Valentine’s Day, the romantic holiday with pagan roots is tomorrow. While it’s a sweet day for some, it can also be a painful reminder of loneliness and heartbreak. But then, love itself isn’t always sunshine and roses (there’s a reason Cupid uses a bow and arrow instead of blowing kisses). Whether you think romance is a pleasure or a pain, here are 5 real-life love stories that might convince you otherwise…
Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal
Prince Kurram (the future Shah Jahan), son of the Mughal Emperor, and Arjumand Banu Begum, daughter of a Persian noble and niece of Empress Nur Jahan, fell in love in 1607 and married a few years later. He had other wives, but Arjumand was the only love match and his enduring favourite. He nicknamed her “Mumtaz Mahal,” or “the jewel (or exalted one) of the palace.” He relied on her political advice and she was his constant companion and confidant. Unfortunately, Mumtaz Mahal died at age 38, due to complications from giving birth to her 14th child. Heartbroken, her husband spent the next two decades building her a beautiful mausoleum, and nearly 400 years later, people are still awed by the Taj Mahal.
Infante Pedro and Ines de Castro
When the heir to the Portuguese throne fell in love with his wife’s older, widowed Lady-in-Waiting, the couple wasn’t exactly embraced by the family. Pedro’s father, King Alfonso IV, had Ines banished to Spain in an attempt to dissuade his son, but Pedro found a way to send letters and visit her as often as he could. After his wife died, Pedro brought Ines back and lived with her openly, even having three children together. When he asked his father to accept Ines as his new wife, the King had her brutally executed instead. In retaliation Pedro started a Civil War in an attempt to overthrow his father. The war ended after two years when the Queen, Pedro’s mother, arranged a truce, but he never forgave his father. When he eventually became King, he had Ines’s assassins executed by tearing their hearts out. It’s also rumoured that he had Ines’s body exhumed and placed on the throne, where he forced the court to swear allegiance to the new Queen.
Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning
Elizabeth Barrett was an accomplished poet in 1844 when Robert Browning wrote an admiring letter, telling her “I love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett.” Perhaps unsurprisingly they continued writing each other, and eventually met and fell in love. Knowing her father would disapprove, Elizabeth kept the relationship secret and she and Robert eloped (her father refused to reconcile with her and eventually disinherited her). The Brownings lived mainly in Italy, and spent their time among writers and artists. One of Elizabeth’s most well-known and beloved works, “Sonnets from the Portuguese,” consists of love poems she wrote for Robert, which he insisted she had to publish because they were “the finest sonnets written in any language since Shakespeare’s.” Their hundreds of letters to each other also attest to the incredible love between them. Unfortunately, Elizabeth’s lifelong poor health, which had improved for a while, started to deteriorate after only a few years together. She died in her husband’s arms in 1861, at age 55. Browning returned to England and never remarried.
Henry II and Rosamund Clifford
Legend has it that King Henry II of England built a complicated maze, at the centre of which he hid his lover Rosamund, in order to keep the affair hidden from his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine. The Queen, however, solved the maze and found Rosamund, giving her the option of death by dagger or poison. Rosamund supposedly chose the latter. Another version has Eleanor stabbing Rosamund while she bathed. Although these stories are false, there is, according to historian Mike Ibeji, ” … no doubt that the great love of his [Henry’s] life was Rosamund Clifford.” It’s unknown when Henry and Rosamund’s relationship started, but it became common knowledge in 1174, after his relationship with the Queen soured due to her rebelling against him, along with their sons. While Queen Eleanor was imprisoned, Rosamund moved into the royal palace of Woodstock. It’s said that Henry was so enamoured of Rosamund that he lost interest in all his other mistresses (of which there were many). Although it’s unknown if Rosamund returned Henry’s feelings (you don’t say no to the King), she was blamed for being a temptress and an adulteress, and her character was attacked long after her death. This may be why she ended the affair with the King in 1175 or 1176, withdrawing to Godstow Abbey, where she died shortly afterwards. Henry paid for a lavish tomb for Rosamund, arranging for nuns to leave daily floral tributes to her, as well as paying to keep the site maintained. Although the tomb was eventually destroyed, the story of “Fair Rosamund” has inspired countless poets and artists through the centuries, giving immortality to Henry and Rosamund’s brief time together.
Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict
Although married three times to men, Margaret Mead’s “most intense and enduring relationship” was with her mentor Ruth Benedict. Mead’s letters, spanning a quarter of a century until Benedict’s sudden death in 1948, are filled with terms of endearment and plaintive longing. Margaret claims that Ruth’s love gives her strength and laments that they can’t be together. The two, worried about how a public relationship would affect their careers (already difficult for women at the time), worked hard to keep their feelings secret, and even made sure never to be photographed together. It’s only relatively recently that Margaret’s daughter has hinted at the sexual nature of Mead and Benedict’s relationship, and that Mead’s letters have been released for publication. Had it not been for the hostile social climate and legal system that existed back then, Margaret and Ruth could have had a life together. Instead they squeezed in moments with each other around marriages, family life, and work. Margaret and Ruth loved each other as fully as they could, while being deprived of what could have been.
No matter what your plans are, or who you’re spending it with, I hope you have a happy Valentine’s Day ♥ What’s your favourite bittersweet love story? Share in the comments.
Looking for a good fictional story instead? Get my books!
If you prefer a paperback to an ebook, use this link to order Love Lies Bleeding from Bookshop – a portion of each sale goes directly to independent bookstores, as well as to myself. Thank you for supporting indie! ♥
Aspasía S. Bissas