6 People Who Secretly Ruled The World
Hey, remember that Dick Cheney guy? You know, the shadowy old man lurking behind George W. Bush and tugging on the strings that jerkily moved Bush's limbs? He still turns up on Fox News sometimes?
Well, it turns out that history is full of those guys, the power behind the power whose names don't come up in history class, but who were happy to change history from the shadows.
The Woman Behind Alexander the Great: Olympias
Alexander the Great was, well, great (there was very little tendency towards sarcastic monikers in ancient times). By the time he died, he was the proclaimed king of Asia, with a kingdom which stretched from Greece and Egypt to modern India--comprising one of the largest and most culturally diverse empires the world has ever seen. Intelligent, courageous and a leader of men; Alexander the Great was a man's man.
The Woman Behind the Scenes
He was also a momma's boy. You may already be tangentially aware of the existence of Alexander's mother thanks to the frighteningly boner-inducing depiction of Olympias by Angelina Jolie. Never has an audience been given so much reason to forgive an Oedipus Complex than the movie Alexander.
Beautiful, powerful and heavily involved in a snake-worshiping cult of Dionysus, Olympias is regularly depicted as sleeping with snakes. Hell, Olympias was the Angelina Jolie of 4th century B.C.
When questions came up about Alexander's claim to the throne, she claimed that the god Zeus himself impregnated her under an oak tree, a legitimate claim to any damn throne Alex could point a finger at. Knowing Olympias, that is strangely plausible.
When her husband, Phillip, took a new wife and divorced Olympias, she had him assassinated. Well, we don't know for sure she was behind it, but let's just say she is said to have placed a golden crown on the murderer, dedicated a memorial to him and hung the sword he used to kill Phillip in a temple of Apollo, elevating it to the status of a legendary weapon. She then forced her replacement wife to hang herself and had the two children she had with Phillip killed, assuring Alexander's claim to the throne was unrivaled.
When the now-king Alexander was gone (read: the entire time he was king), Olympias wielded great influence and power, often contradicting the efforts of the guy who was supposed to do that, the regent Antipater. Antipater's many official complaints on the matter went unnoticed by Alexander, who was happy to let his mother do as she wished. Hell, between wanting to fuck her and being scared to death of her, who wouldn't?
"Mom I gotta be honest, I am, like, six different kinds of uncomfortable right now."
The Final Bitchslap
After Alexander's death, Olympias remained a prominent world figure, waging wars on behalf of her grandson's failed claim to the throne. Most telling is the last message from Antipater to his beloved Macedonian people. On his deathbed, with Olympias eager for the opportunity his vacant seat would provide, Antipater coughed out a warning to the Macedonians to never let a woman rule over them. Not a hot one, anyway.
The Man Behind Napoleon: Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord
Napoleon was short, had a tiny penis and a made up for it in a highly aggressive and confrontational manner. He was also arguably the most brilliant general the world has ever seen, staking claim to nearly the entire European continent with a series of dazzling and brilliant military campaigns.
The Man Behind The Scenes
While Napoleon was out declaring war on everyone he saw, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord was back home acting as Napoleon's Minister of Foreign Relations, a position we can only assume was given sarcastically, like Canada's Minister of War. Talleyrand-Perigord outsmarted and out-strategized Napoleon at every turn, going behind his back to work out deals with Austria and Russia to try and keep Napoleon in check. He made treason cool again by the sheer balls of doing it to the shortest, most overcompensating man the world has ever seen.
The guy who owns Napoleon's penis assures us it looks like "a maltreated shoelace, or shriveled eel."
Talleyrand-Perigord always happened to be on the right side during some of France's most politically turbulent times; generally the side whose guys weren't being beheaded. He knew the game of politics like none other. So, when Napoleon discovered that the man was heading a plot to betray him and called all his ministers to his palace to surprise him with the charges, Talleyrand-Perigord just sat there looking bored.
This infuriated Napoleon who had more been expecting something along the lines of quivering and trembling. So he threw a tantrum, complete with stomping feet and threats, calling Charles, "shit in a silk stocking" and saying that he "deserved to be broken like glass." When he was done, Talleyrand-Perigord said in a disappointed tone of voice, "What a pity that so great a man should have such bad manners."
Such tiny, tiny manners.
Though Talleyrand-Perigord was fired, Napoleon came out looking like the bad guy. As Charles himself put it, it was "the beginning of the end" for Napoleon.
The Final Bitchslap:
After Napoleon was exiled, France went through some pretty rough times. Talleyrand-Perigord engineered for Napoleon to escape exile and, with the help of England and Austria, he even made it possible for Napoleon to return to power, knowing that he would just lead France into war once more. He also knew that given France's decrepit state that this would lead to a resounding defeat from which Napoleon's swelling reputation would not recover.
