The 5 most controversial historical figures

by Emily

One of the great things about studying or teaching history is the possibilities it opens up for debate. History teachers and tutors frequently encounter all sorts of characters who defy definition. Here are our top five 'controversial' historical figures.

1. Richard the Lionheart - The Richard of popular legend was a good king who led noble crusades. However, history suggests he cared little for England - he didn't even speak the language. His crusades have been interpreted as warmongering and when not fighting he lived in France as Count of Anjou.

2. Henry VIII - Was Henry a powerful soldier king who created an unparalleled military strength? Or was he a maniac despot given to throwing almighty tantrums if not appeased?

3. Shakespeare - Although a major historical figure, very little is known about Shakespeare. Even today, the authorship of his plays is debated in A-level English classes, as are the reasons for him leaving wife Anne Hathaway nothing but his second best bed in his will. 4. Robert Falcon Scott - The story of the Race to the Pole still fascinates. Although Amundsen won, it is the doomed Scott who has captured public imagination. Opinion is divided as to whether his mission was a glorious, inevitable tragedy or an under-prepared and foolhardy attempt.

5. Mata Hari - Executed by the French in 1917 for spying, Mata Hari is remembered as a dangerous double agent, responsible for the deaths of thousands. However, many people believe she was actually a convenient scapegoat - a woman with more beauty then brains who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.