma of association to Alexander Hamilton and others. His farewell speech which is often invoked out-of-context as a warning about the dangers of forming political parties and partisanship was contextually a Take That! to Thomas Jefferson and his rivals, in other words, Washington in warning about non-partisanship was actually acting in a partisan manner.
    • Many biographies of Thomas Jefferson will gloss over or outright omit his affair with his slave Sally Hemings, the consensuality of which is sometimes debated (although most historians do tend to agree they had mutual feelings for one another). Actually, the existence of the affair itself is far from settled fact among some historians though the consensus accepts itnote , and Jefferson's descendant Lucian Truscott IV has openly insisted that Hemmings and their descendants be considered part of his lineage.
    • An interesting case from The American Revolution is Paul Revere. While he played a role in building the alarm system, he actually never made it to his destination during his Midnight Ride (only Samuel Prescott arrived in Concord). Revere was caught by a British patrol and detained. In fairness, however, his connections and people skills did help raise the alarm quicker than it otherwise might have been. After Lexington and Concord, Revere tried his luck as an artillery officer in the Massachusetts militia, but his only direct confrontation with the British was the Penobscot Expedition, after which he was court-martialed (and some say he was only acquitted of all charges because the state of Massachusetts needed to pin all the blame on the Continental Navy, otherwise they would have been bankrupt). However, Revere is nowadays remembered as one of the great heroes of the Revolution, mostly due to the poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (and his name rhyming with "hear"...).
    • Patrick Henry is widely celebrated in the United States for his "give me liberty or give me death" speech in 1775 to the Second Virginia Convention, advocating that Virginia militia troops be sent to join the rebellion. What gets little attention is his deeply hypocritical position on slavery. While he spoke out against slavery several times and compared British actions leading up to the revolution to enslavement of the colonies, he also owned many slaves himself and did not (unlike several other slave owners who were ambivalent about or outright opposed to to the institution of slavery) ever free any of his slaves or leave provisions in his will to do so after his death. He seemingly thought that banning the international slave trade would cause slavery to eventually die out, but gave no thought to those who would remain enslaved in the meantime and was hostile to the idea of freeing slaves from their current owners. In 1787-1788 when campaigning against the adoption of the US Constitution (which he believed would give the new federal government too much power), he even argued to Virginia slave owners that they should oppose it because the federal government would free their slaves.
  • Due to many biographies written about American presidents, along with multiple varying portrayals in the media and the concept of American exceptionalism, this trope is pretty much inevitable and very common with many of the more well-liked presidents in American history; some examples include:
    • Andrew Jackson is seen in portrayals as a war hero and a populist badass who loved his wife dearly and stood up for the people against the wealthy elite. A website like Cracked despite being critical and debunker of myths also indulges in this Memetic Badass glorification. However this overlooks his responsibility for the Trail of Tears and Indian Removal that forced many Native Americans from their lands and caused many to die in the process, who had been his allies in the War of 1812, after the Supreme Court ruled against it.
    • Abraham Lincoln's successful prosecution of The American Civil War and bringing about the end of slavery in the United States have led to him rightfully being enshrined as a great American. That being said, popular culture and even quite a few historians have painted a more unambiguously good picture of him than he actually was. What a lot of people forget is that he wasn't always committed in his abolitionism. Earlier on, he opposed slavery's expansion westward, but wasn't a wholehearted supporter of interfering with slavery where it already existed. He also prioritized winning the Civil War over ending slavery, declaring in a letter to Horace Greeley that if he could save the Union without freeing a single slave, he would do itnote . Like many other abolitionists, he was also a skeptic (and at times, even outright opponent) of racial equality, and even toyed with the idea of sending freed slaves to Liberia. To be fair, though, his views on African-Americans did improve over time and came to embrace a greater ideal of equality by the end of his life, something Frederick Douglass commended him for. It's also generally forgotten that Lincoln undertook some rather authoritarian, regressive, and anti-democratic measures during the war, including shutting down several newspapers that were critical of the war effort, jailing the mayor of Baltimore without charges, and suspending the writ of habeas corpus, the latter of which was also done by Jefferson Davis. When the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Maryland ruled his suspension of habeas corpus unconstitutional, Lincoln and his Attorney General Edward Bates simply ignored the verdict.
    • Theodore Roosevelt is often seen as a model of badassery and the founder of modern progressivism. While this may be true, it overlooks his imperialistic tendencies in Cuba and the Philippines during the US wars there from the 1890s to the 1900s and his often boorish personal behavior. Like many people of his day, Roosevelt believed imperialism was good for "less civilized" nations, as being conquered would allow them to learn how to be "more civilized." He was also an enthusiastic supporter of eugenics, again like many people of his time.
    • Woodrow Wilson is often seen as a model of Progressivism and idealism, when in fact he appointed the heads of large corporations to agencies supposedly regulating business, instated the policy of mandatory segregation (while it was a widespread custom, federal agencies weren't formally segregated until he made it so and in particular the United States Navy at the time had white and black sailors serving side by side, though with great support from other Progressives), was one of the first of the Red Scare anti-communist and anti-socialist presidents who jailed thousands of people for "crimes" such as opposing the war or draft (in a way that today would be held as much like a dictatorship), and did little for labor, women, and other groups in need of assistance. This seems to have shifted in recent years, where he is looked on much more critically nowadays for exactly these reasons. With many actually calling him one of the worst presidents in the US in the early 20th century, especially on Some more hardline American conservatives, on the other hand, have long subjected Wilson to a Historical Villain Upgrade for his role in bringing about a permanent income tax and establishing the Federal Reserve bank (those being some of the major reasons why many progressives gave him a Historical Hero Upgrade).
    • Franklin D. Roosevelt is remembered fondly for guiding the United States through both the great Depression and WWII, however most people overlook his dark side. He made multiple attempts to seize greater power for the presidency and often worked behind the backs of the other branches of government to achieve his ends. In the court packing scheme for example, he drafted an executive order that would allow him to appoint additional Supreme Court judges to "assist" the many elderly judges on the court, which would essentially grant him control of the Supreme Court. Congress threatened to impeach him if he went through with it, as it violated the separation of powers between the executive and the judiciary (expanding the court requires Congressional approval). The decision most people are appalled at is his authorization of Japanese-American internment on suspicion of espionage, which even J. Edgar Hoover (notoriously xenophobic and racist in his own right) opposed. Many people today also overlook his role in developing the Atomic Bomb, though in the case of the latter he has the benefit of the doubt since the decision and strategy to bomb Japan was undertaken by Harry Truman alone, and supporters often wonder if Roosevelt would have ordered the dropping of the Bomb had he not died. In addition, conservatives tend to view his New Deal as actually a very bad deal, possibly prolonging the Depressionnote  and creating unintended consequences that are still felt today. He also initially supported the Morgenthau Plan, which would have seen Germany's industrial capabilities almost completely stripped from her, and only turned against it after overwhelmingly negative public reaction to it.
    • Dwight D. Eisenhower is often portrayed as an admirable and badass general in WWII and a great president who maintained stability in the early years of the cold war, and warned of the Military-Industrial complex. While he could be seen as admirable and these portrayals deserve credit, they tend to overlook some of his shady foreign policy actions as president. The problem is that which actions you regard as shady depends on your own point of view. On one side Eisenhower is criticized for supporting various dictatorships like Batista's regime in Cuba and Ngo Dinh Diem's in South Vietnam as long as they remained his dictatorships, and for joining with the British in instigating a coup in Iran to remove the democratically elected government in favor of the absolute monarchy of the Shah (which in in the long run paved the way to the Islamic Revolution). On the other they accuse him of "backstabbing" American allies like Britain, France, the Netherlands, and Israel, in other words e.g. for refusing to do with Egypt what he did do with Iran and to unconditionally supporting the imperialism of his allies who in the case of the Suez crisis had tried to deceive him. Some also think that he should have come to the aid of the Hungarian and Polish rebels/strikers of 1956, thereby risking starting World War III, but such a view is perhaps more popular among hawkish American cold warriors than elsewhere (in 1956 a nuclear war would primarily have affected Europe as the Soviet Unions would only show they could build intercontinental missiles the following year).
    • John F. Kennedy is often seen as the "last true president" of the United States and is seen in many circles as a president who saved the world from Armageddon and would have avoided Vietnam and saved America from <insert Villainous secret society here that killed him in Conspiracy Theories> had he lived. He is almost canonized (along with Andrew Jackson sometimes) in Conspiracy Theorist circles as a pillar of moral character that stood against the "system". The fact that the "monolithic conspiracy" speech was probably a reference to Communism and the Soviet Union gets ignored, along with his professional and personal failings. A lot of his forays into international affairs were dangerous brinkmanship at best and disastrous at worst. Notably, failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion was caused by his ineffective and pointless Cavalry Refusalnote , and the Cuban Missile Crisis was defused owing to the fact that even the Soviets were worried about Castro and Che's Ax-Crazy claims about the nukes as it did to JFK's success. While Kennedy opposed military intervention in Vietnam, it was not because he was anti-war but because he felt that a war in Vietnam wouldn't be in America's interest. He also did send American military advisers to train the South Vietnamese Army, and it's entirely possible that this would've dragged him into the war anyway if any of those advisers got killed by North Vietnamese bombs. While not he wasn't as hawkish as the likes of Johnson or Nixon, Kennedy was still a hardline anti-communist who was willing to prop up anti-communist regimes and believed in the now-discredited domino theory, which claims that if one country fell to communism, the surrounding countries would follow. Domestically, Kennedy was not the egalitarian as the left would assume; when he was a congressman, he supported legislation that would allow the surveillance and harassment of supposed communist sympathizers, and he wasn't enthusiastic about openly supporting the civil rights movement despite his sympathies. Perception of JFK on the American left is significantly colored by his more liberal brothers Robert (who pressured John to support the civil rights movement and campaigned on that issue in this own presidential bid until his own assassination) and Ted (one of the most prominent liberals in the US Senate for 47 years), who were both more devoted than him to liberal causes. In his personal life, he was charismatic and charming but was also dishonest, cheating on his wife so frequently that he and his staff had to devise an alarm system to warn when she was nearby.
    • Ronald Reagan is another US President who has been raised to heroic status for allegedly "ending the Cold War without a shot", as Margaret Thatcher put it. He is fondly remembered by many people for giving the USA back its self-confidence after the embarrassment of Watergate and being forced to pull back from the Vietnam War. The Reagan administration oversaw an economic policy that gave business people more freedom without government interference, which was a good thing for the rich. It has gotten to the point that Reagan is basically seen as some kind of lovable and morally incorruptible grandpa figure, which is a very romanticized image. For starters, Reagan was very tough on Communism during the first years of his administration, actively wanting to put more nuclear missiles in Europe and even in space (the "Star Wars" project) just to be safe from possible USSR attacks but he moderated in response to the biggest anti-nuclear demonstrations of all time and learned to back down from his tough-talking approach, forming a friendship with Mikhail Gorbachev. Likewise, Reagan led the most corrupt US Administration with more officials imprisoned and dismissed from office under his tenure than any other, among the most notable being the Iran-Contra scandal. In addition to this, there is his handling of the AIDS Crisis which led many LGBT activists to believe that his administration was either indifferent or were actively leaving them to die, taking action only after straight people became affected. In foreign-policy, Reagan supported bad actors in El Salvador, the Nicaraguan Contras, and Apartheid South Africa, simply because they were anti-communist. His 1994 admission that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease also brought speculation that he might have already been affected by the disease during his second term, during which he was often confused during cabinet meetings.note  Likewise, in 2019, a phone conversation between Reagan, when he was Governor of California, and President Nixon surfaced, in which Reagan said some pretty racially insensitive things about African delegates at the UN, hinting that in private Reagan may have held racist views, at least at that time.
  • This is very common in works featuring Nikola Tesla. He is often portrayed as a super-geek fighting/being betrayed by Thomas Edison, who gets some Historical Villain Upgrades in the process. They often say that he was the sole creator of his inventions, even when he was just improving on something that came before (alternating current, for instance). Or they gloss over his ideas that failed simply because they were completely unworkable (in many cases because he was simply mistaken about the physical laws of the universe, which were much less understood during his lifetime than they are now). Or they downplay some of Tesla's personal flaws such as his anti-Semitism, his support of eugenics, and his dismissal of Albert Einstein.
  • Fletcher Christian of the HMS Bounty mutiny is generally portrayed as a heroic, honorable man who stood up against Captain Bligh on behalf of the oppressed crew and ultimately led them to salvation and paradise on Pitcairn Island. This is not withstanding the fact that most historians agree that Bligh's tyrannical behavior has been greatly exaggerated (in fact, most accounts are that Bligh was less prone to use the severe physical punishments of the era than most Royal Navy captains, preferring to simply ridicule subordinates with abusive language if they displeased him), and that it is hard for anyone who takes an objective reading of the accounts to regard Christian's actions as anything but purely selfish, he having even admitted to that after the mutiny. By his own claim, he simply could not handle being yelled at by Bligh any longer. Portrayals of the story conveniently gloss over several important facts. Regardless of Christian's personal feelings towards Bligh, he also sent 18 loyal crewmembers adrift with him, some of whom did not survive. Responsibility for their deaths has to rest at least partly on his shoulders. On the other hand, he also forced some men to remain on the ship against their will, content on never allowing them to return home. Christian's command of the ship after taking control was also strict and somewhat abusive like Bligh before him, resulting in over half of his band losing faith in his leadership and deserting him at Tahiti. Christian and his mutineers were also responsible for the massacre of dozens of natives on Tubuai Island while trying to clear space for a settlement, and most of the Tahitians who accompanied them to Pitcairn Island, were in fact kidnapped. On Pitcairn Island, Christian and his mutineers treated the Tahitian men like slaves, to the point where they eventually rebelled, resulting in a bloody massacre.
  • Charles Ogier de Batz de Castelmore, Comte d'Artagnan actually led a fairly accomplished life as a soldier and secret agent for France. This inspired memoir-novelist Gatien de Courtilz de Sandras to write a very flattering and almost completely fictionalized biography about him, Les mémoires de M. d'Artagnan. Alexandre Dumas, in turn, pretended that this memoir was real and used it as a base for his even more flattering d'Artagnan Romances. In them, d'Artagnan is portrayed as a romantic hero and adventurer of limitless courage, resourcefulness and loyalty. The series and its countless adaptations have caused d'Artagnan to become an iconic figure for the fictionalized version of his life rather than his actual deeds.
  • Many World War II films have shades of this for both sides of the conflict, with the Red Army and its commanders, such as Georgy Zhukov, being the most commonly upgraded side in World War II fiction. Though it is true that the Red Army had the most to do with militarily defeating Germany, many works of fiction centered around them deem them the "heroes" of World War II who assisted in defeating the cruelest regime in history, while conveniently ignoring the long list of the Red Army's own crimes before, during, and after the war. Fiction also tends to downplay or ignore the crucial role Lend-Lease played in the Soviet efforts to resist the Nazis, with even Josef Stalin privately admitting things would probably have gone far worse for them if it weren't for the materiel they received from America. Speaking of which, Stalin too is often given this treatment at least in Russian media and propaganda, as well as in mainstream communist circles. He's shown as a staunch rival of Hitler and one who despised what Nazi Germany did while neglecting the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and that at the start of the war, Soviet Union and Nazi Germany invaded Poland as part of that agreement. He's also given credit for pulling the Soviet Union out of its agrarian economy and into the role of a superpower, but this forced modernization program and incompetence led to a huge famine crisis that led to the deaths of 5 million people (referred to as the Holodomor when it took place in Ukraine). His repressive administration led to mass persecution of political dissidents who were either executed after torture or sent to The Gulag, and it's estimated that more than a million lives were lost as a result of his direct policies with additional deaths caused by the gross incompetence of his administration. While Stalin's programs did have a lot to do with the Soviet Union's industrialization and eventual superpowerdom, it came at a huge cost and thanks to the repressive nature of his polices, it left a mess of poor institutions and planning that created additional problems for the Soviet Union.
  • Media favorable towards Malcolm X tends to focus only on the last year of his life, when he was separated from the Nation of Islam. Little attention is paid to his earlier separatism, his devotion to the increasingly corrupt Elijah Muhammad, his celebrations of major tragedies such as the Air France Flight 007 crash, his patriarchal attitudes regarding women, his vaguely anti-Semitic statements earlier on (which he never repudiated), and many of the stranger aspects of his earlier theology (which taught, for example, that Black people would be brought into heaven by a giant UFO). Not to mention that his break from the Nation of Islam is heavily romanticized, despite it being just as much a personal dispute between him and the Nation's leadership as it was an ideological one. And his conversion to Sunni Islam is often portrayed in an unambiguously positive light, glossing over the fact that his conception of Islamic orthodoxy was being fed to him by Saudi bigwigs, who may have been using him in a proxy war with their rival religious authorities in Egypt. Also, he had some of the anti-capitalist views that would be considered more acceptable today in light of economic crises and worsening social condition caused by neoliberalism. Of course, Malcolm being the polarizing figure that he is, the opposite end of this trope is just as common (if not more so).
  • The North Vietnamese during The Vietnam War. Both during and after the conflict, they have been portrayed as largely-innocent victims of American and French colonial interests lashing out at their oppressors. In actuality, the North Vietnamese were the ones responsible for the vast majority of intentional civilian deaths in the war.
    • This does lead to a fact that actual North Vietnamese war crimes are rarely depicted, nor is the fact that their government was a fairly typical hardline Communist one with most of the usual trappings thereof such as mass executions and nationalization of business by force. The Vietcong/NLF gets the same treatment, along with Historical Badass Upgrade, as their combat effectiveness is often exaggerated and they were generally used as cannon fodder. Whereas pretty much everyone now knows about the My Lai massacre, few can name the Huế massacre during the Tet offensive. At one point they killed a civil servant, his wife, his children, his daughter-in-law and servants, his cat and dog and his goldfish. If there's any doubt as to how concerned the communists in Vietnam were with basic human rights, consider the mass-exodus of Vietnamese refugees trying to get out of the country (and sailors on the USS Midway, offshore during Operation Frequent Wind, having to push dozens of helicopters overboard to make room for more to land, packed with refugees) when the NVA overran Saigon. After their victory, persecution of South Vietnamese in business and government occurred, plus repression of ethnic Chinese (many of whom were active in both fields).
    • Genocides ensued where the Communists won, with hundreds of thousands of Montagnards, ethnic Chinese, Catholics, Hmong, Tay, and Mixed Ancestry Vietnamese being murdered directly or via deprivations, and millions more either fleeing the country or being sent to concentration camps to quash resistance.note  Per the U.N., in the years following North Vietnam's victory, 1.65 million southern Vietnamese refugeesnote  fled and settled in other countries; per the U.S. High Commission Of Refugees, 0.75 million others died in their attempts to flee, usually at sea; and per the modern Hanoi government, over one million remaining people in the former RVN spent time in a reeducation camp. Despite this, they are remembered positively among the left of many countries because their repression didn't reach the numbers that it did in Communist China and the USSR (or at least historians don't believe it did, since a lot of the archives of that time are kept out of reach of neutral observers), and that the Vietnamese government did play a role in ending the Cambodian genocide, and they have historically fought the Imperialist French, the Hawkish Americans, the Communist Chinese, and as such living up to the nationalist freedom fighter image many on the American left foisted on them. This is also because many of the ideas about the Vietnamese (e.g. the American soldiers left behind in Vietnamese prison camps popularized by Rambo: First Blood Part II) are now Dated History and propaganda.
    • The idea that they ended the Cambodian genocide is itself an example. It's technically true, but it fails to mention is that they're the ones who installed the Khmer Rouge in the first place. In March 1970, after years of giving shelter to the Khmer Rouge (who were unable to make much progress and had very few members at that point despite extensive support from China), the North Vietnamese Army directly invaded Cambodia (its pro-Hanoi monarch had been legally and constitutionally deposed by the National Assembly), smashed the majority of its army, occupied 40% of the country, and systemically dismantled the government institutions; they then handed over the land and populace they took to the Khmer Rouge along with more weapons and supplies. Then they took an active role in training and recruiting for the Khmer Rouge, to the point that the Cambodian communist insurgency grew from fairly irrelevant to possessing several tens of thousands of fighters in only two months following their invasion. All of this is openly admitted to in Victory in Vietnam, the PAVN's official war history. Not only did the PAVN invasion directly kick start a civil war that killed 300,000 people, it enabled Pol Pot's eventual victory, enabling him to go on his own genocidal campaign in which he slaughtered over 1,800,000 civilians. The North Vietnamese didn't care about this. The 1978-1979 Vietnamese-Cambodian War only happened because Pol Pot was ridiculously Too Dumb to Live and had his troops invade Vietnamese land and massacre towns and villages after the Vietnam War ended. And while the Vietnamese counter-invasion did depose the Khmer Rouge and stop the genocide, it also kick started yet another civil war that killed another 300,000 people, over two thirds of whom were civilians.note  Yet, for some reason, "expanding the war to Cambodia" is popularly laid at the feet of Richard Nixon, not the PAVN.
  • The IRA frequently gets this treatment in American works, where Irish-Americans even see them romantically. It is true that the Irish and Catholics were disenfranchised in the UK at the time, and the British Army and the RIC were unquestionably brutal during the Irish War of Independence. However, the IRA (or at least elements within it) were and still are notorious for attacking civilians, anti-Protestant violence, extortion and what we recognize today as classic terrorist tactics like street bombings and letter bombs. During The Troubles, IRA splinter groups were notorious for gangland-style "punishment shootings", where they would kneecap people who they felt had crossed them or as a means of cracking down on crime, particularly drug dealing (despite becoming involved with it themselves).
  • Sergeant Alvin C. York of the U.S. Army got this treatment, which he openly lampshaded, once he returned from World War I. Famed for leading a small contingent of soldiers to victory with a huge number of enemy prisoners after the rest had been slaughtered by enemy fire, York immediately got a huge hero's treatment Stateside, which he complained against and tried to deny. Books were written making his exploits completely fantastic, and movies did the same, such as one of the earliest showing him single-handedly charge an enemy position with a pistol and killing a few dozen German soldiers, which he himself said never happened.note  It should also be noted that York openly felt remorse for German soldiers he had killed and prayed for the dead Germans when he returned to the site of his feat.
  • Vladimir I of Kyiv, a Rusian ruler credited with bringing Christianity to the country,is venerated as a saint in the Russian Orthodox Church and as one of Rus best early leaders. He was also an extremely abusive husband even for his time, was involved in the murder of one of his brothers, and became Christian more because it was the most politically and militarily convenient thing to do at the time than genuine faith. He also coerced people to become Christians, warning they would be in trouble if they didn't.
  • The Jacobite risings are usually framed as Scottish struggles to restore the Rightful King and achieve independence from the English yoke; Bonnie Prince Charlie in particular is looked on as something of a Tragic Hero by Scots nationalists. In reality, there were Jacobite minorities in England and Hanoverians in Scotland, and the English Parliament had deposed the Catholic James II for being too pro-French, not pro-Scottish. Furthermore, while the Stuarts certainly wanted to reclaim the Scottish throne, at the time still legally separate from England, they were probably more concerned with the richer and more powerful Kingdom of England. So, while there was certainly an element of nationalism among the Scottish Jacobites, the risings were more of a struggle between Britain's Protestant political elite and continental Europe's old Catholic nobility than the true king fighting to free his people.
  • Eliot Ness is frequently depicted as a badass, incorruptible law officer who became Al Capone's Arch-Enemy after refusing to take a bribe from him. In reality Ness had little to do with Capone's conviction, and Capone might have only barely been aware Ness even existed. Capone probably considered whoever was in charge of the North Side gang as his archnemesis; Ness' ten-man crew could barely scratch his million dollar bootlegging empire. Ironically for a man best known for fighting bootlegging, he also became an alcoholic later in life. When a federal building was slated to be named after him, a critic argued that it might as well be named after Batman.
  • George Orwell is often invoked as a free-speech dissident icon on both the Right and the Left, citing his warnings about Stalin's totalitarian regime and calling out his fellow leftists for their blind support of communism, which was certainly a valid point in the 30s and 40s. However, this has led to an ironic secular canonization (of the kind that Orwell himself criticized) where everyone assumes that because Orwell was right about Stalin, he was right about everything. Nor do they appreciate that an author who wrote about the deceptiveness of language and mendacity, was himself prone to exaggeration and outright lying, famously lying about "shooting an elephant" during an Escaped Animal Rampage, exaggerating his tony years as a student at Eton into a Boarding School of Horrors when in fact he was a pampered favorite of the headmaster and headmistressnote . He also used anti-communism as a platform for partisan mudslinging about issues that he was misinformed about (as in Homage to Catalonia), and finally at the same time as he wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four, he was compiling a list of suspected communists for the Ministry of Information, calling the likes of Paul Robeson "anti-white", saying Charlie Chaplin was Jewish, and so on. His private diaries reveal that Orwell was a homophobe and an anti-semite, and generally speaking, not a very nice person regardless of the value of his essays and writings.
  • Lampião is venerated as a Folk Hero in Brazil and often depicted in media as a Robin Hood figure: an outlaw that robbed the rich and gave it to the poor and dished out personal justice in the hard Northern Backlands, where the law could be bought by the rich. The reality was that he was a brutal and ruthless bandit that extorted people for huge amounts of money to not raid their towns and performed many horrible atrocities such as rapes, murders, castrations and branding to send out as message. Despite this, his memory is still fondly remembered in the Brazilian Northeast because of the idea he represented as a man standing up against the corrupt and taking up law in his own hands.
  • Spartacus, the Doomed Moral Victor of the last known great slave revolts in Rome is constantly portrayed a hero, especially in the modern era from the 1700s onwards (before he was either unmentioned or forgotten). Someone who fought for the freedom of fellow slaves cannot help but be considered a heroic figure to modern eyes.
    • Since most of the history we have comes down from Roman sources, we have no sure way of gauging what his motives were, which allows many authors to lend Applicability to his life. Karl Marx called him the greatest hero of the Ancient World, and communists and leftists always saw him as an Icon of Rebellion and a forerunner to later revolutionaries and uprisings (for instance Toussaint L'Ouverture was called the "Black Spartacus" and John Brown was also considered by Victor Hugo to be an American Spartacus). Their last stand at the hands of Roman Legions led by Marcus Licinius Crassus, after which many of them were crucified on the Appian Way to Make an Example of Them lionized them as a martyr for freedom thanks to Spartacus (and its iconic I Am Spartacus moment) and the more recent TV show Spartacus: Blood and Sand.
    • Historians, especially those who tend to subscribe to Good Republic, Evil Empire in regards to The Roman Republic (which is what Spartacus fought against and hypothetically was out to topple) qualify this, since seeing Spartacus as a hero makes the republicans that clamped him down evil (a position that many on the left wholly accept), and they oppose retrofitting contemporary attitudes to abolitionism on to a past where slavery was more or less considered normal by every society, be it Roman or non-Roman. They note that there is no evidence that Spartacus was seeking abolitionism of all slavery in Rome and in fact there is evidence of the very opposite (Spartacus' band composed of rural slaves and as such they tended to attack urban slaves who were loyal to their masters in the towns they attacked). There is no evidence that Spartacus had revolutionary intentions of toppling the Republic, with most arguing that the escaped slaves were merely runaways seeking to escape to freedom or at best Fighting for a Homeland. Of course, this would not, by itself, cancel out the revolutionary nature and example of Spartacus' story for his defenders, but fundamentally Spartacus and his story ultimately speaks to attitudes of the eighteenth and twentieth centuries rather than reveal anything about the Ancient World in general, and Rome in particular.
  • Sanada Yukimura is often celebrated as a folk hero for his legendary skills as a warrior and has always received a near universally positive portrayal in any work he is in as a youthful samurai with undying loyalty to Takeda Shingen and later Hideyoshi Toyotomi. His last stand at Osaka is always played straight, depicting a tragic fight to serve his lord no matter the cost as he made his suicidal charge to face Tokugawa. Such efforts have immortalized in him games like Samurai Warriors and Sanadamaru. Additionally, Yukimura tends to become an icon to oppose the Tokugawa whenever the writers felt like giving a middle finger to the Shogunate, which was not that uncommon when the shogunate began to weaken somewhere after 200 years of its foundation, because of the reasons above.
  • Akechi Mitsuhide tends to get this whenever the Demon King Nobunaga trope is in effect. As a devout Buddhist that was quite troubled with Oda Nobunaga's biggest atrocity that is the burning of Mt. Hiei, Mitsuhide is often regarded as someone who has the high moral ground and his betrayal at Honnoji was considered the hand of justice finally making Nobunaga pay for his atrocities. In the actual history, however, Mitsuhide wasn't acting out of karma, he just did the betrayal out of nowhere for vague reasons that no one even knows even today. One thing for sure was that Nobunaga was that close to unify Japan, which might be what the commonfolk wanted, and yet Mitsuhide's betrayal prolonged it, which made some people think that his death by peasants after being defeated by Toyotomi Hideyoshi counted as his own Karmic Death.
  • Menelik II, Emperor of Ethiopia, is generally fondly remembered as a strong and intelligent ruler who centralized and modernized the country, actively fought the slave trade, and prevented Ethiopia from being colonized through a combination of skillful diplomacy and military victories. In the process, however, he engaged in some truly appalling brutality. Over the course of his campaigns to unite Ethiopia and expand its territory, his armies engaged in atrocities similar to those committed by many of the European colonial powers, including torture, massacres, and the mistreatment of civilians. The Dizi, Kaffa, and Oromo peoples were especially hard-hit, with many among the latter considering his actions tantamount to genocide. Also, while he tried to suppress the slave trade, he wasn't an abolitionist; in fact, he and his third wife Taytu Betul personally owned 70,000 slaves between them.
  • Suffragists in multiple countries tend to get this treatment.
