30 famous feuds throughout history

Written by:
January 14, 2019
Andreas Altwein // Picture Alliance via Getty Images

30 famous feuds throughout history

The Hatfields and the McCoys may be history's most famous archenemies, but they have company—and lots of it. Jealousy, anger, and vindictiveness are all integral parts of the darker side of human nature. Family feuds and bitter rivalries have plagued societies since the dawn of time, providing fodder for ancient historians, medieval chroniclers, and gossip columnists alike. No realm of human activity has been spared: Politics, the arts, entertainment, and academia have all spawned bitter disputes spanning decades, and in some cases, centuries.  

Stacker combed through the history books, newspaper archives, and the internet to compile this list of 30 famous feuds from around the globe, ranging from verbal sparrings to vengeful bloodbaths. All conflicts included in this list are at least a decade old.

Click through the list to discover which dueling divas hashed it out on set, what famous wine label turned brotherly love into sour grapes, and how two famous world-class athletic brands came to be.

RELATED: Defining historical moments from the year you were born

War of the Roses

This royal family feud pitted the House of York against the House of Lancaster in pursuit of the English crown. The conflict was marked by several bloody wars between 1455 and 1485, and the imprisonment and murder of two young princes—nephews of the nefarious Richard III. Peace was finally restored when Lancastrian Henry VII married Elizabeth of York.

Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots

Thanks to the 2018 film “Mary Queen of Scots," starring Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie, the bitter feud between Elizabeth I and her French cousin is back in the public eye four centuries later. Elizabeth, the protestant offspring of Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn, was denounced as an illegitimate claimant to the English throne by Catholics who preferred Mary. In real life, the two queens never met. They did, however, corresponded with one another for several decades. Elizabeth finally brought the conflict to an end by signing Mary's death warrant in 1587.

Ako Vendetta

The Ako Vendetta is one of the most famous feuds in Japanese history—and one of the bloodiest. In 1701, Shogun Asano Naganori attacked his former teacher, the acerbic Kira Yoshihisa, by slashing him in the face. Asano was arrested and, as punishment for his crime, forced to commit ritualistic suicide—also known as “seppuku" or “harakiri." Avenging Asano's death, 47 of his loyal samurai captured and beheaded Kira. The samurai surrendered to officials and were forced to take their own lives in the same manner as their master.

Hamilton and Burr

The rivalry between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton—once a footnote in American history—has taken center stage thanks to Lin Manuel Miranda's Tony award-winning musical, “Hamilton." The beef between the two men stemmed from Burr's failed presidential and New York gubernatorial runs, both stymied by Hamilton and his influence over the Federalist party. Burr reached the end of his tether when Hamilton declared him to be “despicable," challenging his nemesis to a duel. They met at sunrise in New Jersey on July 11, 1804, to settle the score. Hamilton fired at the sky, was struck by Burr's bullet, and died several days later.

Campbells and MacDonalds

Cattle rustling was not something to be taken lightly in 17th-century Scotland. The Campbells and the MacDonalds had been at it for years, and bad blood boiled between the two clans. When the MacDonalds refused to sign an oath of loyalty to King William and Queen Mary, the Campbells were enlisted to help punish the wayward clan. A group of soldiers, which also included members of the Campbell family, traveled to MacDonald territory in Glencoe and, in keeping with tradition, requested food and lodging. The Macdonalds obliged but were later massacred in their sleep by their house guests.

Byron and Keats

Both poetic differences and class conflicts contributed to the clash between entitled English aristocrat Lord Byron and working-class John Keats. Byron's poetry adhered to classical tradition and was a hit with contemporaries, while Keat's lush verse was greeted with little fanfare from critics. The snobbish Byron had little time for Keats while Keats harbored intellectual disdain for Byron.

Charles Darwin and Richard Owen

Charles Darwin is known for the Theory of Evolution, but some historians believe the more obscure Richard Owen deserves at least some credit. A fellow 19th-century scientist, Owen is best known for coining the term “dinosauria" in 1841 and is known to have worked on some of the specimens obtained during Darwin's Beagle expedition. When Darwin published his theory, the eccentric Owen didn't take it in stride. Enraged that Darwin did not acknowledge him for his ideas, Owen wrote reviews under a false name disparaging Darwin. A back and forth between the two ensued in the Sunday newspapers.

