THE POWER OF LOVE

text by Nancy Bilyeau

In recognition of Valentine’s Day, we take a spin through history’s greatest lovers—star crossed, cursed, lifelong and everything in between. Couples in love have caused wars and controversy, created masterpieces in the arts and captured the heart of the public. From the allure of Cleopatra to the magnetism of the Kennedy’s, these love affairs have stood as markers in history. Be prepared to swoon.

PARIS and HELEN

She was another man’s wife, but when Paris, the “handsome, woman-mad” prince of Troy, saw Helen, the woman whom Aphrodite proclaimed the most beautiful in the world, he had to have her. Helen and Paris ran off together, setting in motion the decade-long Trojan War. Whether Helen actually existed is unclear, but her romantic part in the greatest epic of all time can never be forgotten. She will forever be “the face that launched a thousand ships.”

CLEOPATRA and MARK ANTONY

Cleopatra, the queen of Egypt, could have had anything or anyone she wanted, but she fell passionately in love with Roman General Mark Antony. ”Fool! Don’t you see now that I could have poisoned you a hundred times had I been able to live without you,” declared Cleopatra. But in 30 B.C, after they risked all in a war on Rome and lost, they chose to die together, ”I will be a bridegroom in my death, and run into it as to a lover’s bed,” said Antony. Cleopatra followed, by clasping a poisonous asp to her breast.

HADRIAN and ANTINOUS

We’ve heard of “The Wall” —no, not that one, the second-century A.D. one attributed to Emperor Hadrian that stretched across England. As for his heart, the ruler lost it to Antinous (on the left), an intelligent and sports-loving Greek student, displaying “an obsessive craving for his presence.” While visiting the Nile, Antinous drowned mysteriously, but some say he was murdered by those jealous of the emperor’s devotion. The devastated Hadrian proclaimed Antinous a deity, ordered a city be built in his honor and named a star after him.

HENRY II and ROSAMUND CLIFFORD

The English king had a rich, royal wife in Eleanor of Aquitaine and mistresses galore, but the love of his life was “Fair Rosamund.” To conceal their affair, Henry built a love nest in the innermost recesses of a maze in his park. The story has it that Queen Eleanor did not rest until she found the labyrinth and traced it to the center, where she uncovered her ravishing rival. The queen offered her death by blade or poison. Rosamund chose the poison. In retaliation, Henry kept Eleanor confined in prison for 16 years of their marriage.

DANTE and BEATRICE

Rarely has a woman served as such profound inspiration for a writer. The Italian poet Dante Alighieri wrote passionately of emerald-eyed beauty Beatrice in The Divine Comedy and other poems, but only met the object of his affection twice. The first time, they were youngsters. The second time, as adults, and while walking on the street in Florence, Beatrice turned and greeted Dante before continuing on her way. In 1290 Beatrice died at age 24 without Dante ever seeing her again. Nonetheless, she was “the glorious lady of my mind,” he wrote, and “she is my beatitude, the destroyer of all vices and the queen of virtue, salvation.”

ANNE BOLEYN and HENRY VIII

When the Tudor king fell for a young lady-in-waiting, Anne Boleyn, he was long married to a Spanish princess. But Anne refused to be a royal mistress, and the king won his divorce to make Anne queen. To comprehend the king’s passion, one need only read his 16th century love letters, revealing his torment over how elusive she remained: “I beg to know expressly your intention touching the love between us…having been more than a year wounded by the dart of love, and not yet sure whether I shall fail or find a place in your affection.” Unfortunately for Anne, unrequited love took its toll and the king had her beheaded.

ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING and ROBERT BROWNING

The 40-year old Elizabeth Barrett was an accomplished and respected poet in poor health when Robert Browning wrote to her: “I love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett,” and praising their “fresh strange music, the affluent language, the exquisite pathos and true new brave thought.” They courted in secret because of her family’s disapproval. She wrote, “I am not of a cold nature and cannot bear to be treated coldly. When cold water is thrown upon a hot iron, the iron hisses.” They married in 1846, living among fellow writers and artists for the rest of her life. When she died, it was in Robert Browning’s arms.

GERTRUDE STEIN and ALICE B. TOKLAS

For nearly 40 years, Gertrude Stein (pictured above, on the right) and Alice B. Toklas were inseparable. The pair were famous for their literary salon in Paris, which was frequented by luminaries such as Pablo Picasso, T.S. Eliot, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. Their love gained international fame after Stein published The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. Wrote Stein, “One must dare to be happy.” When Toklas first met Stein, she wrote, “It was Gertrude Stein who held my complete attention, as she did for all the many years I knew her until her death and all these empty ones since then.”

FRIDA KAHLO and DIEGO RIVERA

The talented young Mexican painter Kahlo paid a visit to the studio of famous muralist Rivera in search of career advice. “She had unusual dignity and self-assurance and there was a strange fire in her eyes,” he said. Theirs was a volatile relationship, yet Rivera knew from early on that Kahlo “was the most important fact in my life” and she would continue to be until she died 27 years later.

WALLIS SIMPSON and KING EDWARD VIII

When Edward VIII fell in love with American divorcée Wallis Simpson it was an affair that shocked a nation. Due to strong opposition from the church and government over their marriage, Edward chose to abdicate the throne. “I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as king as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love,” he said addressing the nation in 1936. Choosing love over kingship, the couple married and settled in France.

JOANNE WOODWARD and PAUL NEWMAN

Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward met during the production of Picnic and shortly married after filming the movie The Long, Hot Summer. Unlike most on-set Hollywood romances, Newman and Woodward were happily devoted to one another for fifty years. When asked about infidelity, Newman famously responded, “I have a steak at home. Why should I go out for hamburger?”

GRACE KELLY and PRINCE RAINIER OF MONACO

Prince Rainier was immediately taken with Grace Kelly, whom he met when she filmed To Catch a Thief on the French Riviera. He courted her through letters before the couple announced their engagement in the Kelly’s Philadelphia home. Wed in 1956, the American film star left Hollywood behind at the height of her career. After Grace’s fatal car crash in 1982, Prince Rainier never remarried.

CAROLYN BESSETTE and JOHN F. KENNEDY, JR.

Indicative of their desire to keep their relationship private, Carolyn Bessette and John F. Kennedy Jr. secretly married on a small island in the outer banks of Georgia. Try as they might to live under the radar, their ups and downs were fodder for the paparazzi. As their love for one another became evident, public attention mounted and the couple became an iconic duo. Sadly, their lives were cut short when the couple tragically perished on July 16, 1999 in a plane crash piloted by JFK, Jr.

AMAL and GEORGE CLOONEY

George Clooney, the Hollywood heartthrob and confirmed bachelor, falls for Amal, a brilliant human rights barrister. Sounds like a movie script, which makes this love story even more sweet. Introduced by a friend, the two began exchanging e-mails that Clooney comically penned as his dog Einstein. After six months of dating, while preparing dinner, he proposed to the song, “Why Shouldn’t I?” The couple balances their careers as well as parenting twins Ella and Alexander. 

MEGHAN MARKLE and PRINCE HARRY

Theirs is a love story that captures our hearts. Meaghan, an American divorcée and TV star, has been warmly accepted by both the royal family and the British public. Married last May, Harry popped the question while the two were roasting a chicken at their apartment in Kensington Palace. Giving a modern take on the next generation of monarchy, the couple eagerly awaits the arrival of their first child this April.