No matter how many times a priest told royals and prominent citizens to keep it in their pants, there were still famous people born out of wedlock. From admirals to generals, artists to poisoners, here are some of the famous bastards from history.
Let's start with William the Conqueror, the illegitimate child of a Norman French duke who took a spurious claim to the English throne and turned it into a war of conquest. He defeated the Saxon English in 1066 and founded the Norman dynasty; his descendants still sit on the English throne nearly a millennium later. A bunch of his descendants, like Charles II of England and Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. also fathered their fair share of bastards, who both helped their families and caused a lot of trouble.
And then there are more modern famous people who were illegitimate. For example, the late, great Steve Jobs was technically born out of wedlock, as was the uber-generous Eva Peron, who helped the poor of Argentina as First Lady in the mid-20th century. They might have grown up in poverty, but they changed the world. From tough circumstances, they started from the bottom and went on to change the world.
One of the greatest artists of all time, Leonardo da Vinci was illegitimate. Born in 1452 as the son of Ser Piero da Vinci and a country lady, Leo didn't get that great of an education as a kid, although his dad did acknowledge and provide for him. Leonardo lived with his mom until age five, when she was married off and he went to live with his dad and his stepmom; he remained estranged from his mother, Caterina, throughout most of his life, but was always close with da Vinci, Sr.
A director ancestor of pretty much every royal today (and the founder of the Norman dynasty of kings, from whom Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip descend), William the Conqueror was a bad-ass bastard. The son of Robert of Normandy and his mistress, the tanner's (or undertaker's) daughter Herleva, William was the illegitimate child - and heir - of an important duchy; civil war erupted once his dad died and young William became duke.
Powerful allies helped him secure his ducal throne; those numbers included the king of France and the royals of Flanders, whose daughter, Matilda, he married. Then, basing his claim on a spurious allegation of inheritance, William launched an invasion of England; in 1066, he defeated the English claimant, Harold Godwinson, at the Battle of Hastings, and kicked off a new age in the British Isles.
The illegitimate daughter of the 15th-century Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia - later Pope Alexander VI - and his longtime mistress Vannozza Cattanei, Lucrezia Borgia was a beauty and a bad girl, all in one. She was married three times - one awkward union annulled, the other ended by alleged murder - and endured tons of crazy rumors. Lucrezia was well-known as a skilled poisoner and might even have conducted a torrid affair with her brother, Cesare. A patroness of the arts, she also made a fortune from producing mozzarella cheese.
This uppity illegitimate kid, the eldest secret love child of the British King Charles II, was a bad seed. James was conceived while his dad, then a prince, was in exile abroad, and he became important once Charles was restord to his throne - even more so since Charles's wife, the Portuguese Infanta Catherine, didn't have any surviving children. Not only was James Charles's eldest son, although illegitimate, but he was also a Protestant nobleman in a staunchly Protestant country, in contrast to Charles II's brother and heir, the Catholic duke of York.
Needless to say, James was pretty prominent at his dad's court, and he let all the accolades Charles gave him go to his head. He was showered with honors once he defeated rebels in battle, but anti-Catholic sentiment made James the center of many noble conspiracy theories, too, leading to his banishment. This happened a few times, but things came to a head once Charles died and the duke of York became King James II in 1685. James, duke of Monmouth, rebelled against the new Catholic monarch, but was soon defeated and executed.
Jean De Dunois Helped His Cousin Become King
Better known as the "Bastard of Orleans," this French nobleman was pretty integral to his countrymen winning the Hundred Years' War. He was the cousin of the famed Dauphin Charles (later Charles VII, the prince Joan of Arc helped put on the French throne); their dads were brothers. Jean's papa was Louis, duke of Orleans, a French royal lothario who was best known for the brutal way he was assassinated.
Although Jean was illegitimate, he helped his cousin a lot, winning quite a few battles in Charles's name and leading his armies; after Charles's death, he even served that king's son, King Louis XI. He also was close allies with Joan of Arc and told historians a bit about her.
This Don Juan wasn't much of a playboy, but he did work pretty hard to help out his legitimate family members, the Imperial House of Habsburg. He was the secret love child of Emperor Charles V, ex-king of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor, and he served his half-brother, King Philip II of Spain, as an admiral. Most famously, John defeated the Ottoman navy at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. Later, he held the Netherlands for his brother, but only after getting warning his brother about his mad nephew, Prince Carlos's, rebellious tendencies.