Though it is often forgotten in the shuffle of modern consumerism, Valentine’s Day gets its name from Saint Valentine, an early priest who lived in Rome during the 3rd century A.D. in the days of Emperor Claudius II. During his reign, Claudius banned all marriages and engagements in Rome in an effort to keep Roman men focused on war, rather than personal affairs.
However, Saint Valentine realized the cruelty of this decree, and continued to perform marriages in secret. Once Claudius discovered Valentine’s secret ceremonies, he had him executed. Saint Valentine was beheaded on February 14, in 278 A.D. Valentine was posthumously sainted, and February 14 became a date forever associated with romance and gifts.
Here are five more famous figures whose romantic lives ranged from unfaithful, to tragic:
Historians, authors and fanatics of love and warfare have been drawn to Cleopatra. Over the last two millennia, the Egyptian queen, and last monarch of the Ptolemaic Empire, has become a symbol of cunning, beauty and ruthless military strategy. Though she has been immortalized in plays and film, the tragic love story that ended in Cleopatra’s suicide puts her at the top of the list of dead lovers.
After the notorious assassination of her first lover, Julius Caesar, Cleopatra was summoned by Mark Anthony to discuss a military alliance between Rome and Egypt. Anthony was instantly charmed by the beautiful queen, who was said to have arrived at their meeting with a fleet of elaborately decorated ships, and wearing beautiful flowing robes. After their meeting, Cleopatra returned to Egypt, and Anthony abandoned his wife to be with her. They eventually had three children together. In 30 BCE, Roman ruler Octavian invaded Egypt and crushed Mark Anthony’s army. Unable to recover from this defeat, Anthony committed suicide by falling on his sword. After learning of her lover’s death, Cleopatra also killed herself, by allowing a poisonous serpent to bite her. Watch a clip from Cleopatra’s Lost Tomb below and stream the full episode here.
The elaborate burial rituals of the Victorian Era were made popular by Queen Victoria herself. In fact, when the Queen was nearing her own death in 1901, she left pages of instructions for her burial. Aside from her famously unconventional white funeral, Queen Victoria was also buried with a plaster cast of her deceased husband, Prince Albert’s left hand, as much jewelry as possible, and numerous other mementos. Read more about Queen Victoria’s burial requests here.
For a president largely remembered for his conservation efforts and his advocacy for the “supreme triumph of war,” Teddy Roosevelt was surprisingly a romantic. When his wife died during childbirth at just 22 years old on Valentine’s day 1884, the 26th president wrote in his diary, “The light in my life has gone out.” Read more.
Ben Franklin, despite being historically portrayed as chubby, balding and married, was no stranger to frequent dalliances. In fact, the founding father was a notorious philanderer, often engaging in short-lived affairs with women in London, France and Philadelphia.
Franklin even confessed to his womanizing ways. As he wrote in his 1791 autobiography: “The hard-to-be-governed passion of my youth had hurried me frequently into intrigues with low women that fell in my way. Watch a clip from Ben Franklin’s Bones below and stream the full episode on Thirteen Passport here.
Louise de Quengo, Lady of Brefeillac, The Lady With the Iron Heart
Excavation of the 17th-century burial of a French noblewoman, Louise de Quengo, Lady of Brefeillac, revealed that her sealed lead coffin included the embalmed heart of her husband. Louise de Quengo died in 1656 at the age of 65. Her body was preserved unusually well and her identity was confirmed through a detailed listing in the convent’s burial register. Inside her casket was a small, heart-shaped lead container holding the heart of her husband, Toussaint de Perrien, Knight of Brefeillac. He died seven years before Louise and was buried 125 miles away. The discovery revealed not only a romantic gesture, but a scientific phenomenon. Read more at National Geographic.