    • On hearing the word "Suffragette", people generally think of women advocating the extension of the franchise to their gender. However, this is the result of the term being conflated with the broader idea of suffrage activism, whose practitioners were called "suffragists". In reality, the term was used by contemporaries to describe UK militants such as the Women's Social and Political Union. Many of their activities were property damage, up to the point of domestic terrorism. Arson and bombings were not off the table. Furthermore, the amount of positive impact they had is subject to debate among historians. While it's generally agreed that their early activities had a dramatic mobilizing impact on the suffrage movement, there is a school of thought that argues the suffragettes did more harm than good overall when it came to their cause.
    • One aspect of the British (and Imperial) Suffragists (not just suffragettes) that's frequently overlooked was their involvement in the White Feather Campaign during World War I, where they shamed men (many of whom could not vote) into joining the British Army by presenting them with a white feather if they weren't in uniform. This has, however, gotten a good deal more attention in recent years.
    • As for women's rights across The Pond, it is common to gloss over the virulent racism of the American Suffragists. Not only did they use white supremacist rhetoric and stoke fears of "mongrel overrun" to sell the idea of women's franchise, but some also attempted to block the passage of the 15th Amendment because they were galled that freed slaves would get the right to vote before (white) women.
  • Up until some time ago, it was believed that after the death of her husband Louis of Thuringia, Saint Elizabeth of Hungary was kicked out and deprived from her rightful inheritance by her brother in law. In reality, Elizabeth willingly left the court to escape from its intrigues (and the discussions over her dowry) and took up chastity/poverty vows under the watchful eye of her Stern Teacher of a counselor, Konrad von Marburg. The supposed "expulsion" was reported by one of Elizabeth's servants during her process of canonization.
  • On a similar note, it was once thought that Pharaoh Thutmose III was deprived of his throne by his stepmother and aunt Hatshepsut, who claimed the throne of Ancient Egypt as one of its few female pharaohs (and has been subjected to more than one Historical Villain Upgrade due to this theory). As it turns out, he was actually Hatshepsut's coregent, and had a lot of power in regards to the country's military.
  • Although Nelson Mandela has achieved much through peaceful negotiations and protest, many works tend to ignore or downplay his time as a part of the leadership of the uMkhonto we Sizwe, the military wing of the African National Congress. This wing of the ANC was involved in numerous high-profile bombings and acts of terrorism, including torture and execution, which Mandela himself acknowledged as violations of human rights. Since the apartheid-regime genuinely reduced many black African's living conditions to sub-human standard there is a lot of varied mileage on how much these acts can be judged from a modern persective, but even so you are much more likely to see Mandela be associated with his peaceful protests, his presidency, or his martyrdom as a 28-year prisoner than, say, the uMkhonto we Sizwe's bombing of Church Street or the "Landmine Campaign" which killed 23-25 civillians over the course of two years before the ANC retracted this strategy. It helps that all these acts are associated with the ANC as a whole rather than Mandela as a person.
  • Winston Churchill is considered by the British to be one of their most popular and inspiring Prime Ministers. During the London Blitz, he gave speeches that would inspire the British to fight on against the Nazis and vowed to never surrender to Hitler even if it meant sacrificing the British Empire. However, many overlooked the fact that while his views didn't reach the genocidal fanaticism of the Nazis, Churchill's views on race and imperialism were not that spotless either. He held white supremacist views (including a belief in the concept of an Aryan master race) and was rather callous towards British colonial subjects (at one point he even said he would be fine with letting Mahatma Gandhi starve to death during his hunger strike, and perhaps most infamously advocated the use of tear gas against peaceful pro-independence protesters in the Middle East). In many former colonies, including subcontinent India, many have not forgotten Churchill's numerous shortcomings. Even Britain's allied European and Commonwealth nations have been known to express disdainful attitudes towards Churchill as he was responsible for the failed Gallipoli invasion in World War I or the intentional sinking of the French navy during World War II, though Churchill defended the latter decision as a necessity to prevent French warships from falling into the hands of Nazi Germany. He also supported summary execution of Axis leaders, and had to be talked out of this by American and Soviet officials. Given how divisive Churchill was around the world, his opposite portrayals are quite common as well.
  • Martin Luther King Jr. is a weird case of this, in that most media and treatments featuring him tend to play up his belief in nonviolent resistance and his policy of working with white people whenever possible while downplaying any beliefs that might make him less appealing to a mainstream audience. For one thing, far from being the moderate he's often depicted as, King was seen as quite radical even within the Civil Rights Movement (and would probably still be considered such today, at least in some respects), and spoke with disgust on what he called "the white moderate" (though it should be noted that a "white moderate" in the 1960s would probably hold considerably different views than a contemporary "white moderate"), white people who recognized that change was necessary but thought it should happen more gradually. That being said, certain progressives tend to ignore his advocacy for colorblindness, open disdain for black nationalism, emphasis on personal responsibility, and beliefs that not every problem in the black community could be solved just by getting rid of racism. He was also a socialist (albeit a democratic one), believing that capitalist systems encouraged economic inequality that disproportionately hit black people, and that the only way to guarantee the black population be dug from its rut was being given access to jobs and healthcare. In a more traditional example of this trope, his fairly sexist attitudes, plagiarism, patronizing attitudes towards homosexuality (which he thought could be cured with prayers), and extramarital affairs will also rarely be discussed. Nor did he come up with the idea of African-Americans using nonviolent resistance to gain civil rights; he adopted the idea from Bayard Rustin, who advised him during the Montgomery Bus Boycott. A common gripe among historians of the man is that the famous "I have a dream" speech has overshadowed many of his other aspects.
  • Mahatma Gandhi's almost certainly time this. The messy nature of the Indian independence and it's pretty filled status afterwards has resulted in glossing over his more unsavory aspects. The man himself seems to have held some pretty racist views such as chiding black people for trying to get independent status like Indians, his misogynist attitudes to the point of beating his wife for not cleaning the latrines despite her ill health and his luddism towards technology which pushed the industrialization of India back decades and dismantled much of the industry needed while simply letting himself benefit from those same things.
  • When discussing the Ancient Athenian figure Alcibiades, there's a bit of a tendency in some segments of academia and the public to paint him as a misunderstood hero unfairly persecuted by the establishment and by mob rule. Now, it's certainly true that Alcibiades was a very talented individual who possessed some important virtues (courage, determination, a willingness to deprive himself), and his political enemies certainly capitalized on allegations — with little hard evidence to back them up — that he vandalized hermai in order to sentence him to death in absentia. Now, with all that said, Alcibiades was also notorious for his vices, shifting loyalties and long string of betrayals, and he organized a coup against the Athenian democracy that replaced it with an oligarchy known as The Four Hundred. Of course, Alcibiades has always been a polarizing figure, so it's not uncommon for him to get the opposite treatment as well.
  • Gavrilo Princip, the man who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Duchess Sophie of Hohenberg, and who helped start WWI, is considered a national hero in Serbia. There is a bust of him in Tovariševo and a statue of him in Belgrade, and when the latter was unveiled President Nikolić gave a speech in which he said "Princip was a hero, a symbol of liberation ideas, tyrant-murderer, idea-holder of liberation from slavery, which spanned through Europe". This ignores the fact that the so-called tyrant was actually sympathetic to Serbia, that Princep also murdered Ferdinand's pregnant wife, and that this assassination caused the worst war in history. Outside of Serbia most remember Gavrilo Princip as a murderer who started the first world war, and in Croatia and Bosnia specifically Princip is seen as a terrorist and a proponent of Greater Serbia.
  • Skanderbeg is venerated in Albania as their national hero and is regarded abroad as an defender of Christianity for resisting against the Ottomans. With that in mind, he could be just as brutal as Vlad the Impaler towards his enemies - he forced any Muslims to convert to Christianity or face impalement which is very shocking given that Albania today is a Muslim-majority country. Nonetheless, Albanian Muslims had invoked him during their national awakening to break away from the Ottoman Empire and some of their historical leaders such as Zog I and Enver Hohxa (Muslim turned atheist) considered themselves successors to Skanderbeg and frame his resistence against the Ottoman Empire not as a religious struggle, but a purely secular nationalist one such as in his The Great Warrior Skanderbeg biography where said impaling incident is omitted.
  • Thomas Sankara, first President of Burkina Faso, has been called "Africa's Che Guevara"... and like Che, he's been whitewashed considerably. He certainly did plenty of good for his country and people: he outlawed female genital mutilation and forced marriages, curbed the abuses of feudal landlords and tribal chieftains, embarked on an ambitious reforestation campaign, and tried to ensure all citizens had their essential needs met, among other beneficient actions. Unfortunately, his regime was marred by violations of human rights, such as arbitrary detention of political opponents and extrajudicial killings. His government also set up special courts to try people for corruption, tax evasion and "counter-revolutionary activity", courts that failed to conform to international standards. Sankara also curtailed freedom of the press, attempted to put all the country's trade unions under the control of the government, and his ideologically-motivated refusal of all foreign aid remains very controversial today.
  • George "Cap" Streeter frequently receives this treatment, due to certain legends about him reaching the popular consciousness. The story goes that, after running his steamboat on a sandbar in Lake Michigan during an 1886 storm, he decided to start his own community. He invited building contractors to dump their rubble on the sandbar, and once the sandbar became a landmass, he claimed it made up the "United States District of Lake Michigan", which was not subject to the laws of Illinois, Cook County, or Chicago, since it was outside the borders of all three. He would spend the rest of his life resisting industrialist N. K. Fairbank, who claimed to be the rightful owner of the land, as well as the law, only using violence in self defense and fighting for what he considered to be his property until his death in 1921. This romanticized image of a plucky "little guy" standing up to a fat cat and the long arm of the law is untrue. For starters, there was no storm the night he supposedly crashed his boat; what actually happened was that he sailed his boat to the foot of Superior Street and refused to move it for years. The story about him filling in the shoreline is also untrue; it was actually filled in by the Lincoln Park Board so they could build a road on the infill. The whole story was invented by him as part of an elaborate scheme to steal valuable shoreline property. Streeter had no legal claim to the land and he knew it, so he tried to claim it through fraud and forgery. He made large amounts of money selling lots he did not legally own, even going so far as to collect property taxes on them. Periodically, he would bolster his claims by leading squatters to quickly build settlements, then claiming to be the victim when he and his cronies were evicted. He kept up his criminal activity until he was sent to prison for manslaughter in 1902.
  • Since his violent overthrow and death in a 1973 Military Coup, Chilean president Salvador Allende has frequently been viewed as a martyr for democracy, especially in leftist circles. The reality was not quite so simple. While even Allende's harshest critics will generally admit that he kept the more radical elements of the Chilean left in check, he nevertheless frequently thumbed his nose at the democratic process. During his four-year presidency, he refused to obey and/or enforce over 7,000 Chilean Supreme Court and other legislative rulings. Allende was also quite cozy with multiple authoritarian — or even outright totalitarian — regimes, particularly Fidel Castro's Cuba. It's also worth noting that multiple prominent opponents of Augusto Pinochet — such as Eduardo Frei Montalva — had earlier heavily criticized Allende. Some have also claimed that he held racist and anti-Semitic views, though these accusations have come under heavy criticism. While he was nowhere near as brutal as Pinochet, calling him a "martyr for democracy" is something of a whitewash.
  • Pocahontas was far from a bad person, but that doesn't mean her frequent heroic depictions are accurate or deserved. The story about her saving John Smith from execution has been cast into serious doubt, and fiction tends to invent even more heroism for her than that.
  • 18th Century highwayman Dick Turpin has widely been romanticized as a dashing outlaw, sometimes even getting portrayed as a Robin Hood-like figure. The real Turpin was little more than a thug and a murderer. Unlike some other real-life outlaws and robbers who got this treatment, he was recognized as a brutal criminal while he was alive, and only got people upgrading him after his death. Some works — such as Hark! A Vagrant and Horrible Histories — have lampooned his reputation by pointing out how heavily he's been romanticized and giving a more historically accurate portrayal.
  • Leon Trotsky often gets this treatment — especially in Western circles — for his opposition to Josef Stalin, his military genius, and his brilliance at journalism. He became the poster boy for the anti-Stalinist left because he condemned Stalin's atrocities and totalitarianism. Even many non-socialists, then and now, see him as representative of the "democratic" and "nonviolent" form of communism. However, during the Russian Civil War, his actions were pretty appalling even by the standards of the notoriously brutal conflict. He was a firm believer in using violence and terror to utterly destroy any opposition to communism. One of his most infamous actions in this vein was his crushing of the Kronstadt rebellion, which Emma Goldman castigated him for. Trotsky also agreed with Stalin much more than a lot of people realize, opposing his purges not for moral reasons but because they were directed against fellow Bolsheviks. When he did disagree with Stalin, he often wasn't much better: for example, he advocated for world revolution and criticized Stalin for not trying to spread communism elsewhere. He also wasn't as competent a politician as he's frequently remembered, since he made a lot of foolish mistakes and tended to make enemies easily. Even his opposition to Stalin wasn't quite how many have portrayed it: he thought Stalin was a boring, crude, dull bureaucrat and political nonentity who served as the front-man to an oligarchy of much more capable "Bolshevik Rightists", and didn't realize how badly he'd underestimated him until close to the end of his life. Of course, given how divisive Trotsky can be, the opposite treatment is also fairly common.
  • Mustafa Kemal Atatürk is recognized as the father of modern Turkey, and revered in his home country and respected abroad. To be sure, there are plenty of reasons to respect him and his legacy: he preserved Turkish independence and unity, made the Turkish Republic a successful modern nation-state, dramatically increased the literacy of the Turkish population, and granted equal rights to Turkish women. However, his efforts to ensure that the Turkish people were prosperous were accompanied by discrimination against non-Turks, such as banning them from getting jobs in the government. This discrimination included attempts to forcibly Turkify them; many ethnic Greeks, Armenians, Kurds, Arabs, Bulgarians, Persians and Assyrians (among others) were even forced to adopt Turkish-language surnames. Even discounting this discrimination, his rule was often of an authoritarian character: for example, his attempts to Westernize the Turks included prohibiting the wearing of headgear deemed too "Islamic" such as turbans and fezes.
  • Edward Smith, captain of the RMS Titanic, is generally depicted as a kind and gentle grandfatherly figure who gets more or less bullied by somebody else (usually J. Bruce Ismay) into disregarding ice warnings and sailing at near full speed into an ice field. In reality, Smith disregarded the ice warnings and kept the ship's speed up of his own volition. Smith also wasn't the meek complacent man he is often portrayed as, but a rather imposing, self-confident man with old-fashioned views on ship navigation. Another thing about Smith that is often overlooked in fiction is his trouble operating large ships; he had several unfortunate incidents that foreshadowed the Titanic disaster.
  • Charles II of England tends to be remembered as a fun-loving, sophisticated king who brought back the good things in life after the Puritan excesses of Oliver Cromwell's regime (known as "The Protectorate") and the bloody civil war. Others praise him for being a Chivalrous Pervert who genuinely cared about his wife and mistresses and would take "no" for an answer. But he was also a diehard absolutist, could be amazingly unprincipled and was willing to forsake freedom of religion even more than Cromwell did (as per his agreement with the Scots in the later civil wars). When he actually got into power, he was at times somewhat inept in actual government, and brought England to the nadir of its strength in two disastrous wars against the Dutch Republic, a nation that had sheltered him in exile.
  • The Puritans themselves are seen as this and taught this way in American schools, which tell that they were fleeing persecution in England and came to America for religious liberty. The exact circumstances of why they were forced to leave, including their rebellion in the English Civil War, the beheading of the old king, and Oliver Cromwell's rule over a Republican England, all of which the Puritans were held responsible for after Charles II's return and the Glorious Revolution, often goes unmentioned.
  • Jomo Kenyatta, famous activist for Kenya's independence and the country's first head of government, is widely considered the father of his country and the frequent recipient of praise. This is deserved to some extent: under Kenyatta's leadership, Kenya saw a number of improvements. He dismantled the colonial-era system of racial segregation peacefully and with minimal disruption, greatly improved the country's education and healthcare systems, and brought about a Kenyan economic boom. That being said, however, he wasn't exactly an ideal leader. He favored his own people — the Kikuyu — over Kenya's other ethnic groups, allowing them to hold most of the country's important government and administrative positions despite making up less than 20% of the population note . Corruption flourished under his administration, and he took advantage of his presidential position to enrich his family and friends. Kenyatta's leadership also had a strong authoritarian streak, and he openly desired that Kenya be a one-party state. While far from the worst of sub-Saharan Africa's post-colonial leaders, Kenyatta was considerably more flawed than his idealized image suggests.
  • Cicero was traditionally remembered fondly by history, and to some extent, he's still quite popular. Even today, there are quite a few people who hold him up as a Self-Made Man, a Crusading Lawyer, and a defender of democratic institutions. The truth is, of course, much more complicated than this idealistic view of him. While Cicero's legal career was certainly impressive (he only lost one case, and that was due to blatant juror intimidation), it wasn't particularly ethical or professional, as demonstrated by the many times he won through abuse of the Courtroom Antic. As a senator, he was a political chameleon who quickly became known for switching sides whenever it suited his interests to do so. Despite being a novus homo who rose from the lower orders, he was also a proud Optimate who was against measures intended to extend rights to the poor; he was a firm supporter and defender of the aristocratic status quo. Cicero also wasn't as big a supporter of the rule of law as he's often made out to be nowadays, as shown by his response to the Catiline conspiracy. To make a long story short, he had a number of Roman citizens executed without trial in a blatant case of summary justice because of a plot that later turned out to have been more minor and narrow than it may have initially seemed.
  • The Sicarii, famous for the role they played in the Jewish Revolts, have been lionized as heroic freedom fighters for a very long time (especially among Jews, for obvious reasons). Some have characterized them as people fighting against oppressive institutions using stealth and cunning. Much like ninjas and The Hashshashin later on, they've spent a long time being romanticized and glorified. However, this characterization tends to ignore the fact that they weren't exactly popular among other Jews of the era, and that they killed many Jews who didn't agree with them.
  • Henry VII, the first King of the Tudor dynasty is the biggest beneficiary of this in relation to the legendary Historical Villain Upgrade for the king he usurped, Richard III. Henry is portrayed by Shakespeare as a devout and holy liberator from a foul tyrant and ending the Wars of the Roses. Ignoring just how much Richard III's evil is exaggerated, Henry VII is hardly a saint. Some revisionists firstly point out that contrary to reputation, Henry exacerbated and extended the Wars of the Roses by invading England and his usurpation led to more unrest as Yorkist heirs and pretenders would war with Henry VII. Also, Henry imprisoned the innocent Edward of Warwick as a child which possibly drove Edward insane before Henry VII framed him as a traitor and executed him. As a King he was mediocre, paranoid and arguably extorted his lords and people. Though he also was in a loving marriage and was wholly devoted to his wife and never re-married after she died.
  • Sir Francis Drake, being considered one of England's great national heroes, is a frequent recipient of this treatment. His achievements were certainly impressive, and he really was a brave and intelligent man. But many of his qualities and deeds were at least morally questionable. For starters, like all privateers, Drake was technically a pirate, except he had a piece of paper from his government authorizing him to commit piracy. Many of the things he did in service of the crown would probably get him classified as a terrorist or war criminal today. His raids on Spanish port cities resulted in the indiscriminate killing of soldiers and civilians alike. One of the "outside-the-box" tactics he used to defeat the Spanish Armada was to employ fireships, weapons considered very dirty at the time, with a similar stigma to that which chemical weapons and land mines carry today. Also, his first command was a slave ship. Not even a "legitimate" slave ship either, but an illegal venture of his cousin's, which captured free Africans and sold them on the Black Market in an attempt to bypass the legal channels over which Spain held a monopoly.
  • The Confederate States of America, either as a whole or specific figures, have gotten this treatment so much that a term has been created: The "Lost Cause of the South". Important figures are held in high regard as patriots who fought to defend their home from "Northern Aggression" and to protect their state's rights. They're also sometimes depicted as hating slavery (especially in more recent decades). Many of its military figures have been characterized as great generals defeated by savage northern armiesnote . Scholars scoff at the whole idea, rightfully pointing out that this is historical revisionism meant to downplay the fact that the southern states seceded specifically to keep their slaves. Lost Causers try to downplay that, of course. Recently, a backlash against this thinking, sparked by the reaction to the Charleston church massacre perpetuated by white supremacist Dylann Roof, has finally allowed the real history to be told. However, the damage has been done, as the Lost Cause belief was, in essence, the bedrock of Jim Crow laws in the south.
    • Robert E. Lee is often cited as an example of this. One writer ironically observed that the man who had come closer than any other in destroying the United States became an American hero, though arguably his status was bestowed more by his early surrender and reconciliation efforts than his service to the South. Since the 1980s, historians have increasingly criticized the romanticized view of Lee and emphasized his flaws and less than noble decisions. Their skepticism is well-founded: far from being a strong opponent of slavery, Lee allowed his soldiers to capture free blacks in Union territory and sell them into slavery. He also personally owned slaves for a few years before freeing them, having inherited them from his deceased father-in-law, and punished them severely, including sewing their wounds with brine by some accounts. Some historians also note that for all of Lee's battle prowess, his tactics resulted in massive loss of manpower. Of all Civil War army commanders, Lee's troops suffered the highest percentage of combat casualties. His legacy after the war is mixed as well. While he urged reconciliation between the sides, actively recruited Northerners to Washington College after he became its president, and advocated for a free public school system for blacks in the South, he also adamantly opposed giving blacks the right to vote, believing they were not yet educated enough to be able to handle this right (he did not say he felt this way about uneducated whites).
    • Stonewall Jackson also tends to get portrayed as a heroic figure, and more often than not as someone who disliked slavery and hoped for its end. While he certainly wasn't exactly an ardent defender of the "peculiar institution", that's not to imply he was outright against it either. He was, if anything, rather ambivalent about the matter; he figured that if God wanted it to end then it would end in God's time, and if God didn't want it to end then it wouldn't. He did get in trouble for teaching slaves how to read and write in defiance of laws against it, famously defending his decision to do so by declaring that "The Lord intended all His children to be able to read His word", but he nevertheless believed that black people could be literate and still remain in slavery.
    • Works that give the Confederacy a Hero Upgrade tend to give it a Competence Upgrade as well, essentially stating that it only lost the war For Want of a Nail (what the "nail" actually is varies from work to work). Credible historians regard this line of thinking as almost nonsensical and the South's defeat as assured from the beginning of the war, thanks to, among many other things, a massive resource disparity between it and the North, over-dependence on the cotton industry for commerce, foreign countries refusing to aid it due to seeing the country as a backward joke, and a nigh-comically-long list of ways its abuses of its black citizens came back to bite it in the ass.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Date Masamune is played like this in many works. In real life, he may as well be categorized with Oda Nobunaga; he killed his brother to rise to power (his nagging mother constantly opposed him and promoted his brother for clan leader) and betrayed the alliance with the other clans without much discussion (and conquering them). He also showed little respect to Hideyoshi when he was called to join the attack on Odawara (and late to come to boot!). But in Samurai Deeper Kyo, he ends up becoming Kyo's ally, though he may be rude and brash (aka Bontenmaru). And in Sengoku Basara, he becomes the Jerk with a Heart of Gold hero with a somewhat charming personality and several Pet the Dog moments (seen with Kojuurou and Itsuki, or in the Drama CD, Oichi) And in The Ambition of Oda Nobuna, she is a Boisterous Cute Bruiser and Large Ham who's an ally of the heroes. This one is averted in Koei's Warriors series. In Samurai Warriors, he comes off as a jerk, but hides a lot of ambitions that are beneficial for Japan. But in Warriors Orochi, he becomes Orochi's henchman and is pretty much loyal to him and has no qualms on bringing chaos into the world.
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist: The Conqueror of Shamballa, Fritz Lang becomes one of Ed's allies in Weimar Berlin, and is depicted as an anti-fascist badass who opposes Nazism as early as 1923. His real-life political leanings are less well known and Lang actively obscured them with his creative retellings of his life in Germany. However, he was thrown out of at least a couple German exile parties in Hollywood for making anti-Semitic comments, and was known to be abusive to his cast and crew on set. (Granted, it's hard to expect historical accuracy from a film that depicts the Beer Hall Putsch as part of a coordinated effort to take over Germany with the help of a group attempting to open a portal into Ed's alchemical universe.) Lang putting an entire film crew into mortal danger just to get a shot of a dragon for Die Nibelungen seems fairly like him, though.
  • Rurouni Kenshin turns Saitou Hajime into a badass Anti-Hero. In actual history, he did manage to survive the mess that was the Meiji revolution and became a member of Japan's secret police (pretty much their equivalent of the FBI), but Watsuki freely admits that he pretty much made up all of the other details about Saitou's personality (as a minor note, RuroKen Saitou claims to have given up drinking, while in real life he died of a stomach ulcer as a result of it).
    • Saito is sort of an odd example as he's initially introduced as a vicious Blood Knight and Watsuki comments on getting angry letters for giving him a Historical Villain Upgrade, which might explain why soon after his introduction, Kenshin describes him as a morally pure Worthy Opponent, and he becomes an Anti-Hero from that point onward.
    • The manga's treatment of Okubo is closer to this trope. He's historically seen as a Sleazy Politician, and that aspect is certainly part of his character, although he's presented as working for the best for his country and deserving of the respect he gets from Kenshin and Saito. Word of God comments on wanting to rehabilitate his image, noting that in terms of corruption, he wasn't much different than Japan's current politicians.
    • Then, there's also the fact of how Watsuki portrayed the infamous Hitokiri Kenshin Himura. Truth in Television, Kenshin is actually based on a real life assassin, Kawakami Gensai. Like Kenshin, Gensai was also noted for his slim and feminine built, ties with the Ishin Shishi, and ruthless pursuit of moral agendas. Unlike the red head however, Gensai did not say "oro" as a mannerism, he did not like Western "barbarians" entering his homeland, and he killed scholars who studied Western ideologies. He was also far from the pacifist that Kenshin was after the war; instead, he continued the fight for his rights as a samurai and was executed by the same government he dedicated his life to create and defend.
  • While this trope applies primarily to human beings and not machines, the eponymous Cool Starship of Space Battleship Yamato counts. The real life warship may have been a Cool Boat, but battleships were being eclipsed by aircraft carriers in World War II and the Yamato was no exception, with no kills during the war except possibly one small escort carrier, and being ignominiously sunk by aircraft while on a one-way suicide mission. Not the most appropriate ship to undertake a voyage to save the earth.
  • Fate/Zero takes Alexander the Great, certainly an inspiring figure in his own right, but hardly a morally superior one, and turns him into what may be one of the most inspiring characters in anime and manga history; by giving him a complex philosophy that guides him while staying relatively true to the original Alexander's historical actions and fiery, straightforward personality, occasionally even calling him out on some of the less heroic actions of his historical counterpart.
    • That said, one of the most glaring departures from his history is also one of the most obvious: His Noble Phantasm is the result of the loyalty and inspiration he evoked in his followers, ignoring that the real Alexander's erratic actions won him plenty of criticism, resulted in his killing at least a few of his followers/friends and ended his expansions when low morale resulted in his army rebelling against him and insisting that they return home.
    • Subverted in Fate/strange fake. Richard the Lionheart at first appears to be a noble and chivalrous (if eccentric) Knight in Shining Armor, so much so that his Master, Ayaka, starts feeling guilty that he even bothers with her. However, it eventually becomes clear that Richard had a fairly disastrous, blood-soaked reign and isn't exactly proud of his actions in life.
    • Fate/EXTRA does this with its version of Saber, who turns out to be the Roman emperor Nero. Here, she wasn't The Caligula as the real Nero is known as, but rather a very kindhearted individual who loved everyone under her rule, but demanded they loved her in kind, thus causing her to commit suicide out of despair when the coup in 68 AD began and no one rose to defend her. Amusingly, in-universe she's a victim of the opposite trope, as she still has the same reputation the real Nero does, and in fact it seems to be even worse, as the appellation "the Whore of Babylon" from the Book of Revelation is applied to her specifically, rather than to the Roman Empire in general under Nero's rule as many real-world scholars argue.
    • Fate/Apocrypha shows that this sort of thing is an inherent part of the form a Servant is summoned in, depending in part how well-known they are and what kind of reputation they had in the place they're summoned. For instance, Vlad the Impaler is summoned as a Lancer-class Servant there for the second time, after his appearance in Fate/Extra. In Extra, set on the moon, he's a deranged killer highly reminiscent of a vampire (despite not really being one, and taking offense at such a suggestion), and any of the three playable Servants can defeat him in battle. In Apocrypha, since he was summoned in his native Romania (and pretty close to his actual home town at that), he's a more well-adjusted, charismatic, and extremely powerful being that, according to the producers, would be able to defeat Fate/stay night's Berserk and Saber (respectively Hercules and King Arthur, who are well-known around the world and have more agreeable reputations, but were summoned in Japan).
  • Kingdom paints the young Qin Shi Huangdi in a far more positive light than his reputation within contemporary Chinese sources and history. Set prior to his descent into tyranny (such as burning books and burying scholars alive) as The Emperor of a united China; it has him portrayed here as both The Good King and a Well-Intentioned Extremist. This is, however, a case of Tropes Are Tools - readers are unlikely to root for Qin Shi Huang if he were portrayed historically.
  • Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic takes the usually villain-upgraded characters from Arabian Nights and give them their original proper roles (Ja'far, to name one).
  • In Shuumatsu no Walküre: Record of Ragnarok, the setting really pushes for making all characters as badass as they can possibly be, with that historical and mythical figures, good and bad, have their commonly known backstories completely revised if they contained any shameful moment in them, such as loss, a moment of weakness, cowardice, etc. Case in point: a common record of Lu Bu’s final moments was him throwing a fit upon being captured by Cao Cao’s forces and being denied a chance to work with their army, as he was known as a serial betrayer; this series, however, changes that event into Lu Bu being completely calm in his final moment, going as far as to say the previous record is completely false, the “truth” being that Lu Bu actually allowed himself to be captured, the man was so bored of being unmatched in battle throughout his entire life that nothing mattered anymore, so he might as well free himself of such a meaningless life.

