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Swoon-Worthy Facts About History’s Most Romantic Gestures

Rachel Seigel

Everyone loves a grand romantic gesture, and from building a magnificent garden to composing a symphony, history is full of examples of some of the most elaborate and heartwarming demonstrations of love that will make even the coldest of hearts melt. Here are the most swoon-worthy examples of some of history’s best romantic gestures.


Romantic Gestures In History Facts

A Marble Mausoleum

Imagine being so in love with your dead wife that you commission a grand building to house her tomb. This is what Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan did to mourn/honor his wife Mumtaz Mahal, who tragically died giving birth to their 14th child. The building took a decade to complete and is estimated to have cost around the 17th century equivalent of $827 Million USD. It nearly bankrupted the empire, but Sah Jahan spared no expense for his love. Today the magnificent building draws visitors from all around the world.

Roses on Her Grave

Baseball legend Joe DiMaggio was only married to Marilyn Monroe for 9 months, but even after they split, he never got over her. When Monroe tragically died in 1962, he showed his devotion with a heartbreaking gesture. DiMaggio had a flower shop deliver a half-dozen long-stemmed roses to her grave three times a week for 20 years. He never remarried.

A Desert Oasis

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Built by King Nebuchadnezzar as a gift for his wife Amytis of Media, the story goes that Amytis was homesick for the forests and mountains of her homeland. Her husband Nebuchadnezzar built the stunning gardens in the middle of dry, arid Babylon as an oasis for her. There’s no definitive proof that the gardens existed or that Nebuchadnezzar was responsible for their construction, but it’s nice to believe!

You’re Driving Me Crazy!

Clark Gable was a major Hollywood heartthrob back in the day, and though his marriage to screen siren Carole Lombard was brief, Lombard was the great love of his life. In 1936, Lombard made a majorly grand gesture to show him how she felt. She bought him a used Model T. Ford for their first date, had it painted white with red hearts on it, and had it delivered with a note that read “You’re Driving Me Crazy!” Obviously it won him over because three years later, the couple married.

I Love Desi!

Lucille Ball was so in love with her husband Desi Arnaz, that when CBS was casting for her onscreen spouse in the sitcom I Love Lucy, she requested that he star alongside her in the show. The network initially balked, fearing that audiences would have trouble with his thick Spanish accent, but she insisted, and their chemistry helped make the show the great success that it ultimately became.

The Loveliest Diamond for the Loveliest Woman

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor just couldn’t seem to stay away from each other, having an on-again/off-again relationship that included two marriages and, less romantically, two dramatic divorces. In 1969, in one of the “on again” moments, Burton bought Taylor a stunning 68-carat diamond. Burton explained why his bride absolutely had to have that diamond, writing in his diary that the diamond was “incomparably lovely … and it should be on the loveliest woman in the world.”

When they divorced, Taylor paid Burton back with a devastating betrayal. In 1978, she sold the diamond for between $3-5 million. On the bright side, she used part of the funds to build a hospital in Botswana.

That’s Not What She Asked For

Sir Cecil Chubb was a highly respected and wealthy barrister who bought his wife an unusual birthday gift just after WWI: Stonehenge (yes, that Stonehenge). Unfortunately for Chubb, his wife apparently was not impressed by the gift. Instead, she just wanted him to buy her curtains. Take note, gentlemen: You can save a lot of money by listening.

The Best Since Shakespeare

Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning are two of the most famous poets in history, mainly for the romantic sonnets they wrote for each other. Between 1844-1846, Barrett Browning wrote a series of 44 love sonnets which she published as Songs from the Portuguese about her love for Robert, including #43 which begins with the famous first line “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”

Barret Browning didn’t initially want to share the poems believing them to be too personal, but Browning insisted. He called them the “best sequence of English-language sonnets since Shakespeare”.

The Dart of Love

Men have been known to do crazy things for the women they love, but few have ever left their religion and founded a new one in order to put a ring on it. When Henry VIII met Anne Boleyn, he was immediately head-over-heels, even writing that he’d been “struck by the dart of love.” There was just one problem: Henry was already married and the Pope wouldn’t let him swap out his wives.

