Europe has been riddled with leaders throughout history and it is no surprise that some of them have stood taller and formidable than others. What makes a person a leader? What qualities are required to influence and inspire people? While there have been many instances in which a leader has inspired millions and rallied them together for a common goal- be it war, humanity, revolution, renaissance,etc. There also have been some leaders who inspired a few for the greater good. Whatever may be the case, a leader possess immense resilience, patience and virtue, which in turn inspires others to follow him. Many believe that becoming a leader is easy, yes it is. But maintaining that position and role until the goal is achieved is the greater struggle. These European leaders faced many challenges and adversaries, but they refused to bow down and got their name written in golden words in history. Read on to know about the top 12 most influential European leaders who shaped and changed history!
12. Karl Marx
Karl Marx was a German philosopher, sociologist, economist, journalist, historian, and revolutionary socialist, and was one of the principle architect of modern social science. He is widely honored for his two famous books namely, The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital. His views on politics, economics, etc. are collectively known as Marxism. He propagated Socialism views because he felt that Capitalism caused internal tension which ultimately leads to its destruction. He became a significant leader in the International Workingmen’s Association and inspired many to follow Marxism to establish control in many countries including Soviet Union and China in the 20th century.
11. Vladimir Lenin
Vladimir Lenin was the leader of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic and was a Russian Revolution communist politician. He followed the idea of Marxism and even contributed his own views to the code of Marxism which is commonly known as Leninism. Russian Empire was recreated as the Soviet Union under his command and he also served as the head of the country until his death in 1922. He was one of the main leaders of the October Revolution in 1917, which demolished the pre-existing ideas of provisional government by establishing Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. He signed various peace treaties with the central powers and also inspired the new world revolution.
10. Queen Elizabeth I
Queen of England and Ireland, Elizabeth I was the last monarch of the Tudor Dynasty and is widely considered as one of the most influential queens of Europe for her contribution towards the establishment of modern Europe. The Elizabethan era is studded with many famous personalities like William Shakespeare, Francis Drake, etc. She banned images in English Churches and exercised full control over them. She was a great military strategist too, which was showcased after she successfully led the greatest military victory in English history against the Spanish Armada in 1588.
9. King Henry VIII
Introduced as “one of the most charismatic rulers to sit on the English throne”, King Henry was the ruler of England, France and Ireland after his father Henry VII. He is widely known for his role in dissolution of monasteries and the separation of Church of England from the Holy Roman Church. In 1536, he officially established himself as the head of the Church of England and officially granted Wales Act Law to take control of the union of England and Wales. He was also well known for his six marriages and his bitter rivalry with Hapsburg monarch Emperor Charles V and Francis I of France.
8. Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill was a British politician who rapidly rose through the British bureaucrats to establish himself as a formidable wartime leader. He became the Prime Minister of England from 1940 to 1945 and was again sworn in from 1951 to 1955. Besides being a politician, he was a historian, a writer and a talented artist, and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953.
7. Peter the Great
Peter the Great was the Emperor of Russia in the 17th century where he replaced medieval systems with modern scientific based systems in the era of Enlightenment. After successful conquest of many neighboring countries, he expanded his kingdom into a massive Tsardom which established itself as a major European power. He instructed his subjects to shave their beard and attain modern clothing style to project themselves as modernized and enlightened. He founded the first Russian Navy base in 1698 and went on to defeat many oppositions who came in his way. After a series of successful conquest, he was sworn in the official ruler of all Russia in 1721.
6. Benito Mussolini
Benito Mussolini was the founder and leader of the National Fascist Party, where he served as Prime Minister from 1922 to 1943. After being in power for three years, he dropped democracy in Italy and crowned himself as the dictator of Fascist Italy. He was Hitler’s idol and both these leaders were very close throughout the WWII, in which Italy supported the German invasion of Poland in 1939. After the Allied invasion of Italy, Mussolini was voted out of the Grand council of Fascism and was later arrested by King Victor III in 1943 for treason. He was disgraced and hung for his crimes before the population of Italy.
5. Attila the Hun
Influence can be positive or negative and Attila the Hun falls in the latter category. A genius military strategist and a charismatic leader (in a negative way), he was the King of the Huns and was known for his brutality. After his father died, he took the throne and went on an invasion spree throughout Europe beginning from Persia and all the way to Germany. His army pillaged and plundered anything which came before it, and it earned him the name “The scourge of Europe”. Even though he failed to conquer Constantinople (Turkey) and Rome, he already had large chunks of Europe in his pockets. He inspired fear and cruelty which ultimately led to his death under mysterious circumstances.
4. Joseph Stalin
Joseph Stalin rose to power from the bottom of the political ladder, where he influenced thousands of factory workers to join him in establishing the Soviet Union under the “Socialism in one country” banner. In early 1920s he deposed Lenin’s New Economic Policy and went on to inspire the industrial revolution. Even though he was seen as a hero, many people pointed out his attitude towards prisoners of wars (POWs) as cruel, as he used to send them to correctional labor camps. During the initial phase of the World War II he signed a Non-Aggression Pact with Hitler and were sworn as allies in the war. But, Hitler violated this treaty which resulted in Stalin choosing to go over to his enemies (The Allies) to put down Germany once and for all.
3. Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was a the Fuhrer of Nazi Germany during the World War II and was solely responsible for instigating the war in the first place. When he was in army, he was spared by his enemy who had him at his gunpoint by taking pity on his weak physique. Little did he know that the person he spared would take that as a message from the God and go on to become the greatest dictator the world had ever seen. In 1924, when Germany was suffering from the Great Depression, Hitler emerged as a messiah and hero for the oppressed German population. His oratory skills used to win over his enemies and made his followers even more loyal to him. After becoming the ruler of Germany, he declared war on England and went on to conquer Europe one by one. He nearly succeeded until USA and Allies couldn’t take it anymore and launched a massive assault on him which resulted in him committing suicide. Even though his image has been marred by the Holocaust and concentration camps, there is no denying that he was a very capable leader who influenced millions.
2. Napoleon Bonaparte
Napoleon Bonaparte was a French military leader who went on to become the Emperor of France in 1804. During his reign he conquered much of Europe in the 19th century, by spreading the ideas of religion tolerance, liberal reforms and termination of feudalism. Born as short and meek looking boy, he rapidly rose through the ranks of the military during the French Revolution and eventually seized political power in 1799. He was a shrewd, ambitious and a skilled military strategist who successfully waged war against many formidable enemies. His army was seen as a liberating force to the oppressed as they used to free the poor and enlist them in army. But, after a decade the mentality of people changed and he was seen as an invader whose sole purpose was to seek power, which eventually resulted in his crushing defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. His civil laws are still being implemented under the name of Napoleonic Code.
1. Julius Caesar
Who else could be on the top other than Julius Caesar? Born in 100 BC Rome, he was a brilliant military general, lawgiver and orator. He is also one of the most famous personalities in world history due to his military conquests and his assassination by his best buddy Brutus. His influence created such a deep impact on the ancient and the modern world that the word “emperor” was derived from his name in many different languages – “kaiser” in German and “czar” in Russia. Moreover, due to his immense popularity among the common people, the month of July was named after him (Julius) which is still being recognized today. His growing popularity and power eventually led to his assassination.
The mentioned leaders are included in the list because of their strong influence in their time, which is still felt in the modern world. With the passage of time, many famous people are forgotten, but these great leaders will always be remembered for their charisma and their dedication to their mission.