    Comic Books 
  • 300 conveniently leaves out any mention of Spartan pederasty and slaveholding (of fellow Hellenes no less), which were major parts of their culture at the time, to keep them sympathetic to modern audiences. The film also leaves out their extreme devotion to religion in an attempt to appeal to gung-ho masculine audiences, going as far as having the hero criticize the Athenians as "boy lovers" and call out their own clergy as "corrupt." However, this is justified as the comic is narrated by the Greek soldier Dilios, hence the lionization of the Spartans.
    • Three was born out of the author reading 300 and being driven apoplectic at the grandiose speeches about freedom from a culture that had massive slave population. The story begins with the Spartiates hunting down slaves who had proven a little too successful at war.
  • Charles Fort may be one of the most important figures in paranormal science, but he wasn't much of a hands-on investigator. The only weird event he claimed to be present for was a painting falling off a wall for no apparent reason. Various comics have given him a more active role.
  • Vlad the Impaler himself receives this in Image Comics title Impaler, where he is an immortal vampire slayer that defended humanity from vampires and demons summoned from hell by Sultan Mehmed in a desperate attempt to take over Europe.
  • Puerto Rico Strong: Invoked in Reality Check. A man tells his sons about how Christopher Colombus, known by his Spanish name Cristóbal Colón in the comic, came to Puerto Rico. Cristóbal thought the island was the most beautiful place in the world and, after meeting a Taino child, he allowed his men to stay on the island, where they blended in peacefully with the natives. His wife tells him, in Spanish so their kids don't understand, that he shouldn't lie to his children like that.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animated 
  • The imperial Romanov family in Anastasia. Don Bluth really just grabbed the opportunity to portray another idyllic Disney-like princess, while neglecting to mention all the reasons the revolutionists thought themselves justified in their actions. On the other hand, Grigori Rasputin gets quite the Historical Villain Upgrade, and indeed it's implied that the only reason the Revolution happened at all is that Rasputin had cursed the family.
  • Disney's Pocahontas movie, has some examples of this.
    • John Smith is given this treatment to the point where critics agree this is the version of John Smith the actual Smith would have wanted history to see him as. The real Smith wrote boastful accounts of his adventures, in which he spun fact into legend and portrayed himself as a James Bond-like figure. One of the reasons historians doubt the story about Pocahontas saving his life is that that's one of three times he claimed to have been rescued by a native woman. Either native women really had a thing for him or he was a rather uncreative writer. Also, John Smith was much more of a Jerkass, with one of his well-documented actions being taking a Native leader captive so that the leader's tribe would provide him with plentiful resources.
    • While the Powhatan are portrayed as flawed but fundamentally decent people rather than incorruptible noble savages — probably at least partly for the benefit of the movie's themes — the film glosses over some of their more questionable actions (such as inviting starving colonists to a banquet, only to murder them). Chief Powhatan in particular gets this, becoming a wise and noble (if imperfect) leader. The real Chief Powhatan, on the other hand, often behaved like a massive douche - one of the most notable examples is him not lifting a finger to save Pocahontas when she got kidnapped by some Englishmen (in fact, Pocahontas rebuked her father for this the last time she saw him).
    • In the sequel, John Rolfe is portrayed as a generally positive character who hesitates to get involved with Pocahontas due to thinking she was still in love with John Smith. In reality he married her at least in part for political reasons shortly after her aforementioned kidnapping, and agonized over the repercussions of marrying a "heathen" (even though by this point Pocahontas converted to Anglicanism). He's also thought by some historians to have been involved in introducing slavery to England's New World colonies.
  • Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar aka El Cid is portrayed as a young brave, romantic knight who rallies both Muslims and Christians to fight against a tyrant who seeks to crush both and is ultimately loyal to the king who exiled him. The real Rodrigo was largely self-serving and fought for both sides and against each other, which included sacking Christian cities for Muslims and vice-versa. He also famously murdered his wife's father for insulting and slapping Rodrigo's own father, while in the movie, Rodrigo accidentally kills Jimena's father in self-defense after he attempted to kill Rodrigo so he wouldn't interfere in her Arranged Marriage with someone else.
  • The Road to El Dorado greatly whitewashes Human Sacrifice in Mesoamerica. It's treated as something the people of El Dorado don't like, but are led to believe is a necessary evil. The one person pushing human sacrifice in the city, Tzekel-Kan, is evil and also uses it secondarily as a form of Blood Magic. In reality, human sacrifice was simply a fact of life for many Mesoamerican cultures, as accepted as any other aspect of their religion.

