Being the history nerd that I am, I can’t resist talking about it. For those who don’t like history, don’t worry this isn’t a lesson, just interesting stories. I know what kinds of history bore people after a lifetime of conversations 🙂 It occurred to me the other day, being the nerd that I am, I have heard some of the greatest stories of all time. Among those are romance stories. It’s too easy to find amazing love stories in literature and film. It’s much harder to find great true love stories than fictitious. History always offers a copious mountain of things to take away from it in every aspect, including love stories. After all, history is simply stories.
10.) St. Valentine
I could not make a list about great love stories and leave out one of love’s greatest proponents: St. Valentine. Around 270 AD, the Roman empire was facing enemies from all sides, which made the emperor Claudius demand the need of men to enlist in the army. Very few men volunteered though, opting for tranquility and a life with their loved ones. Seeing this, Claudius believed the remedy to the problem would be to dissolve this love, and the best way to do it would be to outlaw marriage. The very notion of outlawing marriage to diminish love was ludicrous to the Catholic priest Valentine. He soon became known as the ‘friend of lovers’, secretly uniting couples in marriage,and being their only witness. Claudius soon caught on to this though, and threw Valentine in prison. While imprisoned, the guard, Asterius, brought his blind daughter to Valentine in hopes that he would cure her. Some say he did and some say he didn’t, but what is known is that the duo developed a rapturing bond, remaining in constant contact. Claudius met with Valentine to deter him from Christianity to Roman gods, but instead Valentine began to preach to him. By doing this, he knew it would mean the harshest punishment possible, death. He was condemned to be executed. Before his execution, he was given the chance to write a letter. He wrote to his love a final farewell and penned the now famous signature ‘From Your Valentine’. This love became renowned and Valentine became regarded as a saint. In 496 AD, February 14th was declared Valentine’s Day and in the 14th century, it became a day dedicated to celebrating lovers; a tradition that carries on to this day.
9.) Queen Victoria and Prince Albert
No story of devotion and inexplicable pure infatuation in life and death has seemed to match that of and . The couple fell in love instantly when they met at the Private Apartments at Windsor Castle, a true rarity for arranged marriages. Never have (at least in the British monarchy) 2 people been so intertwined into a single being. Each was so selflessly subservient to the other as Albert was at her disposal politically, even taking many responsibilities that were her own, including finances. She never made any decision without the approval of her husband either. They were utterly made for each other and their children, raising 9 total. Together they expanded the British empire for 21 years to it’s largest state to the point to where ‘the sun never set’ on it. Sadly, almost 25 years into their marriage, Albert died suddenly from typhoid in the very room where the couple had met. Victoria was absolutely devastated, living in seclusion for 3 years. Finally after 5 years, she reopened parlor at the urging of the Prime Minister resuming her duties as queen. She remained in mourning for her love for the rest of her life though, wearing only black, which was a staggering 40 years. Unfortunately for Victoria, she held the longest reign in British history, and spent the majority of it lamenting her beloved. Her only requests upon her death were to be buried with Albert’s dressing gown in one hand and a lock of his hair in the other.
8.) Justinian and Theodora
Not often do two people in love rule together over a powerful civilization, but one did. One couple transformed the most powerful civilization in the world and established its new order. Justinian was in line to take over the throne from his uncle Justin. was a girl that had just turned her life around from working as an actress and courtesan to becoming a devoted Christian living a humble life. She was on the bottom and he was on the top. They met at the Hippodrome, the social and sporting center in Constantinople, because of their mutual favor of the Blues, a political group that organized events there. They became inseparable and soon Justinian asked Theodora to become his mistress. She moved into his palace and they made plans to wed. This was impossible though, because the law forbade the upper class from marrying the lowest class, the courtesan. The current empress, Euphemia also objected to Theodora’s past, although she herself was once a slave. Instead of causing strife, the couple bided time in bliss until the empress passed. Justinian then changed the law allowing marriage to reformed courtesans. After the respected bereavement period, the couple finally met at the altar. They now ruled the most powerful nation in the world. It was truly a rags to riches story. Unlike other nations, the empress was basically given equal reign over the country’s affairs, because of Justinian’s respect and admiration for her input. Together they built schools, churches and other buildings that enhanced the civilization. They also rewrote the law among other amazing feats, shaping what we now know the Byzantine empire to be and what the western world would become. This is one of the few stories that truly ends happily ever after.
