We all love a juicy story, and there is nothing juicier than the revelation that some arch villain has done something so utterly unspeakable that we just have to hear more. A certain United State’s president and a cigar, for example, or a fraudulent investor stacking up billions in a Ponzi scheme of the power hungry despot for whom no trick is too low to get into, and to stay in power. Then, of course, there is the humble low-life taking advantage of lonely hearts, and feeding a Swiss bank account. Both fact and fiction are full of characters like that, and we all love ‘em. Or love to hate them.
It is, perhaps, ironic that many of the men listed here were deemed extravagant names such as “Herod the Great” or “Peter the Great”- while many of their acts during their lives proved to be not so great…
In celebration of some of the most scurrilous bastards in history, we are going to kick off this list with a fiction character who almost defines the very word. However, all the rest are for real. Some are included because of their scandalous activities, some for a complete lack of humanity and others for fetishes and appetites that really should be discussed with a medical professional.
Harry Flashman: the Original Lovable Cad
‘There’s a point, you know, where treachery is so complete and unashamed that it becomes statesmanship’
Old Harry Flashman is the man the British most loved to revile throughout most of the twentieth century. The words ‘Cad’ and ‘Bounder’ are Victorian terms that were usually spoken aghast at some shameless deed that offended the exaggerated morality of Victorian England. So long as no one was ever critically compromised, however, these expressions of incredulity were usually followed by ‘but tell me more!’ That, of course, is why the Harry Flashman books were so popular for so long, and even today, old Harry still has quite a following.
The character Harry Flashman was born in the 1857 novel ‘Tom Brown’s School Days’, by Thomas Hughes. The novel was set at Rugby School, a fairly typical English public school, where boys were turned into English gentlemen by the rigorous application of the cane and frequent buggery. Harry Flashman was a character in the novel as the arch bully who tormented poor Tom Brown, and who was generally an unprincipled, self serving and thoroughly untrustworthy character.
He then appeared as spinoff in a series of novels written by George McDonald Frazer, known collectively as the Flashman Chronicles, and first published in 1925. Flashman, who lived from 1822 to 1915, was a commissioned officer of the 11th Regiment of Light Dragoons, and pursued a career replete with acts of cowardice, shameless betrayal, the cuckolding of many a powerful aristocrat and the seduction of any number of credulous women. By one means or another he always managed to get away with it, and lived to a ripe old age to reflect on a lecherous life within which not one virtuous act, no single episode of selflessness and no opportunity of glory and gratification was turned down.
Harry Flashman’s uninhibited misogyny, his wenching, his lip curling at the natives and his utter lack of moral character certainly have no place in the modern world, and most of his books are out of print now, but as the man who we all loved to hate, Flashman has become the basis of many a good fictional character who we all love to love.