    Films — Live-Action 

Common cases

  • Earlier in the USA's history, General Custer was often depicted as a Messianic Archetype, a brave hero who fought against the Indians and died alongside his men. This myth extended to both literature and eventually, film. This is most notable in 1941's They Died with Their Boots On. More modern sympathies with the Indians have caused him to no longer be portrayed this way, however, often to the point of overcorrection (though eventually this second view would soften, so that Custer now comes off as more a Punch-Clock Villain than an Indian-hating sadist). Custer's heroic myths are due to his wife, who outlived him (she died in 1933, a little under 60 years after him). She wrote three books depicting her late husband as a folk hero. She was afraid he would be blamed for the humiliating defeat and slaughter his troop suffered, and thus spent the rest of her life lobbying extensively to make her husband look a hero.

Specific movies

  • Christopher Columbus in Ridley Scott's 1492: Conquest of Paradise is depicted as a calm, kindly explorer who is fascinated by the Native peoples he encounters when he reaches San Salvador. In reality, as deduced from Columbus' own writings, the man was aggressively religious (which is never shown in the film) and considered the Native people he met to be an "intrusion of nature" - he had absolutely no respect for them, and as a governor of San Salvador would commit various atrocities against these people later, including massacring and enslaving them.
  • The Spartans in 300. In the movie, Sparta is portrayed as a secular utopia of egalitarianism and freedom. In reality:
    • Sparta was almost entirely supported by their slave helots, which allowed Spartan men to spend all their time fighting. On the other hand, Spartan women were given more rights than other Greek women.
    • The state was the ultimate owner of everything, with citizens being granted assets as deemed appropriate.
    • While the film portrays Spartan citizens as secularists who are disgusted by their corrupt clergy, real Spartans were even more devout than citizens of other Greek city-states.
    • In real life, the Spartans practiced pederasty, sexual relationships between grown men and teenage boys. In the film, Leonidas chides Athenians as "boy-lovers," implying that Spartans were above such behavior.
    • The portrayal of the 300 Spartans as fighting and holding the Persians alone, with a small amount of help from a few Acadians, who are portrayed as being made up of amateur, poor soldiers. In reality the 300 Spartans formed only part (albeit a crucial part) of a coalition of forces from several Greek cities probably numbering 5,000-7,000, the bulk of whom would have by this point been professional, well-trained soldiers, though perhaps not quite as elite as the Spartans.
  • Agora depicts Hypatia, an ardent pagan in Real Life, as something of an agnostic or atheist. This was presumably done to underscore the film's (historically inaccurate) faith vs. reason conflict, as well as allow her to use empirical reasoning. In reality, empiricism was contrary to her school of thought and religion. She is also shown making astronomical advances which rely on these methods (despite there being no contemporary evidence tying her to these advances in Real Life).
  • Ali gives Muhammad Ali a pretty big upgrade by glossing over or reducing some of his less likable aspects. His extreme views on race and religion are toned down significantly, views which, in real life, caused a great deal of controversy even amongst people who otherwise held him out as a hero. Notably, his denunciations of integrationist policies and the Civil Rights Act are absent, as are the episodes of him preaching of America's imminent destruction (per Nation of Islam theology). The movie also downplays Ali's mean streak when it came to his opponents. In addition to openly taking delight in humiliating opponents he personally disliked (Floyd Patterson and Ernie Terrell being the most infamous examples), his pre-fight insults often degenerated into cheap shots and racial stereotyping (such as calling George Foreman "a white, flag-waving bitch" and Joe Frazier "an ugly, dumb gorilla" and an "Uncle Tom").
  • Taken to ludicrous extremes with The Babe Ruth Story, which depicts its subject in such a ridiculously positive light it almost comes off as a parody. In addition to the movie (not unexpectedly) glossing over most of Ruth's vices, it also portrays him as a literal miracle worker, with moments like him curing a paralyzed boy by saying "hi" to him.
  • John Nash and his (first) wife in A Beautiful Mind. In the film, she is still with him in the 1990s when he got his Nobel prize, making it a heterosexual triumph-of-love story. In real life, she divorced him in the 60s when he got caught hanging around in public toilets picking up young men, and he wasn't allowed to accept his Nobel onstage due to being off his meds. He did, however, reconcile with and remarry her.
  • The Birth of a Nation (1915): One of the main reasons this movie is so infamous is its glorification of the First Klan, treating it as a morally justified insurrectionist group.
  • The Birth Of A Nation 1916: Unlike in this movie, Nat Turner and his followers were known to have murdered white children, including a baby in its crib. The movie also depicts Nat turning himself in so that a spate of reprisal killings against black people will end; in reality, Nat spent six weeks hiding out in the wilderness before a local farmer discovered him squatting in Native American territory.
  • Braveheart upgraded William Wallace into the architect of Scottish Independence and downgraded Robert Bruce to little more than a background character.
    • Robert Bruce is one of the great heroes of Scottish history, and his guerrilla campaign against the forces of Kings Edward I and II was much larger, went on for much longer and was far more successful than Wallace's. Plus, it shows Bruce betraying Wallace, when in reality he never once betrayed Wallace - everyone else, sure, but never Wallace. Wallace also never met Princess Isabella, and certainly wasn't the father of Kind Edward III - for one, the Real Life Isabella was only a little girl at the time.
    • Likewise, contrary to the kind of anachronistic Pictish barbarian highlander that Walllace comes across, the real one was a feudal lord. Not a wealthy or prestigious one, but definitely part of that society's elite. He owned serfs, and lorded over peasants, and likewise, when he invaded England pre-emptively, he and his army sacked and burnt villages, attacking English peasants and serfs.
  • In Bridge of Spies, Frederic Pryor, an American student in Berlin who was taken prisoner by the East German authorities because he was in East Berlin on the day the Berlin Wall went up, is depicted as being captured in a heroic attempt to help a non-existent German girlfriend escape to the West. In reality, he was trying to return his library books.
  • Cleopatra does this with both the title character and Mark Antony, with a corresponding Historical Villain Upgrade for Octavian. Antony is portrayed as a dashing romantic hero and an able leader, and it's fully implied that Rome would've been far better off under him than Octavian, who is depicted as a Psychopathic Manchild. In real life, Antony was the more violent of the two. The historical Cleopatra was well-known for backstabbing and murder-for-hire, as well.
  • Istvan Szabo's Colonel Redl (1985) does this for Alfred Redl, infamous Austrian spymaster-turned-traitor. Most historical accounts claim that Redl betrayed military secrets to Russia after being blackmailed for homosexuality, though a few accounts suggest he merely did it for the money. By contrast, Szabo's Redl is essentially scapegoated by officials in the Austro-Hungarian government to distract from a coup d'état plotted by Archduke Franz Ferdinand - who conversely gets a major Historical Villain Upgrade as a bloodthirsty warmonger.
  • Dances with Wolves gives this treatment to the Sioux, portraying them as simply defending themselves from the Pawnee. In reality, the Sioux were the aggressors in that conflict. During the late 18th Century, they began pushing the Pawnee and other native peoples out of their ancestral lands, and were still committing atrocities against them decades later. This is actually why the Pawnee and other tribes allied with the United States.
  • Dangerous Beauty gives this to both Veronica Franco and Marco Venier. The film portrays Franco as bravely standing up to the Inquisition (which receives a major Historical Villain Upgrade) at her trial for witchcraft, and portrays Venier as being desperately in love with her, and defending her from the Inquisition, and persuading the rest of the Venetian Senate to do so as well. In reality, Veronica Franco was never in any real danger from the Inquisition. They tried her twice for witchcraft and let her go without punishment after she testified to performing rituals solely as entertainment. In fact, the Inquisition regarded accusations of witchcraft as silly superstition, and acquitted accused witches as a matter of course. The film also, in an earlier scene, depicts Franco as a hero of the Venetian republic for persuading the king of France, by being just that good in bed, to ally with Venice against the Turks. In real life, King Henry III of France did sleep with Franco when he visited Venice to negotiate the alliance, but that had nothing to do with why he allied with Venice.
  • Death Hunt: Albert Johnson was a real person who was the subject of a months-long manhunt in the Yukon Territory in 1931-1932. While he kept to himself in a cabin in the wilderness, reportedly he kept messing with the locals' hunting traps. The mounties tried to question him two separate times, bringing a search warrant the second time around, but he ignored them. This eventually resulted in a shoot-out between Johnson and the mounties after they forced his door, wounding several lawmen. The film makes him a lot more sympathetic by turning him into a Great War veteran who is really just a kind-hearted hermit, having him nurse a maltreated dog back to health, and only becoming a fugitive after a group of vengeful locals force him into a shoot-out by attacking him.
  • Defiance: Though the Bielski Partisans did protect and save thousands of Belarusian Jews, there were some far less heroic things they did too. In contrast to the film, the Partisan leaders held more resources than the rest, and took first pick of the women as sexual partners. Also, there are controversial allegations that they participated in NKVD-ordered atrocities against Poles who resisted giving supplies to the Soviet Partisans.
  • Vlad the Impaler gets this in Dracula Untold, his vampirism being a quasi-superhero origin tale. The fact the movie is closer to actual history regarding Dracula than most (not that this is saying much) also helps this trope. Namely, Vlad doesn't make a habit of impaling his own people, and he's known as the Impaler because of his deeds in the past, not his deeds as ruler.
  • Lucilla, sister of the Roman Emperor Commodus has been given a Historical Hero Upgrade in both Gladiator and the 1964 epic The Fall of the Roman Empire (where she was played by Sophia Loren). The real life Lucilla was indeed involved in a plot to assassinate her brother...but according to contemporary historian Herodian it was because of her own jealousy and desire for power (in fact he even blames her attempt to have Commodus killed as what made him so paranoid in the first place).
  • The 1940 German film Das Herz der Königin ("The Heart of the Queen"), viewed by many critics as an anti-British propaganda movie, portrays the troubled Mary, Queen of the Scots (Zarah Leander) as a beautiful saintly martyr whose heart is full of love for her people and who wishes above all to give them freedom and happiness. She spends the majority of the film frolicking around Scottish castles in glamourous anachronistic gowns while singing pretty songs about her tragic life.
  • The Hurricane (1999) depicts Rubin Carter as an unambiguously innocent man who was wrongly convicted largely thanks to a racist cop with a longstanding grudge, and exonerated thanks to the efforts of three Canadian activists and a young African-American who wrote to him in prison. This is not what happened: the real Carter was never exonerated, or even acquitted. In reality, no evidence proving he was innocent was found, just some that had not been presented by the prosecution. He was ordered released or retried — the state of New Jersey appealed this ruling, lost, and chose to not retry him again (he had already been retried before in 1976, with another guilty verdict resulting). The real Carter's guilt or innocence is still debated today. Other elements of Carter's criminal history also get whitewashed by the movie. For example, it depicts him being arrested and sent to a juvenile facility in his youth for defending himself against a pedophile. In reality, Carter was locked up for assaulting and robbing a man, a fact nobody disputes.
  • Imperium: Augustus did this heavily with the eponymous Emperor Augustus and his rise to power. The movie presented him as an idealist whose goal was for the good of Rome. He also never wanted to do all the ugly things he did but was forced to because of the actions of his enemies. This was also done to a lesser extent with Julius Caesar who was presented as a Wide-Eyed Idealist.
  • The Owen Chase of In the Heart of the Sea can do no wrong. He is shown to have opposed every questionable decision made by his incompetent captain, heroically dives down into the flaming, sinking Essex to retrieve navigational equipment (a feat actually committed by the ship's steward in real life) and ultimately has a epiphany wherein he realizes whale hunting is immoral, and decides to give up a career as a whaler to settle down into a family life. The latter detail cannot be further from the truth. In reality, Chase went on to have a long and successful career as a whaling captain, at the expense of his family life suffering: he went through 4 marriages in his lifetime. Chase was said by some who served under him to have carried a personal vendetta against the whale which sunk the Essex, and this may well have driven him insane, for he spent some of his later years in a mental institution. While his heroic command of the open boat is commendable, he also made some questionable decisions before, during and after the sinking that may have put his crew in danger.
  • The Iron Lady certainly isn't uncritical of Margaret Thatcher (depicting her as stubborn and contrarian), but the damage her administration did to industrial communities is glossed over. This is justified, however, by the fact that much of the movie essentially takes place in the senile Thatcher's mind.
  • Jim Garrison is depicted in Oliver Stone's JFK as a fearless crusader for the truth, driven by a deep sense of devotion to the slain president and a desire to bring justice to his assassins. The real life Garrison is considered by just about every objective historian to have been either a completely delusional paranoid or a shallow opportunist. He intimidated witnesses, suborned perjury and based his case against Clay Shaw on homophobia.
  • Kingdom of Heaven:
    • Balian in the movie is elevated from a knight who made a courageous, humanitarian decision to negotiate with Saladin into an archetypal heroic Everyman knight embodying the best of the chivalric ethos. Balian wasn't as nice as the film made him out to be. Not only was he raised a noble, not a blacksmith as he is in the film, but he betrayed his oath not to fight Saladin on more than one occasion, sold many of the peasants in the siege into slavery and threatened to massacre his Muslim prisoners if Saladin wouldn't accept a surrender.
    • Saladin gets a bit of a Heroic Upgrade too in the film. He's been receiving Historical Hero Upgrades from both Muslims and Christian Europeans (to whom he was a Worthy Opponent) for so long that it's probably harder to represent him badly. Ironically, the modern lionisation of Saladin flows from the European depiction of him - until the late 19th century he was mostly forgotten in the Muslim world, in large part because the empire he created barely outlived him.
  • Kundun by Martin Scorsese is one for the 14th Dalai Lama. From the view of the PRC (who are not shown as entirely without sympathy) in the film, this was essentially hagiographic. The film portrays the Dalai Lama as an Internal Reformist who hopes to transform Tibet.
  • Lord Guilford Dudley in Lady Jane. In the film, despite his bad boy persona, he's actually a virgin with a passion for social justice. While Guilford has a well-established historical reputation for being a Jerkass actual evidence indicates he was as much a helpless pawn as Jane herself. The film has him falling in love with Jane (and she with him). In reality they seem to have been willing to tolerate each other, Jane's real problem was with her new father in law. The story goes that Guildford requested a final interview with Jane before their executions which she refused on the grounds it would only upset them both.
  • Nicholas Garrigan in The Last King of Scotland is based on Bob Astles (he wasn't Scottish), who was imprisoned twice for his association to Ugandan dictators Milton Obote and Idi Amin. Astles in real life was a Minion with an F in Evil; Garrigan on the other hand is a Loveable Rogue/Jerkass Woobie who, it is implied, helps bring down the Amin regime.
  • The Lost City of Z is an adaptation of a sensationalized non-fiction book by David Grann, which portrays its hero Percy Fawcett as a Bold Explorer and unheralded genius who, despite being an officer of The British Empire, comes across as a benevolent and compassionate man with enlightened views about tribes in the Amazon jungle. According to John Hemming and other historians, Fawcett was a racist who believed that the architecture of Ancient South American natives were built by "white tribespeople" who came in from the Atlantic, was an incompetent explorer who never accomplished anything, and who more or less got himself and his son killed in an expedition that flouted basic rules of professional conduct in Amazonia. Likewise, there's been no mystery about Fawcett's death for experts in South America. A local chieftain admitted to have killed him and his son in the forties, but most people rejected that account because they liked the idea of a mysterious disappearance.
  • The Mask of Zorro: Three-Finger Jack and Joaquin Murieta were historical outlaws operating in California during the Gold Rush, and their gang was believed responsible for most of the murders in the Mother Lode area of the Sierra Nevadas. In the film they form a cheery band of outlaws with Joaquin's brother Alejandro, (who was invented for the film) who use guile to steal from the corrupt soldiers serving the government of California and seem content with humiliating their victims. note 
  • Nicholas and Alexandra lauds Pyotr Stolypin as The Good Chancellor and a talented Internal Reformist who could have saved Tsarist Russia had he not been shot. Needless to say, this glosses over some of his more... questionable acts. For example, in reality, he responded to the 1905 revolution by setting up a series of kangaroo courts so notorious for hanging people that the noose became known as "Stolypin's necktie".
  • While Charles Lightoller was a certifiable hero, the famous RMS Titanic movie A Night to Remember takes it a bit too far. It depicts him launching lifeboats he had nothing to do with and in places he couldn't possibly have been.
  • The North Star:
    • This being a wartime film, it goes without saying that Josef Stalin's Soviet Union is glorified. The movie is set in Soviet Ukraine in 1941, a.k.a. the very place that was devastated by the Holodomor less than ten years earlier. Not only is there no mention of this, the film makes Soviet Ukraine look like some kind of perfect Arcadia, creating the false impression that Stalin's collectivization totally worked. At one point, Marina, who would clearly be old enough to remember the Holodomor, mentions that she has never really experienced hunger until now. There is also no mention of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, making it look like the Soviet Union was a neutral bystander before the Nazis attacked.
    • On another note, many Ukrainians sided with the Nazis in Real Life, even helping them to round up Jews for The Holocaust. In the film, there are no Ukrainian collaborators. Of course, you could say the film just happens to be focused on a group of Ukrainians who stayed loyal, but even if all the collaborators are safely off-screen, their existence still undercuts the whole theme of the unbreakable solidarity of the Soviet people.
  • In The Phenix City Story, John Patterson is portrayed as supportive of Zeke and his family, the only non-white people in the entire film.note  In Real Life, he ran for Governor of Alabama in 1958 on a segregationist platform that earned him the endorsement of the Ku Klux Klan. Patterson was so racist that even George Wallace (of "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever" infamy) complained that Patterson had "out-niggered" him after being defeated by Patterson in the nomination for Governor of Alabama.
  • Princess of Thieves upgrades Richard the Lionheart's illegitimate son Philip of Cognac, a historic figure about whom almost nothing is known, into a full-blown Action Hero who prevents his Evil Uncle Prince John from claiming the throne and wins the girl, who happens to be Robin Hood's daughter.
  • Chris Gardner in The Pursuit of Happyness. Although somewhat true, he was somewhat more of a Jerkass than he was in the film, as Cracked notes here (quote: "he actually didn't even know where the hell his son was for the first four months of the program."
  • Quills: In addition to the upgrade it gives the Marquis de Sade detailed above, it also gives the Abbé Courmier this treatment. The real Abbé was pretty corrupt and in a relationship with de Sade (he needed little seducing), who got special privileges while the rest of the inmates lived in squalid conditions and were treated pretty poorly (when it came to the plays, they were given minor roles-the big ones were given to professional actors). The Abbé basically ran Charenton like it was his own personal palace, and unlike the film was actually a committed Bonapartist-it was not the government that complained about how he ran the institute, but the French medical establishment, largely because he was grossly unqualified. And the terror baths were his idea, along with a lot of other cruel and outdated techniques. While he did encourage patients to express themselves, he wasn't really much interested in curing them.
  • Few would call Manfred von Richthofen a bad person (there are good reasons Allied air officers generally considered him a Worthy Opponent) but The Red Baron depicts him as something of a pacifist who refuses to kill an enemy pilot if he can settle for crippling the plane. The real von Richthofen generally did aim for the pilots, since it was the easiest way to bring a plane down, and had 80 kills.
  • While not much is known about the actual personalities of any of the well-known military leaders in the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history, they are depicted in Red Cliff as having considerably modern views on things despite living in third century CE China.
  • Among other liberties taken, Remember the Titans has Herman Boone portrayed by Denzel Washington as a heroic figure, whose coaching leads the eponymous team to success and whose family faces animosity from the rest of the town. In real life, Boone's only egalitarian quality was that he treated all of his players equally terribly, the team's success had little if anything to do with his coaching, and the animosity portrayed in the film was nonexistent. The real life Boone, whose actions eventually lead to the team mutinying against him (and who died in 2019), more-or-less took advantage of the movie whitewashing his terrible behavior and mimicked Washington's portrayal of him for his public persona, which he used for "inspirational" speaking engagements that often paid him between 10-15K per visit (including one by Barack Obama in 2008!).
  • The real Rob Roy was both a murderer and a cattle thief. The movie Rob Roy turns him into a heroic man of impeccable honor, though strangely it still does make passing mention to cattle-thieving, which was a common practice in those days.
  • No less a luminary than Joe Montana has criticized Rudy for far overstating Rudy's role on the team and understating how much work everyone else was putting in too.
  • Cecil B. DeMille's Samson & Delilah does this to the latter, whether she existed or not. Delilah never felt remorse for chopping off Samson's hair and removing his strength and her part in the story ends after that. His version has her truly fall in love with Samson and feel bad when he goes blind.
  • The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934): The Prince Regent (later King George IV) is depicted in this film as a universally beloved if not particularly intellectual figure; the real George was a highly controversial figure who was considered an unprincipled liar, cad, and scoundrel by many Englishmen.
  • Seven Years in Tibet downplays Heinrich Harrer's involvement in the Nazi Party. To be fair, he later described it as a youthful mistake and he never actually fought for the Nazis, having left Europe before the start of the war. Still, the image of him insisting that he's Austrian and only reluctantly taking the Nazi flag is a false one.
  • Shattered Glass:
    • In this movie, Michael Kelly is portrayed as a rather soft-spoken, gentle and fatherly individual who sticks up for his reporters, including Stephen Glass. While the "sticks up for his reporters and Glass" part is certainly true to life, as the article the movie is based on notes the real Kelly could be a lot more aggressive. It's stated that he responded to at least two individuals who challenged the veracity of articles that Glass wrote with very combative letters full of personal attacks. This may be the result of a certain amount of Never Speak Ill of the Dead, as Kelly was killed in action while reporting on the Iraq War months before the movie was released.
    • To an extent Martin Peretz. In the movie he's a hands on type of boss who can be petty to the staff and has a vicious temper but genuinely wants what's best for the magazine and applauds with everyone over Chuck Lane discovering the truth about Glass. In real life Martin Peretz blamed Lane and Kelley for failing to catch Glass and held both of them responsible. Even worse, Lane was immediately fired after TNR published their apology and Lane actually found out about his being fired by a reporter who was interviewing him in regards to the Glass scandal. Then there's the claim that Glass helped pass off some of his confabulations by designing them to appeal to Peretz's bigotry.
  • Maria Von Trapp appears in The Sound of Music to fulfil a Manic Pixie Dream Girl role. In reality, she was the stricter parent.
  • Straight Outta Compton: Being produced by Dr. Dre and Ice Cube themselves, this movie has been accused of glossing over some of the N.W.A.'s negative aspects:
    • The members of NWA are depicted as reconciling with Eazy shortly before his death and planning a reunion of NWA. In real life, this never happened, and DJ Yella was the only member of the group present at E's funeral.
    • The film makes no mention of several high profile cases of Dr. Dre beating women (his beating of Dee Barnes was in the original script, but had to be cut for time).
  • Thirteen Days was criticized by historians and then still-living members of Kennedy's administration because the movie intensely exaggerates the role that Kenny O'Donnell (the main point of view character played by Kevin Costner) played in preventing the Cuban Missile Crisis from escalating. The chief agent in the American government who pulled the administration together during the crisis was in fact Ted Sorensen, who's instead relegated to such a minor role that he's barely noticeable.
  • Tombstone takes several liberties to whitewash the Earp faction, even though the film doesn't take it quite as far as earlier films surrounding the Vendetta Ride.
    • The Earps are portrayed as heading west to strike it rich, but get drawn into conflict with the Cowboys for largely idealistic reasons. In real life, the Earps came to Tombstone in part to strike it rich, but also to avoid arrest warrants in Colorado, and the conflict was largely motivated by money and politics.
    • Wyatt himself started out his career in law enforcement as a pimp, and Mattie was, as far as can be determined, one of his working girls. His return to law enforcement was enthusiastic, rather than reluctant, and purely financially motivated [note] In most of the rural US at this time, sheriffs were charged with collecting taxes, and were entitled to a share. In Tombstone at this time, the sheriff's cut could be 30000 dollars a year, at a time when a laborer was lucky to earn a dollar a day.[/note] The Earps' hostility with Behan began when Behan offered to throw the election for County Sheriff in exchange for a cut of the sheriff's share of taxes raised, and then went back on his word.
  • United Passions infamously went full hagiography with FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who is portrayed as a valiantly unimpeachable crusader against institutional corruption. On the very same week the film was released, Blatter was forced to step down for charges of money-laundering and bribery, and said charges didn't exactly come out of the blue.
  • The Untouchables portrays Elliot Ness and his Untouchables skillfully battling Al Capone and ultimately bringing him down on tax evasion charges. In reality, while the Untouchables put pressure on Capone's organization, and Ness weeded out the corruption in Chicago's law enforcement, it was an unrelated IRS operation that ultimately brought down Capone. Ness's self-promotion at the time helped popularize the impression that Ness was responsible. The film also portrays Ness as an Action Dad who gains resolve when Capone targets his family, but Ness had no children when taking on Capone. His later life was marked with business failures and alcoholism.
  • In Valkyrie, the German officer corps is implied to be exclusively against Hitler for moral reasons. The fact that many of them harbored racist, anti-Semitic and classist views is glossed over. Their objections against Hitler ranged from him being far too murderous towards the "gutter races", to empowering the lower and middle classes, to simply losing the war.
  • The film version of V for Vendetta paints Guy Fawkes as a Doomed Moral Victor and Tragic Hero who died to strike a blow for freedom. It fails to mention that he and the other members of the Gunpowder Plot were essentially Western Terrorists mainly interested in replacing the Protestant monarchy with a Catholic one by murdering the whole government. This is more true in the film than in the original graphic novel, as the adaptation removes the moral ambiguity of V, the self-styled modern-day Guy Fawkes.
  • The Wind and the Lion depicts Mulai Ahmed el Raisuli as a virtuous man who fights for the autonomy of his people. Most historical accounts show the real Raisuli as being a rather vicious mixture of feudal bandit and political power player. For instance, Walter Harris recounts that when Raisuli's brother-in-law planned to take a second wife, Raisuli stormed the wedding party and hacked the bride and her mother to death. Shortly after the film's events, Raisuli became the Governor of Tangier and was soon removed from office by the Sultan due to allegations of corruption and imprisoning and torturing his personal enemies. Thus, depicting him as a roguish, romantic hero who just wants his people to have self-determination is a bit of a stretch. However, he was reportedly well-read, religiously devout and very polite to his ransomable captives.