7.) John and Abigail Adams
One of the most influential relationships that shaped the United States was possibly the most romantic and besotted couple in American (especially political) history. Abigail and Adams grew up near each other and saw one another constantly as they were third cousins. Only when Abigail was 17 and John was 26 did the two take note of each other, though. 2 years later, they were engaged and married by Abigail’s father, the local pastor, despite her mother’sobjections. Abigail was a woman years ahead of her time. Although she never attended school, she learned to read, write, cipher, follow politics and speak her mind openly for equality of mankind, regardless of race or gender. This uneducated girl was perfect for the farmer turned lawyer. The two were madly in love. Abigail was John’s constant supporter and sympathizer, giving advice and perpetual adoration for his political stances and tireless efforts. John returned this devotion by encouraging his wife’s outspokenness, never stifling her and regarding her political advisement above all else’s. He considered her his equal so much so that rivals dubbed her ‘Mrs. President’. This love and counsel has never been seen again in any presidency. The two remained close even while living apart for a decade for the revolution of the country. During this time, they would sometimes receive only 1 or 2 letters a year. Despite time apart and painstaking work, their affection never diminished and they could pick up their marriage like they were never apart. Their love letters are now famous, totaling approximately 1,200 over their lifetimes. Once Adams became president, they never parted and retired to their old farm where they first had lived together. Abigail died in their home with the last words: “Do not grieve, my friend, my dearest friend. I am ready to go. And John, it will not be long.” John died 8 years later after struggling to live without his best friend.
6.) F Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald
One of my favorites is the couple that defined a decade with their carefree love. F Scott Fitzgerald was in the army during WWI, stationed at Camp Sheridan near Montgomery, AL. At a dance one night, he met , a girl with the reputation of spontaneity, rebellion and recklessness. One month after meeting, he started telling people he was hopelessly in love. Zelda refused to marry him though, because of his meager income. After being discharged from the army and failing at a few jobs, Fitzgerald concentrated on writing. When his first book was accepted by publishers’, he wired Zelda the news and she finally agreed to marry him. They were married in 1920, thus beginning their fantasized exploits of the highlife of the roaring 1920’s. Their honeymoon was simply hopping from one high class hotel to the next around New York City. They spent their lives at parties meeting people such as Picasso and living sporadically in New York, Los Angeles and Paris, while Fitzgerald struggled to find time to write. Their money flow was never steady, constantly moving them about to great places, such as a 27-bedroom mansion and they pushed each other with their every move. The couple cliff jumped into the Mediterranean together, drove recklessly on dangerous roads and fought constantly. During a fight, Zelda actually laid in front their car and dared Fitzgerald to run her over. He began to actually move the car, too. They loved each other so furiously that each became outrageously jealous if the other got close to someone of the opposite sex. Fitzgerald said about his wife’s flirtations with another man one summer: “That September of 1924, I knew something had happened that could never be repaired.” And Zelda became so jealous of a girl F. Scott was admiring so much that one night at a party, she gathered the guests’ jewelry and threw it all into a pot of boiling water to make soup and then threw all of her clothes into the bathtub and set them on fire. She also threw her platinum watch he gave her (which was dear to them both) out the window of the train, because she was so angry over the woman. Soon, their lifestyle caught up with each of them leading to Fitzgerald’s downfall of alcoholism and Zelda’s mental breakdowns. After 14 years of marriage, Zelda was institutionalized and the couple never lived together again. Fitzgerald died at the age of 44 from alcoholism, leaving Zelda in despair. 7 years later, Zelda died in a fire in the institution where she was being treated because she was locked in her room. The couple whose love ignited the Jazz Age and captivated the nation had ended in utter tragedy. They were apart in anguish and each was considered a failure. Only years later did Fitzgerald’s work and their romance become timeless. and
5.) Johnny and June Cash
One of the most celebrated love stories of our age is that of June Carter. It’s an exceptional story of redemption and love’s transforming powers giving hope to everyone and who hears it. They are the epitome of thick and thin. The couple met in 1955 in Nashville, TN while both touring. Each was married, Johnny in his first marriage and June in her second. Johnny told June immediately after meeting her that he would marry her one day. June just laughed, thinking it was a joke. They grew incredibly close over the years as they struggled with the strains of family life and touring country music careers. Johnny also struggled constantly with drugs, alcohol, adultery and falling away from Christianity. June and her family stepped in on numerous occasions saving his life physically and spiritually during bouts of prison and debilitating addictions. He needed her, because no one in his own family would interfere to help him, leaving him completely alone. Both divorced their spouses in 1966, freeing them to finally be together, but June refused on the grounds that Johnny needed to clean up his life first. She helped him to get back on the right track resisting his incessant proposals. Finally in 1968, Johnny proposed to June on stage in front of a live audience during a show, saying he could not go on without her as his wife. After 30 proposals, June had finally accepted and they were married that year. The couple remained together for 35 years through Johnny’s spells of falling back into drugs and alcohol use, until finally finding peace in his soul. He finally had beaten his addictions after completely giving his life to God, with the unabating support of his wife. They lived happily together through ups and downs until June’s passing in 2003. Johnny could barely live without his best friend, and died 4 months after June.