After 100 days in power, Napoleon was famously defeated in the battle of Waterloo and exiled once again, this time for good. One final time, Talleyrand-Perigord played Napoleon like a bitch. In his own words, "Regimes may fall and fail, but I do not."
The Man Behind Genghis Khan: Yelu Chucai
Besides being the world's greatest conqueror, Genghis Khan is the common ancestor of about one percent of the entire human population, thanks to the sheer amount of boning he did. Genghis organized the Mongol clans into the kind of brutal force that later inspired J.R.R. Tolkien's orcish horde.
Yet for all his seemingly mindless razing and pillaging, Khan was a man with a plan: show no mercy, run a strict rule of law and annihilate your enemies. It wasn't a terribly nuanced plan, but goddamn did it work.
The Man Behind The Scenes:
Among Genghis's circle of advisers was Yelu Chucai, a clever outsider who found himself in the unique position of an intellectual among rapists (tell us about it!).
Nicknamed "Long Beard" by Genghis for his... long beard, Yelu was a tempering voice during Mongol rule. For instance, Genghis saw nothing in China but a place that lacked pasturing for his horses and had said that "It would be better to exterminate the Chinese and let the grass grow." Yelu, himself a foreigner, appealed to Genghis's self-interest to save many Chinese cities.
Given that Genghis had just three motivations--pasture for ponies, women for raping and gold for pillaging--and given that two of those would be most easily attained by utterly destroying every Chinese city he came upon, Yelu's job wasn't easy. But he convinced Genghis that a whole lot more gold could be had from China by merely taxing them.
Mongolopoly. Quite possibly the simplest game ever invented.
Time and again, Yelu used this strategy to convince Genghis to show mercy (a concept previously unknown to the Mongols) to many Chinese cities--the capital city of Kaifeng among them--to the spitting rage of his bloodthirsty generals.
The Final Bitchslap:
Yelu's system of taxation and governance proved too profitable to ignore. So much so that even Genghis's successor, Ogedei, kept him on staff to run the bureaucracy of Northern China. This from a man who once openly mocked Yelu's insistence to tax cities rather than raze them, saying, "Are you going to weep for the people again?" Yelu's response to Ogedei was that empires could sure be conquered on horseback, but not ruled from them. He's been proven right for about eight consecutive centuries now.
The Man Behind Tsar Nicholas II: Grigori Rasputin
Tsar Nicholas II was the last emperor of Russia before it descended into a capitalist-hating, sexy-accented, spy-making communist giant. As emperor, Nicholas oversaw Russia's entry into two failed wars, including its disastrous incursion in World War I, and was so piss-poor at his job that he was given a pink slip in the form of a bullet to the head.
This led to Stalin's reign of terror, the building of the Berlin Wall and the formation of the band t.A.T.u.
Make of that what you will.
The Man Behind the Throne:
Which is not to say there wasn't enough blame to go around to Disney villain and present-day Russian boogeyman, Grigori Rasputin.
An up-and-comer mystic healer of the Russian plebes, Rasputin was called upon in 1905 to heal Alexei, the hemophiliac son of Tsar Nicholas. Although a spoiled brat who was fond of face-punching people who bowed before him, Alexei was Nicholas's only heir and thus deemed worth salvaging, even if it meant inviting this man to their home:
"Hi, I'm Rasputin, and I'd like to tell your underage daughters some exciting things about my penis!"
After some moderate success nursing Alexei back to health, Rasputin took the opportunity to ingratiate himself with the royal family, becoming spiritual adviser to the Tsar's wife. Given his humble origins and the foreign roots of Alexandra, this bond quickly aroused the distrust of the Russian elite, who circulated rumors that the two were having a romantic affair.
A caricature of Rasputin and the Tsaritsa, upholding Russia's rich tradition of boob-holding portraits.
Rumors notwithstanding, Rasputin held the ear of the royal family for nigh a decade, and in one of his most ill-fated pieces of advice, he told the Tsar that victory in World War I would only be achieved once Nicholas personally led the army forward. Nicholas had no actual military experience, but was a great fan of prophecies which said that important things hinged on his mustachioed presence, so he went forth into the battlefield to better directly manage the utter failure of the Russian war machine.
The hardest thing about being me? Mustache.
In his absence, Rasputin made even bolder moves, convincing Tsaritsa Alexandra to fill cabinet posts with men of his choosing and serving as a de facto leader through her. With the war going poorly against Germany, and a German Tsaritsa ruling them from under the thumb of an unpopular mystic, an attempt on Grigori Rasputin's life was clearly forthcoming.
On December 16, 1916, a group of nobles led by Prince Felix Yusupov and the Tsar's cousin, Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, stepped up to the plate, poisoning, and shooting, and strangling, and beating, and drowning Rasputin.
