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History’s 6 Most Vicious Sibling Rivalries

The sons of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, were the first brothers in our history, and from what we know, they didn’t get along that well. So, it’s clear that sibling rivalry has existed since the beginning of time. Some siblings just argued or quarreled a little, but others had some incredibly intense conflicts.

In the quest for money and power, brothers waged war against their own brothers and sisters. Furthermore, several well-known historical figures have even imprisoned or murdered their own family in order to achieve their goals.

Here are 6 of the greatest sibling rivalries in history!

#1 Should I visit my ill brother?

The conflict between Oda Nobunaga, a 16th-century Japanese warlord, and his younger brother, Oda Nobuyuki, began when they were young. Nobunaga was Oda Nobuhide’s second son, but since his older brother, Nobuhiro, was an illegitimate child, Nobunaga was actually Nobuhide’s successor.

The fact that Nobuhide despised Nobunaga and that Nobunaga openly disregarded tradition made the situation worse. Nobuhide appeared to prefer Nobunaga’s illegitimate older brother.

The Oda clan had become divided by the time Nobuhide died in 1551. Some remained true to Nobunaga, whereas others stayed true to Nobuyuki, who was regarded as being more charming and soft-spoken. During the time when his older brother was away fighting alongside his father-in-law in a war in 1556, Nobuyuki started a rebellion against Nobunaga. The revolt was put down by Nobunaga, who also freed his brother.

However, the following year, when Nobuyuki attempted to rebel once more, Nobunaga made the decision to permanently remove him. He persuaded his brother to come to see him while faking illness, then had him killed. As a result, Nobunaga was able to combine the Owari Province with others, which ultimately gave him the opportunity to rise to the rank of daimyo (a great feudal lord) and become one of Japan’s most dreaded warlords.

President Reagan during a March of Dimes Presentation with Abigail Van Buren (Dear Abby) in the Rose Garden via Wikimedia Commons

#2 “Ask Ann Landers” vs “Dear Abby”

The authors of the two popular advice columns “Ask Ann Landers” and “Dear Abby,” which ran concurrently for many years, were once actually close sisters. Esther and Pauline Friedman were identical twins born on July 4th, 1918, in Sioux City, Iowa.

Ruth Crowley established “Ask Ann Landers,” a guidance column, at the Chicago Sun-Times in 1943. Esther accepted a position there in 1956. Pauline, who had just arrived in San Francisco, called the editor of the San Francisco Chronicle that same year and stated that she would write a better advice column than their current columnist. After a quick tryout and despite having no prior professional experience, Pauline used the pen name Abigail Van Buren and started writing the “Dear Abby” column.

Conflict arose from the column battle. The twins’ local newspaper accepted Pauline’s offer to write “Dear Abby” in exchange for their not publishing her sister’s column in the same year she started writing it. A rift that lasted eight years resulted from this. Before Esther’s death in 2002, the twins had a brief reconciliation in 1964, but their argument lasted after that, more precisely until Pauline died in 2013.

#3 How to win a king’s heart

It was typical practice for European leaders to leverage marriage and relationships for political gain during the rule of Henry VIII (1509–1547). Mary Boleyn met Henry VIII in 1522, at the age of 17, after she had already been married and had given birth to a child. By this point, the absence of a male heir had caused tension in Henry and Catherine of Aragon’s marriage. 

Mary became Henry’s mistress in 1525 as he actively pursued connections with other members of the queen’s entourage. One year later, she gave birth to a boy who many believe to be Henry’s illegitimate kid.

Anne Boleyn, Mary’s older sister, was being courted by Henry at the same time. After negotiating with the pope for a divorce for several years, the king ultimately split from Catherine in 1531 and wed Anne in 1533.

Soon after Henry married Anne, Mary’s life began to fall apart. Mary, who had recently lost her husband, secretly married William Stafford in 1534. Stafford was a commoner, and this didn’t reflect well on the Boleyns or the queen’s sister. 

Mary and her husband were exiled from the royal court to the English countryside, where a penniless Mary was left pleading for help from either her sister or her ex-lover. She failed to grasp it. Mary’s boy, who was likely Henry’s son, was being cared for by his aunt Anne at the time.

