Perceptions of historical figures are often very different from reality. Descriptions of prolific men and women across the ages may or may not line up with how we envision them, whether it's the physical appearance of maligned temptress Anne Boleyn or Mozart's unimpressive features.
The same is true when it comes to the backgrounds of these individuals. What did historical figures look like as children?
Luckily, contemporaries of numerous notable leaders, intellectuals, and creative elites have offered descriptions of what they looked like in their youth. Accounts of influential figures generally include accompanying perceptions of the person's overall demeanor and, with the gift of hindsight, provide a glimpse into their lasting legacies.
Adolf Hitler, as an adult, was described as composed and intense by his architect and minister of armaments and war production, Albert Speer, characteristics the future führer demonstrated from a young age.
According to the future leader's childhood friend August Kubizek, even as an infant Hitler had "piercing eyes." In school photos, Hitler presented himself stoically, but, in person, Kubizek was never able to escape his friend's stare.
Kubizek described his friend's eyes as:
So outstanding that one did not notice anything else. Never in my life have I seen any other person whose appearance - how shall I put it - was so completely dominated by the eyes. They were the light eyes of his mother, but her somewhat staring, penetrating gaze was even more marked in the son and had even more force and expressiveness... To me his sonorous voice meant much less than the expression of his eyes.
- Age: Dec. at 56 (1889-1945)
- Birthplace: Braunau am Inn, Austria
Born in 1661, the last Spanish Habsburg ruler, Charles II, was the product of a long line of intermarriages among the Austrian and Spanish familial branches. Interbreeding is believed to have contributed to Charles's prominent "Habsburg jaw," but it may have caused additional physical ailments. From birth, Charles displayed deformities and maladies, described as:
Extremely weak, both checks have a herpes-type rash, the head is covered with scabs, and below the right ear a type of suppurating duct or drainage has formed.
This account, offered by Louis XIV of France's envoy Jacques Sanguin, was something he learned from "other channels," only having seen the infant Charles donning a bonnet to prevent onlookers from "seeing this area."
From the perspective of Charles's parents, Philip IV of Spain and Mariana of Austria, this was an improvement over earlier assertions that their child was "not male but female."
- Age: Dec. at 38 (1661-1700)
- Birthplace: Royal Alcazar of Madrid
Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus met the future King Henry VIII in 1499. Henry was only 8 years old at the time (although the scholar believed Henry was 9), and Erasmus described him as "having something of royalty in his demeanor, in which there was a certain dignity combined with singular courtesy."
During their initial interaction, Erasmus had no gift to give young Henry, something that troubled him greatly. Erasmus later sent Henry a poem, one that was accompanied with a letter praising the boy for his "splendor... authority... and liberality."
- Age: Dec. at 55 (1491-1547)
- Birthplace: Palace of Placentia, London, United Kingdom
As the youngest child of Karamchand Gandhi and his fourth wife, Putlibai, Mohandas Gandhi entered the world on October 2, 1869. Raised alongside his female cousins and sisters, Mohandas was "restless as mercury" during his childhood.
His older sister Raliat recalled:
[Mohandas couldn't] sit still even for a little while. He must be either playing or roaming about. I used to take him out with me to show him the familiar sights in the street - cows, buffaloes, and horses, cats and dogs... One of his favourite pastimes was twisting dogs' ears.
- Age: Dec. at 78 (1869-1948)
- Birthplace: Porbandar, India