  • Older Than Print: The Arabian Nights gave Harun al-Rashid a Historical Hero Upgrade. The most memorable event in his real reign was his execution of a powerful aristocratic family, therefore making his empire weaker. Is it ever mentioned in the stories? Sometimes, but they don't go too far in the opposite direction to Harun himself. In most stories, he's a lovable eccentric going on fantastic adventures-except in stories featuring Ja'far ("The Three Apples" especially), in which he comes off as a bit unstable.
  • Romance of the Three Kingdoms has a few, mostly with the Shu Han kingdom portrayed as what would be the best path for China to being a Doomed Moral Victor.
    • This is especially the case regarding on Liu Bei. True enough, he had noble goals. However, his traits have often been exaggerated to make him seem as if he was an extremely honorable man; never mind that he made lots and lots of mistakes that make him pale in comparison to Cao Cao's war abilities (such as irrationally leading the disastrous attack on Yiling, or slamming his infant son to the ground, effectively dooming his future empire). Yeah, author favoritism is also at fault here. Even his goals were less than noble. While the novel depicts him as a loyal subject of the Han Empire and distant relation to the emperor himself, in reality Liu Bei spent most of his life as a mercenary, betraying many warlords who took him in before he establishing Shu Han. And his descent from the Han Dynasty was so distant that his adopted son, Liu Yong, who he ordered to commit suicide because of the birth of his biological son, was more closely related to the royal family.
    • His blood brothers also are as flawed as he was. For example, Zhang Fei, often depicted as a headstrong warrior, was a ruthless bandit who kidnapped Xiahou Yuan's niece in Real Life. And Guan Yu being betrayed at Fan Castle wasn't because of treachery but due to his arrogance as well as refusing to allow one of his children to marry into the Sun family for political reasons.
    • The author portrays Zhuge Liang as completely godlike in every way, except for the minor detail where he has to succumb to overwork in the end because history said so. In real life his greatest weakness was his cronyism and sweeping Wei Yan aside despite his accomplishments.
    • Zhao Yun gets special treatment as Liu Bei's most badass Bishounen spear-wielding hero apparently and treated like Yukimura as one of the best warriors in China. In reality he was an insignificant officer in Shu's ranks until Chengdu and only became well known after Zhuge Liang's commendations.
    • Special mention goes to Ma Chao, whose father Ma Teng was a willing Han rebel who even served Dong Zhuo, and what does Ma Chao do? He's abandoned his members of his family all too many times, and tried to always rebel against Cao Cao to no avail before his service in Shu.
  • The Shahnameh: The second third of the book mostly concerns semi historical characters or characters based on historical people performing greatly exaggerated or outright fantastic feats, i.e., a strong and patriotic warrior named Rostam probably did live and rule in Sistan, but he sure as hell never killed a WHALE or beheaded a demon!!!
  • Gore Vidal's historical books often give us alternative perspectives on despised and misunderstood figures. His Burr provides a more complex portrayal of the winner of the Burr-Hamilton duel. His Creation likewise shows the Ancient World from the perspective of the Persian hegemony, an abolitionist, multicultural empire as opposed to the slave-owning back-stabbing Greek city-states.
  • A good deal of children's fiction about the English Civil War depicts the Royalists as being noble, flawless heroes and the Roundheads as being sly, unscrupulous villains. Adult fiction, on the other hand, often depicts the Royalists as deceitful, Frenchified, crypto-Catholic cads and the Roundheads as solid, honest, decent, beef-hearted true Englishmen. In reality, of course, both sides had legitimate points and obvious wrongs.
  • 20 Years After stops just short of making Charles I The Messiah mk. II, both because it fits the ideals of the protagonists (such as seeing themselves as the last bastions of chivalry, defending royalty against a commoner uprising) and because it makes Mordaunt that much more of an Asshole Victim (not only did he give Cromwell the idea of bribing the last of the king's loyal soldiers, he volunteered to be his executioner, all because the king had denied him his inheritance and title).
  • Mary Boleyn was characterized by The Other Boleyn Girl as a blushing virgin who loved Henry VIII and only wanted a quiet life in the country (as opposed to her sister, who was evil by virtue of being ambitious). The real Mary was known as "The Great Prostitute" because of her promiscuity. Her family went so far as to recall her from the French court because her behavior there was scandalizing them. Anne, on the other hand, only ever slept with one guy, and look how she's remembered.
  • In Harry Turtledove's The Guns of the South, Nathan Bedford Forrest is portrayed as being fiery, devoted, and honorable, though his racist ideals aren't shied away from. In the first and third Acts, he is shown to be a hero for the South, and he is a Graceful Loser at the end of the Second, ultimately agreeing to serve an abolitionist who beat him in a fair election. The real Nathan Bedford Forrest is perhaps best known for being the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan (which notably doesn't even exist in the book's altered timeline, because the CSA wins the war).
  • In The Hooded Riders, author J.T. Edson portrays the outlaw and gunfighter John Wesley Hardin as a wrongly accused hero, and his killing of a black man is presented as self-defense.
  • The Pyrates reinvents Captain Henry Avery/Long Ben Bridgeman, mutineer and pirate, as Royal Navy hero Captain Benjamin Avery. But it's not claiming to be remotely historically accurate.
  • The Epic of Gilgamesh may have originally been propaganda for the real King Gilgamesh of Uruk, although it likely mutated over hundreds of years, as the story as we know it paints him as very flawed (but still incredibly badass.)
  • There is a bit of this in the Belisarius Series. While even heroic medieval warlords behave on occasion like, well, medieval warlords, there is more religious tolerance than is credible and Antonina's loyalty to Belisarius is raised above what some sources would indicate. Although the explanation is used by the book that much of that is malicious court gossip, and that explanation is not totally rejected by real historians.
  • Subverted in the fictional story "Operation Chickenhawk" in Al Franken's Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot, where Newt Gingrich, Dan Quayle, Rush Limbaugh, Pat Buchanan, Phil Gramm, Clarence Thomas and George Will serve in the Vietnam War (which they all avoided in Real Life), but prove to be either Dirty Cowards or dead meat.
  • The G. K. Chesterton poem "Lepanto" pumps up Don Juan of Austria ("The Last Knight of Europe") from Christian military hero to saviour of the western world from the hordes of darkness and its own political corruption... until the last verses where Chesterton talks about the other famous guy who was at the battle and the kind of book he wrote seem to subvert the trope. You can also visit Battle of Lepanto and see the entry under Dude, Where's My Reward?:
    Cervantes on his galley sets the sword back in the sheath
    (Don John of Austria rides homeward with a wreath.)
    And he sees across a weary land a straggling road in Spain,
    And he smiles, but not as Sultans smile, and settles back the blade....
    (But Don John of Austria rides home from the Crusade.)
  • Wolf Hall does a lot to rehabilitate Thomas Cromwell's image as a man of principles who nonetheless does pragmatic and ruthless things in the service of his masters to raise his station. Most other stories give him a Historical Villain Upgrade, particularly A Man for All Seasons, in which he's a sneering asshole.
  • The poet Stratius historically loved The Aeneid, but The Divine Comedy makes up a conversion story where Stratius love of the The Aeneid leads him to love Christianity and be baptized in secret. Saved from damnation, Stratius repents of his ill-spending in the afterlife and begins his journey to join the Ultimate Good in Heaven.
  • The Sunne in Splendour: The novel heavily romanticizes Richard III, portraying him as a dashing victim of circumstances who only did ruthless things when necessary and most certainly did not kill his nephews.
  • ''The Lion Of Flanders Or The Battle Of The Golden Spurs: Robrecht van Béthume, the titular Lion of Flanders, was not present at the Battle of the Golden Spurs, and remained in a French prison until after the battle was over. In the novel, he secretly escapes to take part in the battle.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who regularly gives Big Damn Hero moments to admirable historical figures met by the Doctor during his various trips through time, particularly if the writers like the figure. Examples include Vincent van Gogh, William Shakespeare, Queen Elizabeth, Agatha Christie, Winston Churchill, and Charles Dickens.
  • Al Swearengen of Deadwood. Both the real and fictional Al Swearengen did terrible things. In the show, Al is a frontier mob boss who regularly orders murders, while in reality he was a sex slaver who forced unwitting women into prostitution. Al's hero upgrade gets more pronounced as the show continues, allowing him more and more Pet the Dog moments until he eventually makes a Heel–Face Turn in the fight to save the camp against Hearst's interests. Al's role as resident villain in the camp is slowly transferred over to Cy Tolliver, a fictional character replacing a harmless real guy.
  • In Ravna Gora, a Serbian series about the World War II Chetnik movement made by Radoš Bajić, Chetnik leader Draža Mihajlović is shown to be rather humble and nice, unlike the true historian picture of him and his movement, which says that they were murderous and chauvinist... The author explained how he wanted to show the truth, but he also made the movie as artistic expression (even if artistic expression and true history don't go together)... This can be explained due to growing Serbian nationalism after the breakup of Yugoslavia. That said, while they weren't saints the Chetniks probably get more sympathy nowadays due to being opposed to the communist Yugoslav Partisans led by Tito, who visited horrible fates on them after taking control of the country.
  • I, Claudius single-handedly rehabilitated the reputation of the Emperor Claudius, who-long thought of as just another cruel despot among the Roman Emperors-is now rather positively viewed in the popular imagination. However, the idea that he wished to restore the Republic is pure fabrication. In their eyes, the Republic never collapsed, with Augustus and his successors simply being princeps, or "first among equals", with the remaining senators, at least superficially, sharing power with him. It wouldn't be until Commodus' reign that the senate began its true slide into irrelevance.
  • Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey:
    • In general, the show takes scientists who have been largely forgotten or overshadowed (such as Cecilia Payne or Ibn Al-Haytham) and showcases their achievements and discoveries. By necessity these tend to be simplified, covering decades in the animated segments of a 43-minute show.
    • One example that attracted particular criticism was Giordano Bruno from the first episode. He was burned at the stake in part for his belief in a plurality of worlds, but his views on other doctrinal beliefs are only mentioned briefly in the reading of the charges. He's also portrayed as being pelted with fruit by the monks of Oxford, who in reality simply listened to and rejected his ideas, and being a homeless beggar for most of his life even though he was sponsored by kings for his memory techniques. The writer of that episode had his own response to the critics.
  • Hitler: The Rise of Evil: Ernst Hanfstaengl is portrayed as having fled Germany in 1934 for moral reasons because he realized where Hitler's leadership was taking Germany. He actually continued to clamor for Hitler's approval for several more years and defected to the United States only after falling out of favor with the Nazis.
  • 100 Greatest Britons: Several of the candidates who ended up in the list were not free of controversy:
    • Oliver Cromwell: Ended up at #10, which was controversial because Cromwell was widely disliked by his own people at the time, not just Royalists but also Republicans who considered him a traitor to their cause, and loathed in Ireland to this day, for his war crimes. Clarendon, a prominent Royalist who regarded Cromwell as the most wicked of all men neatly summed up the contradictory nature of Cromwell, noting that 'as he had all the wickedness against which damnation is denounced and for which hell fire is prepared, so he had virtues which have caused men in all ages to be celebrated' even praising his industriousness and wisdom even if they were put to what he saw as evil use.
    • Nr. 16, Margaret Thatcher was also considered to be a polarizing choice. Her politics and economics weren't exactly considered beneficial to the working class population, especially not Oop North.
    • Nr. 30, Guy Fawkes, tried blowing up the English Parliament.
    • Nr. 55, Enoch Powell, a British politician, most infamous for his "Rivers of Blood" speech, which was considered to be racist and xenophobic by many.
    • Nr. 64, James Connolly, an Irish nationalist and socialist, executed by the British Crown in 1916 for playing a leading role in the Easter Rising.
    • Nr. 73, Aleister Crowley was a controversial choice for being an occultist, nicknamed "The Wickedest Man In The World".
    • Nr. 82, Richard III, a king suspected of murdering his nephews.
  • In Band of Brothers and the book it was based on, Pfc. David Kenyon Webster gets a pretty sympathetic portrayal, largely because author Steven Ambrose thought of him as a Warrior Poet. According to other Easy veterans, Webster was a lazy and ineffective soldier who only ever did the bare minimum, as well as a Jerkass who thought his Harvard education made him better than everyone else and wasn't shy about it either. He had few, if any, friends. Webster's own war memoir doesn't help his case, as it's mostly filled with his complaints about the army and just about every officer in the company (generally that he's smarter than they are, according to him at least) except Major Dick Winters, who gets only a single brief mention. Bill Guarnere, Babe Heffron, and Don Malarkey, who all wrote their own memoirs, disliked him and felt that the book and miniseries gave him far too much credit.
  • Subverted in Highlander. Duncan and another immortal Scots friend of his fought in the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. His friend idolised Bonnie Prince Charlie and resented Duncan forcing him to stay out of the final battle to keep up The Masquerade. Many years later he tried to start another rebellion and took Duncan to meet Charlie in Italy. We initially see the meeting from the friend's perspective, showing Charlie in his pop culture persona as charismatic and noble. Then we see the true events from Duncan's viewpoint, showing Charlie as the broken alcoholic he really was at that point in his life.
  • The Tudors is notable and controversial for its sympathetic portrayal of Mary Tudor (yes, the same "Bloody Mary" who burned 280 Protestants at the stake). While the show doesn't shy away from her religious extremism, a greater focus is put on her tragic circumstances... Turns out that having a megalomaniacal, tyrannical father wasn't all that easy.
  • The White Queen: This is the most sympathetic live-action portrayal of King Richard III ever made. Richard was not the invokedComplete Monster of Shakespeare's play, but in Real Life, he maneuvered from the start to push Edward IV's sons and the Woodvilles aside in order to grab power for himself, and he probably had the Princes in the Tower murdered. Here, he is sincere about intending to crown Edward V, he had absolutely nothing to do with his nephews' disappearance (in fact, he freaks out when he realizes that they're missing), and he makes peace with his sister-in-law Elizabeth Woodville. It's Margaret Beaufort The Chessmaster who schemes her way into pitting Richard and Elizabeth against each other, and it's she and her husband Thomas Stanley who basically trick Richard into seizing the throne.
  • The Iranian miniseries Passion of Flight, focuses on the Iran-Iraq War F-14 pilot Abbas Babaei, which the show portrays as an intelligent officer and skilled pilot who was loved by both his superiors and comrades and was very forgiving. In reality, Abbas wasn't a nice guy and was hated by his colleagues since he mistreated anyone he suspected who wasn't loyal to the new Iranian regime. Furthermore, those officers who dislike him even claim he wasn't even qualified to fly an F-14.
  • Parodied in Blackadder, where it states that Richard III's reputation was a result of Henry VIII's changing of history, and that instead of being a wicked king, Richard was a loving uncle to his two nephews, one of whom would eventually become king.
  • The Outer Limits (1995): In-Universe. In "Gettysburg", Andy Larouche is very proud that his ancestor Major Beauregard Larouche led the only Confederate unit in Pickett's Charge to break through the Union lines during the Battle of Gettysburg on July 3, 1863. He often boasts about this to his friend and fellow War Re Enactor Vince Chance. However, when Andy and Vince are sent back in time to 1863 by Nicholas Prentice, they meet Beauregard Larouche, who is only a corporal. Andy soon discovers that his exploits have been highly exaggerated. When he asks his ancestor whether he still believes in the cause of the Confederacy, Beauregard replies that he only believes in the cause of staying alive. When the two of them, Vince and Major Drummond come under fire from Union troops while trying to rescue the wounded Will Monroe, Beauregard runs away as he has seen enough death. He later tells Colonel Angus Devine that he rescued Monroe single-handedly. Andy's fervour reignites Beauregard's own long dormant patriotism and he proudly takes part in Pickett's Charge in which he is killed, the only accurate part of the Larouche family legend beyond his name.
  • When They See Us: The miniseries largely glosses over the 5's actual crimes against other people in the park, which included assault and robbery. Perhaps ironically, these helped exonerate them in addition to Reyes' confession, since it was shown they had been elsewhere committing them at the time of the rape. Naturally, this alibi wasn't used at trial, since saying "I was assaulting somebody else" is not really helpful. They were also convicted of these crimes along with the rape, but the film omits this (they got thrown out as well due to their questionable confessions).
  • Barbarians Rising: This docudrama miniseries has multiple cases of this trope, both on a national and individual level.
    • The barbarian peoples covered are depicted as freedom fighters against the evil, pro-slavery empire of Ancient Rome. Of course, the show glosses over the fact that slavery was common virtually everywhere at the time, that all barbarian tribes presented in this show practiced it, and that Roman slavery was arguably Fair for Its Day. Some of the barbarians are known to have indulged in human sacrifices, ritual mutilations and other horrifying things that Romans were scandalized at (some of them rightfully, others not so much, but still).
    • Ancient Carthage gets portrayed as a kind of "good counterpart" to Rome whose victory would have been preferable. In reality, Carthage was also an imperialistic, slaveholding power prone to seriously brutal acts, and it was actually a harsher master than Rome to its client states and subject peoples in some ways. The Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage were far more grey-shaded, with both sides being pretty questionable by modern standards and neither one holding a decisive moral edge.
    • Hannibal was not a freedom fighter as stated in the show, but just a military man motivated by a family feud against another nation. Strangely, the show itself doesn't shy away from showing that Hannibal's oath against Rome was directly based on revenge, which turns it into a sort of inner contradiction.
    • Ditalcus here receives sympathetic motivation for his treachery that does not appear in any historical chronicle, namely that he blames Viriathus and his rebellion for the suffering of his tribe and the massacre of his friends. It's implied this was the main factor in his betrayal of Viriathus, aside from his lack of trust in the man's campaign from the start. Meanwhile, the historical Ditalcus apparently betrayed Viriathus out of sheer opportunism and greed, and judging by the chroniclers' condemnations of him and his cronies, it is clear he didn't have any other reason that is worthy to know.

