History’s Most Famous Traitors

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

La Malinche (1500-1529)

La Malinche, also known as Doña Marina, was born to an Aztec chieftain and his mistress in the 16th century. After her father died and the mistress remarried, Marina was sold into slavery. When the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the Western Hemisphere, she became a courtesan of Spanish leader Hernán Cortés. Her knowledge of the indigenous culture proved invaluable in helping the Spanish defeat the Aztecs.

Today, she is despised by Mexicans as a turncoat who deceived her people for money and power.

Source: Photos.com / PHOTOS.com>> via Getty Images

Guy Fawkes (1570-1606)

Guy Fawkes was a participant in the so-called Gunpowder Plot in 1605 to blow up the palace at Westminster while Parliament was in session and King James I was present. The scheme was hatched by English Catholics and intended as a reprisal against the oppression of Catholics in England. Fawkes, a military man and recent convert to Catholicism, helped plant barrels of gunpowder in a cellar that extended underneath the palace. The plot was foiled, Fawkes was caught, and on the day of his execution he fell off the gallows ladder and broke his neck.

The British celebrate Guy Fawkes Day every Nov. 5 by firing off fireworks and burning effigies of the conspirator, and children traditionally request “a penny for the guy.”

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Mir Jafar (1691-1765)

One of the reasons why the British were eventually able to take control of all of India in the 19th century was because of an 18th-century collaborator named Mir Jafar. He was the military commander-in-chief of the powerful ruler Siraj-ud-daula who ruled the region of Bengal. The British bribed Jafar by promising him the Bengali throne in exchange for helping the outnumbered British win the Battle of Plassey on June 23, 1757. The king of Bengal was captured and executed. Jafar became a puppet ruler of Bengal under the British and his name has become synonymous with duplicity in India.

Source: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Benedict Arnold (1741-1801)

Benedict Arnold is the most famous traitor in U.S. history, and certainly among America’s most complicated historical figures. During the American Revolution, Arnold distinguished himself on the battlefield, in particular with his tactical skills in helping defeat the British at the crucial Battle of Saratoga in 1777. He resented the fact that other military leaders took credit for his success. He also was under financial pressure, partly because of his wifes lavish lifestyle.

In need of money, and smarting from the refusal of Congress to promote him, he began spying for the British. He sent coded messages to British major John André about the defenses of West Point. André was caught with the messages that implicated Arnold and hanged. Arnold openly joined the British side and after the war fled to England where he remained for the rest of his life.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Mir Sadiq (late 18th century)

Another story of betrayal in India involves Mir Sadiq. He was a minister under Tipu Sultan, the so-called Tiger of Mysore. During the fourth Anglo-Mysore war in 1799, Sadiq betrayed Tipu Sultan and sided with the British, paving the way for a British victory. As a result, Sultan died during the siege of Srirangapatnam.