Like princesses who inherited their father's throne or actors who happened to be politically well-connected, plenty of important figures from the past had ancestors who were also historically significant. But just because they lived in the shadow of their ancestors' achievements doesn't mean they should be defined by those successes. Indeed, many descendants of historical figures did notable things in their own right.
Some famous figures in history capitalized on their family's wealth, privilege, and connections to stay in the family business and build on their ancestors' legacies; others charted new pathways in careers of their own making. But whether they inherited a land empire or helped create an information empire, all of these historical figures have one thing in common: They had ancestors who also are remembered in the annals of history.
Vote up the historical figures who successfully one-upped their ancestors.
Frankenstein's monster - one of the most recognizable creatures in literature - sprang from the mind of writer Mary Shelley. Only 19 years old when she first conjured the monster in 1816, her novel Frankenstein - published two years later - remains a gothic classic.
Besides being a celebrated writer in her own right, Shelley had impeccable literary connections. Her husband was Percy Shelley, the Romantic poet; and her father was William Godwin, a philosopher who was himself plugged into the British literati.
But the life of Shelley's mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, proves the apple didn't fall far from the tree. Wollstonecraft was a radical writer and philosopher who advocated for women's rights.
- Age: Dec. at 53 (1797-1851)
- Birthplace: Somers Town, London, London, United Kingdom
Philip II became king of Macedon in 359 BCE. According to historian Donald L. Wasson, Philip paved the way for his son Alexander the Great's success:
Philip inherited a weak, backward country with an ineffective, undisciplined army and molded them into a formidable, efficient military force, eventually subduing the territories around Macedonia as well as subjugating most of Greece. He used bribery, warfare, and threats to secure his kingdom. However, without his insight and determination, history would never have heard of Alexander.
Indeed, Alexander took his father's legacy and ran with it. Just as Philip glorified Macedonia through warfare, Alexander defined his kingdom through imperial conquest and expansion. He stretched his empire into Persia and Egypt - all before he was 25 years old.
- Age: Dec. at 33 (355 BC-322 BC)
- Birthplace: Pella, Greece
One of Romanticism's most notorious figureheads was George Gordon - AKA Lord Byron. Besides writing some of the most important poems in the English language - like Don Juan and Childe Harold's Pilgrimage - Byron was also known for his scandalous private life. His indiscreet affairs ultimately gave him a reputation as Romanticism's "bad boy," in the words of scholar Clara Drummond.
Byron's daughter Ada Lovelace never had a literary career like her father, but her work has shaped the world, too. Lovelace was a mathematician who helped program the first computing machine in the 1840s. Lovelace's contributions earned her the nickname "the first computer programmer."
Lovelace's parentage may have directly shaped her career as a mathematician. According to scholars Eugene Eric Kim and Betty Alexandra Toole, Lovelace's mother "raised Ada to be a mathematician and a scientist and discouraged her literary leanings, in part to distance her from her father."
- Age: Dec. at 36 (1815-1852)
- Birthplace: London, United Kingdom
Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, became one of the most powerful people at Queen Anne's court in the early 18th century. As the queen's "favourite" courtier, the duchess benefited from her close proximity to Anne and exercised significant political power. She received plum positions at court as well as Blenheim Palace, which was presented to her husband, the Duke of Marlborough.
More than a century later, Blenheim Palace was the site of another significant moment for the Churchill family: Winston Churchill was born there in 1874. His ancestor the Duchess of Marlborough may have elevated her family's fortunes, but Churchill guided the British nation through one of its darkest periods: World War II. As prime minister from 1940, he directed the war effort and boosted morale with his inspiring speeches.
- Age: Dec. at 90 (1874-1965)
- Birthplace: Blenheim Palace, United Kingdom