From forcing a break with the Catholic Church to imprisonment and even death, couples throughout history have risked it all in pursuit of love. Here are some of the most famous couples to have ever lived.
1. Antony and Cleopatra
Antony and Cleopatra are one of the most famous couples in history. Famously memorialised in Shakespeare’s play, Queen of Egypt Cleopatra and Roman general Mark Antony began their legendary love affair in 41 B.C. Their relationship was political. Cleopatra needed Antony to protect her crown, maintain Egypt’s independence, and assert the rights of her son Caesarion, Caesar’s true heir, while Antony wanted protection and access to Egypt’s resources to fund his military endeavours in the East.
In spite of the initially political nature of their bond, they enjoyed each other’s company. They enjoyed a life of leisure and excess in Egypt. Nightly feasts and wine binges as part of their drinking society named ‘Inimitable Livers’ accompanied games and contests. They also enjoyed wandering the streets of Alexandria in disguise, playing tricks on the residents.
Cleopatra and Antony’s relationship ended with their deaths after their defeat at the hands of Octavian – the other remaining triumvir – during the wars of the Roman Republic. Antony and Cleopatra fled to Egypt in 31 B.C. following their loss at the Battle of Actium. A year later, with Octavian’s forces closing in, Antony was informed that Cleopatra was dead, and stabbed himself with a sword. Upon being informed that she still lived, he was carried to her, where he died. Cleopatra later took her own life, possibly with a poisonous asp – an Egyptian symbol of divine royalty – or by drinking poison.
2. HRH Prince Charles and Diana Princess of Wales
An unhappy marriage with a tragic end, Charles and Diana’s infamous relationship has captured the hearts and minds of millions across the world. They met in 1977 while Charles was pursuing Diana’s older sister. It was only in 1980, however, when Diana and Charles were both guests at a country weekend, that Diana watched him play Polo and Charles took a serious romantic interest in her.
The relationship progressed, with Diana being invited aboard the royal yacht Britannia, then invited to Balmoral Castle. They were engaged and married in 1981, with their wedding being watched by over 750 million people.
Problems quickly plagued their marriage, largely because Charles was besotted with lover and future wife, Camilla Parker Bowles. Though they had two children and performed their royal duties, the press repeatedly reported on Charles’ affair and Diana’s reportedly suicidal unhappiness. After intense tribulation, they finalised their divorce in August 1996.
Their tainted relationship ended with yet more tragedy when Diana died from injuries sustained in a car crash in the early hours of 31 August 1997. Her funeral at Westminster Abbey drew an estimated 3 million mourners in London and was watched by a staggering 2.5 billion people.
3. Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun
Born into a middle class Catholic family, Eva Braun was an avid skier and swimmer. In 1930, she was employed as a saleswoman in the shop of Hitler’s photographer, and subsequently met Hitler. They struck up a relationship, which progressed quickly. Braun lived in a house Hitler provided in Munich as his mistress, and in 1936 she went to live at his chalet Berghof in Berchtesgaden.
The couple spent most of their time out of public view, and their relationship was described as being relatively normal with a domestic, rather than erotic, character. Braun had no particular influence on Hitler’s political career, and it has been variously debated how much Braun knew of the atrocities he committed. She certainly did know, however, about the deprivation of Jewish people’s rights, and subscribed to an anti-Semitic worldview involving Nazi expansionism.
Loyal to the end, Eva Braun – against Hitler’s orders – remained by his side in the Berlin bunker as the Russians approached. In recognition of her loyalty he decided to marry her, and a civil ceremony was carried out in the bunker on 29 April. The next day, the couple hosted a modest wedding breakfast, said goodbye to their staff, then killed themselves, with Eva swallowing cyanide and Hitler probably shooting himself. Their bodies were burned together.
4. Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera
Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera are famous both as leading 20th century artists, and for having a greatly troubled and high profile marriage. They met when Kahlo joined the Mexican Communist Party and sought advice from Rivera, who was 20 years her senior. They were both accomplished painters, with Rivera being known in the Mexican mural movement and Kahlo being known for her self-portraits.
They were married in 1929. Both artists had affairs, with Rivera even asking his doctor for a note that said it was physically impossible for him to be faithful. They divorced once in 1940, only to be remarried a year later. Kahlo also experienced a number of abortions, one which resulted in a dangerous haemorrhage.
Their lives were characterised by political and artistic upheaval, with Kahlo spending a great deal of time in pain owing to injuries sustained during a bus accident. Though their relationship was tumultuous, what remains are a stunning collection of paintings which they painted of one another over the course of 25 years. Their artistic practice continues to influence artists and artistic discourse worldwide.
5. Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas
One of the most famous Irish playwrights to have ever lived, Oscar Wilde is known not only for his wit but also for the tragic romantic relationship which ultimately led to his early death.
In 1891, shortly after the publication of ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’, fellow poet and friend Lionel Johnson introduced Wilde to Lord Alfred Douglas, an aristocratic student at Oxford who was 16 years his junior. They quickly began an affair. Within the next 5 years, Wilde reached the height of his literary success despite complaining that his lover interfered with his writing.
In 1895, Wilde received a letter from Douglas’ father which accused Wilde of ‘posing (as a) sodomite. Since sodomy was a crime, Wilde sued Douglas’ father for criminal libel, but lost the case and was tried and imprisoned for Gross Indecency. Eventually, Wilde was tried and found guilty of gross indecency, and both he and Douglas were sentenced to two years of hard labour.
Wilde suffered greatly in prison, and his health declined. After he was released, he and Douglas resumed their relationship. Wilde, however, never recovered from the ill health that prison brought on, and he died in exile in France at the age of 46.
6. Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn
Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived. The oft-repeated rhyme refers to the fates of Henry VIII‘s six wives, the most famous of whom, Anne Boleyn, was beheaded by a French swordsman in 1536 after being accused of adultery and incest.
Aristocratic Boleyn was a member of Henry VIII’s court, and served as Maid of Honour to his first wife of 23 years, Catherine of Aragon. When Catherine failed to give Henry a son, the king became smitten with and pursued Boleyn, who refused to become his mistress.
Henry was determined to marry Boleyn, but was barred from annulling his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. He instead made the climactic decision to break with the Catholic Church in Rome. Henry VIII and Boleyn were secretly married in January 1533, which caused both the king and Archbishop of Canterbury to be excommunicated from the Catholic church, and led to the establishment of the Church of England, which was a major step in the Reformation.
Henry and Anne’s ill-fated marriage started to falter as she suffered a number of miscarriages, and only bore one healthy child, a daughter who would go on to become Elizabeth I. Determined to marry Jane Seymour, Henry VIII plotted with Thomas Cromwell to find Anne guilty of adultery, incest, and conspiracy against the king. Anne was executed on 19 May 1536.