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Stories About Siblings Of Historical Figures

February 18, 2021 1.1k votes 253 voters 39.5k views11 items

List RulesVote up the most surprising stories about siblings of historical figures.

Details about the lives of historical figures can be pretty well known. Al Capone, for example, grew up in New York. As one of the prominent crime bosses of the 20th century, Capone spent time at Alcatraz. Cleopatra, on the other hand, was the ruler of Egypt who took two notable lovers, Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony. 

Have you ever wondered about the siblings of historical figures? What about Al Capone's brothers? Or Cleopatra's sister? And did you even know that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had a sister? 

Siblings of historical figures often get overlooked. Many of them were successful in ways that, arguably, outshine their more famous siblings. Others, like Oscar Wilde's sisters, experienced such tragedy that it's hard to believe we don't know more about them. Through it all, the siblings of historical figures may have made their brothers and sisters proud, brought them shame, or even helped them achieve their notoriety. Vote up the siblings of historical figures whose stories surprise you.

  • Photo: Pietro Antonio Lorenzoni / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Maria Anna Mozart May Have Been More Talented Than Her Brother Wolfgang

    Maria Anna Mozart, younger sister to Wolfgang, was a musical prodigy. Born in 1751, Maria Anna - often called Marianne or Nannerl - began playing the harpsichord under the guidance of her musician father, Leopold, at the age of 7. She and her brother (also introduced to music at a young age) began to tour with Leopold, performing in cities throughout Europe.

    Nannerl may have served as a role model, an inspiration, or even a rival for her brother. When the two appeared together in Munich in 1762. One observer recalled, "The poor little fellow plays marvelously. He is a child of spirit, lively, charming. His sister’s playing is masterly, and he applauded her.”

    Leopold described his daughter in 1764, noting:

    My little girl plays the most difficult works which we have... with incredible precision and so excellently... what it all amounts to is this, that my little girl, although she is only 12 years old, is one of the most skillful players in Europe.

    Leopold dedicated himself to the musical abilities of his children, and was somewhat tyrannical in his efforts. Nannerl was said to have helped Wolfgang in some of his training but, once she entered her late teens, her career as a performer came to an end. By 1770, the focus shifted to finding her a husband.

    While she waited to find a suitable match (she didn't marry until 1784), Nannerl composed music, sending her work to her brother. Wolfgang was an enthusiastic recipient, writing to her, "My dear sister! I am in awe that you can compose so well, in a word, the song you wrote is beautiful.”

    Surprising sibling story?
  • Photo: Jean-Léon Gérôme / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Arsinoe IV Of Egypt, Cleopatra's Half-Sister, Led The Resistance Against Julius Caesar

    Arsinoe IV (born around 68 BC) and Cleopatra VII shared the same father, Ptolemy XII Auletes. It's not entirely clear if they had the same mother, but Cleopatra was the elder of the two, born in 70 or 69 BC.

    Ptolemy XII ruled the Ptolemaic Empire from 80 to 58 BC, and again from 55 to 51 BC. After Ptolemy XII's passing, Cleopatra VII and her brother, Ptolemy XIII, ruled Egypt together. Ptolemy forced Cleopatra out of the kingdom in 48 BC, perished the following year, and, with the throne empty, Arsinoe became the next in line to rule. 

    Arsinoe IV had the support of Egyptians behind her, especially in the face of Roman occupation. Yet her sister Cleopatra gained the help of Julius Caesar. A contest for Egypt ensued, with Arsinoe leading the resistance effort against Caesar and the Roman forces.

    Arsinoe was captured and exiled until 41 BC when, according to sources, "Cleopatra persuaded [Mark Antony] to order the murder of her sister Arsinoe, who, after being exhibited in the triumph of Caesar, had sought refuge from her hated sister in the temple of Artemis..."

    Antony would eventually become Cleopatra's lover. Cleopatra met with Antony at Tarsus in 41 BC, and "[t]he moment he saw her, Antony lost his head to her like a young man." Their relationship would last until both perished in 31 BC.

    Surprising sibling story?
  • Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Al Capone's Brother, James, Toured With The Circus Before Becoming A Prohibition Officer

    Born in Italy in 1892, James Vincenzo Capone accompanied his parents when they moved to the United States during the mid-1890s. Through his childhood, James - who went by Jim or Jimmy - was somewhat sickly, but enjoyed music and maintained a close relationship with his mother. 

    James was different than his siblings - especially his brothers Al and Ralph - preferring nature to the fast-paced life in the city. He took an interest in animals, tended horses at New York City stables, and built up a strong physique that came in handy when he needed to defend his brothers. Yet, he stayed away from gangs in general.

    James had an affinity for Al and tried to interest him in horses and the like, but was never able to get him to step away from a life of crime. When Al Capone was just 8 years old, James left home. He traveled with a circus, according to a letter he sent his family a year later, and took up the moniker "Richard James Hart," an homage to his favorite film star of the 1920s, William S. Hart. 

    Just as the actor William S. Hart had a cowboy-style persona, so did James - something that could be seen in his crimefighting activities once he began working as a federal agent. James settled in Homer, NE, married, and had four children with his wife, Kathleen, while simultaneously targeting bootleggers in the region.

    He earned the nickname "Two-Gun" Hart and, in 1926, began working for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. James and his family relocated to South Dakota, where James protected Calvin Coolidge when the president visited in 1927. The elder Capone was stationed in Washington and Idaho on future assignments, returning to Nebraska during the early 1930s. 

    With the repeal of Prohibition, James became a justice of the peace. James reportedly fell into financial ruin by the late 1930s, asked his brothers for help, and reunited with Al in 1939 at a retreat in Wisconsin. James passed in 1952.

    Surprising sibling story?
  • Photo: Napoleon Sarony / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Both Of Oscar Wilde's Half-Sisters Perished As A Result Of The Same Tragic Fire

    Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), Irish poet and playwright, had two half-sisters, Emily and Mary. Both women had the same father as Oscar (Sir William Wilde) and were in their early 20s when they celebrated Halloween with their brother at Drumacon House in County Monaghan, Ireland, in 1871. 

    The event was one for members of high society and, according to local parish records

    The two girls attended the ball and remained there when all the guests had gone home. The host took one of the girls for a last dance around the floor. As they waltzed past the open fireplace, the girl's crinoline dress caught fire. 

    It's not clear which sister this was, but at the sight of the catastrophe taking shape, the other sister jumped in to help. While doing so, "her dress caught fire. The host of the ball wrapped his coat around them and rolled them down the steps in front of the house into the snow."

    The details of what exactly took place vary in other accounts, but both Emily and Mary were horribly injured in the incident. Records indicate Mary perished of her burns on November 8, while Emily survived until November 21, 1871. They were buried next to each other with a tombstone that read, in part, "They were lovely and pleasant in their lives and in their death they were not divided."

    Surprising sibling story?