Like princesses who inherited their father's throne or actors who happened to be politically well-connected, plenty of important figures from the past had ancestors who were also historically significant. But just because they lived in the shadow of their ancestors' achievements doesn't mean they should be defined by those successes. Indeed, many descendants of historical figures did notable things in their own right.
Some famous figures in history capitalized on their family's wealth, privilege, and connections to stay in the family business and build on their ancestors' legacies; others charted new pathways in careers of their own making. But whether they inherited a land empire or helped create an information empire, all of these historical figures have one thing in common: They had ancestors who also are remembered in the annals of history.
Vote up the historical figures who successfully one-upped their ancestors.
England's King Henry VIII had a lot of wives - six of them, to be exact. By contrast, his daughter Elizabeth had no spouses. Whereas Henry's reign is remembered for his marital escapades and decision to kick-start the English Reformation, Elizabeth's has been viewed as a golden age in English history.
Though it's easy to overidealize Elizabeth's reign, it did preside over important developments in English history. In 1588, Spain's planned incursion into England ended in defeat - the collapse of the so-called "Spanish Armada" became an English national myth that emboldened England's sense of self.
The Elizabethan era also saw the development of England's overseas empire and the blossoming of English literature.
- Age: Dec. at 69 (1533-1603)
- Birthplace: Palace of Placentia, London, United Kingdom
Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, became one of the most powerful people at Queen Anne's court in the early 18th century. As the queen's "favourite" courtier, the duchess benefited from her close proximity to Anne and exercised significant political power. She received plum positions at court as well as Blenheim Palace, which was presented to her husband, the Duke of Marlborough.
More than a century later, Blenheim Palace was the site of another significant moment for the Churchill family: Winston Churchill was born there in 1874. His ancestor the Duchess of Marlborough may have elevated her family's fortunes, but Churchill guided the British nation through one of its darkest periods: World War II. As prime minister from 1940, he directed the war effort and boosted morale with his inspiring speeches.
- Age: Dec. at 90 (1874-1965)
- Birthplace: Blenheim Palace, United Kingdom
Military mastermind and daring statesman, Julius Caesar played by his own rules. As a member of the so-called First Triumvirate, Caesar was part of a coalition of rulers with Crassus and Pompey, two other high-ranking ancient Romans.
When Crassus passed in 49 BCE, Caesar's hold on power was precarious; Pompey wanted to oust Caesar and claim authority for himself. To that end, he forbade Caesar from reentering the city of Rome with his army - a command Caesar pointedly ignored when he crossed the Rubicon River with his army and ushered in a civil war. Caesar was victorious, becoming Rome's dictator until his assassination in 44 BCE.
Caesar's adopted son and great-nephew, Octavian, became his heir. Though initially part of the Second Triumvirate with Mark Antony and Marcus Lepidus, Octavian consolidated authority in his own hands - partly by defeating Antony and his ally Cleopatra VII of Egypt - and set about building the Roman Empire.
Besides increasing the size of the empire, Octavian - who eventually adopted the name "Caesar Augustus" to underline his connection to his great-uncle - also established the Pax Romana, a period of peace that lasted for over a century.
Augustus took his great-uncle's inheritance and built a bigger, more powerful Roman Empire.
- Age: Dec. at 76 (62 BC-14)
- Birthplace: Rome, Italy
Though Genghis Khan expanded the Mongolian world, his grandson Kublai Khan conquered China (at that time ruled by the Song dynasty) - accomplishing what the grand patriarch never could.
As biographer John Man explained to the BBC, this was no small feat:
For the Song, it would [have] been absolutely inconceivable that the Mongols could take over the whole of China. [...] So when it actually happened, the shock was catastrophic.
Kublai founded a new dynasty in Chinese history: the Yuan dynasty. As emperor, Kublai commanded the world's wealthiest empire for more than two decades.
- Age: Dec. at 78 (1215-1294)
- Birthplace: Mongolia