4.) Napoleon and Josephine
Although the insecure-commander-with-a-complex aspect of Napoleon is well-known, his personal life is less spoken of. was worried of risking disrespect from his officers because he was much younger than them. He told the prominent Director (one of five leaders of forming the new French Republic) that he desired to marry an older woman, so he would be more regarded. Barras decided to give Bonaparte his mistress, (known as Rose), because Barras now wanted her best friend. He introduced the couple at his party, and Napoleon fell in love instantly. He did not like the name Rose though, and asked that she only be called Josephine for now on. He quickly proposed, but Josephine was not interested. When Barras told her that he would not support her any longer for he had taken a new mistress, Josephine reluctantly accepted the marriage, but continued her affairs. Napoleon left to fight in Italy during what was meant to be their honeymoon. He wrote love letters constantly beckoning her to visit, but she made excuses, including feigning pregnancy, to stay in Paris for soirees and affairs. Napoleon became so edgy that he planned to leave his military campaign just to see her, so Barras forced Josephine to go to him. On her visit Josephine devastated Napoleon telling him she had had a miscarriage. After Italy, Napoleon set out to Egypt. There, his general, Junot, told Bonaparte of his wife’s much publicized exploits. Napoleon felt like a fool and wrote to his brother about his dismay. The letter was intercepted by the British though, leaking it to British and French presses humiliating him beyond repair. He returned home early to confront his wife who had fled with her daughter, Hortense. She returned quickly to sort out their shambles of a marriage and was received by Napoleon only after the groveling of Hortense. He declared that they would remain married but his love was destroyed and he began entertaining his own mistresses. Josephine had fallen in love with Napoleon though, and had now become a loyal wife. The tables had been turned. The relationship became more tumultuous when Napoleon discovered Josephine was barren. After becoming emperor, he saw the necessity of producing an heir and divorced Josephine for Marie Louise of Austria. An heir was conceived, but Napoleon’s love for Josephine had grown once again, though not close what it had once been. He made certain she retained the title of empress and provided for her children. Josephine died alone the year Napoleon was banished, uttering Napoleon as her last word. Once banished to Elba, he never saw his wife again. Napoleon died seven years later in exile never loving another woman.
3.) William Wallace and Marion Braidfute
It’s rare that a relationship is the starting point of a war. Lanark in 1296 for the sport of killing began visiting the town of Englishmen that patrolled the town in between skirmishes. It was there that he saw Marion Braidfute at a Sunday mass in the Church of St. Kentigern and it was love at first sight. Marion was the heiress of Lamington after the passing of her father and brother. Her brother had been murdered by the Sheriff of Lanark, William Heselrig. With no family members, no one protected Marion from becoming betrothed to Heselrig’s son. Wallace and Marion were forced hide their affair in fear of retribution of the Sheriff. The couple was wed secretly to be joined in the sight of God and to be recognized as a married couple by the Scottish people. They soon had a baby girl and their life together began. He became bolder as time went on though, spending more time in Lanark and walking straight to her house through town. One Sunday after mass, English soldiers began taunting Wallace (who was now suspected of the numerous murders of English soldiers in the town) when they knew he was not wearing armor. He returned the insults with a cool head as a crowd swelled to over 200 viewers until one sneered that Wallace’s child was actually the daughter of a priest of the church. He attacked killing over 50 guards with his men and retreated to Marion’s house. Marion stalled the Sheriff and his men at her door giving Wallace time to escape. Once they realized Wallace was gone, the Sheriff broke down the door and executed Marion on the spot. Wallace was furious upon hearing the news and returned to behead the Sheriff, kill over 200 of his men and turn out the rest of the English from Lanark that very night. He went on to give his life for Scotland and ultimately win his country its freedom from the most powerful civilization in the world.
