Political blackmail is on everybody's lips at the moment, thanks to Buzzfeed News' publication of an unconfirmed memo filled with allegations about president-elect Donald Trump. The memo — which is alleged to have been created by a former British intelligence officer — makes a number of unconfirmed allegations regarding the president-elect, including that his campaign was allegedly in contact with Russian officials at points during the course of his presidential run.(The Russian government denounced the contents of the memo as an "absolute fabrication" and Trump referenced the allegations on Twitter as "FAKE NEWS — A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT")
But while this high-profile case is news, the idea of compiling a dossier to potentially blackmail and manipulate a politician is scarcely part of a new game. Blackmail has been part of the fabric of politics for centuries; ancient Rome had specific laws about it in private and public life, and there have likely been many instances where it never came to public view (because, likely, the blackmailer was successful). Everybody from courtesans to fellow politicians to enterprising priests has tried their hand at blackmailing leaders over the course of humanity's history — and some of their techniques would make today's blackmailers blush.
The mechanics of blackmail are pretty simple: the blackmailer threatens to expose something compromising, embarrassing or potentially ruinous unless a favor is done in return, which can involve money or something else of value.
As we'll see, though, the course of true blackmail rarely runs smoothly. Historical blackmailing efforts have had a tendency to get complicated — and often end up involving spurned husbands, fraud, potentially not-dead kings, over-officious bureaucrats, and at least one pair of suspiciously obtained drapes. If you're intending on putting a bit of pressure on any famous name because you've got a picture or two up your sleeve, let this be a lesson to you: don't.