It is a well-known fact that a child’s parentage has a great effect on their upbringing. So, when it comes to illegitimate children, they are often frowned upon by society. But there are many instances in history when an illegitimate child has managed to overcome the stigma of their birth and achieved great success. In this article, we have brought ten such illegitimate children who grew up to be influential people.
1. Leonardo da Vinci
Renowned painter and creator of the Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci was the out-of-wedlock son of a wealthy father and a peasant mother.
Leonardo da Vinci is widely considered one of the greatest painters of all time. He is also called the father of paleontology and architecture. He was an Italian Renaissance polymath who epitomized the Renaissance humanist ideal.
Leonardo da Vinci was born on 15 April 1452 in the Tuscan hill town of Vinci. His father was the wealthy Messer Piero Fruosino di Antonio da Vinci, a Florentine legal notary. His mother, Caterina, was a peasant and wasn’t married to Leonardo’s father. Leonardo had no surname in the modern sense as “da Vinci” simply means “of Vinci.” His full birth name was “Lionardo di ser Piero da Vinci”, meaning “Leonardo, (son) of (Mes)ser Piero from Vinci.” Leonardo spent his first five years in the hamlet of Anchiano in the home of his mother. From 1457, he lived in the household of his father, grandparents, and uncle in the small town of Vinci. Little is known about his early life.(source)
2. Oprah Winfrey
Dubbed the “Queen of All Media,” Oprah Winfrey was born in 1954 to an unmarried, teenage mother. She is now ranked as the richest African-American.
Oprah Gale Winfrey was born on 29 January 1954. Her mother, Vernita Lee, was a housemaid. Her father is usually noted as Vernon Winfrey, a coal miner turned barber turned city councilman who had been in the armed forces when she was born. According to Oprah, she was conceived when her mother had a single, sexual encounter with Vernon. The couple broke up soon after, and Oprah was born to a teenage single mother.
Born into poverty in rural Mississippi, Oprah was later raised in an inner-city Milwaukee neighborhood. She was molested during her childhood and became pregnant at 14. Her son died in infancy. When she was 19, she landed a job in radio. After boosting a third-rated local Chicago talk show to first place, she launched her own production company and became internationally syndicated. Oprah is thought to have popularized and revolutionized the tabloid talk show genre. In 2013, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama. Several assessments rank her as the most influential woman in the world. She is currently North America’s first and only multi-billionaire Black person.(source)
3. T. E. Lawrence
T. E. Lawrence was the illegitimate child of an Anglo-Irish father and a Scottish mother. He grew up to become a famous archaeologist and writer, and earned international fame as “Lawrence of Arabia.”
Thomas Edward Lawrence was a British archaeologist, military officer, diplomat, and writer. He is known for his wartime activity during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign, and the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. He had vividly explained his activities and associations in writing which made him famous as “Lawrence of Arabia.”
Lawrence was born in Tremadog, Wales, in August 1888. His father was Thomas Chapman, an Anglo-Irish nobleman from County Westmeath. His mother, Sarah Junner, was a Scottish governess who was herself illegitimate. When Lawrence’s father fell in love with Sarah Junner, he left his wife and family in Ireland to live with Sarah. Even though they never married, they lived together and called themselves Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence.(source)
4. Fidel Castro
Cuban revolutionary and the former President of the Republic of Cuba Fidel Castro was born out of wedlock in 1926.
Fidel Castro was born on August 13, 1926, to a wealthy Spanish plantation owner Ángel Castro y Argiz. When Ángel Castro’s first marriage collapsed, he took his household servant, Lina Ruz González as his mistress. Together they had seven children, and Fidel was their third child. Fidel’s parents married in a church after his birth.
Fidel Castro was rebellious from a young age. He studied law at the University of Havana where he became a high-profile student leader demonstrating against the ruling dictatorship. From 1959 to 1976 he governed the Republic of Cuba as Prime Minister and then from 1976 to 2008 as President. He survived 638 documented attempts by the CIA to kill him and lived through ten U.S. presidencies.(1,2)
5. Jenny Lind
Also known as the “Swedish Nightingale,” singer Jenny Lind was the illegitimate daughter of Niclas Jonas Lind and Anne-Marie Fellborg.
Jenny Lind, the Swedish opera singer, is one of the most highly regarded singers of the 19th century. She performed in soprano roles in opera in Sweden and across Europe, and became famous after her performance in Der Freischütz in Sweden in 1838. Her singing prowess earned her the nickname “Swedish Nightingale.”
Jenny Lind was born on 6 October 1820 in Klara, in central Atockholm. She was the illegitimate daughter of Niclas Jonas Lind, a bookkeeper, and Anne-Marie Fellborg, a schoolteacher. Anne-Marie Fellborg had divorced her first husband for adultery but, for religious reasons, refused to remarry until after his death in 1834. Lind’s parents married when she was fourteen.(source)
6. Bernardo O’Higgins
Born in 1778, Bernardo O’Higgins was the illegitimate son of a Spanish officer. He grew up to be a Chilean independence leader who freed Chile from Spanish rule.