2.) Antony and Cleopatra
Cleopatra began her reign of Egypt when Julius Caesar put her in power over her brother (and husband) Ptolemy. She had wooed the Roman conqueror as he marched through Egypt pursuing Pompey and their affair continued until Caesar’s murder three years later. Upon his death, the Roman empire was thrown into a turbid civil war as Octavian, the grand nephew and Marc Antony, the cousin of Julius Caesar each controlled one end of the empire and battled for dictatorship. Antony suspected Cleopatra of foul play in Caesar’s murder and demanded that she come before him to explain herself. Her renowned charm seduced the military man instantly. He quickly went to Egypt and spent the winter ‘playing’ with the pharaoh when he should have been fighting for and ruling his empire. He was soon always at her side, leaving only for campaigns that he had no choice but to attend to. Finally, the last battle between Octavian and Antony ended in the sea. Cleopatra fought along Antony with her Egyptian ships, and as she thought the battle was lost, retreated. Antony saw this and without logic, only love, he left his fleet and sailed after her. Ruling the world meant nothing to him without her. His troops fought for 7 days without him before surrendering, not because they were losing, but because they were without a leader. Octavian then marched onto Egypt defeating Antony twice. Realizing her mistake of controlling Antony, Cleopatra locked herself up in her room and told her servants to declare that she was dead. Upon this news, Antony was so crushed that he stabbed himself with his sword. As he was dying, his love ran to him showing that she was alive, but sadly he didn’t survive his wounds. Absolutely destroyed, Cleopatra had her servants smuggle in an asp past Octavian’s guards who now imprisoned her. She put the snake to her chest and killed herself. It’s a true Romeo and Juliet story that is completely unparalleled to this day.
1.) Abelard and Heloise
In 1117, Paris was the center for scholarly life. Leading this movement was the famous Professor Peter Abelard of Notre Dame. The most famous pupil, and probably the greatest woman intellect of the city was Heloise, the niece of a canon of Notre Dame Cathedral, William Fulbert. The 16-year old began going to the 38-year old’s lectures and was his only female student. Heloise was so keenly intelligent that Fulbert offered to house Abelard in return for him tutoring his niece. They fell quickly in love. In a matter of months, Abelard stopped writing lectures and began writing only love poems. Fulbert discovered the new couple one night and threw Abelard out. Shortly after, Heloise became pregnant. When Fulbert was on a trip, Abelard smuggled Heloise to his hometown, Brittany, for their son, Astrolabe, to be born. News of this infuriated Fulbert, but he accepted Abelard’s proposal that he marry Heloise to spare embarrassment, but only if done in secret. Heloise objected, though. She didn’t want to tarnish her love’s reputation, because she knew eventually it would be public. She agreed after much insistence from both men and the couple wed secretly in Notre Dame. Heloise returned to her uncle’s house and Abelard to his own. It turned out that Fulbert was seeking retribution for their deceit, though. He made their marriage and child public damaging them as Heloise had feared. Abelard quickly whisked her away to a convent to now live at. She was stripped of her son, never to see him again. When Fulbert discovered this, he exacted cruel punishment on Abelard, breaking into his house one night and castrating him. Public opinion and the Church turned against Fulbert after this though, and Abelard became a monk at the most prestigious monastery in France, St. Denis. Thus began the separation of Abelard and Heloise. Correspondence began when Abelard secured an abbess for her. They began their famous love letters. As members of Catholic clergy, they were not supposed to fall in love, but their incredible letters showed only their abandon of this rule: “God is my witness that if Augustus, Emperor of the whole world, thought fit to honour me with marriage and conferred all the earth on me to possess for ever, it would be dearer and more honourable to me to be called not his Empress but your whore.” Sadly, Abelard replied that they were no longer spouses, but family in Christ. Heloise accepted this after pouring her heart out, and they remained apart until Abelard’s death at the age of 63. As was his wish, he was buried at Heloise’s abbess in Paraclete. Heloise died 20 years later also at the age of 63. Josephine Bonaparte was so touched by their love that 600 years after their deaths, she had their remains reburied to be entombed together eternally at Pére Lachaise cemetery in Paris.
Now you know where inspiration for fictional romances come from, and hopefully you can appreciate these true love stories over fabricated ones. If not, at least you got a little history lesson (I know I lied, you really did get one) 😉