Anthony Horowitz, the novelist and screenwriter, chooses six villainous dinner companions from the past.
I’ve always imagined that it would be fun to assemble some of history’s worst villains. At least the conversation would be lively. So here are six of them, three of each sex to keep the numbers balanced. Come Die With Me…
Did she actually poison her way through the friends and family of her husband, the Emperor Augustus, as suggested by Robert Graves? Did she kill Augustus to make way for her son Tiberius, and how did she feel about the disastrous reign that followed? If she’s there, we’ll need a food taster.
Tomás de Torquemada
Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition, so what a surprise for the other guests to meet the greatest torturer of them all. He oversaw the burning of 2,000 people in the name of religion and like so many of these people I’d like to know how he lived with himself. Was he completely mad? We’ll serve his steak well-cooked.
Queen Ranavalona I
She ruled Madagascar in 1828 and was apparently murderous and insane on an epic scale, hanging Christians and poisoning swathes of the population. I’ve always wanted to meet her since she was memorably described in George Macdonald Fraser’s brilliant novel, Flashman’s Lady. (The Flashman series is still a wonderful introduction to Victorian history.)
Jack the Ripper
The grandfather of all serial killers, he was responsible for at least five murders in the late 19th century and was never caught. Simply finding out his real name will be a thrill and there’s always the possibility, I suppose, that he’ll turn out to have royal blood. He is of course a contemporary of my friend Sherlock Holmes and it’s interesting to what extent the two of them define their age. Butter knives only for his place setting.
One of the charming family that supplied crematoria to Auschwitz and Buchenwald. We think of the Nazi leaders as deranged monsters but I’d like to meet someone for whom mass murder was simply a matter of business. “We acknowledge receipt of your order for five triple furnaces…” he wrote in 1943. His brother committed suicide. Ernst did a runner.
History too rarely concerns itself with the wives of famous and powerful people, particularly the monsters. What’s it like to be married to one of them? “Had a good day at work, dear? How many people did you kill?” For Khieu, the answer would be about two million. She married Pol Pot, leader of the Khmer Rouge in 1952.