Leaving His Religion

No problem: Henry broke with the Catholic Church and formed the Church of England, founding a new religion that was A-Okay with his divorce. After all the drama, Henry and Anne finally walked down the aisle…but soon enough, their love turned very sour. Henry had Anne beheaded and promptly married someone else. Yikes.

Always at His Side

President William McKinley absolutely adored his wife Ida, but after the loss of their two young daughters, she became prone to epileptic seizures. Rather than keep her locked away somewhere, he moved heaven and earth for her. If she could attend a state dinner, he made sure she sat next to him, and if she had a seizure, he’d shield her face with his handkerchief until it was over. When he died following an assassination attempt, she told friends that “He is gone and life to me is dark now.”

Forgive Me Baby!

Artist Pablo Picasso wasn’t exactly known for his people skills, but he sure was good at romantic apologies. One evening he had a nasty fight with his lover Dora Maar over a painting that she’d convinced him to sell for a ruby ring. Thoroughly ticked off, she yanked the ring from his hand and threw it in the Seine river. To apologize, he did what only an artist can.

He painted her on a custom ring that he designed and gave it to her as a gift. The painting was in his typical abstract style and wasn’t exactly a stunning portrait, but she must have liked it. She kept it even after they broke up and had it until her dying day.

Romantic and Useful

One doesn’t typically associate garbage with romance, but the invention of the garbage disposal, a kitchen appliance found in many homes and restaurants, was actually intended as a romantic gesture. Inventor John W. Hammes designed the device in 1927 to help make his wife’s life easier in the kitchen. She might have preferred a maid to clean up for her, but that was a pretty good gift.

Duelling Guitars

In the 1970s, Pattie Boyd entranced not one but two music icons: George Harrison and Eric Clapton. The men had to find a way to settle it, and one night, a drunk Clapton showed up at Harrison’s house and challenged him to a rock duel. He gave him a guitar and an amp, and they duelled for two hrs. By all accounts Eric won. He and Boyd married in 1979.

The Only Toilet Seat That Could Deserve Her Tush

Back in 2002 when the original Bennifer (Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez) were the power couple du jour, Affleck decided to demonstrate his love for J. Lo by spending $105k on a toilet seat covered in diamonds, rubies, and sapphires. I’m not sure how you’d sit on something like that, but J. Lo likened it to a piece of art, which it probably was. Personally, I’d rather have the jewels.

Her Dying Wish

In her final public appearance on October 17, 1951, Eva Peron made an impassioned plea for her newly re-elected husband. She begged the people to remain loyal to him after she was gone, telling the audience that “Nothing that I have, nothing that I am, nothing that I think is mine; it is Peron’s.” Peron was ousted a few years later, but it was worth a shot!

How Could She Refuse?

French model Brigitte Bardot was one of the most famous sex symbols of the 1950s and 60s. She could have had any man she wanted, so the German playboy Gunter Sachs knew that win her over, he’d need a big gesture. He managed to win her heart by paying a helicopter to drop hundreds of roses over her villa. A few weeks later she married him, and they stayed married for three years. Now that’s how you romance a girl!

A Heart-Shaped Meadow

Farmer Winston Howes loved his wife so much that when she died, he planted thousands of oak trees near his farmhouse, keeping a heart-shaped clearing in the middle. The heart points towards his wife’s birthplace, and he often goes down there to think. For many years, nobody knew about the meadow, and then one day, a man in a hot air balloon flew over and took a picture. To complete the tribute, Howes planted daffodils that bloom every spring. Aww!

His Mysterious Muse

One of literature’s greatest mysteries is the identity of the Dark Lady for whom Shakespeare composed a series of romantic sonnets. While no one knows for certain who she was, it’s clear from the sonnets that a) she wasn’t his wife, and b) he was majorly in love and in lust with her. Whoever she was, she definitely inspired him!

