10 Romantic Demonstrations of Love in History

There are as many love stories as there are couples in the world. However, there’s a certain something that unites them all. Some call it romance, but as you’ll see in this selection of historic tales we prepared for you today, it involves a lot more than empty romantic gestures or lavish presents. True love also takes persistence, courage, dedication, and sometimes a little bit or a lot of crazy...

The Taj Mahal - the crown of all romantic gestures

Romantic Gestures The Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal is among the most recognizable architectural masterpieces in the world. It also happens to be one of the most grandiose romantic gestures in all of history. The immaculate white mausoleum is a monument to love that transcends time.

This story begins in 1612 when the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan married the Persian princess Arjumand Banu Begum. Adjumand was the emperor’s third and most beloved wife. Shah Jahan even gave his soulmate the name Mumtaz Mahal, or “jewel of the palace,” and the two have rarely parted in their nineteen years of marriage. Sadly, Mumtaz Mahal didn’t survive the difficult birth of their fourteenth child and passed away in 1631.

On her deathbed, the emperor vowed to build the most beautiful mausoleum in the world. For two years, Shah Jahan banned all music and entertainment in the empire and concentrated on hand-picking the best architects and artisans commissioned to build Mumtaz Mahal’s luxurious tomb. Historical records show that precious stones, exotic plants, and rare birds were collected from all corners of the empire and beyond; over 20,000 workers and 1,000 elephants participated in the construction. The Taj Mahal was completed in 1648, and Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan were both buried alongside each other there.

Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson - giving up the throne for her

Romantic Gestures Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson
Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Can you imagine a greater demonstration of love than this? King Edward VIII did just that, swapping the throne for a luxurious life with his darling, Wallis Simpson. Edward, who had a widely-known playboy reputation, met Wallis at a party hosted by his then-girlfriend, Thelma Furness, in 1931. Wallis was an American commoner. She was also married for the second time when she met Edward, and they became lovers.

When the affair reached the public and the possibility of marriage first came up, the option was categorically condemned by the royal family, the king’s advisors, and the Church of England. The British media shamed and accused Simpson of being anything from a “Yankee harlot” to a German spy. After a barrage of death threats, Wallis was forced to escape to France.

Instead of terminating the relationship, Edward gave a final public address on December 10, 1936. In this famous speech, he abdicated the throne to his younger brother after less than a year of rule. “I have found it impossible 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,” Edward boldly stated to the public. The couple got married half a year later in France and lived together abroad until Edward’s passing in 1972.

Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio - roses on her grave

Romantic Gestures Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio
Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio at Chasen's restaurant (June 26, 1953) Image source: Flickr

The celebrity marriage of baseball star Joe DiMaggio and Hollywood legend Marilyn Monroe was short-lived – it only lasted 9 months. However, DiMaggio didn’t abandon Marilyn after the divorce. For instance, it was Joe who helped release her from a psychiatric institution following Monroe’s emotional breakdown following her divorce from Arthur Miller. 

There were even some rumors that DiMaggio was planning to propose to Marilyn again. Alas, he was too late, as the Hollywood actress passed away in 1962 from a barbiturate overdose.

The baseball star never remarried and refused to talk about Monroe in subsequent interviews. DiMaggio would continue sending a bouquet of roses to his lost love’s grave 3 times a week for the following 20 years.

Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning - the poetry of love

Romantic Gestures Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning
Portraits of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning by Thomas B. Read (1853) Image source: Wikimedia Commons

When Robert Browning first encountered her poems, he was instantly inspired to express appreciation for Elizabeth Barrett’s poetry. In an 1845 letter, he wrote, “I do, as I say, love these books with all my heart— and I love you too.” The two Victorian poets instantly connected over a shared passion for verse. The correspondence kept evolving, ultimately culminating in nearly 600 letters in a period of courtship that lasted just 20 months.

The couple married in secret in London a mere year later in 1846, to the disapproval of Elizabeth’s father. After the ceremony, the Brownings moved to Italy, where they continued to live until Elizabeth’s passing in 1861. The lovely correspondence between the two has been immortalized, especially through Elizabeth Barrett’s sonnet, How do I love thee? This poem is considered one of the most famous love poems of all time today. Read it here:

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

The legend of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon

Romantic Gestures Hanging Gardens of Babylon
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon from The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World illustrated series (1886) by Ferdinand Knab Image source: Wikimedia Commons

When Queen Amytis looked out of the windows of her chamber, she kept missing the lush mountainous views of her native Media (modern Kurdistan). Ever since she married King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon (modern-day Iraq) around 600 BC, she was surrounded by a barren and arid landscape.

To alleviate the queen’s melancholy, Nebuchadnezzar ordered the construction of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, a spectacular terraced garden planted with a huge variety of exotic plant life. The tiered garden was constructed in a way that the terraces seemed to float. This earned the legendary gardens the title of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

A number of ancient texts mention the Hanging Gardens, but archaeologists were unable to find the location of this desert oasis. Without any physical proof to confirm their existence, many scientists aren’t sure if they’re real. Other academics remain hopeful. Perhaps they are just romantics… or maybe the ruins of the legendary gardens will emerge one day.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert - mourning for four decades

Romantic Gestures Royal Albert Hall

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were a true Victorian power couple. The young queen got married to her German cousin in 1840, writing the following about Albert at the time: “He possesses every quality that can be desired to make me perfectly happy.” For Victoria, Albert was more than the father of her nine children. The Prince Consort was also a trusted adviser, a beloved partner, and a close friend.

