Forget the Montagues and Capulets; history is littered with real-life family disputes that led to violence. These bloodline battles were waged both formally and informally, through both political means and vigilante justice. Often igniting cycles of violence, these bloody family feuds rarely had happy endings.
From ancient times until today, the bloodiest family feuds in history are filled with stories of honor, vengeance, politics, and kinship. Though that may sound romantic, it wasn't: family feuds often resulted in horrifying acts of barbarism and cruelty, like the Black Dinner Massacre. Some violent historical family feuds – like the one between the notorious Hatfields and McCoys – involved different families warring against one another. Others – like the extended family drama that was the War of the Roses – involved civil wars within a single family unit. But no matter how they began or who they involved, the result was always the same: factionalism, violence, and death.
The Montagues and Capulets may be one of the most infamous family feuds in literature, but these bloody family feuds in history reveal that truth is stranger than fiction.
The Campbells and the MacDonalds were two rival Highland clans in the late 17th century. Theirs was the worst kind of rivalry in Scotland: a cattle rivalry. MacDonalds stole Campbell cattle, and vice versa. Things came to a head in February 1692, when members from Clan Campbell participated in one of the most infamous events in British history: the Glencoe Massacre.
After MacDonalds from Glencoe didn't sign a loyalty oath to the new King William and Queen Mary on time, the government sought to brutally punish the family for their impudence, and make an example of them for other Highland clans. The Campbells were all too eager to take part in the bloodshed.
So, an army of men – including, but limited to, Campbells – traveled to Glencoe and requested hospitality, claiming they needed to camp on MacDonald land. After the MacDonalds had given the group hospitality – they gave them food, drink, and entertainment – for nearly two weeks, the men turned on the clan, killing men, women, and children as they slept in their beds. Most of the MacDonalds who managed to flee the scene of frenzied murder ultimately died in the hills, as a result of the bitter February weather. To this day, some claim the Campbells are still cursed for breaking the laws of hospitality.
By the late 15th century, Florence was more or less Medici turf. The famous banking family was on the cusp of becoming a dynasty. The problem? The Pazzi, another wealthy Florentine family, didn’t want that to happen.
So on April 26, 1478, members of the Pazzi attacked and attempted to assassinate the two most prominent members of the Medici clan at High Mass in the Duomo, the city’s main cathedral that the Medici themselves had funded. The Pazzi assassins successfully murdered Giuliano de Medici, but his brother Lorenzo managed to escape.
The repercussions were swift: the conspirators were executed and the entire Pazzi family was banished from Florence. For proud Florentines in the 15th century, that was a fate worse than death.
The war between the Hatfields and McCoys is perhaps the most notorious family feud in American history. Lasting from roughly 1863 to 1891, the decades-long conflict between two proud, rough-hewn Appalachian families began over a hog, of all things. Randolph McCoy – the patriarch of the McCoy family – claimed that a Hatfield scoundrel had stolen one of his hogs. The trial – helped in no small part by the influence of William "Devil Anse" Hatfield – did not go in McCoy's favor. And so the bloodletting began: McCoys murdered and maimed Hatfields. Hatfields murdered and maimed McCoys. Young lovers were torn apart. Lives were extinguished before they began.
The feud came to a bloody climax in the New Year's Massacre of 1888. Hatfields surrounded the home of a sleeping Randolph McCoy in the middle of the night, and released a barrage of bullets. Two of McCoy's children died, though he escaped and his wife barely survived.
The Hatfield-McCoy feud had become so violent, the United States government actually got involved, and the case was taken all the way to the Supreme Court. Eventually, eight Hatfields were sentenced to life in prison, and an allegedly mentally challenged member of the family was executed. After that, the feud fizzled out.
Two of Japan's most powerful clans in the 12th century were the Taira and the Minamoto. One, however, had more power than the other: the Taira basically ran the imperial government. Though the Minamoto had risen against the Taira, it didn't end well for them in 1160. Twenty years later, they gathered their forces again, this time with a vengeance.
War broke out between the two families, with the Minamoto successfully convincing other clans to join their cause. Battles grew and conflict escalated in size until they plagued the country. The war lasted five years. By the time the Genpei War (as we know it today) ended in 1185, tens of thousands of people lost their lives, and a new shogunate was established with the Minamoto in charge.