Napoleon and Josephine
Despite a tumultuous relationship and numerous affairs on both sides, it seems the couple truly loved each other throughout. They met and married when Napoleon was a general in the French army. Josephine became the Empress of France in 1804 but her inability to give him an heir meant that after thirteen years of marriage he was forced, reluctantly, to divorce her. The divorce proceedings, rather than being acrimonious, involved the two reading statements of devotion to each other.
On hearing of Josephine’s death while in exile on Elba, Napoleon locked himself in his room for two days. On his return to France he collected violets from her garden, which he wore in a locket until his death.
Edward Galinski and Mala Zimetbaum
Proving love can blossom even in the midst of hell, this couple met and fell in love as prisoners in Auschwitz. Edward or ‘Edek’ was a Polish metal worker in the death camp. Mala, a Polish Jew, helped transport sick prisoners from the infirmary.
Edek had long been preparing an escape plan with the help of a sympathetic SS guard and, on 24 June 1944, he and Mala walked out of Auschwitz together, Edek wearing an SS uniform and carrying a forged pass. The ruse worked and the lovers headed for the Slovakian border.
Sadly their time of freedom together was to be all too brief. They were picked up on the border by a German patrol and returned to the camp where they were interred and tortured for information as to who had supplied the SS uniform. Neither of them talked.
Edek was hanged in front of the other prisoners. At the last moment he yelled: “long live Pol...” before the noose cut him off. The lovers became camp heroes and their story became a symbol of hope and the transcendent power of love.
Heloise and Abelard
It was 12th century France. Abelard, a famous French philosopher, was hired as Heloise’s live-in tutor. She was 19. He was 20 years older. They fell in love and Heloise gave birth to an illegitimate child. They eventually married but when Heloise went to stay in a convent, her uncle believed Abelard had discarded her and one night broke into his room and castrated him.
Abelard entered a monastery and Heloise a nunnery but they continued to write love letters to each other which were immortalised by the poet Alexander Pope. In one such letter Heloise wrote:
"But if I lose you, what have I left to hope for? Why continue on life's pilgrimage, for which I have no support but you, and none in you save the knowledge that you are alive, now that I am forbidden all other pleasures in you and denied even the joy of your presence which from time to time could restore me to myself?"
Andrew Jackson and Rachel Donelson
The president-to-be of the United States married the love of his life, Rachel Donelson in 1791. She was already married when they met and although her then-husband Lewis Robards agreed to the divorce, he didn’t tell her that he only filed the divorce papers two years after she and Jackson were already ‘married’. The ensuing political scandal during the election campaign led to Rachel’s already weak heart giving up. She died of a heart attack two months before Jackson was due to take office. The incumbent president is said to have clung to his wife’s body for hours after she had died, hoping somehow that she would revive.
Prince Pedro and Ines de Castro
Ines de Castro became the lady in waiting to Princess Constance of Portugal in 1340. The Princess’s husband and heir to the throne, Prince Pedro, soon fell in love with Ines and the two had a long-running affair that bore three illegitimate children.
When his wife died in 1349, Pedro tried to make Ines his legitimate wife but he was overruled by his father, the king, who had Ines banished to a monastery. Even this could not keep the lovers apart however so the king had Ines killed, her murderers decapitating her in front of her own child.
Pedro defeated his father in a civil war and ascended the throne. He declared that he had married Ines in secret thus posthumously legitimising her. He even exhumed her body, forcing the court to swear allegiance to the new queen by kissing the corpse’s hand.
When Pedro died he had his coffin placed facing hers so that they would see each other as they rose from their graves on the day of judgement.
Daniel Parmenter and Lauren Debrauwere
All the more poignant because it happened on Valentine’s day, this tragic love story involved to two students at the Northern Illinois university. In February 2008 the couple were attending an ocean science lecture when a former student, Steven Kazmierczak, burst into the room and fired a shotgun and three pistols into the crowd.
When the shooting started the couple dropped to the ground and Daniel lay on top of Lauren, using his 6ft 5 frame to protect his girlfriend. Daniel was shot twice in the head, twice in the back and once in the side and was killed. But thanks to his heroic actions his girlfriend survived the horrific attack.
It later emerged that Daniel wasn’t even enrolled in the ocean science class in which he had died. He had attended the lecture just so he could spend Valentine’s day with his girlfriend.