The Final Bitchslap:
In a prophetic letter written shortly before his death, Grigori wrote some absurdly creepy words:
"I feel that I shall leave life before January 1 [check] ...If I am murdered by boyars, nobles, [check] ...Brothers will kill brothers, and they will kill each other and hate each other, and for twenty-five years there will be no nobles in the country. [check, check, check] ...If it was your [Tsar Nicholas'] relations who have wrought my death, then...none of your children or relations, will remain alive for more than two years. They will be killed by the Russian people. [Jesus Christ, check]"
This goes beyond a mere last laugh, and well into the territory of a last cackle from beyond the grave.
The Man Behind King Tut: Grand Vizier Ay
King Tut is possibly the most well-known of all the pharaohs and the discovery of his tomb in 1922 sparked a newfound love affair with ancient Egypt. Today, the face of Tut's burial mask is one of the most recognizable images in the world, and a boy who only ruled as pharaoh from the age of nine until about 19 is synonymous with Egyptian leadership.
King Tut was buried with his favorite slave's dick grafted onto his chin to ward off evil spirits. Or for laughs. Who the fuck knows, really.
The Man Behind the Scenes:
It was Ay, his grand vizier--the highest official under the king--who ruled Egypt while the famed child King Tut sat on the throne doodling. A prepubescent leader left some pretty significant shoes to fill as far as governance went and the duties of the pharaoh during Tut's reign were nearly all carried out by the experienced Ay. Born a commoner, Ay was a non-royal governing official who had served Tut's father before him.
All decisions small and large were made by him, including that of restoring the old gods to the pantheon, back from the abolishment perpetrated by Tut's unpopular predecessor. Lip service was paid to Tut, but by all accounts he was too busy discovering his own boner to have much of an opinion on the taxation of the Upper Kingdom.
Is this him? All gold, Egyptian statue monsters look alike to us, is that racist?
The Final Bitchslap:
To this day, Egyptologists disagree as to how King Tut died. Some speculate that Ay may have played a part in his death, and fact is that practically as soon as Tut was old enough to actually take the reigns of his own government, he was dead.
Moving quickly, Ay married Tut's half-sister, widow and former step-mother, Ankhesenamen (yeah, they were all the same person) to legitimize his claim on the throne. He ruled Egypt and fucked Tut's mom/sister/wife for four long, fruitful years.
The Woman Woodrow Wilson: Edith Bolling Galt Wilson
Despite only learning to read at the age of 10, Woodrow Wilson oversaw America's entrance and victory in World War I, granted women the right to vote, shaped the League of Nations and won a Nobel Peace Prize.
He also declared the first national Mother's Day, cementing his status as the president most beholden to the interests of Big Hallmark.
Why don't you just marry your mom, Woodrow Wilson?
The Woman Behind the Scenes:
In 1919, Woodrow Wilson suffered a stroke which left him paralyzed on his left side and, in general, running at less than full capacity. So his wife, Edith, whose most significant decisions to date had been to let sheep graze on the White House lawn and declare Mondays to be "meatless" was forced to step up to the plate.
Edith, seen here wearing a veil and a scowl like any self-respecting secret leader.
Told that Wilson was no longer capable of exercising many of his presidential duties, Edith was given two strict directives by his doctors: if Woodrow was to leave office, it would probably kill him, however, if he was burdened by government affairs, that would also probably kill him (doctors in the early 20th century were taught to provide all their patients' options in the form of zero sum riddles in order to mask the absurd pseudo-science on which they based their opinions).
Placed in the novel position of keeper of the presidency before women were even allowed to vote, Edith kept his weakened state hidden from his staffers and the nation for six weeks, presumably with elaborate Wilson puppets behind White House blinds and authoritative voice recordings cleverly hidden in foreboding doorways, Home Alone-style.
Although in her memoirs, Edith claims that she only decided which matters to bring to Woodrow's attention and which could be resolved without him, which to us still sounds like a shitload of power. She fought against having the vice president take office in Woodrow's stead. Many have thus referred to her as the first female president of the United States, Franklin Pierce notwithstanding.
Now, make it out to Edith. Yes, E-D-I-T-H. No, you can leave that part blank.
The Final Bitchslap:
Although any scholar who isn't a misogynist crackpot would argue that the machinations to give women the right to vote had been put in motion by Woodrow long before his stroke, we here at Cracked would like to provide an editorialized timeline with much eyebrow-raising potential:
1919: Edith Wilson becomes the secret president.
1920: Women can suddenly vote.
Coincidence? We invite you, the reader with no inclination to do his own research, to decide.
Now check out the clandestine, dastardly animals behind America's leaders, in 7 Badass Animals Presidents Have Kept As Pets. Or find out about some presidents who were too bad ass to need someone to pull their strings, in The 5 Most Badass Presidents of All-Time.
And check out the sites behind our Internet throne in our Top Picks.