Great Love Stories of History…

A day late and a dollar short!  This post was intended to be published before Valentine’s Day, but clearly, that did not happen.  So we are bringing it to you now, apologies for the delay and we hope you enjoy!

Napoleon and Josephine

France is world renowned for all things romance.  Therefore it should come as no surprise that one of the greatest love stories in history originated in France.  The story of Napoleon and Josephine is well known both for its salacious details and its drama.  Josephine grew up on a plantation on the Caribbean island of Martique and came to Paris to live with an aunt before marrying French aristocrat Alexandre de Beauharnais at the age of 16.  The marriage was not a success by any means.  By age 20, Josephine’s husband had left her and their two small children and narrowly escaped the guillotine during the Reign of Terror.  It’s at this point that Josephine relied on her good looks and charm to win the hearts of other nobility and in the process, have her bills paid.  She eventually landed on Paul Barras, an extremely wealthy governor.  Their affair carried on for some time until Barras started to grow tired of her.  During a grand ball, Barras suggested that Josephine entertain the new military hero, Napoleon.  Josephine used every charm in her arsenal to secure his admiration from that point forward.  Napoleon was young, not known for his good looks, impoverished, and had little experience with women and fell madly in love with Josephine.

Here the story takes a turn.  Some accounts claim that Josephine merely married Napoleon for the potential financial security and military success and not love.  There are many stories of Josephine carrying on sordid affairs while Napoleon was on military conquests and that Josephine made excuses to not join him on these excursions.  Finally, it seems that Napoleon tired of the excuses and began to believe the rumors floating from Paris that Josephine was being unfaithful and divorced her.  It is then that Josephine seemed to have a change of heart and became hopelessly devoted to Napoleon and followed him around Europe during military campaigns even though he refused to be swayed by her sudden dedication.

Other stories are slightly more forgiving and suggest that Josephine and Napoleon were mutually in love and enjoyed their years together but that once Napoleon reached a certain amount of military success and subsequently ruled France, the pressure mounted for an heir.  Since Josephine was considerably older than Napoleon, she could not produce that necessary male heir.  Finally, Napoleon conceded and asked Josephine for a divorce so that he could remarry in the search for a son.  Josephine was destroyed by the separation.


Napoleon walking out & Josephine distraught

Regardless of which version you prefer, it goes without saying that their story was a passionate one.



Cleopatra and Marc Antony

Another well-known love story of history is that of Egyptian queen, Cleopatra and Roman military hero, Marc Antony.  The Roman Empire had grown vast under the rule of Julius Caesar before his assassination in 44 bc; Rome came under the rule of Octavian and Marc Antony, among a few other officials but anarchy was still a threat.  Antony was determined to bring more territory under Roman control and the threat of the Parthians near the present-day Middle East seemed the best place to start.  However, the Roman coffers were running dry and in order to finance this new military campaign, Antony sought out one of the richest rulers in the ancient world.

Cleopatra was very familiar with Roman leaders, having seduced Caesar when she was 22 and giving birth to his son.  Antony sent for Cleopatra to meet with him on several occasions but only to be delayed by Cleopatra’s ambivalence; after all, Cleopatra was a queen herself and did not gain the throne of Egypt by conceding defeat easily.  Eventually however, Cleopatra agreed to travel to Antony to discuss future military alliances.


Depiction of Antony & Cleopatra 

It is said that upon her arrival, Antony immediately fell in love with Cleopatra.  She arrived in a gilded barge with purple sails and had all manner of luxury aboard.  The two became inseparable and soon after, Cleopatra gave birth to twins.  However, trouble back in Rome called Antony back to Italy where he ended up staying for three long years.  Octavian’s power had grown while Antony had been spending time in Egypt.  There was now to be a battle between Antony and Cleopatra against Octavian’s forces.  Even with the might of Egyptian warships and soldiers, Octavian was victorious.   In Roman tradition, Antony committed suicide by falling upon his sword.  After learning of Antony’s death, it is said that Cleopatra requested an asp be brought to her in a fig basket and she died from its bite.  Some historians have claimed that it is much more likely that Cleopatra drank poison rather than succumbed to a snake bite.  Regardless of her method, Cleopatra and Antony cemented their love story forever.  Antony and Cleopatra became such a legend that they were further immortalized by William Shakespeare in the play Antony and Cleopatra and perhaps most famously by Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in 1963’s film, Cleopatra.



Pocahontas and John Smith

One of the first love stories in the New World was that of John Smith and Pocahontas.  Pocahontas was the daughter of Powhatan, the chief of the Algonquian people of the Tidewater area in Virginia.  In 1607, English settlers, including John Smith, landed in Virginia and set up a settlement.  It is believed that not long after their landing, that John Smith was leading an expedition when they were attacked by Algonquian hunters.  The captives were taken back to Powhatan and set to be executed.  It is at this moment; before John Smith was struck his final blow that Pocahontas threw herself on him to shield him.  It was this act of selflessness that moved Powhatan to release Smith and the remaining prisoners.  After Smith’s close call, he and Pocahontas become friends and Pocahontas visited the settlement often and helped prevent the starvation of many of the first colonists that winter by bringing them food.