  • The Neil Young song "Cortez the Killer" depicts the Aztec Empire as an idyllic paradise where "Hate was just a legend/And war was never known". In reality, the Aztecs were notorious warmongers who performed Human Sacrifice on an industrial scale (though the exact numbers are disputed). They were widely hated among their neighbors because of this, and many joined forces with Hernán Cortés when he went to war against them.

  • Henry V ignores several inconvenient aspects of the historical king, probably because he was a badass warrior King of England at a time when English nationalism was on the rise after hundreds of years of domination by French overlords. Still, he could easily have been seen as a villain, even by the Elizabethans. He executed captured enemy knights, presided over some horrible bloodbaths, doomed both sides to keep fighting a pointless war, burned "Protestant" heretics alive—including Sir John Oldcastle, the original of Shakespeare's Falstaff—and had a nasty scar across his face.
  • Henry VIII ends with Henry and Anne eagerly expecting his heir, the future Queen Elizabeth—ignoring the fact that the entire point of the exercise had been for Henry to get a male heir, and indeed that Catherine had already borne a female heir (who would grow up to be Bloody Mary)...not to mention the infamous mess that would come a few years later, with Catherine dead and Anne convicted of capital crimes, both under very suspicious circumstances.
  • Richard III with its Historical Villain Upgrade for Richard, makes other characters look more heroic. Lord Stanley is portrayed as a loyal and noble vassal, who heroically acts to put Henry VII on the throne. In real life the Stanleys were notoriously treacherous and double-dealing, switching between sides, and at Bosworth Lord Stanley didn't do anything with his troops, it was his brother Sir William Stanley who basically stabbed Richard in the back when he attacked his forces. And William was later executed by Henry for supporting a Pretender. However Lord Stanley's descendants ended up funding Shakespeare's plays, hence his glowing portrayal. Another character who gets an upgrade is George, duke of Clarence, who is portrayed as, at worse, a bit naive and foolish, though his joining the Lancastrians is portrayed it is glossed over. In reality George was a massive Smug Snake, who spent a lot of his time plotting against his brother Edward IV, trying to have him declared illegitimate, joining the Lancastrians so he could gain more influence, and finally getting executed after he bullied a court into executing someone, then left court without permission, which was basically the precursor to rebellion. However he is probably portrayed as more heroic to contrast him with his youngest brother Richard.
  • Thomas More's portrayal in A Man for All Seasons tends to focus on his bravery in maintaining his principles even when he knew this would result in his gruesome death, presenting him as a champion of the freedom of the individual conscience. Even apart, however, from the Values Dissonance that led him (like nearly everyone in his own time) to approve the burning of heretics, More was fully convinced that the state had a perfect right to suppress any open dissent; his entire defense was based upon the plea that he had not made his personal opinions known. He was definitely no advocate of free speech, as the play seems to suggest he was.
  • Sir Thomas More is another example of More being portrayed as a more sympathetic person than he really was, making sure to hide away his bad sides and show only the flattering parts.
  • The Cirque du Soleil shows based on Michael Jackson's work, Michael Jackson THEIMMORTAL World Tour and Michael Jackson ONE portray him as a transcendentally gifted performer and humanitarian. In the latter show, his iconic costume items magically grant people his core attributes — playfulness, agility, courage, and love — and the primary antagonists represent a Strawman News Media out to tear him down. As one might imagine, his myriad personal failings — egotism, drug abuse, plastic surgery to the point of Body Horror, the lingering question of whether he was a pedophile or not, etc. — are swept under the rug; even before ONE opened, Steve Bornfeld questioned this portrayal (which is the standard one amongst the more rabid Jackson fans, keep in mind): "[Cirque's] predecessor shows honored the brilliant music of The Beatles and Presley without suggesting that its subjects wrapped their arms around the globe and cradled it in its loving embrace." He also points out that the image of Michael as a champion of goodness and the world's greatest entertainer was one he cultivated to begin with (as in the Forced Meme "The King of Pop").
  • Not a person, but a country. The Sound of Music creates the impression of Austria being a free country trampled by Nazi jackboots. In fact, Austria became a fascist state in 1934, four years before the Anschluss. Also, most Austrians saw themselves as Germans at the time and welcomed the Anschluss. While the musical does include some Austrian characters who support the Anschluss, it portrays them as Les Collaborateurs. It is true that some Austrians opposed the Anschluss, including the real Captain von Trapp, but they were in the minority and most were monarchists hoping for a Habsburg restoration.
  • Evita, much like The Sound of Music, implies that Argentina was a democracy before the 1943 military coup that ultimately brought Juan Peron to power two years later. The country had actually been a dictatorship for over a decade, and in fact many Argentines supported the coup.
  • Hamilton gives out these all around
    • The titular character's anti-slavery stance is greatly increased in order to make him more sympathetic. While the real Hamilton was more antislavery than some people of the time, he did not see slavery as nearly as important an issue as other things were, and tolerated slaveholders among his associates (John Laurens, however, really was that much of an abolitionist). Hamilton also owned a few slaves himself, as did the Schuyler family he married into. The play also tones down Hamilton's elitism. Real life Hamilton was accused of being a monarchist due to wanting to re-establish a blue blood elite in the Colonies, and at the Constitutional Convention argued that the President should serve for life, though historians debate if he really believed these things or if the whole thing was an elaborate feint planned with James Madison to make the latter's plan look better by comparison.
    • George Washington, as ever, is presented as fairly saintly in the finished play, though this may simply be how Hamilton sees him. In earlier drafts, there were hints that him stepping down from the role of President was due to his realization that Power Corrupts, with King George's theme slipping into his song.
    • Jefferson, while an antagonist in the play's second act, is a lot less cutthroat towards Hamilton than he was in real life.
  • 1776 portrays John Adams as having more modern views of social issues, such as slavery, than the real man possessed. This is not due to any attempt to lionize Adams, but rather because this Adams is a Composite Character of John and his more radical cousin Samuel, who really did hold the more progressive positions John espouses in the play.

