History Hot 100 results: the historical figures who fascinated you most in 2017

We asked readers and historians to vote for the historical figures that most interest them at the moment. The results are in: this is the History Hot 100 for 2017…

This article was first published in the September 2017 issue of BBC History Magazine, on sale now…

Illustrations: Andy Tuohy / Design: Rachel Dickens / Words: Charlotte Hodgman
 
 
Welcome to this year’s BBC History Magazine Hot 100 list, featuring the historical figures that have been fascinating you in 2017. We asked you to each nominate up to three people, who could have lived in any historical period (but who died more than 30 years ago). The full list is presented here, along with comments on the results from historians. The characters and rankings are bound to provoke controversy…
 
(*denotes new entry in 2017)

100 Isambard Kingdom Brunel
 1806–59*

British civil and mechanical engineer
 
99 Francis Drake
 c1540–1596*
English admiral and navigator
 
98 Christopher Columbus
 c1451–1506*
Italian explorer and navigator
 
97 Catherine Howard 
c1524–42*
Fifth wife of Henry VIII
 
96 Anne Neville
 1456–85
Queen consort of Richard III
 
95 Simon de Montfort
 c1208–65*
Rebel baron
 
94 Nikola Tesla
 1856–1943*
Serbian-American inventor
 
93 Isabella of France
 1295–1358*
Queen consort of Edward II
 
92 Margaret Tudor 
1489–1541*
Daughter of Henry VII, sister of Henry VIII 
 
91 King Arthur
 possibly sixth century*
Legendary British warrior and king
 
90 Cecily Neville
 1415–95*
Mother of Edward IV and Richard III
 
89 Richard I
 1157–99
English king, known as ‘the Lionheart’ 
 
88 Thomas More
 1478–1535
Tudor statesman and author
 
87 Thomas Jefferson
 1743–1826
Founding Father and third US president
 
86 Marie Curie
 1867–1934
*
Polish-French physicist and chemist
 
85 Hatshepsut
 c1507 BC–c1458 BC*
 
 
One of only a few known ancient Egyptian female pharaohs, Hatshepsut reigned in her own right, from c1473–58 BC. However, Hatshepsut’s royal reign really began in c1479 BC when she acted as regent for her infant stepson, Thutmose III. By the end of his seventh regnal year, Hatshepsut had been crowned king and had adopted all pharaonic titles and regalia, co-ruling with her stepson. In images, she was depicted with a male body wearing the traditional pharaonic kilt, crown and false beard. New entry in 2017
 