A Symphony Just for Her

Believe it or not, the German composer Richard Wagner was a pretty hopeless romantic. For his wife’s 33rd birthday, he composed her the symphonic poem Tribschen Idyl. And as if that weren’t romantic enough, he commissioned a 15-piece orchestra to perform it for her on the steps of their home on Christmas morning in 1870.

He Built Her a Temple

Akhenaten, an Egyptian pharaoh from the 18th dynasty, apparently knew how to woo a woman. He not only dedicated a temple to his wife Nefertiti,but he commissioned multiple statues of the Queen standing beside his statue or on their own, an honor that was usually reserved for kings. The statues all depict her as a tremendous beauty which may have been an indication of how madly in love with her he was. Talk about setting the bar high!

His One Great Love

Film star Omar Sharif fell madly in love with actress Faten Hamama when the pair met on the set of a movie, and he went out of his way to charm her, even reciting Shakespeare’s Hamlet to her. It worked, and they embarked on a fairytale romance that lasted 20 years. Perhaps the most romantic gesture of all was when Sharif converted to Islam for her. The pair eventually divorced, but Sharif’s feelings didn’t change. He called her the love of his life until his death in 2015.

A True Romeo and Juliet

Marc Antony and Cleopatra were Egypt’s original power couple. She was the Queen of Egypt, he was a powerful Roman General, and he was immediately besotted with her. They were a match made in heaven. They lived a humble, quiet life together and died in their old age. Haha, as if: They both loved wine and sex and thought that they were gods. They met an unsurprisingly messy end.

Her Turn

After being defeated in battle, someone told Antony that Cleopatra had killed herself, so he threw himself on his sword in his grief. This is where things turn from bad to worse. It turned out that the information that Antony had been given was false, and Cleopatra was still alive. He was immediately brought to her and died in his arms. She, in turn poisoned herself, not wanting to live without him. Romantic and tragic!

Have a Tooth

In Fiji, a tradition known as “tabuas” is the practice of giving a woman a tooth from a sperm whale as the ultimate token of love and commitment. Once upon a time, the man would have to dive deep beneath the ocean surface and fight the whale for a tooth, but thankfully, you no longer have to do that. Usually, you can just find them for sale in a store.

Songs of Love

The French singer Edith Piaf had one great love in her life- the boxer Marcel Cerdan. They met in 1947, and immediately became a major power couple in France. As an expression of love for him, she wrote and performed the song Hymne à l’amour on September 14, 1949 in New York. Then tragedy struck: Cerdan died in a plane crash less than two months later. He was on his way to see Piaf.

Making him a God

It wasn’t unusual for Ancient Roman men to have same sex lovers, but Emperor Hadrian’s Antinoüs was more than a fling. He was THE love of Hadrian’s life. The pair did everything together until one dark day, while visiting the Nile, Antinoüs drowned. Hadrian was devastated and totally lost his mind. He declared his lover a god, built a city in his honor, and named a star after him. If proving his love was the aim, I’d say Hadrian got the message across.

From a Secret Admirer

Back in 1783, watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet was hired to create a spectacular time piece for Marie Antoinette by an anonymous admirer. The admirer is thought to have been her supposed lover Swedish Count Alexel von Fersen, and the watch was to be the “ultimate expression of his affection.” That probably would have impressed the heck out of her had she seen it, but the design of the watch was so complex that it took 45 years to complete. By then, the young queen was long dead.

The Meyerling Incident

The romance between the Crown Prince Rudolph of Austria and his teenaged mistress Baroness Mary Vetsera has been the stuff of legend for centuries. To this day, their dark murder-suicide continues to fascinate the world. When it came to Rudolph, the moody young man’s death wasn’t a huge surprise…but everything changed when investigators found the dead body of his mistress Mary. What exactly happened at the infamous Meyerling lodge?

