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The 6 Most Tragic Love Stories in History

Bad Romance

Ines de Castro and King Pedro

(Image credit: Artist: Ernesto Ferreira Condeixa)

Nothing makes one's heart flutter quite like a good love story. And by good, we mean tragic, of course.

Though Shakespeare's plays are littered with doomed lovers — unrequited passion and death makes for good reading, apparently — couples equally as star-crossed can be found in the world's history books.

These six heartbreaking historical tales from the ancient to more recent past are as sad as anything that has ever been conjured up in fiction. Read on for a trip through doomed romance history.

Cleopatra and Mark Antony

Marc Antony and Cleopatra

It's a love story so epic that Shakespeare saw it fit to be the subject of one of his tragedies. They met in 41 B.C. at the height of turmoil in the Roman Republic; she, an Egyptian queen, seduced him, a powerful (and already married) general, into a romantic and tenuous political alliance between their territories. The alliance would prove sour when future emperor Octavian convinced the Roman senate that Marc Antony was power-hungry and bewitched by Cleopatra, declaring war on his former partner in 31 B.C. Both Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide during the war rather than be captured.
(Image credit: Artist: Lawrence Alma-Tadema)

It's a love story so epic that Shakespeare saw it fit to be the subject of one of his tragedies. They met in 41 B.C. at the height of turmoil in the Roman Republic; she, an Egyptian queen, seduced him, a powerful (and already married) general, into a romantic and tenuous political alliance between their territories.

The alliance would prove sour when future emperor Octavian convinced the Roman senate that Marc Antony was power-hungry and bewitched by Cleopatra, declaring war on his former partner in 31 B.C. Both Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide during the war rather than be captured.

Heloise and Abelard

Heloise and Abelard

(Image credit: Artist: Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale)

British poet Alexander Pope turned their story into a piece of classic literature, but Heloise and Abelard were in fact real, ridiculously in love, and doomed to a tragic end in mid 12th century France. Abelard was the girl's live-in tutor, 20 years her senior, and the romance so enraged her disapproving uncle that he had Abelard castrated shortly after they were discovered. Distraught, the lovers entered the monastery and wrote a set of now-famous letters to each other until their death, though they never met again.

Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal

Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan

Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan
(Image credit: Artist unkown)

Ever heard of the Taj Mahal? The famous palace in India is actually the ultimate declaration of love, built in the 17th century by Shah Jahan as a stunning final resting place for his beloved wife. Mumtaz Mahal — or "Jewel of the Palace," as he named her — was the ruler's third wife, but he clearly favored her and was so grief-stricken when she died during childbirth that he immediately began work on the Taj Mahal. It took 23 years to complete the homage, where he joined her at his own death in 1666.

Ines de Castro and King Pedro

Ines de Castro and King Pedro

(Image credit: Artist: Ernesto Ferreira Condeixa)

Ines de Castro became a lady-in-waiting for Princess Constance of Portugal in 1340 and quickly stole the heart of her prince Pedro, the heir to the Portuguese throne. When Constance died in 1349, Pedro tried to make Ines his lawful queen — they already had three children together — but his father the king intervened, banishing Ines and ultimately having her murdered when geographical distance couldn't keep Pedro away.

The act sparked a civil war between father and son and, when the latter claimed victory, Pedro exhumed his lover, built her a royal tomb, and had all of Portugal swear allegiance to Ines as their queen. 

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert

One of our more modern tragic love stories is just over a hundred years old and from an unlikely source — the British royal family. The love that Queen Victoria felt for her husband Prince Albert was as genuine as her 63-year reign was long, say historians, and his untimely death in 1861, 40 years before hers, devastated the otherwise powerful monarch. Victoria favored the color black for the rest of her life and spent much of the last decades of her reign in relative seclusion. When she finally passed away in 1901, she was interred in their common mausoleum and had these words inscribed over the door: "Farewell best beloved, here at last I shall rest with thee, with thee in Christ I shall rise again."
(Image credit: Artist: Sir Edwin Landseer)

One of our more modern tragic love stories is just over a hundred years old and from an unlikely source — the British royal family. The love that Queen Victoria felt for her husband Prince Albert was as genuine as her 63-year reign was long, say historians, and his untimely death in 1861, 40 years before hers, devastated the otherwise powerful monarch. Victoria favored the color black for the rest of her life and spent much of the last decades of her reign in relative seclusion. When she finally passed away in 1901, she was interred in their common mausoleum and had these words inscribed over the door: "Farewell best beloved, here at last I shall rest with thee, with thee in Christ I shall rise again."

Andrew Jackson and Rachel Donelson

Andrew Jackson and Rachel Donelson

(Image credit: Richard Archer)

One of the most controversial first ladies, Rachel Donelson was married to Lewis Robards of Kentucky before she wed Andrew Jackson in 1791. She had believed that her ex-husband had finalized their divorce, but in fact, he did not legally file the papers until 1793. Because even a simple, clear-cut divorce was scandalous and highly frowned upon at the time, Jackson's opponents used Rachel's past against him during his run for presidency, calling her a woman of loose morals.

The stress of the mudslinging aggravated a pre-existing heart condition, and Rachel never got to see Jackson become president, passing away following a heart attack two months before he took office. Jackson was so shocked and grief-stricken that he reportedly clung to Rachel long after she had died, hoping that she would revive.