Skip main navigation

8 famous figures who changed the course of history

In this post meet 8 famous historical figures who changed the course of history and check out courses to help you get to know them or their times better.

historical figures illustration

Bonnie Prince Charlie

Bonnie Prince Charlie Illustration

Full name: Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Sylvester Severino Maria Stuart

Occupation: Aristocrat

Also known as: The Young Pretender, The Young Chevalier

Time period: 1720 – 1788

Famous for: trying to reclaim the British throne for his exiled family (the Stuarts) by leading an uprising in 1745, failing and running away to France

Quick fire facts:

  • Born in Rome
  • Catholic
  • Firm believer in the divine right of kings

Discover more about Bonnie Prince Charlie with the course Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites


Humphry Davy

Humphry Davy Illustration

Full name: Sir Humphry Davy, 1st Baronet

Occupation: Chemist, Inventor, Poet

Time period: 1778 – 1850

Famous for: All sorts. He invented the Davy lamp and an early form of incandescent light bulb, isolated many chemical elements and invented the field of electrochemistry

Quick fire facts:

  • First ever scientist to be awarded a baronetcy
  • His lab assistant was Michael Faraday
  • Born and raised in Cornwall

Learn more about Humphry Davy’s fascinating life with the course Humphry Davy: Laughing Gas, Literature, and the Lamp


Hadrian

Hadrian Illustration

Full name: Publius Aelius Hadrianus Augustus (Latin)

Also known as: third of the five good emperors

Occupation: Emperor of Rome

Time period: AD 117 – AD 138

Famous for: Building a pretty big wall which partitioned the northern part of Roman Britain

Quick fire facts:

  • Helped beards become fashionable again (the only emperor, other than Nero, to not be clean-shaven)
  • Travelled all over the Roman empire during his reign
  • A ‘philhellene’ also known as a big fan of the Greeks

Visit Hadrian’s namesake with the course Hadrian’s Wall: Life on the Roman Frontier


W.T. Cosgrave

Full name: William Thomas Cosgrave

Also known as: Liam Tomás Mac Cosgair (Irish)

Occupation: Irish politician

Time period: 1880-1965

Famous for: Being the Chairman of the first provisional government of Ireland

Quick fire facts:

  • Become politically active when he attended a Sinn Féin conference aged 25
  • Originally sentenced to death for his part in the Easter Rising
  • Has a controversial legacy due to him turning on former republican allies

Explore more Irish history with the course Irish Lives in War and Revolution: Exploring Ireland’s History 1912-1923


Agrippina the Younger

Full name: Julia Agrippina

Also known as: Agrippina Minor, Julia Augusta Agrippina

Occupation: Roman Empress

Time period: AD 49 – AD 54

Famous for: Being part of the Ancient Roman Julio-Claudian dynasty (she was related to five different emperors, and might have poisoned one of them)

Quick fire facts:

  • Exiled at a young age for her involvement in a murder plot
  • Feuded with Emperor Nero, her son, who may have executed her
  • Suspected to have been involved in multiple murders to ensure her powerful position as Empress of Rome

Travel back to Ancient Rome with the course Rome: a Virtual Tour of the Ancient City


Shakespeare

Shakespeare illustration

Full name: William Shakespeare

Also known as: The Bard of Avon

Occupation: Playwright, poet, actor

Time period: 1564 – 1616

Famous for: writing some of the best known plays ever written. Many even consider him the greatest writer in the English language

Quick fire facts:

  • Wrote 38 plays
  • Estimated to have contributed thousands of new words to the English language including ‘scuffle’, ‘addiction’ and ‘puking’
  • Left Anne, his wife, his ‘second best bed’ in his will

Examine Shakespeare’s enduring influence with the course Shakespeare: Print and Performance


Adelina Patti

Adelina-Patti Illustration

Full name: Adelina Patti

Occupation: Coloratura soprano (opera singer)

Time period: 1848 – 1919

Famous for: having one of the most beautiful voices in history, as endorsed by composer Verdi

Quick fire facts:

  • Began her opera career aged 16 in New York
  • Commanded huge fees
  • Her great-grand niece is another musical legend: Patti LuPone

Delve further into the world of opera with the course Inside Opera: Why Does It Matter?


Van Meegeren

Full name: Han van Meegeren

Occupation: Forger, artist

Time period: 1889 – 1947

Famous for: producing impeccable forgeries of famous artists including Vermeer

Quick fire facts:

  • His forgeries earned him around $30million
  • He once sold a forgery to Hermann Göring
  • Used Bakelite, an early plastic, to ‘age’ his forgeries

Uncover more of the art world’s dark underbelly with the course Antiquities Trafficking and Art Crime

FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education

Related stories on FutureLearn