iStock
iStock

5 Great Love Stories That Weren't All That Great

iStock
iStock

Valentine’s Day annoys a lot of people. So here’s a reminder that some relationships that are considered the greatest love stories of all time were pretty messed up.

1. Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson

Why we love it: Edward was king of England, and he gave it all up for a woman. He even made a famous speech where he poured his normally guarded English heart out to the whole nation, saying he couldn't be the best king he could be without "the help and support of the woman I love." Since Wallis Simpson was divorced (twice) and an American to boot, there was no way she could marry him and be queen; the royal family and the public wouldn't have accepted it. Instead, Edward became the first British monarch to abdicate.

What we forget: Wallis Simpson didn't really want to marry Edward. Sure, she might have given in if there were a crown involved, but she did not want her boyfriend to abdicate. By then she was sick of him, but knew she was pretty much trapped. Plus, it wasn't that much of a sacrifice on Edward's part, since he knew being king would be a drag, what with all the openings of Parliament and ship christenings getting in the way of his jetting around the world to party. The newly dubbed Duke and Duchess of Windsor stayed together until Edward's death. They indulged in their hobbies of throwing house parties where they screamed at each other in front of guests, having affairs, and talking about how great Hitler was, an opinion the Duke aired in public until at least the late 1960s.

2. Abelard & Heloise

Why we love it: Star-crossed lovers of the Romeo and Juliet variety, Abelard and Heloise is the classic story of two people deeply in love whose circumstances made it impossible for them to be together. They were forced apart by her family but wrote love letters to each other for years.

The book of their letters is still popular and studied in some schools. Their story has been the inspiration for many novels, plays, movies, and even a ballet, and their relationship has been referenced in everything from Being John Malkovich to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to The Sopranos.

What we forget: The important medieval thinker Peter Abelard was rich, pretty famous, and much older than the teenage Héloise when he was hired to be her teacher sometime in the 1100s. Since even medieval celebrities need groupies, he seduced her. But when he inevitably got her pregnant, he sent her away to the French countryside. At some point, they secretly got married, and he sent her off to a convent until things blew over. When the girl's uncle found out about the wedding (and misunderstanding the convent gesture), he sent some thugs to beat up and castrate Abelard. Abelard, by this time probably pretty angry at his wife's family, became a monk. Not content to be the only one in the relationship who was suffering, he forced Héloise to become a nun, something she told him she absolutely did not want to do. Oh, and that romantic correspondence they engaged in? Yeah, some of it includes Abelard detailing the times he raped her and telling the mother of his child that he never really loved her. Romance!

3. Napoleon and Josephine

Why we love it: Just as we fixate on royal couples today, Napoleon and Josephine allow us to escape to an opulent world full of power and passion. Napoleon’s letters to Josephine are so brimming with love and affection that you can imagine they were absolutely devoted to one another. In one he says, “Since I left you, I have been constantly depressed. My happiness is to be near you. Incessantly I live over in my memory your caresses, your tears, your affectionate solicitude. The charms of the incomparable Josephine kindle continually a burning and a glowing flame in my heart. When, free from all solicitude, all harassing care, shall I be able to pass all my time with you, having only to love you, and to think only of the happiness of so saying, and of proving it to you?”

What we forget: Josephine was a widow set on finding an important man. She had already seduced many of the most influential French politicians when the rising star Napoleon caught her eye. He seems to have fallen head over heels immediately (except with her name—while everyone else called her Rose, Napoleon decided on Josephine), and they were married. Unfortunately, only a few days later, he had to go off on a military campaign. He wrote his passionate letters from abroad, which Josephine may have read with one of the many men she took as lovers while he was away. When Napoleon found out, he was furious, and embarked on affairs of his own.

One story has it that their marriage almost ended shortly before their joint coronation, when Josephine walked in on Napoleon with another woman. But it was after he impregnated one of his mistresses that he finally divorced her, now knowing that he could in fact produce children and was not reliant on her previous offspring for the succession. Napoleon, who could be very romantic on paper, was far less so when he stated that he wanted to marry a womb.

4. Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour

Why we love it: Considered the greatest love story between a king and his "official mistress" ever, Madame de Pompadour only lost her exalted position when she died at 42, after 19 years with the king. He was so distraught at her death that he didn't take another official mistress for four years. More than half a dozen movies have centered on their relationship, and it is compared to that of Eva and Juan Peron in the musical Evita.