Gladstone and Disraeli

Esteemed English statesmen William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli both served multiple terms as British Prime Minister, yet the two had little else in common. The two men detested one another and espoused notably different political views—Gladstone rising to power as a liberal Whig and Disraeli as a conservative Tory. Both served under Queen Victoria, with the monarch preferring the dashing Disraeli to the humorless Gladstone.

Hatfields and McCoys

America's most famous feuding families, the Hatfields and the McCoys, enjoyed a tenuous relationship at best when a dispute over a hog in 1878 exploded tensions into an epic vendetta. The two clans warred along the Kentucky and West Virginia border for decades, culminating in the 1888 New Year's Day ambush that left several members of the McCoy family dead. By the early 20th century, the feud had largely subsided but, thanks to extensive press coverage, remains ingrained in the public imagination.

Edison and Tesla

The rivalry between Serbian inventor Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison, “The Wizard of Menlo Park," was as basic as AC versus DC—the electrical currents each inventor championed. Tesla briefly worked for Edison and alerted his employer to the limitations of direct current as opposed to alternating current. Edison disparaged Tesla's ideas, and Tesla ended up quitting and selling several of his patents to Westinghouse. Edison, fearful of Westinghouse's success, continued to belittle Tesla's work. In 2016, Edison and Tesla were recognized for their extraordinary contributions to the field of physics with a posthumous Nobel Prize.

Van Gogh and Gauguin

Art historians have long surmised that troubled post-impressionist genius Vincent Van Gogh cut off his ear in response to inner demons. New research, however, argues that it was Van Gogh's longtime frenemy, fellow artist Paul Gauguin, who severed Van Gogh's ear with a sword during an argument.

Zora Hurston and Langston Hughes

Acclaimed poet Langston Hughes had a bone to pick with his friend and literary partner Zora Neale Hurston after she attempted to take sole credit for their 1930 play “The Mule Bone" while Hughes was recuperating from an illness at his mother's home. Some literary historians argue that the brilliant and flamboyant Hurston, author of the acclaimed novel “Their Eyes Were Watching God," harbored romantic feelings toward Hughes, and her actions may have been motivated by unrequited love.

Sterling and Stephen Clark

Art collectors Sterling and Stephen Clark, heirs to the Singer sewing machine fortune, shared a passion for Impressionism, but little else. In 1923, bon vivant Sterling married a French actress, much to the chagrin of staid businessman Stephen. Brotherly love was strained to the breaking point when Sterling demanded that the family's trust fund extend to his new bride and her daughter from a previous affair. Sterling and Stephen came to blows over the issue and never spoke to one another again.

Al Capone and Bugs Moran

Al Capone ruled Chicago with an iron fist in the 1920s, overseeing a vast and lucrative bootlegging empire. “Scarface" Capone had rubbed out most of his competitors except for Irish gangster George “Bugs" Moran, who refused to capitulate and continued to run a competing bootlegging operation in the north side of town. Tensions between the two overlords reached a climax on Feb. 14, 1929, when seven of Moran's gang were murdered by gunmen dressed as police officers. Although Capone denied responsibility for the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, he likely ordered the killings.

Adolf and Rudolf Dassler

German brothers Adolf and Rudolf Dassler founded a modest shoe company in their mother's basement. When Olympic medalist Jesse Owens donned their athletic footwear at the 1936 Olympics, sales skyrocketed. International success increased the strain on the brothers' already fragile relationship, which was exacerbated by their bickering wives. In 1948, “Adi" and “Rudi" called it quits. Adi went on to establish Adidas, with Rudi setting up Puma on the opposite side of town.

Joan Crawford and Bette Davis

The careers of Hollywood legends Bette Davis and Joan Crawford were dimming when Crawford suggested the pair co-star in the 1962 psychological horror flick “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" It was a brazen idea, given the fact that the two actresses openly detested one another, having competed for leading roles and men for more than 30 years. Davis agreed to take on the role of Baby Jane Hudson, the disturbed former child star forced to play caretaker to her reviled invalid sister, a former Hollywood actress played by Crawford. It was rumored that their animosity took a physical turn during filming, with Davis kicking Crawford in the head hard enough for the actress to require stitches.  

