Valentine’s Day is fast approaching. A lesser blog might ply you with info on last-minute gifts to buy your significant other. Not us. We think you deserve a gift, all for yourself. With that in mind, why not nab a subscription to Smith Journal? You’ll get a new magazine in your letterbox every three months, containing heaps of colourful photos and fascinating stories. It’s cheap, too – just $47.50 for a whole year’s worth of Smith, or $11.95 if you want to go per-issue. Subscribe here. You know you want to.
To give you just a taste of what you’ll find in each issue, we’ve edited (and severely condensed) a few of our Great Villains of History for you to read below. A word of warning: these were some seriously dark folk, who did some seriously dark stuff. Happy Valentine’s!
BORN: August 25, 1530, Kolomenskoye, Russia
DIED: March 18, 1584, Moscow , Russia
Ivan Vasilyevich is probably the craziest leader Russia has ever had, which is saying something. The orphaned son of a prince, Ivan spent hours of his lonely childhood reading the Bible. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the bits about compassion that spoke to him; he preferred the Quentin Tarantino stuff. To instil a bit of fire and brimstone into his life, Ivan began hurling animals off buildings, before moving on to human targets – the aristocrats he thought were trying to depose him.
Paranoid, Ivan established an army of thugs who dressed in black, and rode around on black horses decorated with dogs’ heads. It’s estimated they killed up to 10,000 aristocrats, often boiling them in giant, specially made pans. Still, Ivan wasn’t all bad: as Russia’s first czar, he modernised the country’s infrastructure and improved conditions for its workers. He also built St Basil’s Cathedral on Red Square – though in a characteristically Ivanesque gesture, blinded the architect so he couldn’t reproduce its onion domes elsewhere.
For someone who’d made a career out of behaving atrociously, Ivan’s death was surprisingly gentle; he passed away from natural causes while playing a game of chess. Crowds gathered around his coffin for two days, weeping uncontrollably. They weren’t crying because they had any great affection for the man; they feared he’d left the country in such a vulnerable position that they might be in for even worse times. As it turns out, they were right.
This is a heavily condensed version of an article written by Leta Keens. It originally appeared in Smith Journal 16.
GAIUS ‘CALIGULA’ CAESAR
BORN: August 31, 12 AD, Antium
DIED: January 22, 41 AD, Rome
Caligula was Emperor of Rome for only four years, but he managed to pull off enough grisly, messed-up and just plain berserk stuff during this time that his name is now a byword for evil. As a child, his family was slaughtered by Tiberius, a gloomy sod who saw Caligula’s line as a threat to his rule. Due to his young age, Caligula was spared, and became a pampered prisoner on the island of Capri. There the young man passed the time by watching torture and executions, and indulging in the kind of binge-vomit feasts the Romans are so well known for.
Predictably enough, Caligula killed Tiberius as soon as the opportunity presented itself, and the Joffrey-in-waiting was made Emperor. So great was the public rejoicing at Tiberius’s demise that 160,000 animals were slain in sacrifice. (Nothing says ‘hail to the chief’ like thousands of rotting corpses.) The celebration didn’t last long. Cash-strapped, Caligula started killing off wealthy people to seize their assets. He then turned the knife on his family members, to strengthen his rule – though spared his sisters, who he enjoyed bonking. He killed for pleasure as well as politics; at a games arena, he once ordered his guards to throw an entire section of the crowd into a pit of vicious animals because he was bored.
Unsurprisingly, lots of people wanted Caligula dead. After several failed plots, one succeeded: a man Caligula had nicknamed ‘Priapus’ – basically ‘dick’ in modern parlance – knifed him 30 times. Immediately after his death, the Senate ordered all of the statues made of Caligula be destroyed, in the hopes of expunging him from history. They failed; 2000 years later his name still lives in infamy.
This is a heavily condensed version of an article written by Jo Walker. It originally appeared in Smith Journal volume nine.
BORN: 1844, Germany
DIED: January 8, 1902, London
A man of mystery, Adam Worth’s origins are uncertain. What is known is that he was born somewhere in Germany and emigrated to America in 1849 when he was about five. Aged 14, Worth lied about his age and joined the Union Army for a bounty of $1000. After being ‘killed’ at battle, he assumed a new identity and promptly joined up several more times, earning him a tidy sum as a ‘bounty jumper’.