What we forget: Not only was Louis her boyfriend, he was also her landlord, employer, and—oh yeah—her absolute monarch. There was no way this was ever going to be a two-way relationship. She spent virtually every day of those 19 years by Louis's side because if the royal eye wandered, she would find herself out on the street, and possibly broke. This meant partying until all hours with a smile on her face when she was really sick, joining the king on long hunting expeditions that routinely made her ill, and acting like everything was fine when both her only child and father died within days of each other. Also, since she rarely slept with the king due to a painful gynecological condition, she encouraged him to make use of his private brothel, which housed disturbingly young girls.

5. Bonnie and Clyde

Why we love it: Perhaps no criminals are as romanticized as Bonnie and Clyde. We forgive their crimes because they played up their relationship to the camera, and through those historic photos they become real people—real kids in love. Even their violent death rings of Romeo and Juliet: two people whose only choice was live apart or die together. Their relationship has been romanticized in song and movies, most famously in the classic 1967 film starring Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty.

What we forget: Beyond the whole robbing banks and killing people stuff that everyone already knows about, new research shows that Bonnie may have had a mental disorder that made her attracted to seriously violent men. There is a sexual fetish called hybristophilia, or “Bonnie and Clyde Syndrome,” and we still see it today in the dozens of admirers that convicted murderers attract. Some even marry them, like Carole Ann Boone did with serial killer Ted Bundy. So the entire romance between the intelligent and vivacious Bonnie and the career-criminal Clyde was down to her disturbing paraphilia.

Not only that, but despite being just 23 when she died, Bonnie had been married for seven years … and not to Clyde. Her husband was in prison and she was still wearing her wedding ring when she died.

This story originally appeared in 2012.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Dennis Oulds, Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
When John Lennon and Yoko Ono Mailed Acorns to World Leaders
 Dennis Oulds, Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Dennis Oulds, Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

John Lennon and Yoko Ono had a big year in 1969. Following a quick wedding ceremony in Gibraltar, they hopped over to Amsterdam and used their honeymoon suite at the Hilton as a stage for their week-long “Bed-In for Peace” protest against the Vietnam War. A week later they were in Vienna wearing bags over their bodies and declaring the formation of a comical new philosophy called “bagism." Their goal, they said, was to promote "total communication" by getting people to focus on their message instead of their skin color, ethnicity, clothes, or in Lennon's case, hair length.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono with a sign reading "bagism"
Bob Aylott, Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

These attention-grabbing antics were among their most famous peace efforts, but that same year they undertook a very different project. This time, away from the cameras, Lennon and Ono mailed acorns to some of the world's most important leaders and asked that they be planted in support of world peace.

The idea had been a year in the making. While filming a part for a movie called A Love Story on June 15, 1968, Lennon and Ono planted two acorns at England’s Coventry Cathedral, which had been bombed during WWII and was later rebuilt as a symbol of peace. They were “planted in east and westerly positions,” symbolizing the union of Lennon and Ono and their respective cultures.

Then, in 1969, they decided to scale up their "peace acorn" project. Along with two acorns placed in a small, round case, they sent world leaders a letter that read: “Enclosed in this package we are sending you two living sculptures—which are acorns—in the hope that you will plant them in your garden and grow two oak trees for world peace. Yours with love, John and Yoko Ono Lennon.”

Like the proverb “Great oaks from little acorns grow,” the couple understood the power of small gestures and wanted to start a conversation that would get world leaders thinking about the possibility of peace—or in Lennon's words, to encourage them to "give peace a chance."

John and Yoko hold up a protest sign that says "War is over if you want it."
Frank Barratt, Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

They did provoke some thought, at least. In a 1970 interview with Rolling Stone, Lennon explained, “We got reaction to sending acorns—different heads of state actually planted their acorns, lots of them wrote to us answering about the acorns. We sent acorns to practically everybody in the world.”

The two acorns were “submitted to Her Majesty [Queen Elizabeth II] in due course,” according to a letter that the Privy Purse Office at Buckingham Palace sent to the Lennons. A response from Malaysia confirmed that the acorns were to be planted in Kuala Lumpur’s Palace Gardens, and another letter from South Africa indicated that they would be planted on then-president Jim Fouché’s farm.

Golda Meir, then-prime minister of Israel, reportedly said something along the lines of, “I don’t know who they are but if it’s for peace, we’re for it,” Lennon told Rolling Stone. An official response sent by Meir’s assistant director in 1970 read, “Mrs. Meir very much appreciated the gesture, the underlying symbolism of which she would indeed like to see take root within a realistic framework.”

One particularly polite response came from Cambodia's head of state, Norodom Sihanouk, who worried he had erred in addressing Lennon and Ono as Mr. and Mrs. (he hadn't). He wrote, “Dear Sir and Madam, I may have wrongly assumed the friendly donators of acorns are husband and wife, and would like to submit ‘preventive’ apologies, together with my sincerest thanks for their gift.”