A.S. Byatt and Margaret Drabble

Literary luminaries A.S. Byatt and Margaret Drabble have a great deal in common, including degrees from Cambridge University, distinguished writing careers—and a domineering mother who pushed and pitted her daughters against one another since childhood. A.S. Byatt always had her sights set on being an author, yet younger sister Margaret Drabble beat her to the publishing punch with the release of “A Summer Bird-Cage," in 1963. Byatt made her literary debut with “A Shadow of the Sun," the following year. Both sisters have a slew of titles and awards to their names, with many of their novels taking inspiration from their shared childhood in the outer London suburbs. The cracks in the sisters' relationship have morphed into a chasm, and the two women mutually acknowledge the damage is beyond repair.

Brian Wilson and Mike Love

Creative difference sparked resentment between cousins Mike Love and Brian Wilson as early as the mid-'60s, with Wilson attempting to push the Beach Boys sound in new directions and Love determined to preserve the band's wholesome California image. In 1965, tensions came to a head, and Wilson left the band to strike out on his own. The family feud hit new heights in 1990, when Love took Wilson to Court, claiming he had not received credit or compensation for songs he had co-written with Wilson, including hits such as “Surfin' USA," “California Girls," and “I Get Around." Love was victorious, but was noticeably absent from the Beach Boys 2012 50th anniversary tour.

Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer

Gore Vidal feuded with several literary giants, including Truman Capote and John Updike, but his most public row was with Norman Mailer, author of “The Naked and the Dead" and “The Executioner's Song." Infuriated by Vidal's comparison of Mailer to Charles Manson, Mailer headbutted Vidal before their contentious joint appearance on "The Dick Cavett Show" in 1971. Six years later, the feud continued to rage, with Mailer punching Vidal in the face at a party. Vidal's snappy retort to Mailer's blunt physicality was, “Once again, words fail him."

Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier

Legendary boxers Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier sparred inside and outside the ring. In the 1970s the two undefeated heavyweights squared off in a trilogy of matches, surrounded by intense media hype. The extroverted Ali was well suited to the cameras and spared no opportunity to antagonize his opponent, referring to him as “gorilla," and “Uncle Tom." Frazier took the first match while the second and third went to Ali. In later years, Ali hoped to put the past to bed, but Frazier, who took the brunt of the abuse, refused to reconcile.

Steve Jobs and Bill Gates

Tech titans Steve Jobs and Bill Gates got off on a friendly footing when they first met in the 1970s, but their relationship quickly soured. Jobs and Apple partner Steve Wozniak were interested in Gates and his software, but when Gates went to meet with the Apple founders, he didn't think much of their product—or Jobs. Much of the animosity in the ensuing years centered on Gates' work with IBM, and Jobs' belief that Gates was ripping off Apple. Jobs eventually left Apple, but continued to levy harsh criticism against Gates. Despite the ongoing rivalry, Gates and Jobs appeared to have put the feud behind them before Jobs' death from cancer in 2011.

Derek Freeman and Margaret Mead

The discord between anthropologists Derek Freeman and Margaret Mead was kept to a gentle simmer during Mead's lifetime, but boiled over in the years following her death, rocking the academic world. Freeman, who had conducted extensive primary research of his own, challenged the free love premise of Mead's 1920 account of adolescent sexuality, “Coming of Age in Samoa." The two met only once in 1964, and Freeman took that opportunity to inform Mead that he had serious issues with her seminal work. Freeman's efforts to publish his conclusions in the early '70s were met with rejection. It wasn't until after Mead's death that Freeman's findings, which revealed that Mead had used sloppy research methods and had, in fact, been the victim of a hoax, were published.

David Bowie and Lou Reed

Following a 1979 gig at London Hammersmith Odeon, Lou Reed sat dining at the Chelsea Rendezvous with David Bowie and others. According to Chuck Hammer, the guitarist who played with Reed earlier that night, Reed asked if Bowie would produce his next record. Bowie agreed on one condition—that Reed “stop drinking and clean up his act.” With that, Reed reportedly attacked Bowie with such force it took nine people to subdue Reed. After a brief calm, Reed proceeded to haul Bowie over the table by his shirt, smacking and punching him around the head. Reed was physically dragged out of the restaurant before more damage was done.

