The enchanting history of charisma

Elizabeth I used hers to cure the sick, while Garibaldi harnessed his to forge a nation. But what is that magnetic quality we call charisma, and how has it changed over the past 2,000 years? Thomas Dixon investigates...

A portrait of Elizabeth I.

This article was first published in the August 2015 issue of BBC History Magazine

That special something known as ‘charisma’ is often cited as an essential quality for leaders and celebrities – a magnetic mixture of personal charm and natural authority. It has been seen as the possession of a select band of A-list movie stars, politicians and US presidents, from JF Kennedy to Barack Obama, via Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. But what exactly is ‘charisma’, and where did our modern ideas about it come from?

Want to read more?

Become a BBC History Magazine subscriber today to unlock all premium articles in The Library

Unlock now