Happier in Death

No one knows for certain, but apparently, Rudolph had made up his mind to kill himself. There was just one thing: He wanted a partner in death. Did he murder his mistress Mary, or did she kill herself to be with her beloved Rudolph? The answer may lie in an Austrian bank vault. Inside the compartment, letters from Mary to her mother contain chilling words. She writes, “I could not resist love….I am happier in death than life.”

“I Wrote You Every Day For A Year!”

Winston Churchill may have been one of Britain’s greatest leaders, but few people know that in his early days, he was quite the romantic. One of his first loves was a colonel’s daughter named Pamela Plowden. He wanted so badly to win her over, that he basically lived out The Notebook. Young Winston wrote her love letters for two years and had the manuscript of his novel delivered to her. Neither of those things moved her, but Churchill  didn’t give up.

He Promised Her the World

When Churchill’s manuscript and the love letters failed to impress Pamela, he tried again by proposing in a letter. He promised that he would “conquer the world and lay it at your feet.” Pamela didn’t quite believe him, but she also didn’t say no, so he sailed off to the Boer War with three different portraits of her in his pocket. She…didn’t feel the same. Pamela married someone else and left Winston broken-hearted.

Expressing His Love

Ronald and Nancy Reagan were one of the greatest presidential love stories of all time, and as it turns out, he was quite the wordsmith. On their 31st anniversary, Ronald wrote his wife a letter that said: “saying “I more than love you, I’m not whole without you. You are life itself to me. When you are gone, I’m waiting for you to return so I can start living again.” With words like that, it’s no wonder she loved him.

Haters Gonna Hate

Aspasia and Pericles were one of the great love stories of Classical Greece. Aspasia was born to a wealthy family in Asia Minor but eventually travelled to Athens where she attracted the Athenian General Percicles. But because Aspasia was non-Athenian, he couldn’t marry her. The passionate couple threw caution to the wind. Even though they couldn’t marry, they lived together until Pericles died of the plague.

A Kiss for Each Day

As though their co-habitation wasn’t enough of a “get lost” to the Athenian establishment, Pericles went even further for the woman he loved. It is said that he kissed her every day when he left the house and when he came home (and not just a peck on the cheek) in plain sight of all of the neighbors. Displays of public affection were highly frowned upon, but Pericles was determined to show Aspaisia how much he loved her.

To My Valentine

Charles, Duke of Orléans is credited with writing the first valentine in 1415 when he was just 21 years old. Caught in the crossfire of the war between the Armagnacs and the Burgundians, Charles was imprisoned in the Tower of London—but even jail couldn’t stop him from penning a love poem for his beloved wife.  Sadly, Charles remained in prison for 25 years. His wife died before his release, but he continued to write love poems, which is pretty sweet.

A Sensual Flower

One of Frieda Kahlo’s longest-lasting affairs was with Nikolas Murray, a photographer from New York. In 1938, she gave him a painting of a flower. Now that might not seem like a big romantic gesture, but the painting contains a scandalous hidden meaning. The flower looks a heck of a lot like a man and a woman’s private parts doing the deed.

Meeting in the Middle

Performance artists Marina Abramović and Ulay planned the ultimate romantic wedding. They’d walk the Great Wall of China from opposite ends until they met in the middle where they’d tie the knot. Unfortunately, by the time they could cut through all the Chinese Government’s red tape, their romantic wedding had turned into an awful break up. The trip took 90 days, and when they met in the middle, they ended their 12-year relationship. How heartbreaking!

Sculpting His Love

Artists Camille Claudel and Auguste Rodin had a hugely passionate love affair. Being the arty types, they expressed their love through several highly sensual sculptures. Many scholars believe that Rodin’s most famous sculptures, The Kiss and Eternal Idol, were inspired by his love for Claudel. If that’s true, Rodin’s passion has been captured for eternity.

Rekindling Her Affections

For many years, Catherine the Great had a passionate affair with Count Grigory Grigoryevich Orlov. Their love wasn’t just confined to the bedroom. Together, the adulterous couple overthrew Catherine’s husband Peter III of Russia and crowned Catherine the Empress of the country. Despite all Peter’s work getting her the crown, Catherine repaid him with a brutal betrayal: she dumped him.

