Famous people who may never have existed

William Tell

William Tell is a Swiss folk hero best known for child endangerment. Tell allegedly lived in Switzerland during the early 14th century, when the Hapsburg dynasty of Austria ruled the land. As the story goes, an Austrian official placed a hat on a pole in city of Altdorf and commanded every Swiss subject to remove their caps as they passed by it. One day, Tell, a local peasant who was accompanied by his son, refused to do so. In response, the Austrians forced Tell to shoot an apple off his son’s head at 120 paces or face execution. Tell loaded his crossbow and skillfully shot the apple. He then went on to lead a small revolt against the Austrians — presumably after buying his son some new pants.

Tell is essentially the Swiss version of Robin Hood and, much like the outlaw of Sherwood Forest, he probably never existed. The apple story is extremely similar to a Viking folktale, which most likely was imported to Switzerland at some point and used by Swiss patriots as a rallying cry against their Austrian rulers.