10 Historically Important Figures With Extra Colorful Personal Lives

Some of the most prolific figures in history got off in ways that would have been considered untoward in their time. 

Nowadays, many of the behaviors described here are seen as normal, or at least, somewhat so. But back in the day, some of these writers, revolutionaries, philosophers, and the like kept their sexuality and kinks a secret, only to be discovered decades after their passing by scholars and curious readers.

Perhaps if these legends were alive now, they would wave their flags proudly and let the world know what turns them on. Or not, and that's fine too; after all, it's nobody's business what you're into.

  • Marquis de Sade
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Marquis de Sade

    Marquis de Sade was a French aristocrat, revolutionary, and writer. He's most famous for bringing explicit material to people in a time when showing off your ankles was scandalous.

    Marquis de Sade became famous for his libertine sexuality and lifestyle, much of which he vibrantly portrayed in his novels. Sade is also credited with inventing S&M.

    In fact, the term sadism - in which one gets pleasure from inflicting pain - comes from Marquis de Sade's own name. Moreover, masochism is first seen in some of Sade's more Gothic-inclined sexual novels, where, for example, the female character is bound, tormented, and fondled, and develops a kind of attraction to her tormentors. 

    In one of Sade's tales, he describes an experience with his wife, wherein the two imprisoned five young women and one young man in their house. For six weeks, the duo used their victims for sex. Sade would even lure young women from the surrounding village by drugging them with "Spanish fly" and then raping them.

    Marquis de Sade spent the last 14 years of his life in an asylum; he passed in 1814.

  • Aleister Crowley
    Photo: Unknown Author / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Aleister Crowley was a British writer, prophet, magician, well-known occultist, and the original sex magick practitioner.

    Crowley rendered himself the prophet of a polytheistic religion he developed and called Thelema. As one of the main tenants of the religion, Crowley encouraged his followers to abandon their egos and abide by none other than their "True Will." 

    His followers also believed that the 20th century would usher in a new ethical code. This code Crowley summarized with the following quote: "'Do what thou wilt' shall be the whole of the Law."

    Crowley not only founded a religion based on magick, but he also founded something called "Sexual Magick." In essence, the practice entails using climax, arousal, and sexual fluids to place a spell.

  • James Joyce
    Photo: Alex Ehrenzweig/RedAppleJack / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    James Joyce was an author responsible for seminal works like A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Dubliners, Ulysses, and Finnegans Wake. He is widely considered one of the greatest Irish writers of all time. 

    Joyce is one of the most remembered figures of the modernist movement and helped usher in a new way of writing language. His writings experimented with structure in ways that have never been done before and changed the way people experienced literature.

    Joyce's works were visceral and endearingly honest. Take the following passage from a letter he wrote to a lover, Nora "F*ckbird" Barnacle, for example, in which Joyce describes her flatulence during intercourse:

    [I]f I gave you a bigger stronger f*ck than usual, fat dirty farts came spluttering out of your backside. You had an arse full of farts that night, darling, and I f*cked them out of you, big fat fellows, long windy ones, quick little merry cracks and a lot of tiny little naughty farties ending in a long gush from your hole.

  • Henry VIII
    Photo: After Hans Holbein the Younger / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Henry VIII was the King of England from 1509 to 1547. He is known for separating the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church, dissolving the monasteries, and overseeing the legal union of England and Wales.

    King Henry is also famous for being married six times and taking countless other women as lovers on the side. Never satisfied with any of his wives, he had them slain if they could not produce a male heir. This behavior was widely considered reprehensible at the time, but nonetheless, King Henry never faced prosecution.

    When Henry passed in 1547, he was suffering from a variety of diseases.

  • Caligula was a notorious Roman emperor, reigning between 37 and 41 CE. He succeeded Tiberius as the leader of the Roman Empire. Legend has it that whenever Caligula became bored in his role as emperor, he took the lives of his subjects on a mere whim. Once, he even ordered a crowd of prisoners to be tossed into the lion’s pit.

    And when not satisfying his thirst for blood, Caligula slept around, made fun of people below his stature, and indulged in countless scandalous acts. He is said to have been particularly interested in incestuous relationships with some of his sisters. 

    Caligula's insatiable appetite was only matched by his brutality. Not surprisingly, he had few friends left when he met his fateful end. He was assassinated as the result of a conspiracy between the Senate, the Praetorian Guard, and the equestrian order. 

  • John Whiteside Parsons
    Photo: NASA/JPL / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    John Whiteside Parsons was a famous engineer who pioneered space travel. Many scholars go so far as to credit Parsons with being the first rocket scientist in history. 

    Parsons was also a devoted member of Aleister Crowley's sex magick cult, and he even rose to leadership ranks. As the head of the so-called Agape Lodge, he pioneered not only rocketeering but also the Babalon Working: a ritual meant to produce an incarnation of the goddess Babalon.

    Parsons is believed to have gone through a lot of women to find his goddess. The project was presided over by L. Ron Hubbard, who acted as a scribe for the Agape Lodge before establishing a religion of his own: Scientology.