When Prince Albert suddenly died of typhoid in 1861, Victoria was crushed. As historian Helen Rappaport described it, his death was “nothing less than a national calamity [for Victoria].” Instead of the customary two-year bereavement, it would hardly be an exaggeration to state that Victoria grieved her entire remaining life until 1901. 

For a long time, she was reluctant to make public appearances and always wore black, which earned her the nickname Widow of Windsor. Victoria didn’t stop expressing her love for the late prince. At first, she commissioned a grand mausoleum for Albert. In the 1870s, Victoria named several monuments after him as well. The Albert Memorial in Hyde Park and the Royal Albert Hall are two of the most famous examples.

Marina Abramovi? and Ulay - a dramatic love journey

Romantic Gestures Marina Abramovi?
Marina Abramovi? walks The Great Wall of China Image source: Public Delivery

Love doesn’t always last, but the journey is always emotional and poetic. Two performance artists and lovers – Marina Abramovic and Ulay – demonstrated this in a piece they simply called The Lovers

In 1988, Marina and Ulay thought of becoming the first couple to walk the Great Wall of China. The idea was incredibly romantic: the two would begin at opposite ends of the Great Wall and meet in the middle. They planned to get married in the place they met, right there and then.

The symbolic journey wasn’t easy. Marina began in the mountains, whereas Ulay started in the Gobi desert. Three months later, the couple finally met and embraced each other. But instead of getting married, they broke up, twisting the romantic gesture into a more nuanced one. As is often the case with love and art, the subjects can change along the way.

Horace Greasley and Rosa Rauchbach - a love no prison can restrain

Romantic Gestures Horace Greasley
Portrait of Horace Greasley Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Imagine loving your sweetheart so much that you’re willing to break out of prison again and again. As tragic as it is, this must be one of the most romantic demonstrations of love in history.

This story takes us back to World War II. One Horace Greasley, a British soldier, was captured by the Nazis in 1940 and sent to a detention camp in Germany. There, he met Rosa Rauchbach, a translator of Jewish descent, and fell in love at first glance. Sadly, the two were separated very soon because Greasley was transferred to another prison 40 miles away.

Neither distance nor his imprisonment could stop the British soldier from seeing his beloved Rosa. In the following few years, Greasley escaped prison over 200 times. He would meet with Rauchbach wherever she was at the time and return to prison before any of the guards noticed his absence. Alas, when Greasley was finally liberated in 1945, it was too late. Rauchbach passed away in childbirth with a baby fathered by Greasley.

Richard Wagner and Cosima Liszt - a symphony for her

Romantic Gestures Richard Wagner and Cosima Liszt


Richard and Cosima Wagner by Fritz Luckhardt (May 9, 1872) Image source: Wikimedia Commons

The beginning of Cosima Liszt and Richard Wagner’s relationship was rather rocky and contentious. The German composer was a widower, and Cosima was still married to her first husband, Hans von Bülow. It took six years for Cosima to finally get divorced in 1870. She married Wagner the same year.

During Cosima’s 33rd birthday on December 24, 1870, the newlyweds were on their honeymoon. She woke up to the sounds of a wonderful composition coming from the stairs of their Swiss villa. A chamber orchestra was standing on the stairs, performing a new symphony Wagner had composed for Cosima in secret.

Titled Siegfried Idyll, the piece was inspired by the birth of their son Siegfried and includes precious family lullabies. The symphony was not initially meant to be heard by the public, but Wagner was later forced to sell it amid financial struggles. That is how the composition got to us today.

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz - Lucy loves Desi

Romantic Gestures Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz
Portrait of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz

Famous for her extraordinary sense of humor in the I Love Lucy series, Lucille Ball needs no introduction. But did you know that Lucy’s persona began on the radio? Before the iconic TV show, Ball costarred in the My Favorite Husband radio show with Richard Denning. 

When CBS first considered adapting Lucy’s persona for television, she refused to participate unless they involved her actual husband Desi Arnaz. The Cuban musician performed in nightclubs at the time. 

At first, CBS executives were unwilling to hire Desi due to his Cuban accent. We know now that Lucy managed to convince CBS after all. Arnaz was cast as her spouse in what would become one of the most beloved TV shows in history. Once again, Lucy was right. And her persistence gave her husband the opportunity of a lifetime and secured both of their names in the Hollywood Hall of Fame.

References: Smithsonian Magazine, History Extra, Thought Catalog, Mental Floss, The Gentleman's Journal

Receive the newest nostalgia updates directly to your mail inbox
Did you mean:
Continue With: Facebook Google
By continuing, you agree to our T&C and Privacy Policy
Receive the newest nostalgia updates directly to your mail inbox
Did you mean:
Continue With: Facebook Google
By continuing, you agree to our T&C and Privacy Policy