After the war, Worth embarked on all manner of scams and heists. Things went well until he opened a shop selling “Gray’s Oriental Tonic” next to a bank in Boston, and tunnelled directly into its vault. The Pinkerton Detective Agency was called in, which proved too much heat even for “the Napoleon of Crime”. Worth fled to Europe, where he staged the most notorious art heist of the 19th century. But Pinkerton’s founder, William, was hot on his tail; the two engaged in a cat and mouse game that lasted decades.
The two men held a begrudging respect for one another. When Worth died of alcoholism in 1902, Pinkerton took Worth’s son under his wing, and trained him as a detective. Later, when Pinkerton died, thousands of criminals paid their respects at his funeral. These great rivals had spent their lives navigating the muddy waters of law and larceny. Pinkerton may be best remembered but Worth, always the shrewd outlaw, was content to let others hog the spotlight, while he operated quietly in the shadows.
This is a heavily condensed version of an article written by Chris Flynn. It originally appeared in Smith Journal volume 10.
VLAD III DRACUL
BORN: 1431, Sighișoara, Transylvania, Romania
DIED: 1476, Romania
If you have to choose between having your blood sucked by a terrifying half-man half-bat, or death by impalement, go for the first one every time. Vlad III Dracul may not have been a vampire, but he was arguably much worse.
Known as Vlad the Impaler, he was born the Prince of Wallachia, a region that today forms part of Romania. A religious man with a penchant for the grisly, Vlad was a member of the Order of the Dragon, a jolly band of Christian noblemen whom the Pope anointed as chivalrous holy warriors, setting out on crusades to crush the Islamic menace. Pope Pius II requested that all his Christian soldiers concentrate their efforts on preventing the spread of Islam into Europe, and Vlad took to the task with relish. He enjoyed watching his victims – who numbered in the region of 80,000 men, women and children – tortured by having a long wooden or metal pole inserted vertically into their bodies via their backsides and out their mouths.
Vlad was himself killed in battle in 1476, although the location of his body is unknown. His head, however, was likely buried in a Romanian monastery. Given his propensity for extreme violence and the fact an immortal fictional character was heavily based on him, modern scholars felt it prudent to make sure Vlad III Dracul was actually dead. Thus, in 1933, his grave was excavated. Archaeologists were shocked to discover no tomb, “Only many bones and jaws of horses.” The undead Prince of Wallachia may still be at large. Shield your orifices.
This is a heavily condensed version of an article written by Chris Flynn. It originally appeared in Smith Journal volume 11.
BORN: 16/2/1941, Vyatskoye, Russia
DIED: 17/12/2011, Pyongyang, North Korea
According to regime mythology, Kim Jong-il’s birth was foretold by a magical swallow, and the skies above his birthplace showed their appreciation with a double rainbow and the appearance of a twinkling new star in the night. More prosaically, Soviet records show the birth of one Yuri Irsenovich Kim in Russia, with no rainbows or new stars to speak of.
The man who would become North Korea’s Dear Leader attended a local Stalinist pre-school before moving to Korea with his family in 1945. Hagiographers have furnished Kim’s early life with heroic academic and sporting exploits, though around Pyongyang young Kim was known as a bit of a hooligan. He was still a Kim though, which meant he was untouchable. Indeed, the family took their veneration seriously; to this day all North Korean households are required to display portraits of their semi-divine leaders. Any citizens who allow even a smudge of dirt to befoul these icons can find themselves heading to the gulag.
To prove his leadership chops, Kim turned to terrorism. He reportedly masterminded the 1987 bombing of Korean Air Flight 858, and in 2002 admitted to ordering the abduction of dozens of Japanese citizens in the ’70s. South Koreans were kidnapped, too – once spirited away, they were forced to train North Korean spies to pass as locals on undercover missions abroad.
During his reign, Kim accrued around 17 palaces connected by underground train. His cellars were stuffed with top-shelf liquor – until his death from a stroke in 2011, he remained one of the world’s biggest buyers of Hennessy Paradis Cognac. It was a life of obscene excess in a country that was witheringly poor, and about to become poorer. From 1994 to 1998, around four million North Koreans died from starvation after massive floods – though of course the Dear Leader himself never went hungry.
This is a heavily condensed version of an article written by Jo Walker. It originally appeared in Smith Journal volume 12.
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