Be inspired this Valentine’s Day with five of the greatest love stories in history, from Ludwig van Beethoven and his Immortal Beloved to the glamour and drama of the Hollywood Hills. Victoria Tait reports on the lovers and their most personal letters.
One of the most intriguing relationships in history is that of Ludwig van Beethoven and his ‘Immortal Beloved’, for the primary reason that no one knows who this was. There has been much speculation over the years, with the two best guesses being Antonie Brentano, the daughter of a diplomat, and Josephine Brunsvik, a countess whom he deeply loved. The question of this lover was raised when a love letter, written in early July of 1812, was found in Beethoven’s personal belongings shortly after his death. It was addressed to an ‘Immortal Beloved’ and read:
Though still in bed, my thoughts go out to you, my Immortal Beloved, Be calm – love me – today – yesterday – what tearful longings for you – you – you – my life – my all – farewell. Oh continue to love me – never misjudge the most faithful heart of your beloved. Ever thine. Ever mine. Ever ours. – Ludwig van Beethoven
Napoleon Bonaparte & Joséphine de Beauharnais
Joséphine de Beauharnais was a socialite who was well known throughout the salons in Paris and had an affliction for men in power, both political and military. When Napoleon Bonaparte first met Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de La Pagerie, known later as Joséphine, he was instantly infatuated with her. Six years his senior and a widow with two children, Joséphine’s feelings towards Napoleon were not as strong.
Their love story was one full of adultery and scandal from the very start. Only two days after their wedding day, Napoleon left on a military campaign in Italy. Joséphine, who stayed behind in Paris, began an affair with Lieutenant Hippolyte Charles. While away, Napoleon found out about his wife’s infidelity and soon started an affair on his own. When Joséphine found out about Napoleon’s infidelity, her feelings became much stronger for her husband and, after this time, there were no further reports of Joséphine’s affairs. However, Napoleon’s love for her was never the same. As time went on, it became apparent that Joséphine was unable to have children, prompting Napoleon to divorce her and instead marry Marie-Louise of Austria (Duchess of Parma), who gave birth to his long-awaited heir. However, despite Joséphine’s infidelity, their divorce and his remarriage, Napoleon’s last words are said to be: “France, the Army, the Head of the Army, Joséphine.”
Since I left you, I have been constantly depressed. My happiness is to be near you. Incessantly I live over in my memory your caresses, your tears, your affectionate solicitude. The charms of the incomparable Joséphine kindle continually a burning and a glowing flame in my heart…. I thought that I loved you months ago, but since my separation from you I feel that I love you a thousand fold more. Each day since I knew you, have I adored you more and more. – Napoleon Bonaparte
Queen Victoria & Prince Albert
The union between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert is one of the greatest love stories in history. A young Victoria was introduced to Albert by her uncle Leopold – the King of Belgium. It was love at first sight and said to be a meeting of minds.
Victoria was most pleased with her new husband and wrote to her uncle Leopold to thank him, “The prospect of great happiness you have contributed to give me in the person of dear Albert. He possesses every quality that can be desired to make me perfectly happy.”
Victoria relied heavily on Albert, and it is evident that during his lifetime she was most active as a ruler. They had a large family of nine children and lived a very happy life for 21 years until Prince Albert’s death of typhoid on December 14, 1861.
Victoria, distraught by his death, remained in mourning attire until her death on January 22, 1901.
Dearest, deeply loved Victoria, I need not tell you that since we left, all my thoughts have been with you at Windsor, and that your image fills my whole soul. Even in my dreams I never imagined that I should find so much love on earth. How that moment shines for me when I was close to you, but with your hand in mine! Those days flew by so quickly, but our separation will fly equally so. – Prince Albert
Elizabeth Taylor & Richard Burton
Known as the most passionate love story ever told, it had the makings of a Hollywood movie. Elizabeth and Richard married each other twice; he was her fifth and sixth husband (of an eventual eight). Their union was probably the most notorious and dramatic of the 20th century. The two were said to be consumed with one another.
The romance began while filming Cleopatra in 1963. It was reported that their first on-screen kiss went on long after the director said “cut”.
Both were married when they met, but, as is done in Hollywood, both divorced their respective spouses to marry each other in 1964. Ten years later, however, they divorced, due to Richard’s affair with a younger co-star. Then, in 1975, married again – and divorced soon after. “Richard and I had an incredible chemistry together. We couldn’t get enough of each other,” Elizabeth once said. Their relationship was so fiery; even the Vatican condemned it as “erotic vagrancy”.
Here are two letters written by Richard to Elizabeth, one of her beauty and the other after the relationship had ended.
My blind eyes are desperately waiting for the sight of you. You don’t realise, of course, EB, how fascinatingly beautiful you have always been, and how strangely you have acquired an added and special and dangerous loveliness. – Richard Burton, 1964.
So My Lumps, you’re off, by God! I can barely believe it since I am so unaccustomed to anybody leaving me. But reflectively I wonder why nobody did so before. All I care about – honest to God – is that you are happy and I don’t much care who you’ll find happiness with. I mean as long as he’s a friendly bloke and treats you nice and kind. If he doesn’t I’ll come at him with a hammer and clinker. God’s eye may be on the sparrow but my eye will always be on you. Never forget your strange virtues. Never forget that underneath that veneer of raucous language is a remarkable and puritanical LADY. I am a smashing bore and why you’ve stuck by me so long is an indication of your loyalty. I shall miss you with passion and wild regret – Richard Burton
Johnny Cash & June Carter
On February 22, 1968, Johnny Cash proposed to June Carter, while they were performing together on stage at the London Ice House, Ontario, Canada.
The two first met backstage at the Grand Ole Opry in 1956. Carter was singing background vocals for Elvis Presley, and Cash was married to his first wife, Vivian Liberto.
The couple were married two weeks after proposing, on March 1, 1968, and went on to have one child together, John Carter Cash, born in 1970. The two frequently performed together and released several albums including Carryin’ on With Johnny Cash and June Carter, Johnny & June and June Carter and Johnny Cash: Duets. June was a light in Cash’s life and helped him battle his many addictions.
“The love that John and I share with our love for Christ is one of the most precious gifts God could have given us,” June Carter said.
On May 15, 2003, June passed away only to be followed by Cash, less than four months later, on September 12.
Known for his way with words, Cash gave his wife a love letter in 1994, for her 65th birthday. This was named the greatest love letter of all time in 2015.
Maybe sometimes take each other for granted. But once in a while, like today, I meditate on it and realise how lucky I am to share my life with the greatest woman I ever met. You still fascinate and inspire me. You influence me for the better. You’re the object of my desire, the number one earthly reason for my existence. I love you very much. – Johnny Cash