84 Harold II
 c1022–1066

England’s last Anglo-Saxon king
 
83 Catherine de Medici
 1519–89*
Italian noblewoman and queen of France
 
82 Bess of Hardwick
 1527–1608*
Elizabethan noblewoman
 
81 Anne Frank
 1929–45*
German-born Jewish diarist
 
80 Muhammad
 c570–632
Prophet and founder of Islam
 
79 John of Gaunt
 1340–99*
Third surviving son of Edward III
 
78 Isabella I of Castile
 1451–1504*
Queen of Castile and Aragon
 
77 George Washington
 1732–99*
Founding father and first US president
 
76 Anne of Cleves
 1515–57
German-born fourth wife of Henry VIII
 
75 Florence Nightingale
 1820–1910
*
Founder of modern nursing
 
74 Owain Glyndwr
 c1350–c1416*
Welsh ruler and rebel 
 
73 Marie Antoinette
 1755–93*
Austrian-born queen of France
 
72 Katherine Parr
 1512–48
Sixth and last wife of Henry VIII
 
71 Vlad the Impaler
 1431–76*
Prince of Wallachia, Romania
 
70 Leonardo da Vinci
 1452–1519
Italian Renaissance polymath
 
69 Edward III
 1312–77*
King of England
 
68 Charles I
 1600–49
King of England, Scotland and Ireland
 
67 Charles Dickens
 1812–70
*
British writer and social critic
 
66 Katherine Swynford
 1350–1403
Third wife of John of Gaunt
 
65 Albert Einstein
 1879–1955
German-born theoretical physicist
 
64 Cleopatra
 69 BC–30 BC*
Last active pharaoh of ancient Egypt
 
63 Alan Turing
 1912–54*
Computer scientist and cryptanalyst
 
62 Tsar Nicholas II
 1868–1918
Last emperor of Russia
 
61 Lady Jane Grey
 1537–54
Queen of England for nine days
 
60 Joseph Goebbels
 1897–1945*
Propaganda minister for Nazi Germany
 
59 Franklin D Roosevelt
 1882–1945

32nd US president
 
58 Charles Darwin
 1809–82
British naturalist, geologist and biologist
 
57 King John
 1166/67–1216

King of England who sealed Magna Carta
 
56 Clement Attlee
 1883–1967
British prime minister
 
55 Alexander Hamilton
 c1755/57–1804
 
 
Alexander Hamilton came to the attention of George Washington during the American Revolutionary War, becoming the general’s aide-de-camp. After training as a lawyer, he was elected to the lower house of the New York legislature and eventually earned himself a place at the Constitutional Convention as representative for New York. Hamilton was consequently one of the founding fathers of the US Constitution, and had a profound influence on its ratification. When Washington was elected to the presidency, he appointed Hamilton the country’s first secretary of the treasury.
 Down 40 places from 2016
 
54 1st Duke of Wellington
 1769–1852
British prime minister and military leader
 
53 Henry V
 1387–1422
King of England and victor at Agincourt
 
52 Francisco Franco
 1892–1975*
Military dictator of Spain
 
51 Æthelflæd
 c870–918*
 Anglo-Saxon ruler of Mercia
 
50 Mahatma Gandhi
 1869–1948
 
 
Born to a wealthy Hindu family in north-west India, Gandhi’s first experiences of nonviolent civil disobedience came while he was practising law in South Africa, in response to the Indian community’s struggle for civil rights. In around 1921 he became leader of the Indian National Congress, leading campaigns for a number of social causes and to end British rule in India. One of his most famous protests was the 240-mile Dandi Salt March of 1930, challenging the British-imposed salt tax. Gandhi was assassinated in 1948. 
Non-mover from 2016
 
49 Catherine the Great
 1729–96
 
 
The daughter of a minor German prince, Catherine (born Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst) became a member of Russian royalty following her marriage to Grand Duke Peter, heir to the Russian throne. Catherine overthrew her husband shortly after he became tsar in 1762, and was declared empress, a title she would hold for more than 30 years. Expanding the empire was her priority: territories gained during her reign include Crimea, Belarus and Lithuania. She was also a great patron of the arts and education.
 Down 19 places from 2016
 
48 Charles II
 1630–85
King of England, Scotland and Ireland
 
47 Louis XIV
 1638–1715
French monarch, known as the Sun King
 
46 Karl Marx
 1818–83
German philosopher and political theorist
 
45 Edward I
 1239–1307*
King of England
 
44 Augustus
 63 BC–14 AD*
Considered the first Roman emperor
 
43 Julius Caesar
 100 BC–44 BC
Roman ruler, general and statesman
 
42 John F Kennedy
 1917–63
35th US president
 
41 Genghis Khan
 1162–1227*
Founder of the Mongol empire
 
40 Isaac Newton
 1643–1727
Mathematician, astronomer and physicist
 
39 Henry II
 1133–89
First Plantagenet king of England
 
38 Oswald Mosley
 1896–1980*
Leader of the British Union of Fascists
 
37 Vladimir Lenin 
1870–1924*
 Russian communist revolutionary
 
36 Joan of Arc
 1412–31
French martyr, saint and military leader
 
35 Martin Luther King
 1929–68
Religious activist and civil rights leader
 
34 Jane Austen
 1775–1817*
 
 
This year sees the 200th anniversary of both Jane Austen’s death and the publication of two of her novels: Persuasion and Northanger Abbey. Austen’s first known writings date from c1787, with Sense and Sensibility the earliest of her novels to be published in her lifetime, in 1795. Austen, who never married, is celebrated as one of England’s favourite authors: her six novels – all published anonymously at first – are a window into the life of the landed gentry in the 18th and 19th centuries. She is believed to have died of Addison’s disease, an endocrine disorder. New entry in 2017
 