Bernardo O’Higgins was a wealthy landowner of Spanish and Irish ancestry and a Chilean freedom fighter. Born in 1778, he was the illegitimate son of Ambrosio O’Higgins, a Spanish officer, who became governor of Chile and later viceroy of Peru. His mother, Isabel Riquelme, was the daughter of a member of the Chillán council and hence a prominent local.
At seventeen, Bernardo O’Higgins was sent to London to complete his studies. There, studying history and the arts, O’Higgins became acquainted with American ideas of independence and developed a sense of nationalist pride. He returned to Chile in 1802 and began life as a gentleman farmer. On 18 September 1810, O’Higgins joined the revolt against the French-dominated Spanish government. During the Chilean War of Independence, he was the second Supreme Director of Chile. He is considered one of Chile’s founding fathers.(source)
7. Marilyn Monroe
American actress and model Marilyn Monroe was one of the most popular sex symbols of the 1950s. She was an illegitimate child of a flapper mother and was raised by foster parents.
Marilyn Monroe was born at the Los Angeles County Hospital on June 1, 1926. Her mother Gladys Pearl Baker had an extramarital affair while she was married to her second husband. Marilyn was conceived during this time, but the identity of her father is unknown. Since her mother was mentally and financially unprepared for a child, Monroe was placed in numerous foster homes.
In 1944 while working in a radioplane factory, Marilyn was introduced to a photographer from the First Motion Picture Unit and began a successful pin-up modeling career. Her career as an actress took off after she signed a contract with Twentieth Century-Fox in 1951. She garnered huge fame on-screen for playing the comic “dumb blonde” characters. After that, she became a popular sex symbol. Marilyn Monroe is still considered to be a major popular culture icon.(source)
8. Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple Inc., was an American businessman and inventor who was born to his parents while they were dating. He was adopted and raised by another family.
Steve Jobs was born on February 24, 1955. His biological father Abdulfattah “John” Jandali was an Arab muslim who met Steve’s mother, Joanne Carole Schieble, while studying at University of Wisconsin. Joanne Carole Schieble was a Catholic of Swiss and German descent. Her parents didn’t approve of her relationship with Jandali because he was from Syria. Schieble became pregnant in 1954 when she and Jandali spent the summer with his family in Homs, Syria. Jandali wanted to marry Schieble but her father forbade her to marry him and Steve was born as an illegitimate child. Later he was adopted by Paul and Clara Jobs.
Steve Jobs was a college dropout. In 1976, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, a Polish-American inventor, co-founded Apple Inc. An year later they gained fame and wealth for the Apple II, one of the first highly successful mass-produced personal computers. Steve Jobs later also founded NetXt and Pixar and gave the world the Mac, iPhone, and iPad.(source)
9. Eva Peron
Eva Perón was born to a mother who was the mistress of a wealthy rancher. Later she became the wife of Argentine President Juan Perón and ran the nation’s first large-scale female political party.
María Eva Duarte de Perón, commonly known as Eva Perón, was the First Lady of Argentina from 1946 to 1952. She was born in poverty in the rural village of Los Toldos in the Pampas as the youngest of five children. Her father, Juan Duarte, was descended from French Basque immigrants, and her mother, Juana Ibarguren, was descended from Spanish Basque immigrants. Juan Duarte was a wealthy rancher from nearby Chivilcoy and had a wife and family there. Eva’s mother was his mistress. When Eva was a year old, Duarte returned permanently to his legal family, leaving Juana Ibarguren and her children in penury.
When Eva Perón was 15, she moved to the nation’s capital of Buenos Aires to pursue a career as a stage, radio, and film actress. There she met Colonel Juan Perón and got married in 1945. In 1946, Juan Perón was elected President of Argentina and Eva Perón became powerful within the pro-Peronist trade unions, primarily for speaking on behalf of labor rights. She also ran the Ministries of Labor and Health, founded and ran the charitable Eva Perón Foundation, and championed women’s suffrage in Argentina. On 7 May 1952, she was honored with the title “Spiritual Leader of the Nation.”(source)
10. William the Conqueror
The first Norman King of England, William the Conqueror, was also known as “William the Bastard.” He was the only son of Robert I, Duke of Normandy, but his mother never married Robert.
William was born in 1027 or 1028 at Falaise, Normandy. His father, Robert I, was the Duke of Normandy. He was an illegitimate son because his parents never married.
William faced several challenges on becoming a duke including his illegitimate birth and his youth. Bur he had the support of his great-uncle, Archbishop Robert, as well as the King of France, Henry I, enabling him to succeed to his father’s duchy. By 1060, his hold on Normandy was secure after a long struggle. In the 1050s and early 1060s, William became a contender for the throne of England as King Edward was childless. After a long military campaign, William was crowned king on Christmas Day 1066, in London.(source)