The “Ice” in Ice Cold

This is when Grigory went into romantic overdrive. He was far from over Catherine and decided to get her back with an incredible gesture. He bought one of the greatest diamonds in the entire world and gave it to Catherine. She accepted the gift…but wasn’t interested in rekindling her relationship with Grigory. Ouch. That puts the “ice” in “ice cold.”

On the bright side, Catherine did name the diamond after Grigory and put it on the Imperial Scepter, so it wasn’t totally meaningless.

Commemorating His Love

Khedive Ismail of Egypt met princess Eugenie (Napoleon III’s wife) while attending school in Paris and never got over her. In 1869, several years after they’d first met, he invited her and Napoleon III to witness the opening of the Suez Canal. As it happened, Napoleon couldn’t make it, and she naively went on her own. That’s when she learned that Khedive Ismail definitely still had a crush on her.

This is Awkward

When Eugenie got to Paris, she was shocked to discover that Khedive Ismail had not only built her a palace, but created a replica of her room in Paris. Unfortunately for the poor guy, she wasn’t interested. The gesture fell flat and Eugenie went back to Napoleon.

Is it Love, or Toxic Radiation?

Scientists Marie Sklodowska and Pierre Curie met at the physics department of the Sorbonne University in 1894 and were drawn together by their mutual passion for science. The pair married a year later and famously investigated radioactivity. When Pierre unexpectedly died after falling under a heavy horse-drawn cart in the street, Marie dedicated her life to continuing his work.

Baby, It’s Both But Who Cares?

She took over his position at the Sorbonne, even winning her own Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1911 (she’d already won one jointly with Pierre). Tragically, her devotion spelled her doom. Curie died of exposure to radioactive materials in 1934. She was buried by his side and their remains lay together at Paris’ Pantheon to this day.

Love Over Duty

They say you can’t choose who you love, and this is definitely true of King Edward VIII. He made the ultimate sacrifice by giving up his throne for the American socialite Wallis Simpson. The Church of England would never have allowed Edward to marry the divorcée and keep his crown, so he was forced to choose between them. In December 1936, he abdicated, giving up the throne for love. The pair lived happily ever in France and were ultimate buried together on the grounds of Windsor Castle.

Carnation Lover

For a period in the 1930s, Wallis Simpson reportedly received a fragrant bouquet full of 17 carnations to her doorstep each and every day. These beautifully romantic gestures, however, hid a disturbing history. The blooms were decidedly not from her husband, the former King Edward VIII, but from her lover Joachim von Ribbentrop. And the intrigue didn’t end there—it was rumored that Joachim sent 17 flowers in each bouquet to represent the exact number of times the illicit couple had slept together during their fiery affair.

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Forever in Mourning

It didn’t take long for Queen Victoria to fall head-over-heels in love with Prince Albert. Sadly, when he died of typhoid in 1861, she was so shattered by his loss that she built him a mausoleum and a shrine in Windsor Castle. She even placed changes of clothes and fresh water in her deceased husband’s washing bowl. The Queen never travelled without him (or at least without a large portrait of him) and kept a smaller one by her bed so she could see his face when she woke up every morning. She mourned him until her death in 1901, wearing black every day for 40 years. That’s devotion!

Just Watch me

When the Nazis imprisoned the British soldier Horace Greasley in 1940, they sent him to a detention centre where he met translator Rosa Rauchbach, a German with Jewish heritage. The pair began a love affair in the camp but their romance was cut short. The Germans transferred Greasley to a new camp 40 miles away, but Greasley wasn’t about to let that stop him.

IRL Prison Break

Greasley broke out of prison as many as four times a week to go see Rauchbach wherever she was working. Amazingly, he managed to escape more than 200 times, always returning before anyone realized he was gone. When the war was over, Greasley and Rauchbach reunited and conceived a child. But for all Greasley’s incredible gestures, this love story ends in tragedy. Both Rauchbach and the baby died in childbirth.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26


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