33 Empress Matilda
 1102–67
Claimant to the English throne
 
32 Catherine of Aragon 
1485–1536
Spanish-born first wife of Henry VIII
 
31 William the Conqueror
 c1028–87
First Norman king of England
 
30 Abraham Lincoln 
1809–65

16th US president and opponent of slavery
 
29 Josef Stalin
 1878–1953
Soviet revolutionary and dictator
 
28 Boudica
 c30–60
Ancient British queen of the Iceni tribe
 
27 Alexander the Great
 356 BC–323 BC
King of Macedonia
 
26 Mary I
 1516–58
England’s first queen regnant
 
25 Horatio Nelson
 1758–1805

British naval commander
 
24 Edward IV
 1442–83

First Yorkist king of England
 
23 Emmeline Pankhurst
 1858–1928
British suffragist and political activist
 
22 Thomas Cromwell
 1485–1540
 
 
Born the son of a Putney brewer, Cromwell’s big break came when he landed a job working for Cardinal Wolsey, Henry VIII’s powerful first minister. When Wolsey fell from grace after failing to gain papal permission to annul Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon, Cromwell advised Henry to break with Rome and make himself head of the Church of England, allowing the king to marry Anne Boleyn. Cromwell soon became Henry’s right-hand man but ended up on the scaffold having arranged the king’s disastrous marriage to Anne of Cleves.
 Down 14 places from 2016
 
21 Oliver Cromwell
 1599–1658

English soldier and statesman
 
20 Napoleon Bonaparte
 1769–1821

French military and political leader
 
19 Martin Luther
 1483–1546
 
 
On 31 October 1517, after witnessing corruption in the Catholic church, German theologian Martin Luther supposedly nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle church. In them, he condemned the practice of selling ‘indulgences’ to absolve sin and stated that salvation could be reached by faith, not deeds. Luther was condemned by the Catholic church but his work sparked the Protestant Reformation. 
Up 36 places from 2016
 
18 Margaret Beaufort
 1443–1509

Mother of King Henry VII
 
17 Elizabeth of York
 1466–1503

Queen consort of Henry VII
 
16 Elizabeth Woodville
 1437–92

Queen consort of Edward IV
 
15 Jesus Christ
 c6-4 BC–30 AD
Religious leader central to Christianity
 
14 William Marshal
 c1146/47–1219

Anglo-Norman soldier and statesman
 
13 Benito Mussolini
 1883–1945
Italian Fascist dictator
 
12 Henry VII
 1457–1509

First Tudor king of England
 
11 Mary, Queen of Scots
 1542–87

Scottish queen and French queen consort
 
10 Henry VIII
 1491–1547

King of England
 
9 William Shakespeare
 1564–1616

English poet, playwright and actor
 
8 Queen Victoria
 1819–1901
British queen and empress of India
 
7 Adolf Hitler
 1889–1945
Dictator of Nazi Germany
 
6 Winston Churchill
 1874–1965
British wartime prime minister
 
5 Anne Boleyn
 c1501–36
 
 
Anne spent much of her childhood at the French court, returning to England in 1522 where she proceeded to dazzle Henry VIII. By 1533, Anne was pregnant with the king’s child and the pair were secretly married. In 1534, Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon was finally annulled and Anne was crowned queen. But a series of failed pregnancies combined with accusations of adultery saw Anne sent to the scaffold in 1536.
 Down 1 place from 2016
 
4 Elizabeth I
 1533–1603

Queen of England
 

3 Alfred the Great 849–899

King of Wessex
 
2 Eleanor of Aquitaine
 c1122–1204
 
 
Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine, became one of the most powerful women in Europe when she married Louis, heir 
to Louis VI of France in late July 1137. The French king died the following month and Eleanor became queen of France, a title she would hold for 15 years. An unsuccessful crusade to the Holy Land in 1147–49, combined with Eleanor’s perceived failure to provide Louis with a son, soured the relationship and the couple divorced in 1152. Her second marriage to the future Henry II saw her become queen of England and, later, mother to the future Richard I.
 Up 5 places from 2016 
 

Holding on to the top spot…

1 Richard III
 1452–85
 
 
Interest in the Yorkist king reached fever pitch in 2012 when his remains were found beneath a Leicester car park. 
Mystery still surrounds Richard, not least whether he was responsible for the deaths of his nephews – Edward V and his younger brother, Richard – who mysteriously disappeared from the Tower of London in the summer of 1483. 
Richard III’s death at the battle of Bosworth heralded the dawn of the Tudor dynasty as Henry Tudor took the throne of England, marrying Richard’s niece, Elizabeth of York. Five monarchs would sit on the throne for more than a century of Tudor rule. Richard III, meanwhile, still continues to divide opinion.
 

What did the experts say? Click here to read the verdict of 12 leading historians

Want to find out how the list compares to 2016? Read more here…

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