Pocahontas saving the life of Capt. John Smith 

In 1609, Smith suffered a leg injury from a gun powder explosion and was sent back to England to heal.  For whatever reason, Pocahontas was told that Smith had died.  Heartbroken, Pocahontas did not return to the settlement after that.

In 1613, Pocahontas was captured by English Captain Argall and held hostage for some prisoners and guns Powhatan had taken.  Powhatan agreed to return the prisoners but not the weapons.  This perceived slight caused Argall to hold Pocahontas for quite some time.  Although she did not receive the poor treatment perhaps expected of someone being held hostage, she was appointed a dwelling and fine clothing and was free to go to and from various houses in the settlement.  It was during this period of confinement that Pocahontas met John Rolfe.  They fell in love and were married soon after.  Pocahontas took the English name of Rebecca and they had a son named Thomas.

In 1616, Pocahontas and Rolfe travelled back to England for an audience with King James and the sale of colonial tobacco in England.  Upon their arrival at court, Pocahontas was reunited with John Smith and she was both shocked to see him alive and distraught that she had not had the opportunity to marry her first love.  Soon after their reunion, Pocahontas and Rolfe were set to sail back to Virginia from England but Pocahontas fell severely ill from either some form of dysentery or an upper respiratory ailment.  She was only about 21 years old at the time.

Disney further romanticized the story in an animated film, titled Pocahontas, one of the only Disney pictures based on a historical account rather than a fairy tale.



Shah Jahan & Mumtaz Mahal

This Indian love story is unique in that there is a world famous landmark that stands as a result.  Shah Jahan, sometimes known as Prince Khurram, was the son of one of the first Mughal emperors of India.


Depiction of Shah Jahan & Mumtaz Muhal 

Around 1607, when Shah Jahan was about 14, he was walking through the market when he encountered the 15 year old Muslim Persian Princess Mumtaz Muhal and it was love at first sight.  Jahan returned to the palace and told his father that he wished to marry Mumtaz.  After 5 years, they were married in 1612.  Shah Jahan had several other wives as was customary of the time; however, they were merely figureheads and Jahan rarely spent any time with them.  Mumtaz was his favorite by far and he adored her and even entrusted her with his royal seal.  By 1628, Shah Jahan had taken over as Emperor and subsequently had to travel often for military endeavors and Mumtaz almost always accompanied him on these journeys.  In 1631, while traveling with the army, Mumtaz gave birth to their 14th child, however Mumtaz did not survive.  Shah Jahan was so distraught over the death of his wife that he swore he would never remarry and he promised to build the most exquisite mausoleum over her grave.  Jahan also ordered the court into a mourning period that lasted for two years.  Shortly after her death, Shah Jahan began plans to erect a beautiful monument in honor of his departed love.  It took 22 years for the Taj Mahal to be built.  When Shah Jahan passed away in 1666, he was laid to rest in the Taj Mahal next to Mumtaz so that they may be together forever.  The Taj Mahal is now considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World and stands as a testament to their undying love.


A monument to love 



Queen Victoria & Prince Albert 

The namesake for the Victorian era started with a match made in heaven.  Victoria came to power at only 18 years old.  She was unmarried at the time but the matchmaking had begun prior to her ascension to the throne.  Victoria’s mother and her uncle arranged a meeting between Victoria and her cousin Albert, Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha from Germany.  Victoria was reportedly very smitten, very quickly.  The pair was married on February 10, 1840 and were the first royals to reside at Buckingham Palace.


Victoria posing with Albert

By most accounts, Albert and Victoria were a pair very much in love.  They appeared devoted to each other, spent many hours together, and nine children were the result of their union.  Albert became a close advisor of Victoria’s and helped her make decisions on many aspects affecting Britain.

However, there are stories of a rockier relationship between the two.  Albert was a foreigner and not always well-received by the English people.  He often had to take over Victoria’s affairs as Queen during her frequent pregnancies when she had to step aside.  Victoria has also been reported to both hate being pregnant and detest child rearing.  She was also resentful of Albert taking over her duties as Queen; she did not like to share her power as ruler of England.  Victoria was also cited as having a horrendous temper and often flying into tantrums that terrified the palace servants, her children, and her husband.

Regardless of the state of their relationship, when Albert passed in December 1861, Victoria would fall into a mourning so deep that she was rarely seen in public afterwards.  She wore black the rest of the life (40 years more!) and made few appearances.  She attended to matters of state the best she could but she was never the same after the passing of her husband.

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