    Video Games 
  • Oda Nobunaga is typically portrayed as villainous in most Japanese Historical Fiction, but from Samurai Warriors 2 onwards he gets treated as a pragmatic Anti-Hero. Historically, he was much closer to the game's portrayal of Hashiba Hideyoshi as an eccentric yet highly general and administrator. He was not only a ruthless commander, but embraced Western culture and technology before most other Daimyos and implemented several important policies that are still used or directly influence current policy today. Embracing the use of guns (and introducing volley fire using three staggered lines of gunners, so that some gunners would be firing while the others reloaded; this was 20 years before William Louis of Nassau-Dillenburg revolutionized European armies by independently developing the same tactic) allowed him to rout his opponents in battle.
    • Toyotomi Hideyoshi. His character in Samurai Warriors depict him as, while prone to silly antics at times, is an ultimately good guy who wishes for everyone to be happy and inspired loyalty from great warriors like Yukimura Sanada. The game failed to mention his brutal persecution of Christianity, crucifixion of the 26 missionaries sent to Japan, invasion of Korea (and his attempt to do the same to China), lethal Hair-Trigger Temper, and imposition of rigid social classes that halted the social mobility from which he himself had benefitted. The Korean invasion being omitted may be because KOEI wouldn't dare piss on the Korean due to the bad blood between them and Japanese (which was Hideyoshi's fault, and even Capcom makes no mention of that despite giving Hideyoshi a Historical Villain Upgrade.) Hideyoshi even has some bonds with some Chinese warriors in Warriors Orochi (although these Chinese people were in a time before Hideyoshi was born or could even invade.) It also has a very mild take on his notorious sexual rapacity, which saw him go after his vassals' wives and daughters regardless of their age or consent.
    • In the 2nd 3DS game, they introduced Yagyu Munenori, badass swordsman of the Yagyu clan who usually is portrayed as villainous or an utter bastard. In this game, he's said to be possessing none of those overexaggerated bastardizations and is an all around just and honorable swordsman.
    • Nobunaga is also pretty badass in Pokémon Conquest (A Pokemon-Nobunaga's Ambition crossover) as in this continuity he not only a Master Pokemon trainer, but is the trainer of a shiny Rayquaza. For those not known in Pokemon lore, Rayquaza is a massive dragon Pokemon, practically a god among Pokemon, and "shiny" is when a Pokemon gets a rare note  alternate colour scheme. The only legit way to get one in the main series games, is to Save Scum about 8000 times.
    • Also, while not that glaring, there's the portrayal of Katou Kiyomasa in Samurai Warriors. In real life, while he's a model general, he's also a brutal pro-Buddhist man, extremely ruthless against Christianity and willingly ordered his men to butcher Christians, cutting the bellies of Christian women then have their infant babies killed. Koei decided to not even touch the Christianity issues for their game, and so Kiyomasa becomes a merely snarky, loyal general to the Toyotomi army with no comments about religion. Funnily enough, in the spin-off Hyakuman-Nin Sengoku Musou, this ends up giving a Jerkass upgrade to one of Kiyomasa's historical Christian opposition, Konishi Yukinaga, who's instead portrayed as a money-grubbing jerk.
  • Pretty much everyone in the Sengoku Basara series that wasn't instead made into an outright villain gets some degree or another of this, but Tokugawa Ieyasu is the biggest — by Sengoku Basara 3 he's basically a Messianic Archetype, compassionate and honest, and his Power Fist combat style is symbolic of his desire to keep war from ever again severing the Bonds between people, rather than power-hungry and manipulative. Not to mention, he's a young Bishōnen rather his usual portrayal of being a fat old man.
  • Taking a leaf from Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Dynasty Warriors promotes Liu Bei to a man concerned primarily with virtue and honourable behaviour, and one more thing: He's much more of a caring father and is capable of being proud of his son. It helps that the infamous scene where he threw his son to the ground was omitted for the game.
    • To a lesser degree, his son Liu Shan is also portrayed as, while far from the warrior his father was, a man of virtue. As stated above, it helps that he's not thrown to the ground as a baby...
    • Sima Zhao also gets this, as he was much worse in real life. Zhuge Dan's bio in the game even suggests that Zhao's rule was Tyrannical.
      • A prime example of this is during Zhuge Dan's rebellion after Dan killed Wen Qin. Zhao states that any soldiers who willing surrenders would be unharmed while Zhong Hui suggests that they should just kill them, when historically it was the other way around.
    • Ma Chao is generally portrayed as a man who upholds justice above all else and is loyal to Shu, even in death. While the loyalty part is true...well, let's just say Wang Yi isn't the only person pissed at him for killing a family. He was rather brutal in real life, and certainly didn't care about whether he was doing the right thing or not.
    • Lu Bu in the games has increasingly been portrayed as being a sort of Noble Demon, going from being obsessed with strength for its own sake in earlier games to wanting strength to protect those he cares for. Historically, Lu Bu allowed his soldiers to pillage, rape and plunder which contributed greatly to his ultimate failure and death.
    • Gan Ning is shown as being a pretty cool dude, and his initial bad blood with Ling Tong eventually gives way to a friendly rivalry. The real Gan Ning was a murderous bastard that most of his fellow generals would've happily killed if not for Sun Quan's protection. He even murdered a young serving boy who'd fled to Lu Meng for protection, despite promising to spare him if Lu returned the boy. Ling Tong hated him till the day he died, and Lu Meng very nearly killed him for the murder of the serving boy.
  • Assassin's Creed has this and its counterpart as its entire plot. The series's main draw is how the developers use the Rule of Cool to combine exquisite research with Historical Upgrades. Everybody of note in the past belonged to one of two Ancient Conspiracies; the Templars and the Assassins. The Templars work to eradicate free will in the name of peace. The Assassins hunt and kill Evil Aristocrats wherever and whenever possible "to safeguard Mankind's evolution"(and peace). If somebody in the past was awesome, he's in the series somewhere with his life examined in detail - with Hidden Depths because history was Written By The Templars.
    • For starters, The Hashshashin themselves. In real life they were Hassan-I-Sabah's private army not unlike modern terrorists. They built a reputation at the time as his enemies were Asshole Victims who they eliminated with a minimum of collateral damage.
    • King Richard I of England, however, got a fairly realistic representation: he went by the title "Lionhearted" even in his own day, and it did not refer to heroism but a love of combat. So, though he's driven to conquer Jerusalem, he keeps his promise to listen to Altaïr finally after he beats Robert De Sable in single combat, and lets Altair go free afterwards. He's undeniably a jerkass, but he's still portrayed in a relatively positive manner - basically a Noble Demon.
    • Lorenzo de'Medici is portrayed as being a devout republican and a benevolent ruler. In reality, like all the noble families in the Italian city-states, the Medicis were Machiavellian schemers who committed all sorts of immoral acts to maintain their power. At least it's shown in the Lineage short how Lorenzo brutally tortures an agent of his enemies for information, and in Brotherhood Lucrezia Borgia claims, probably truthfully that he quashes the families of his rivals utterly, even those who had nothing to do with the plots against him.
    • And who can forget how Leonardo da Vinci got an upgrade in heroism, despite only being the sort-of deuteragonist? Notable changes include that his inventions work, are completely functional and can be used at nearly any time. Plus he's the main character's BFF.
    • According to some fan-theories, the events of the games are filtered through Altair and Ezio's impressions of them. Such as the way beggars in the first game would bother Altair and only Altair.
    • Not to mention that with their advantage in information control, the Templars would obviously try to slander any historical figure who allied themselves with the Assassins.
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops II gives one to Angolan Rebel Leader Jonas Savimbi. In the game, he's a gregarious and enthusiastic player ally who rides into battle at the head of his army and even pulls off a spectacular Gunship Rescue at the end of the mission he's featured in. In real life, while he was known for his charisma and his courage (having a reputation for leading from the front lines as he does in the game), he was also a war criminal who massacred civilians, funded his army by selling conflict diamonds, accepted military aid from apartheid South Africa, ran the territories he controlled like his own personal kingdom, ordered the torture and execution of his own men if he had even the slightest suspicion of betrayal, and re-started the civil war twice after previously agreeing to ceasefires because he didn't win the post-war elections - it took his death in battle with government troops in February 2002, a full sixteen years after the in-game level he's featured in, to finally bring the war to an end. The characters in the game does comment that Savimbi was insane but don't elaborate over.
  • Discussed and ultimately discouraged in Where In Time Is Carmen Sandiego? When you meet William the Conqueror, who casually mentions one time that he razed a Saxon village to the ground, your Good Guide will chime in to remind you that just because you're meeting and working with figures from history doesn't mean that they're all necessarily nice people. Your job as a time traveller isn't to pick sides, but to get history as we know it back on track.

    Web Original 
  • The Great War discusses how Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck was idolised until relatively recently for his role in defending German East Africa against a much larger Entente force. It acknowledges his skill as a commander, stating that he was a major pioneer of guerrilla warfare in the 20th century. However, the show also mentions von Lettow-Vorbeck's role in the Herero genocide, his participation in the 1920 Kapp-Putsch (a far-right coup attempt, intending to depose the Weimar Republic), along with his racist imperialist views.
  • Hitler Rants features Hermann Fegelein, who's presented as a lovable and devious trickster who lives to make Hitler's life miserable through his antics. Putting aside the fact that the real Fegelein didn't piss off his boss nearly that much until his final days, this makes him a saint compared to the man who oversaw the murder of tens of thousands of Ukrainian Jews. Albert Speer also described him as being the most personally loathesome member of Hitler's inner circle.

    Western Animation 
  • Played with hilariously in Time Squad. When the team is given a mission, Otto always would get really excited and start rattling off the wonderful achievements of whoever it was they were going to meet, pretty much ignoring any of the flaws (arguably justified through childish idealism). When they actually meet the historic figures however, they are all stupid, insane, stubborn, cruel, or plain incompetent.
  • Christopher Columbus' heroic reputation is actually Averted in, of all places, an episode of The Flintstones dealing with Time Travel. While the mythical story of him trying to prove the world is round is kept, here he's portrayed as a Jerkass and a Mean Boss towards his crew (and the four members of the cast) who has to fend off an attempt at a mutiny while threatening the four cast members to help him. The mutiny is stopped when Wilma sees land... And he quickly takes credit for it. (Fortunately for the four protagonists, the Time Machine starts working again and whisks them to a new time period, but they only find more trouble there.)
  • Nero is never regarded as a hero, but when he appeared on Peabody and Sherman's segment of Rocky and Bullwinkle, there was a twist, as he was portrayed as Not Evil, Just Misunderstood. In this reality, it was actually Nero's music teacher who started the fire.

  • Lei Feng was an ordinary but not particularly notable soldier in the People's Liberation Army. Then he died, and, amazingly, it turned out he just happened to have written a big diary in which he had recorded his dutiful life devoted to Chairman Mao. Most historians are pretty sure that the entire thing was a result of the Communist Party's Propaganda Machine.
  • Similar upgrades were done for the USSR's Pavlik Morozov and Nazi Germany's Horst Wessel.
  • Similarly, Nicolas Chauvin, if he really existed, got this treatment from French Bonapartists. Ironically, today he would generally get a Historical Villain Upgrade due to being the origin of the word "chauvinism" in spite of its later associations not being intended.
  • Many of the Saints in the Catholic Church were often unsaintly even after renouncing their formerly wicked ways. To a large degree that is because the colloquial idea of a saint is different from the official idea of a saint; it is after all official doctrine that sinning is part of being human even if you are a saint. Thus they often got upgraded mostly by popular consciousness rather then official tradition.
  • Everyone knows pirates have been romanticized over the centuries, but female pirates in particular tend to get this treatment in media. (Grania "the Pirate Queen" O'Malley, Anne Bonny, and Mary Read especially. But Mistress Ching, curiously, does not get this treatment. ) Granted, life was tough all around and many of these women likely had justifiable reasons for their crimes, but the same can be said for many of their male comrades who aren't given as much slack. And once you read about O'Malley burning a town to the ground or Anne Bonny (maybe) murdering a chambermaid, it's hard to continue seeing them as typical adventure heroines. (But they're still pretty damn interesting to read about. )
  • Joseph Bara (or "Barra") was a yound drummer boy who joined the Republican army during The French Revolution and took part in the war against counter-revolutionary insurgents in Western France. He died at 14 (in 1793) in obscure circumstances during a minor skirmish against a group of horse thieves belonging to the other side. Robespierre then used this trivia for propaganda reasons, quoting his fate as a patriotic example, and making up a story about the boy being executing because he cried "Long live the Republic" while his attackers forced him to shout "Long live the King" to save his own life. Bara's remains were supposed to be buried in the Panthéon during the Summer of 1794 (an honor granted to the greatest heroes of the Republic), but the event was eventually cancelled due to Robespierre's downfall. Despite this, Bara's story was still remembered as a patriotic example for more than a century.
  • The Waffen-SS has been known to recieve this treatment in some circles, albiet to a considerably lesser extent than the Wehrmacht mentioned above. Some have depicted it as an apolitical fighting force that was not involved in Nazi war crimes. It has even been idealized as an "Army of Europe", a multinational force where people from all over Europe volunteered for a heroic fight to defend against communist depravity. While it's true that they weren't intimately linked to the Nazi regime's crimes against humanity in the same way as other constituent groups of the Schutzstaffel such as the Allgemeine SS or the SS-Totenkopfverbände, their hands were far from clean. Without getting into too much detail, let's just say there were very good reasons the Waffen-SS was judged to be a criminal organization at the Nuremburg Trials (though to be fair, said trials also determined that not everybody in the organization was a war criminal; indeed, there were multiple Waffen-SS members who outright resisted Nazi atrocities). Nevertheless, there are some people who continue to depict it as far cleaner than it was in real life, though this seems to be less common in recent years. This has been combined with Historical Badass Upgrade at times, making them out to be considerably more elite than they actually were.

In-Universe examples

    Anime & Manga 
  • Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei has an instance wherein during a lecture on the importance of holding one's tongue, Nozomu speaks positively about Kira, the man traditionally viewed as the villain in The 47 Ronin incident. Nozomu refers to him as a cultured man taken advantage of by a bunch of bumpkins.
  • At the end of Fullmetal Alchemist, the heroes have to whitewash Führer Bradley's life and not tell anyone that he was a Homunculus and willing to sacrifice his people to give Father godhood.
  • The second prequel series of Legend of Galactic Heroes has a younger Yang Wenli trying to research the life of one Bruce Ashbey, a famous Alliance war-hero. The arc itself is a discussion of this trope, with Yang lampshading the fact that while Ashbey, admirable as he was, may not have been the great badass people remember him to be, it would be foolish to automatically assume the opposite just to say that his interpretation is "unique."
  • Naruto: The Uchiha Clan. The village at large sees them as a great and noble clan that were victims of their traitorous prodigy, Itachi. The truth of the matter is that the Uchiha Clan was extremely bitter about their lack of power in the politics of the village despite being politically the most powerful clan due to their Military Police position, and about the perceived discrimination they suffered during the Second Hokage's reign and after the Kyuubi attack. It eventually led them to plan a coup against the village, which forced Itachi to kill them all. It should be noted that Itachi WANTED the massacre if it meant that Sasuke wouldn't live with his clan's crimes on his shoulders, and would rebuild the Uchiha to be truly noble after "avenging" their deaths. When Sasuke found all of this out, his reaction was a bit... extreme.
  • In One Piece's Skypiea Arc, the tale of Noland The Liar paints the king of Noland's country as a brave warrior who overcame many dangers but got suckered by Norland's lies. The flashback shows that the king was actually a greedy opportunist who relied on Noland the entire journey. When the island where the City of Gold supposed to be wasn't there, the king had Noland put in a Kangaroo Court and basically destroyed his good name out of spite.


    Films — Live-Action 
  • Star Trek: First Contact explores this trope with the fictional historical figure of Zefram Cochrane. Federation history paints Cochrane as a shining paragon of idealism while he was really a selfish, cynical drunk (but still kind of a Loveable Rogue). Much of his widely known idealism only came long after he'd made First Contact, while the time-traveling crew only met the earlier, broken man who'd barely lived through World War 3. The Cochrane they meet even sneers at the very same aphorisms he'll later famously deliver. The novelization hints that he may have had untreated bipolar disorder, alternating between manic creative highs that led to his inventing the warp drive and crushing lows.
    • Perhaps even shown earlier in Star Trek: The Original Series where after begin forced to land on a planet by an energy cloud, Kirk and company encounter a still alive and rejuvenated Cochrane. When he's informed that the energy cloud that's been keeping him alive is female and in love with him, he's disgusted by it as immoral which can be perceived as Fantastic Racism. It's not until she takes over the body of a dying human woman is he able to return her feelings.
  • And Starring Pancho Villa As Himself (2003) is all about this trope, with Villa's image being changed by the filmmakers for Rule of Drama and to make him more acceptable to American audiences.
  • In Back to the Future Part II, when Biff Tannen uses the almanac to make himself a wealthy and corrupt man, and turn Hill Valley into a wretched hive, he does this twofold: in the museum in the casino he owns, he portrays his ancestor Buford Tannen, a sociopathic outlaw, into a brave frontiersman, and unsurprisingly, portrays himself as a patriotic and generous businessman.
  • Thor: Ragnarok: During the Batman Cold Open, Loki tries to invoke this on himself while posing as Odin. Thor finds him putting on a terrible play that portrays Loki as a kind, innocent, and misunderstood soul who just wanted his family to love him. Actor Thor brushes off all of Loki's crimes as the actions of a lovable scamp.
    • It also reveals, more seriously, that Odin did this to himself, hiding his history of conquest with his firstborn Hela. He did have a Heel–Face Turn that included banishing Hela when she became too bloodthirsty, but rather than owning up to his mistakes, he chose to sweep them under the rug (well, tile over the ceiling) and present himself as always having been a heroic figure, erasing Hela from the narrative entirely.
  • Bright: Four cops are supposedly killed in the line of duty against a terrorist group and honored in heroes. In reality, they were corrupt and tried to murder the main protagonist and steal the MacGuffin for themselves, though he manages to kill them in self-defense. The federal agents made up this cover story to protect the main protagonist's reputation and keep the whole incident secret.

  • In Dragon Bones, the hero, Ward, is told to his horror that Seleg, the man he hero-worshipped and admired as role-model, had been No Hero to His Valet, and in fact, been the one who horribly punished the defenseless slave Oreg, when Oreg complained about his killing the dragons he (Seleg) was duty-bound to protect. Naturally, no report of those deeds made it to any ballad or other account of history.
  • CIAPHAS CAIN, HERO OF THE IMPERIUM! Pretty much the poster boy for this trope: a cowardly, manipulative political officer who gets thrown into death and destruction at every turn, and comes out as a hero for the Imperium, even revered as an aspect of the god-emperor of mankind in some circles. He doesn't believe all the hype, though.
  • Within the Dragaera series, the Dumas-recycling Khaavren Romances novels are an example of this (and probably Historical Villain Upgrade as well) in universe. Paarfi, the narrator, presents a rose-colored, Good Old Ways view of Dragaeran history and tends to present historical figures in a flattering light, although in some cases, you can read between the lines and sense the real person was much less pleasant.
  • In the Belisarius Series, there are a couple of comments lampshading this, in which it is said that a character who died in battle would become an epic hero. In one of those cases King Eon of Ethiopia says that about himself as he is dying (ironically Eon's case is a subversion; his behavior clearly was heroic enough to win him such an honor, it simply lacked military professionalism as might be expected for so young a Warrior Prince).
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire Renly Baratheon is portrayed by the Lannister-Tyrell regime as a heroic and glamorous figure who came back from the dead to defeat his wicked brother Stannis Baratheon. In reality Renly, though brilliant with publicity and putting on an image of The Good King, really has only publicity going for him. He shows himself in private to be a Smug Snake, greedy for more influence, showing no real administrative skills, along with being a terrible military leader and fighter, and trying to usurp the throne after his brother Robert's death with the Tyrells' aid, along with planning the death of Robert's true heir, his brother Stannis. However after his death the Tyrells join the Lannisters so they can get more power, and Garlan Tyrell disguises himself in Renly's armor so it appears he came back from the dead, therefore Renly is given a better reputation. This is suitable considering Renly is based on the treacherous George, duke of Clarence (see above). Oddly enough this was missed in the TV series, which tries to portray Renly as an ideal ruler (though this comes across as Informed Ability).
  • Wings of Fire: Prince Arctic is portrayed in IceWing mythology as an innocent rape victim who happened to be kidnapped by Foeslayer and forced to rip out his own tongue and use his own claws to disembowel himself, courtesy of Darkstalker. In reality, Arctic and Foeslayer had a consensual relationship (albeit a tragic and unhappy one), and while what Darkstalker did was extremely morally ambiguous, it is worth noting that Arctic tried to kidnap and enchant his own daughter, and give NightWing intel to the IceWings. and was just a really lousy father and dragon.
  • The 1632 series frequently notes this happening in real-time, as both the deeds and personalities of the characters get exaggerated with each telling, and recorded in deliberately embellished accounts by sensationalistic newspapers. The best examples are Gretchen Richter and Jeff Higgins. They're both genuinely tough characters (she a revolutionary and he a military officer), but the stories turn them into a quasi-mythical Battle Couple, personally responsible for every USE military victory.
  • In Timeline, The Hundred Years War English leader Lord Oliver is regarded by historians as "almost a saint," but the time travelers find that the real Oliver is a massive, gluttonous, sadistic jerkass.

