Most of the romantics on this list made their gestures in the face of sickness and death. But King Edward VIII just wanted a happy life with his beloved, the bewitching American divorcée Wallis Simpson. British law didn’t allow for such a marriage, and the king and his favorite commoner were both urged to give up the affair. Instead, Edward gave up the throne of England in December of 1936. “I have found it impossible,” he said in a radio address to the nation, “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.” The couple married in France six months later and lived abroad in the Bahamas, Paris and elsewhere for the rest of their lives.
Long before Kate and William, there was Victoria and Albert. The young British queen married her German cousin Albert in 1840, making him the Prince Consort. “He possesses every quality that can be desired to make me perfectly happy,” she wrote. The father of her nine children, Prince Albert was also among Victoria’s shrewdest and most trusted advisers. When he died suddenly of typhoid in 1861, the queen was devastated. She built Albert a grand mausoleum and kept one of the rooms in Windsor Palace as his shrine, complete with changes of clothes for him and fresh water for his basin. She traveled with a giant portrait of him and kept a smaller likeness by her bed, so she could wake to the sight of his face. As a widow, Victoria, famed for her longevity, wore black every day until her death in 1901.
Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan’s favorite wife died in 1631, after giving birth to their 14th child. In her honor, the king ordered the construction of a mammoth white mausoleum on India’s Yamuna River. The materials for the Taj Mahal, including many precious stones, were gathered from throughout central Asia and the gardens stocked with brightly colored birds, brilliant fish and exotic plants. Completed in 1648, it is among the most beautiful monuments in the world, the creamy marble radiant in the moonlight and seeming to blush at dawn. At the end of his life, Shah Jahan was confined (by his own son) to a tower across the Yamuna. But his prison had a view of the beautiful tomb, which Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore would later describe as “a teardrop on the cheek of time.”
Lucille Ball was originally a radio performer, costarring in the CBS sitcom “My Favorite Husband” with actor Richard Denning. When the network proposed a television pilot, Lucy refused—unless her actual husband, Cuban pop band leader Desi Arnaz, was cast as her TV spouse, allowing the couple to spend more time together. CBS executives were reluctant at first, because they weren’t sure that 1950s viewers would relate to Arnaz’s thick Spanish accent. But “I Love Lucy,” with its real-life lovers, became one of the most beloved shows in television history.
Eva Peron was dying of cervical cancer as attempted revolts shook the presidency of her husband, Juan. On October 17, 1951, the first lady appeared on the balcony of the Casa Rosada, Argentina’s equivalent of the White House. She was so weak that the president had to hold her around the waist as she stood. He gave her a medal, said she would be remembered as one of the greatest women in history and asked the crowds to be quiet so they could hear her speak. “To Peron. . . I shall never finish paying my debt, not until I give my life in gratitude for the kindness he has always shown me,” she told the tearful audience. “Nothing that I have, nothing that I am, nothing that I think is mine; it is Peron’s.” She begged the people to be loyal to him in her absence. On the operating table a few weeks later, she even shouted “Viva Peron!” before succumbing to anesthesia, one newspaper reported. But his presidency couldn’t survive without her: she died in 1952, and “her General” was later ousted.
In 1927, a Wisconsin architect named John W. Hammes watched his wife painstakingly dispose of food scraps by wrapping them in newspaper and tossing them in the trash. Eager to make her life easier, he dreamed up a device that would grind food into pieces tiny enough to be washed down the drain. Hammes patented the garbage disposal, the In-Sink-Erator, in 1935.
Joe DiMaggio’s storied marriage to Marilyn Monroe lasted a mere nine months before they divorced. (He didn’t like the billowing-skirt scene in “The Seven Year Itch,” among other difficulties.) But when she died of a barbituate overdose in August of 1962, he sent half a dozen roses to her grave several times a week—for decades.
Queen Amytis was homesick. Around 600 B.C., she had married King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon for political reasons. But the Babylonian landscape (in modern-day Iraq) was arid and dull, and she missed her native Media, a lush, mountainous land. So Nebuchadnezzar commissioned the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, a series of spectacular planted terraces that seemed to float in midair. The gardens were hailed as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Though a number of ancient sources describe the gardens, modern academics aren’t completely sure they really existed. Other scholars, perhaps romantics at heart, haven’t given up hope.
On Christmas morning in 1870, composer Richard Wagner secretly assembled 17 musicians on the stairs leading to the bedroom of his wife, Cosima. As she slept, they started to play (with Wagner conducting) a piece he had written just for her, inspired in part by the birth of their son, Siegfried, and incorporating details of their domestic life. The composition (today known as “Siegfried’s Idyll”) was never meant for outside ears, but a few years later cash-strapped Wagner had no choice but to sell it. Cosima wrote in her diary that she wept.
President William McKinley’s wife, Ida, was once a high-spirited socialite, but the deaths of her two young daughters and epileptic seizures left her frail and withdrawn. As McKinley’s political career blossomed, “Ida spent most of her waking hours in a small Victorian rocking chair that she had had since childhood,” crocheting slippers and waiting for her husband to come home, according to the White House Historical Association. But when McKinley took office in 1897, he didn’t hide Ida from view. Instead, defying the protocol of the day, he insisted that his wife be seated beside him at state dinners, so he could help if a seizure struck, or cover her face with a hankerchief to ward off an impending attack. And when President McKinley was fatally shot in 1901, his thoughts were of fragile Ida, whispering to his secretary: “My wife—be careful…how you tell her.