Even though Anne had given birth to Henry’s child three years earlier, Elizabeth was a female. Anne lost her popularity. She was imprisoned in the Tower of London after being charged with adultery and incest, which historians generally agree were false accusations made to get rid of her. There is no proof that Mary ever wrote to or spoke with her sister or her brother George, who was also incarcerated, nor did she pay them a visit. In 1536, Anne was put to death.

Photo by Bruno Ismael Silva Alves from Shutterstock

#4 Did somebody say cornflakes?

Will Keith Kellogg and Harvey Kellogg were brought up as Seventh-day Adventists. John had a strong belief in “biological living,” which he defined as a rigorous vegetarian diet, the avoidance of alcohol, cigarettes, coffee, tea, and sauces, and the consumption of little to no dairy.

John was in his mid-20s when he took the helm of a hospital in Battle Creek, Michigan. His strict diet became so unpopular with the patients that, in 1877, he, his wife, and his brother Will started experimenting with plant-based breakfasts. They eventually came across cornflakes.

John was less concerned about expanding a business, despite being credited as the creator of cornflakes. He was more concerned with improving American eating patterns and “sinful” habits. Meanwhile, clever businessman Will purchased the rights to produce the corn cereal from his brother and launched it in 1906 with immediate success. 

However, John continued to market cornflakes under the Kellogg name to previous clients, which led to a legal dispute between the brothers regarding ownership of the family name. The winner was Will. He had accumulated a fortune of almost $50 million by the 1930s, making him one of the richest people in the US. The brothers are said to have avoided each other after the lawsuits.

#5 Cleopatra and her siblings

Members of the Macedonian Greek ruling family frequently wed their own siblings for both political and symbolic reasons during the Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt. These siblings frequently engaged in violent fights over who would rule Egypt.

After the death of her father, the 18-year old Cleopatra had to marry her little brother, Ptolemy XIII Philopator, and share the rulership of Egypt with him. When Philopator became of legal age he assumed control of the government with the support of the military.

After fleeing to Syria and meeting Julius Caesar there, Cleopatra and Caesar collaborated to overthrow Philopator. Philopator perished in the water during a conflict with Roman forces commanded by Caesar and Cleopatra. Arsinoe, Cleopatra’s sister, also took part in the battle, seizing command of the army and establishing herself as monarch. Initially treated with tenderness after being captured, Cleopatra supposedly commanded her execution in 41 BCE.

Following Philopator’s defeat, Cleopatra and another younger brother, Ptolemy XIV Theos Philopator II, shared the leadership of Egypt. Later, she had him poisoned so that Ptolemy XV Caesarion, her own son, might succeed him as co-ruler and ultimately the sole ruler.

Adolf Dassler competing as athlete via Wikimedia Commons

#6 The battle of the shoes

Rudolf and Adolf Dassler, a pair of German brothers, are the founders of the Puma and Adidas shoe brands (pictured). Adi started making shoes in their mother’s laundry room when Rudi was enlisted into the war, and the brothers eventually established the Dassler Brothers Sports Shoe Company in the 1920s. Adi’s novel new shoes with spikes on the bottom helped it quickly become successful.

However, the brothers’ prosperity created conflict between them, and World War II triggered a full-fledged rivalry. In an effort to prevent other family members from controlling the business, Rudi refused to hire the two sons of his sister Marie. As a result, both sons were killed in the military draft. In 1943, Rudi was also drafted, which he blamed on his brother. 

Adi was able to escape being drafted since he was needed to operate the company. Fearing that his brother was attempting to take over, Rudi tried to flee his post. However, the Gestapo captured him and detained him for the remainder of the war.

The Dassler brothers eventually made the decision to part ways in 1948, dividing their holdings and establishing rival businesses. Adi created the name “Adidas” by shortening his initials and last name. Rudi referred to his business as “Ruda,” which later changed to “Puma.”

If you are curious and want to know more surprising historical facts, you should also check out: 8 Historical Figures Everybody Thought Were Crazy


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