Roger Waters and David Gilmour

Artistic differences drove a wedge between Roger Waters and David Gilmour during the recording of their classic album “The Wall" in 1979. Waters, who viewed himself as the creative force behind the band's success, became increasingly disdainful of his fellow band members, whom he deemed musically inferior. While on tour after the release of “The Wall," Waters kept to himself, staying in a separate hotel and limiting interactions with the band offstage. Soon after, Waters left the band to pursue a solo career. Legal action over the use of the band's name created additional strife from which the group never recovered.

Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner

The relationship between Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and manager Billy Martin ran hot and cold for almost 15 years, with Steinbrenner hiring and firing Martin five times between 1975 and 1989. Former first baseman Martin was notoriously difficult, and he clashed with Steinbrenner as well as star outfielder Reggie Jackson. Martin led the Yankees to a World Series win in 1977, but was soon up to his old tricks, arguing with Steinbrenner and Jackson, abusing umpires, and drinking heavily.

R2D2 and C3PO: Kenny Baker and Anthony Daniels

Classically trained actor Anthony Daniels was initially reluctant to take on the role of golden droid C3PO in “Star Wars Episode IV — A New Hope" and had to be convinced by his agent to accept the part. Daniels never quite got over the decision, and his disdain for castmates and fans alike is well known. Much of his discontent was directed to his onscreen droid companion, actor Kenny Baker who played R2D2. Baker's background differed greatly from that of Daniels, having started out as a circus performer hired by George Lucas because he was small enough to fit into the R2D2 costume, and Daniels never let Baker forget that he wasn't in the same league.

Gallo brothers

Ernest and Julio Gallo are famous for their billion dollar wine empire, yet the feud that plagued the family for over half a century was largely unknown until younger brother Joseph took Ernest and Julio to court in the 1980s. In 1933, their father shot their mother on the family farm and turned the gun on himself. Joseph became the ward of his older brothers and was put to work in their new winemaking venture. After 18 years as vineyard manager, Ernest and Julio ended Joseph's employment. Joseph struck out on his own, making a name for himself as a dairy farmer and cheese manufacturer. Almost 50 years later, Joseph unsuccessfully sued Ernest and Julio for a share of the family wine business and lost the right to use the Gallo name for trademark purposes.

Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan

The feud between ice princess Nancy Kerrigan and rough-around-the-edges rival Tonya Harding served as the inspiration for the 2017 film, “I, Tonya," featuring actress Margot Robbie in the lead role. Kerrigan and Harding were fierce competitors on the ice, and their rivalry was egged on by the press, which frequently compared Kerrigan's classical style to Harding's gritty athleticism. In January 1994, Kerrigan was struck in the knee with a baton by an assailant hired by Kerrigan's husband. Harding claimed she was not involved in the attack, but her husband's testimony stated otherwise. The U.S. Figure Skating Association sided with Harding's husband, and Harding, the first woman to successfully land and a triple axel in competition, was stripped of her 1994 National Champion title and barred from the sport that had defined her for life.

Sarah Jessica Parker and Kim Cattrall

“Sex and the City” stars Sarah Jessica Parker and Kim Cattrall played gal pals Carrie and Samantha on the hit HBO series, but clashed bitterly offscreen. Money appears to have been the initial culprit, with Cattrall taking umbrage with the salary bump Parker received when she was given an executive producer credit on the show. Cattrall was ostracized by Parker and the other cast members, who refused to sit with her during meals, a schism that echoed at the 2004 Emmy Awards where Cattrall also sat alone. By the time the series ended and filming had begun on the set of the “Sex and the City” movie, Parker and Cattrall refused to even speak to one another, making for an uncomfortable shoot.

Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur

In 1994, rap artist Tupac Shakur was shot five times during a robbery in the lobby of a New York City recording studio. Shakur survived his injuries and blamed the attack on fellow rapper Biggie Smalls, “The Notorious B.I.G. After the incident, Shakur moved to Los Angeles record label Death Row Records, inciting an East Coast/West Coast feud that splintered the hip-hop community.  A drive-by shooting in Las Vegas ended Shakur’s life in 1996. Biggie Smalls met a similar fate the following year in Los Angeles. Both murders remain unsolved.

Trending Now