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Dark Secrets and Dirty Laundry: Historical Figures With a Hidden Side

(Photo Credit: United Artists)
(Photo Credit: United Artists)

Famous figures nowadays can’t move for scrutiny. With their every move watched by the media machine, it’s commonplace for any mistakes to be fed to a hungry consumer base.

How did people’s private business work in years gone by? If someone had an awkward secret, was it easy to keep? And if that secret wasn’t just awkward but appalling, what happened to the individual in question?

Check out these historical figures with dark and dirty secrets…

Hans Christian Andersen

Andersen was known to frequent ladies of the night… for conversation. No, really. That’s how he rolled. When it came to the deed itself, of course, he was strictly a solo flyer.

The much-loved children’s author enjoyed his own company a little too much, if you know what we mean. An appropriate title for his own story could have been “The Man With Incredibly Hairy Hands.”

Hans Christian Andersen sits with his hands folded in his lap
Portrait of Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875) in 1862 by Andersen, 1805-1875, Denmark. Odense. Andersen museum. (Photo Credit: Photo12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Charlie Chaplin

The comic genius made them laugh in the movie houses. Behind the scenes, however, he made them cringe. In fact, Chaplin may have inspired one of the most notorious elements of showbusiness.

He “reportedly pioneered the ‘casting couch,'” History Collection writes, “whereby powerful Hollywood figures extracted explicit favors from actresses during auditions.”

Charlie Chaplin smiles in a creepy way
Charles Chaplin publicity portrait for the short ‘A Night Out’, 1915. (Photo Credit: General Film Company/Getty Images)

Charlie Chaplin also liked to throw pies at women unfortunate enough to be part of his under-the-radar activities. Things went from sinister to surreal, and back to sinister again, as actresses endured the slapstick ordeal. His alarming interests, which in recent years saw him compared to Harvey Weinstein, eventually led to him leaving the USA.

Chaplin was friends with “Fatty” Arbuckle, another silent star who reportedly arranged orgies with the “Little Tramp.” Arbuckle’s life and career were famously destroyed by a false accusation of rape and murder.

Bobby Kennedy

You might be surprised to see Bobby Kennedy’s name on our list. So are we! However, rest assured he isn’t at the extreme end of the spectrum, in terms of dark secrets.

Kennedy’s story is actually more surprising than spine-tingling. You see, he reportedly had an affair with Marilyn Monroe. Brother (and President) John F. Kennedy was famously linked to the big-screen bombshell. What’s lesser-known is that then-Attorney General Bobby was thought to be involved also.

People reports that Monroe went from JFK to RFK. They spoke with writer Jason Spada and later Tony Oppedisano, an associate of the actress’s close pal Frank Sinatra. “When things phased out with Jack, that’s when she picked up with Bobby,” Oppedisano said.

Bobby Kennedy whispers something to JFK
Robert F. Kennedy (left), counsel of the Senate Committee on Racketeering in Labor and Industry, and his brother John F. Kennedy (D-Massachusetts), a member of the committee, confer at the hearing in Washington yesterday which heard testimony about the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. (Photo Credit: Bettmann / Contributor)

He added it was a much shorter and shallower relationship, possibly motivated by President Kennedy ending their previous affair. According to him, Bobby “was a different mentality all together.”

It should be said that this wasn’t officially confirmed. The List notes an investigation by none other than J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI. They write: “despite his best efforts — such as deploying his staff to watch Robert at parties — Hoover was never able to find anything to confirm his suspicions.”

Gilles de Rais

Joan of Arc lived a life of sacrifice, as is well-documented. The activities of her military companion, on the other hand, were a dark and devastating secret.

Put simply, he was a child killer whose crimes are too vile to be properly detailed here. His victims ran into the hundreds. It took a long time to expose the truth before the monster was eventually hung in 1440.

As with other grim tales from the pages of history, de Rais seemed to pass into popular culture. “Some historians have since suggested that Rais was the influence for the 17th-century folktale ‘Bluebeard,’ which follows a wealthy baron who murders his young wives,” History notes.

Gilles de Rais is seen putting a woman into a well
An illustration from Histoire de la Prostitution et de la Debauche Chez Tous les Peuples du Globe depuis l’Antiquite Jusqu’a nos Jours by Dr. Th.-F. Debray (1879). (Photo Credit: Stefano Bianchetti/Corbis via Getty Images)

King Edward VII

If you thought being the eldest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert meant a life of noble service, then think again! Edward VII may have sat on the British throne but he didn’t exactly cover himself in glory. More like champagne.

His wild antics can be traced back to his university days at Trinity College, Cambridge. Decades before the current royal scandals, he lived the highest of lives, by the sound of things. He was a “high society gentleman with a penchant for luxury, he had a rapacious appetite leading to the consumption of four large meals a day,” writes Historic UK.

Not so much Land of Hope and Glory as Land of Ham and Gravy, perhaps. Food was just one of his apparent vices. In this he reportedly blazed a trail. The UK staple meal beef and Yorkshire pudding with horseradish “supposedly originated” with Edward.

King Edward stands in his military uniform in this 1985 photograph
circa 1865: The Prince of Wales, later to become King Edward VII (1841 – 1910), wearing military uniform in his role as Colonel of the 10th Hussars. (Photo Credit: W. & D. Downey/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

A court appearance as part of a slander case and an assassination attempt were a couple of features in this colorful life. He became king in 1901 and died while occupying the role nine years later. He was praised for his apparently likable nature, though palace authorities must have had a stressful time keeping track of the offbeat ruler.


Probably the world’s most famous baroque artist, Caravaggio’s shadowy paintings reflected the nature of the man himself. He lived a rough and tumble existence, to put it mildly.

Drinking, gambling and violence characterized a typical night out for the clearly temperamental talent. Alongside brush strokes, he produced poems attacking rival artist Baglione that landed him before a judge in a libel case.

This is all very attention-grabbing, but nothing you wouldn’t see from today’s great and good. What sets Caravaggio apart is that he killed a man. Brutally, at that! The victim was one Ranuccio Tomassoni – he’d apparently been cut on the groin, in a decidedly amateur case of castration by Caravaggio.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio stares out from a painted portrait
Portrait of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, 17th century. Found in the collection of National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo. (Photo Credit: Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

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The cause of the confrontation isn’t known, though the savage details suggest a woman was involved. Biography mentions an analysis by art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon, who speculates the castration was a typical brand of retaliation should the attacker feel his beloved has been wronged.

In other words, Tomassoni could have shaded Carvaggio’s girlfriend, with wince-inducing consequences.