4 Iconic Historical Couples You Should Know and Love

Love, respect, and honesty: these are some of the important aspects of a great relationship. For a relationship to be great, it doesn’t need to be spectacular, as greatness is found in the mundane, everyday moments that add up to create a better whole. For a relationship to be iconic, however, it needs to be memorable, passionate, and dramatic. These four couples are not necessarily happily-ever-after Disney princess stories. (But don’t get me wrong—I love a good Disney story!) Instead, they consist of a complex set of emotions caused by the messy yet intriguing nature of relationships where people do indeed find their true love, but also where people deal with heartbreak. While this list is by no means exhaustive, please enjoy the following four examples of iconic couples that have stories so interesting we can’t help but be fascinated by them.


1. Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz

These famous television personalities met before their career prime in 1940 while filming the movie Too Many Girls. Their relationship had a rocky beginning, as they constantly argued about spending time apart and Lucille Ball worried about Desi Arnaz straying, as he was a well-known womanizer. As a result of these quarrels, Arnaz proposed to Ball in the hopes that marriage would fix everything, and six months into their relationship, they eloped.

Even after getting married, the couple still had major scheduling conflicts to deal with, which caused a rift in their marriage and prompted them to split up for a short time in 1944. They rekindled their relationship after agreeing to do more projects that would overlap, and Ball led the charge on that front. To combat their issues, she turned her radio show into the now famous TV show titled I Love Lucy, in which Arnaz played her on-screen husband. Around this time, Ball also had their first child, which also worked in strengthening their relationship for a time. Their second child was conceived a few years after, in the middle of the show’s six-year run. During this time, Ball made history in being the first woman to be pregnant on TV.

In 1960, after 20 years of marriage, Ball and Arnaz called it quits when Ball could no longer handle her husband’s drinking and infidelities. However, even after their permanent separation, the two remained friends and supported each other’s career endeavours and new spouses. Ball went on to meet Gary Morton, who she was married to for 28 years, and Arnaz married his neighbour, Edith Hirsch, who had also been Ball’s body double for certain projects. Although Ball and Arnaz did not stay together in the end, it is arguable that their post-marriage friendship was exactly how they were meant to be in each other’s lives.


2. Heloise and Abelard

Heloise and Abelard lived around 1000 years ago in France and are one of the most celebrated—though tragic—couples of all time. Heloise was a prominent figure in French literary history: she was one of the most educated women of her time, and her letters are considered an important cornerstone of the epistolary genre and a foundational part of feminist literature. Abelard, 22 years Heloise’s senior, was a French philosopher, theologian, and distinguished logician; he is considered one of the great minds of the 12th century, despite the controversy surrounding many of his teachings.

Abelard, wanting to become close to the young and beautiful Heloise, convinced her uncle, Canon Fulbert, to let him be her teacher and also managed to convince Fulbert to let him stay at his place, where Heloise also lived. Heloise quickly fell for Abelard, in spite of the age gap, and they became lovers. Once Fulbert discovered the relationship was occurring under his roof, he immediately separated them. This did not end the affair between Heloise and Abelard, however, and they kept seeing each other in secret. When Heloise became pregnant, Abelard sent her to live with his sister in Brittany, where she gave birth to their son, Astrolabe.

As one can imagine, Fulbert was angered at these events, and in order to provide relief to the situation, Abelard proposed. It is believed that Abelard wanted to keep their engagement secret, so he—to many people’s confusion—thought it would be best to send Heloise to a convent. Fulbert was one of the confused individuals and came to the conclusion that Abelard had sent Heloise off as a way to be rid of her. Furious at Abelard’s actions, Fulbert arranged for a group of men to break into Abelard’s room at night and castrate him.

Now castrated and with his lover at a convent, Abelard decided to become a monk and insisted that Heloise also take the full nun vows. Although Heloise questioned his decision, in the end, both Heloise and Abelard remained at their separate religious houses and only contacted each other through letters until their death. Reading through their letters gives a sense of the passion and remorse the two lovers felt in their tragic circumstances; they are an eloquent look into the minds of a lovestruck and devastated couple from 12th-century France. Although it is not known for certain where they are buried, it is believed that they are buried together.


3. Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas

It is a fairly well-known fact that Oscar Wilde, the famous playwright and author, had the unfortunate circumstances of being imprisoned numerous times for his homosexuality during the 1800s. This, however, did not stop him from entering relationships with whomever he pleased! Enter the poet, Lord Alfred Douglas, and the beginning of their intense yet authentic relationship, characterized by the many love letters sent between them.

As picture perfect as this couple may seem—“the playwright and the poet”—they were not without turbulence and scandal. Their biggest fight came about because of Douglas badly translating Wilde’s play, Salomé, from French into English. Wilde was infuriated, as he had intended to publish the translation, but Douglas’s sloppy work had skewed the meaning of many of the carefully worded lines. Despite this, their romance, which began in 1891, was immortalized in Wilde’s work. The 21-year-old Douglas, who was 16 years younger than Wilde, was Wilde’s muse for many of his works, including The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Unfortunately, their relationship was doomed to take a tumultuous turn when Wilde and Douglas found themselves at the center of a huge scandal that would ultimately lead to their end. After learning of their relationship, Douglas’s father, the Marquess of Queensbury, launched an attack of character against the pair in order to break them up. This resulted in Wilde being arrested on accusations of gross indecency and spending two years in prison. Upon release, Wilde and Douglas tried to rekindle their relationship, but after everything that had happened and their irreparable personal differences, the two split for good. Although it is not known for certain, some believe that this relationship and the effect it had on Wilde may have been linked to his early death at the age of 46 in 1900.


4. Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal

When Shah Jahan first laid eyes on Mumtaz Mahal, their love-at-first-sight story began. He immediately told his father that he wanted to marry her, and he did five years later in 1612. Jahan later became emperor and gave his bride the title “Jewel of the Palace.” Although Jahan also had other wives at this time, Mahal was his absolute favourite and was always at his side. In 1631, after nearly two decades of marriage, Mahal gave birth to the couple’s 14th child, which unfortunately was also the cause of her death. Just before her passing, Jahan had promised that he would never remarry and that he would honour her with a magnificent monument erected over her grave. After Mahal’s death, Jahan was so distraught that he forced his court into two years’ worth of mourning. Jahan also wasted no time in creating the monument, although it took him precisely 22 years and approximately 22,000 workers to finish. Mumtaz Mahal’s memory was immortalized with an exquisite token to her and to eternal love in the form of what is now known as the Taj Mahal.


For more information:

  1. Lucille Ball and Desi Alvarez: 1/2

  2. Abelard and Heloise: 1/2/3

  3. Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas: 1/2/3

  4. Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal: 1

Photo sources: 1/2/3/4