When it comes to world historical figures, whether they're Roman emperors, European kings, or American presidents, today most people know them for their larger-than-life deeds. People like Augustus, Napoleon, and Thomas Jefferson changed the world. They conquered vast amounts of territory, or they led successful revolutions that changed the governments of their countries - or both. But even the most legendary rulers were also capable of deep and lasting friendships. In fact, many of their closest friends also served key roles in their rise to power.
The problem is, many of these close friendships couldn't last. History is full of stories about close relationships between powerful people that ended in tragedy. Here are some stories of friendships among historical personalities that ultimately went sour.
- Photo: A Man For All Seasons / Columbia Pictures
In 1516 CE, Thomas More was one of England's brightest intellectuals. The undersheriff of Britain wrote a satirical work titled Utopia that described an ideal government ruled by reason. It was translated throughout Europe, and King Henry VIII brought More into his inner circle.
More, a devout Catholic, was reluctant to enter the king's service. Still, he became a devoted courtier, serving in several top roles in Henry's cabinet. But in 1527, when Henry's marriage to Catherine of Aragon had failed to produce a child, his friendship with More took a turn. More refused to support the king's plan to separate England from the Catholic Church in order to divorce Catherine and marry Anne Boleyn. The king had More tried and executed for treason in 1535.
On the morning of his execution, More reportedly thanked the king for putting him out of his misery:
I have been, says he, much obliged to his Majesty for the Benefits and Honors he has most bountifully conferred upon me; yet I am more bound to his Grace, I do assure you, for confining me in this Place, where I have had convenient Place and Opportunity to put me in mind of my last End. I am most of all bound to him, that his Majesty is pleased to rid me out of the Miseries of this Wretched World.
- 2119 VOTES
American Founding Fathers Thomas Jefferson and John Adams first met in 1775, when both were delegates to the Second Continental Congress. Despite their differing personalities, they became close friends. Their friendship deepened in the 1780s when both were stationed in Europe on diplomatic missions for the young country.
But when both returned to the United States to help draft the constitution, their opposing political views strained their friendship - Jefferson preferred a decentralized government, while Adams wanted a strong federal government. The strain worsened when Adams defeated Jefferson in the 1796 presidential election. As the runner-up, Jefferson was made vice president, but he acted to undermine the Adams administration from within.
The 1800 election was one of the nastiest campaigns in U.S. history. Jefferson's followers said Adams had a “hideous hermaphroditical character” (whatever that means). Jefferson, meanwhile, orchestrated a smear campaign against Adams. After Jefferson won, Adams didn't attend the inauguration.
The former friends remained distant until 1809, when their mutual acquaintance and fellow signer of the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Rush, encouraged them to reconcile. Jefferson wrote to John Adams a few years later, on the occasion of Rush's passing. What followed was one of the most remarkable correspondences in American history. They both passed on the same day, July 4, 1826 - the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
- 364 VOTES
Like other stories on this list, the story of Clitus and Alexander the Great occurred so long ago that little is certain about the nature of it. Clitus was the commander of the Royal Squadron of Alexander's elite Companions, the cavalry unit made up of Macedonian nobility. Most likely, he was older than Alexander and served under Alexander's father Philip II, then continued serving when Alexander became king in 336 BCE.
Alexander reportedly killed Clitus with a spear at a banquet in Maracanda in 328. The four surviving sources differ on the details of the banquet, but most of them agree on the general facts: Clitus represented the old guard that supported Philip. By this point in Alexander's campaigns, he had declared himself divine, and had begun to adopt Persian customs in his ruling style. Most likely, Alexander assassinated Clitus to eliminate a difficult opponent.
As described in Plutarch, though, Alexander was seized with regret the moment the deed was done:
No sooner had Clitus fallen with a roar and a groan than the king's anger departed from him. And when he was come to himself and beheld his friends standing speechless, he drew the spear from the dead body and would have dashed it into his own throat, had not his body-guards prevented this by seizing his hands and carrying him by force to his chamber.
- 472 VOTES
In 49 CE, Roman Emperor Claudius's new wife, Agrippina, brought the Stoic philosopher Seneca the Younger out of exile to tutor her teenage son, Nero. Seneca quickly became not just a teacher to the heir to the throne, but a mentor, as well. Early in their relationship, Seneca helped Nero with public speaking when he coached him through Claudius's eulogy. When Nero became emperor, Seneca was an important advisor.
But Nero became increasingly resistant to being told what to do. When Nero decided to have his mother killed in 59 CE, Seneca reluctantly participated in the cover-up. Afterwards, he eventually withdrew from public life and focused on his writing. In 65 CE, when there was an attempt on Nero's life, the emperor used it as justification to accuse Seneca of treason. He ordered his former tutor to commit suicide, and Seneca took his own life.
- 591 VOTES
John Lennon and Paul McCartney met at a church party in Liverpool's Woolton Village in 1957, and the two quickly hit it off. Both of them lost their mothers at a young age - McCartney's mother Mary had passed from breast cancer the year before, when McCartney was 14, and Lennon's mother Julia would perish in a car accident in 1958.
The Lennon/McCartney songwriting partnership was at the core of the Beatles' stunning success. Though the dynamic changed in later years - as the duo increasingly worked out their own songs separately, and bandmate George Harrison came into his own as a songwriter - in the early days, many of the Beatles' top hits were the result of close collaboration between John and Paul. "We wrote a lot of stuff together, one on one, eyeball to eyeball," Lennon later recalled.
Yoko Ono is often blamed for breaking up the Beatles in 1970. But there are many reasons why the band split up, including contract disputes, creative disagreements, and issues of drug use. The relationship between Lennon and McCartney continued to deterioriate. In 1971, Lennon wrote McCartney a letter essentially accusing him of delusions of grandeur over the Beatles' legacy.
The feud crossed over into their music. McCartney's solo song, "Too Many People," included the lyrics "That was your first mistake/You took your lucky break and broke it in two," widely interpreted as a swipe at Lennon. In return, Lennon wrote the scathing "How Do You Sleep?":
You live with straights who tell you you was king
Jump when your momma tell you anything
The only thing you done was yesterday
And since you're gone you're just another day
The duo finally patched things up in 1974, when McCartney stopped by a recording session Lennon was having for a Harry Nilsson album. The two had an impromptu jam session and resumed their friendship. In 1976, while McCartney was visiting New York, they even briefly considered walking over to the Saturday Night Live studios to answer Lorne Michaels's request for a Beatles reunion. Alas, it didn't happen, and a few years later, Lennon was gone.
Not much is known about the early life of Gaius Maecenas, a key political advisor and close friend of Augustus, the first Roman emperor. He first appears in the historical record in 39 BCE, when he helped arrange the marriage between the future emperor (then named Octavian) and his wife Scribonia. Maecenas would serve in several important positions during Octavian's career - for example, when Octavian left Rome to fight Mark Antony, he put Maecenas in charge of the city.
After decades of close collaboration, some reports record that Maecenas fell out of favor with Augustus. It began when Maecenas's brother-in-law, Varro Murena, was implicated in a plot to assassinate Augustus. According to the chronicler Suetonius, Maecenas tipped off his wife, Terentia, that her brother was in danger, giving Varro a chance to escape punishment. Augustus forgave his friend, but Maecenas's influence was never the same.