    Live-Action TV 
  • An episode of The Brady Bunch showed Bobby idolizing Old West gunman Jesse James. His worried parents take him to meet one of James's victims, after which he has a nightmare in which James murders his entire family. That cures him.
    • Earlier in the same episode, they watch a movie based on Jessie James, but it had been Bowdlerized due to TV censorship, leading Bobby to believe that James was not violent.
  • Jayne Cobb in Firefly. On a backwater planet of mud-cultivating peasants, Jayne apparently stole a fortune from the local tyrant, but was forced to jettison the cargo from his damaged ship. It landed near the homes of the 'Mudders', who assumed he had done it on purpose. Stories were told and songs were sung about the legendary Jayne Cobb, folk hero. Even when the Mudders are told the truth, some of them are so loyal to the idea of their hero that they prefer to stick to the old story.
  • The original Star Trek invokes this trope by establishing that some people in the 23rd century consider Khan Noonien Singh to be one of history's heroes.
  • In the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Living Witness", the ancestors of an alien civilization are treated this way after they tried to raid Voyager and took hostages while doing so. Voyager was trading with one of their enemies while not knowing there was even a conflict between the two sides, and both are given a corresponding Historical Villain Upgrade to the point that they launched a horrific war against their "peace-loving" culture and staged full-on genocide against them. They themselves, on the other hand, are depicted as martyrs and freedom fighters.
  • On the series True Blood, 3000 year old vampire Russell Edgington claims that he once met Jesus, who was just a "boring hippie who stank of patchouli."
  • In the Supernatural episode "About a Boy", the Winchesters meet Hansel. He's in league with the child-eating witch and has willingly eaten his own sister.
  • Discussed in a Star Trek: Enterprise episode in regards to Zephram Cochrane. Captain Archer wants to take an obscure speech by Cochrane in which he claimed cyborgs tried to sabotage first contact as the complete truth (which, of course, it is). T'Pol points out that Cochrane was "frequently intoxicated" (which is also true, and probably the only reason Cochrane ever revealed that information).
  • In Game of Thrones Ned Stark is considered one of the greatest swordsmen of his generation because he defeated Ser Arthur Dayne in single combat at the Tower of Joy. Dayne was a master swordsman and had a reputation for honor and chivalry. Bran Stark is shown a vision of what really happened during the fight at the Tower of Joy. Ned and five of his soldiers attacked Dayne and another knight of the Kingsguard. Ned killed the other Kingsguard, but Dayne really was as good as the stories said and he killed Ned's four remaining soldiers. He then destroyed Ned in one-on-one combat. Dayne was about to kill a disarmed Ned when he was stabbed in the back by Howland Reed who was wounded at the beginning of the fight and presumed dead. The fight at the Tower of Joy was brutal and dirty but few people know what really happened since Ned and Howland, the only survivors, refused to talk about it. Stories turned Ned into a brilliant swordsman who defeated the chivalrous Ser Arthur Dayne in an honorable duel.
  • On The Ghost & Mrs. Muir, Captain Gregg tries to convince everyone that a celebrated local hero was a ne'er do well and braggard. Yet when his grave is uncovered, the headstone reads of a man 'who did not hesitate', it seems the ghost has not a chance of changing any minds. When the dedication ceremony occurs, Gregg summons a wind-storm to completely uncover the headstone, which then reads 'He did not hesitate - He Ran Like Hell!'. Played with in a later episode, when Gregg realizes his recall of a second-hand account about two of the American Founding Fathers may not be perfect, and nearly ruins Mrs. Muir's son's school report by insisting they were bitter adversaries, not the friends the boy originally believed. While Gregg's stubbornness nearly derails the reputation of another rival-in-life by showing the school he supposedly founded was in fact founded much earlier, his historian descendant is delighted; it means their school is among the oldest in all of New England.
  • Lucifer (2016) sees Abel of Cain and Abel fame, despite how the Bible talks about him, turned out to be just as big an asshole as Cain. Tellingly, both actually wanted to kill the other and Abel was actually the first soul sent to Hell after Cain killed him.

    Video Games 

  • The Elder Scrolls
    • Ysgramor, the first king of Men in Tamriel, was a Atmoran (ancient proto-Nord) hero who led his family and some like minded individuals from their homeland of Atmora to the northernmost area of Tamriel, now known as Skyrim, after Atmora became embroiled in a massive civil war. Ysgramor later led the Atmoran people in colonizing Skyrim from their landing point of Hsaarik Head. He also became the first historian of mankind and developed the first written human language based on Atmoran and Elvish linguistic principles. After the Falmer, native "snow elves" of Skyrim, massacred an Atmoran city, Ysgramor and his sons returned to Atmora. There, they gathered a group of potent warriors known as the 500 Companions, and handily slaughtered the majority of the Falmer population and drove the remainder underground. However, some scholars suggest that the accomplishments credited to Ysgramor were actually performed by several early Nordic kings. Additionally, his claim that the Falmer attack on Saarthal was "unprovoked" is disputed by numerous records of the Elves who say that the attack was in response to repeated "provocations and blasphemies" committed by the early Nords.
    • Pelinal Whitestrake, known as the "Divine Crusader", was the legendary 1st Era hero of mankind/racist berserker. Believed to have been a Shezarrine, physical incarnations of the spirit of the "dead" creator god Lorkhan (known to the Imperials as "Shezarr"), Pelinal came to St. Alessia to serve as her divine champion in the war against the Ayleids. Pelinal would fly into fits of Unstoppable Rage (mostly directed at the Ayleids) during which he would be stained with their blood and left so much carnage in his wake that Kyne, one of the Divines, would have to send in her rain to cleanse Ayleid forts and village before they could be used by Alessia's forces. In one particularly infamous fit of rage, Pelinal is said to have damaged the lands themselves, nearly causing the Divines to leave the world in disgust. His hatred of non-human races extended even beyond the Elves to the Khajiit, whom he slew in droves mistaking them for another race of Elf. Imperial dogma (and his portrayal in Oblivion's Knights of the Nine expansion) conveniently forgets about his blatant racism and psychopathic episodes, focusing only on his heroic aspects.
    • Reman Cyrodiil, founder of the Reman Dynasty who would forge the Second Cyrodiilic Empire of Tamriel, is said to have had divine origins which made him The Chosen One and was coronated at no older than age thirteen. However, there is evidence that his "divine" origins were fabricated in order to legitimize his rule. Further, modern Imperial propaganda has covered up most of his debauchery and psychoses. Despite this, he is (justifiably) remembered as one of the greatest rulers in Cyrodiilic history.
    • Tiber Septim (aka Talos Stormcrown, Hjalti Early-Beard, et al), was the first emperor to unite all of Tamriel and is held up as a paragon of mankind, especially by the Imperials and Nords. Following his death, he did become the god Talos, God of War and Good Governance, and even took the top spot as the chief deity on the Nordic pantheon. However, elements of his past are almost certainly embellished and/or outright fabricated as part of Imperial propaganda to appeal to the Nords, whose support he badly needed in order to forge his empire. He may have had a hand in the assassination of King Cuhlecain (who Septim served as General) so that he could usurp the position. Many of his best known exploits can quite possibly be attributed to others (the Underking, Wulfharth Ash-King, Zurin Artus) or, at the very least, his role in them was highly embellished. His legions were brutal in conquering Tamriel, committing many atrocities along the way (such as slaughtering the ruling family of Morrowind down to their young daughter). He almost certainly betrayed and killed one of his closest advisors (Zurin Arctus) in order to power the Numidium to complete his conquests (and then had his propaganda machine paint Arctus as the villain). Of course, the worship of him isn't entirely unfounded, as there is evidence that he really did ascend to Godhood... and may be one of the last things holding Mundus together. Additionally, it is speculated that he may have used his divine powers post-apotheosis to alter reality to make his version of events "true".
    • As seen most prominently in Morrowind, with the Dwemer gone, Nerevar dead, and Azura a Daedric Prince who doesn't often openly communicate with most mortals, the Dunmeri Tribunal combined this with Written by the Winners in regards to themselves following the Battle of Red Mountain. They took credit for all of the positives that came out of the event, as well as many of Nerevar's accomplishments before, while blaming the Dwemer or Dagoth Ur for the negatives, including the death of Nerevar. As such, the Tribunal Temple's official story about what happened there 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.
    • The Dragonborn is revered in Skyrim for being a great hero, the ultimate warrior, and the pinnacle of what a Nord should aspire to be. Despite it being revealed that the First Dragonborn was actually a Dragon-Priest who Turned Against Their Masters and ruled over Solstheim as a tyrant. However, this is somewhat of an subversion, since the Ancient Nord legends didn't refer to them at all, but actually the Last Dragonborn, prophecied to appear when Alduin returned. This bizarrely makes it a case of Future Historical Hero Upgrade.
  • Final Fantasy:
    • In Final Fantasy Tactics, the official history records Delita as a hero, even though he left quite a body count on the way to the throne.
    • Interestingly, Final Fantasy XIV's Heavensward expansion has both this and Historical Villain Upgrade on the first Azure Dragoon, the difference lying solely in who's remembering what he did. To Ishgard, the first Azure Dragoon is revered as a hero who slew Nidhogg, took his eyes, and went on to slay many more dragons. To the Dravanians, the first Azure Dragoon is vilified as a monster who... slew Nidhogg, took his eyes, and went on to slay many more dragons. The truth is a bit more complicated, of course: his fight with Nidhogg was in self-defense, after Nidhogg attacked Ishgard when his father, King Thordan I, betrayed the Dravanians by killing Nidhogg's sister Ratatoskr to consume her eyes for more power. He was also horrified by what his father had done, relinquishing his claim to the throne as Thordan's heir in favor of becoming a nameless dragoon who would simply defend Ishgard from further reprisals by the Dravanians, rather than seeking them out to slay them as either side believes. And, as it turns out, he didn't even really kill Nidhogg - he survived long enough to seek out his brother Hraesvelgr, convincing him to give up his own eye for Nidhogg to use to exact his revenge, and even after he's finally killed during Heavensward, his essence consumes the current Azure Dragoon when he comes into possession of both of his eyes.
    • In Final Fantasy XV, The Founder King AKA the Mystic, Somnus Lucis Caelum, is remembered by the Lucians as the noble king who built the first kingdom after the fall of the ancient civilization Solheim in the War of the Astral, mesmerizing in battle, bringing peace and fighting back the horrifying Starscourge hand-in-hand with the Oracle of his time. In truth, Somnus was a man who yearned to be special and loved and grew to envy his older brother Ardyn. This made it easier for him to follow the Astrals' plan to make Ardyn into the Starscourge's avatar, which entailed Somnus betraying his brother, killing the Oracle Aera (Ardyn's betrothed) when she got in the way, and sealing his brother in a prison for thousands of years. Ultimately, Somnus was less a hero and more the Astrals' pawn. At the end of the Ardyn DLC when Somnus is defeated by Ardyn, Somnus is reduced to a broken spirit who can only beg his brother for understanding (even he realizes he can't ask for forgiveness).
  • The protagonist of MediEvil, Sir Daniel Fortesque, became a friend of the king through various exaggerated tales of his exploits. When an actual battle occurred, Daniel ended up getting killed by arrows minutes into it. However, due to being the King's friend, he went down in history as a hero. When the evil sorceror he fought against tries to take over the world again, Sir Dan gets a chance to finally prove himself as the hero history remembers him as.
  • Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon has Adrah, the first Emperor of Archanaea, who is remembered as The Good King when in reality he was a common thief who stole the Fire Emblem from the Fane of Ramen, removed and sold its Spheres and used the money to finance an army. In doing so, he caused the shield to lose its mitigating effects on dragon degeneration, leading to Medus and the rest of the Earth Dragons' insanity. The few who do know his real story consider the current rumoured "curse" on the Fire Emblem to be a form of Laser-Guided Karma.
    • Raven King Naesala gets this in Fire Emblem Awakening. Specifically, in Olivia's supports with Donnel she sings a song about his romance with the heron princess Leanne. While this is true, the song reduces the story to a fairy-tale style romance (and "downgrades" Naesala to a prince), conveniently leaving out some of his more...questionable deeds, such as his Chronic Backstabbing Disorder, selling his best friend into slavery and piratical raids on any human ships entering his territory.
    • Also in Awakening, this trope is inverted when Sumia talks with her daughter from the future, Cynthia. Instead of making a morally questionable person out to be a hero, a heroic person is made out to be less ethical:
      Cynthia: Well, in my time, you're a true legend. The most famed pegasus knight of all! There are so many stories of your heroic and terrible deeds. Like when you smashed through the enemy lines to rescue a stricken Chrom? note 
      Sumia: Er...did I do that?
      Cynthia: Or the time you argued with Chrom and slapped him in the face!note 
      Sumia: Gods above, I sound like a madwoman...
      Cynthia: Or the time you went into a blood frenzy and downed friend and foe alike!
      Sumia: I downed FRIENDS?! That's not heroic at all!
    • Speaking of Tellius, Ashnard, Big Bad of Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, gets Hero Upgraded by his countrymen after Lekain, Big Bad of Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, turns out to be even worse.
  • In the backstory of the Metal Gear series, Big Boss' exploits from before Outer Heaven were declassified at some point after the Big Shell Incident (a bit of Leaning on the Fourth Wall in that the game that came after MGS2 was a prequel focusing on Big Boss before he was Big Boss). As such, by the time of Metal Gear Solid 4, Big Boss is a legendary hero in the eyes of the current war economy - a far cry from the battle-obsessed soldier who tried to lead his own organization to their deaths that Solid Snake knew him as.
  • Many fade spirits from the Dragon Age series view Loghain as a coolheaded and savvy general who refused to let his soldiers get killed for King Cailan's vanity. The reality is that while this is how Loghain saw himself, he was delusional and paranoid when he made the call to retreat and leave Cailan to die. Other spirits take the opposite approach.
    • The Elven pantheon were actually corrupt and power-hungry mages known as the Evanuris who took lower-class elves as slaves, but are now remembered and celebrated as gods. (Naturally, Fen'Harel, the elf who fought back against the Evanuris, freed their slaves, and eventually imprisoned them is now remembered as a malevolent trickster god).
  • In World of Warcraft this is the Watsonian explanation on why Kargath Bladefist is regarded as a hero for freeing himself and his fellow slaves from their ogre masters and building a new clan, as well as his service during the first two wars. As a result many places are named after him and when he is corrupted by fel blood the Horde players are told to mourn him. This glosses over his sadism and own proclivity for slavery as well as the many war crimes he committed. The Doylist explanation is due to a Continuinty Snarl; originally Kargath joined the modern Horde with Thrall fitting in with the orc campaign ending in Beyond the Dark Portal where Grom Hellscream, Kargath and their clans were left on Azeroth.
  • While telling the history of the Nedians to the heroes in Star Ocean: The Second Story, Mayor Nall describes Dr. Lantis as the one who discovered the means of defeating the seemingly-invincible Ten Wise Men. One of the heroes (an Intrepid Reporter) suspects that there might actually a little inaccuracy on Nall's account. An optional quest allows the heroes to unearth the true historical records, where it is revealed that Dr. Lantis is in fact the Ten Wise Men's creator, and uploaded his memories into the tenth and most powerful Wise Man, Gabriel.
  • In Guild Wars 2 the Charr consider Bonfazz Burntfur to have been a hero for leading the invasion of Ascalon and occupying Rin. They neatly excised the fact that he was a member of the now-despised Shaman caste and his victories were only possible due to the Searing.
  • In Path of Exile King Kaom is well remembered for his great military victories and heroic, if ultimately failed, attempt to carve out a kingdom for the Karui people from the corrupt Eternal Empire. Karui legends don't include him abandoning his people and slaughtering 500 of his own men in sacrifice to The Beast.
    • Also, every god ever rose to power through a series of horrifically catastrophic deeds and trials known as the divine birthing pains and became worshiped as god walking among men, only to go insane and/or seriously screw things up. Most are still venerated, some are properly reviled, and one has been declared the origin of all evil for trying to save mankind from divine madness.
  • In Tales of Zestiria, Artorius is remembered as the first of the great Shepherds, an upstanding man who founded the Abbey in its modern form and rallied humanity and seraphs against daemonkind. In Tales of Berseria, we found out he performed human sacrifices with his own family, enslaved seraphs (then called Malakhim), and would indeed protect humanity from daemons... by completely suppressing their free will. In fact, he's the Big Bad of the story, but goes down in history a hero thanks to his status as Villain with Good Publicity. Meanwhile, Byronic Anti-Hero Velvet is remembered as the Lord of Calamity, her noble acts - if not intentions - forgotten by history.

    Western Animation 
  • Parodied on a Robot Chicken sketch that shows Benjamin Franklin practicing with a bo staff and declares "For America!" at the very end.
    • A different, but similar, sketch had The American Revolution done in the style of the film 300.
      "1776! It ain't accurate, but it'll blow your fucking mind!"
  • Jebediah Springfield on The Simpsons. Touted as an archetypal pioneer who killed bears with his bare hands, he was in fact a German pirate who once tried to off George Washington but got his ass kicked.
    • And even before that was revealed, the narrator of the TV recreation showing a man dressed as a pioneer fighting a man in a bear suit says: "but modern historians think that was the bear who killed him"
    • Among many tall tales about Jebediah Springfield, one says that he tamed a wild buffalo by himself and in a matter of seconds, and another that he started the tradition of Springfield's Wacking Day by killing a snake in 1775 (the Springfeldians considered this a good thing at the time). In reality: he killed the buffalo, and Whacking Day was invented in 1924 as an excuse to beat up the Irish. At least it is true that he did not want men to marry their cousins.
    • "The Father, the Son, and the Holy Guest Star" ends with a flashforward to 3005 AD, showing that Bart is now revered as the Last Prophet of God. Unfortunately, the world is engulfed in a war between those who think he taught love and tolerance, and those who think he taught understanding and peace.
  • One episode of the Fairly OddParents has Timmy wanting to make a parade float based on legendary Dimmsdale founder Dale Dimm; AJ scoffs at him, declaring Dale Dimm to be just a legend and wanting to base their float on Alden Bitterroot, who is given actual historical credit for founding Dimmsdale. It turns out they both sucked. When Timmy travels back in time, it turns out Dale IS real, but a moron who is an accidental Idiot Hero AT BEST, and Alden Bitterroot is an obsessive and delusional witch hunter, identical ancestor of Crocker (who is actually a real witch himself and even more of an evil pain than his Identical Grandson!).
  • Gravity Falls: Initially, in "Irrational Treasure", presumed founder of Gravity Falls Nathaniel Northwest was, in reality, a waste-shoveling village idiot that the government used to hide the real founder of Gravity Falls, America's 8th and 1/2 President Quentin Trembley. As it turns out, that was merely the tip of the iceberg — Northwest and his wife gain untold amounts of wealth with the cover-up, along with a mayoral position, and then used the townspeople to build Northwest Manor with the promise of a party every year celebrating their hard work. The people built the manor, only to be betrayed and denied entrance to the party for the next 150 years. This was the first of the many lies and deceit the Northwests, Gravity Falls' supposed "first family", has been involved in since then — a fact that Pacifica Northwest is very much horrified to find out.
  • In Star vs. the Forces of Evil, the original Mewman colonists like to describe themselves as having bravely fought a war to purge the land of evil monsters so they could live in peace. The obvious subtext is that the monsters were the natives being driven from their lands by a superior force, and that history was Written by the Winners.
    • One queen in particular stands out, Solaria the Monster Carver is portrayed as stalwart hero who defended mewman lands from monsters in their history but the The Magic Book of Spells reveals that she had a hatred for monsters that exceeded even the rest of Mewni and would even lead genocidal purges into monster lands when they stopped attacking.
  • Steven Universe: Steven steadily realizes that the Crystal Gems have done this a bit with Rose Quartz; she was a hero who was willing to sacrifice everything to protect Earth, but the Crystal Gems (out of a mixture of Nostalgia Filter and wanting to protect Steven) have left out many of her flaws, making her out as if she was some kind of Messianic Archetype. As heroic as Rose was, she was also a warrior and commander of an army who had to repeatedly Shoot the Dog for the sake of the greater good, such as bubbling Bismuth and covering up her fate when the latter showed signs of Jumping Off the Slippery Slope. They also left out the fact that it took a lot of Character Development for Rose to become such a good person, as it's implied she originally saw humans as little more than cute animals. In truth, Rose Quartz was originally called Pink Diamond, and came to Earth to oversee its colonization, a process that would've wiped out humanity. She eventually had a change of heart and created her new identity of Rose Quartz in order to lead a rebellion against her homeworld's government, even faking her own assassination in a misguided attempt to end the war quickly. Instead, it led the other diamonds to retaliate with a Fantastic Nuke that corrupted nearly all gems on Earth into mindless monsters. Rose Quartz spent thousands of years trying to atone for what she's done, culminating in her essentially dying in order to create Steven, a half-gem half-human who might some day become powerful enough to cure the corruption.


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