Norodom Sihanouk at a naval event
Norodom Sihanouk at a naval event in 1960
Three Lions/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Ono saved all of these letters, and photocopies can be viewed on her website. For his part, Lennon memorialized the event in The Beatles single "The Ballad of John and Yoko." In case you've ever wondered what the line "50 acorns tied in a sack" means, the verse in question references the events following their honeymoon and return to London:

Caught the early plane back to London
Fifty acorns tied in a sack
The men from the press
Said we wish you success
It's good to have the both of you back

To mark the 40th anniversary of the peace acorn offering in 2009, Ono recreated the act and sent acorns to 123 world leaders, including Barack and Michelle Obama. Next year, for the 50th anniversary, it remains to be seen if the famous peace acorns will again make their way around the world. If you happen to be a president or the Queen, you might want to save a spot in your garden, just in case.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images
11 Things You Might Not Know About Johann Sebastian Bach
Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images
Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images

Johann Sebastian Bach is everywhere. Weddings? Bach. Haunted houses? Bach. Church? Bach. Shredding electric guitar solos? Look, it’s Bach! The Baroque composer produced more than 1100 works, from liturgical organ pieces to secular cantatas for orchestra, and his ideas about musical form and harmony continue to influence generations of music-makers. Here are 11 things you might not know about the man behind the music.

1. PEOPLE DISAGREE ABOUT WHEN TO CELEBRATE HIS BIRTHDAY.

Some people celebrate Bach’s birthday on March 21. Other people light the candles on March 31. The correct date depends on whom you ask. Bach was born in Thuringia in 1685, when the German state was still observing the Julian calendar. Today, we use the Gregorian calendar, which shifted the dates by 11 days. And while most biographies opt for the March 31 date, Bach scholar Christopher Wolff firmly roots for Team 21. “True, his life was actually 11 days longer because Protestant Germany adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1700,” he told Classical MPR, “but with the legal stipulation that all dates prior to Dec. 31, 1699, remain valid.”

2. HE WAS THE CENTER OF A MUSICAL DYNASTY.

Bach’s great-grandfather was a piper. His grandfather was a court musician. His father was a violinist, organist, court trumpeter, and kettledrum player. At least two of his uncles were composers. He had five brothers—all named Johann—and the three who lived to adulthood became musicians. J.S. Bach also had 20 children, and, of those who lived past childhood, at least five became professional composers. According to the Nekrolog, an obituary written by Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, "[S]tarting with Veit Bach, the founding father of this family, all his descendants, down to the seventh generation, have dedicated themselves to the profession of music, with only a few exceptions."

3. BACH TOOK A MUSICAL PILGRIMAGE THAT PUTS EVERY ROAD TRIP TO WOODSTOCK TO SHAME.

In 1705, 20-year-old Bach walked 280 miles—that's right, walked—from the city of Arnstadt to Lübeck in northern Germany to hear a concert by the influential organist and composer Dieterich Buxtehude. He stuck around for four months to study with the musician [PDF]. Bach hoped to succeed Buxtehude as the organist of Lübeck's St. Mary's Church, but marriage to one of Buxtehude's daughters was a prerequisite to taking over the job. Bach declined, and walked back home.

4. HE BRAWLED WITH HIS STUDENTS.

One of Bach’s first jobs was as a church organist in Arnstadt. When he signed up for the role, nobody told him he also had to teach a student choir and orchestra, a responsibility Bach hated. Not one to mince words, Bach one day lost patience with a error-prone bassoonist, Johann Geyersbach, and called him a zippelfagottist—that is, a “nanny-goat bassoonist.” Those were fighting words. Days later, Geyersbach attacked Bach with a walking stick. Bach pulled a dagger. The rumble escalated into a full-blown scrum that required the two be pulled apart.

5. BACH SPENT 30 DAYS IN JAIL FOR QUITTING HIS JOB.

When Bach took a job in 1708 as a chamber musician in the court of the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, he once again assumed a slew of responsibilities that he never signed up for. This time, he took it in stride, believing his hard work would lead to his promotion to kapellmeister (music director). But after five years, the top job was handed to the former kapellmeister’s son. Furious, Bach resigned and joined a rival court. As retribution, the duke jailed him for four weeks. Bach spent his time in the slammer writing preludes for organ.

6. THE BRANDENBURG CONCERTOS WERE A FAILED JOB APPLICATION.

Around 1721, Bach was the head of court music for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen. Unfortunately, the composer reportedly didn’t get along with the prince’s new wife, and he started looking for a new gig. (Notice a pattern?) Bach polished some manuscripts that had been sitting around and mailed them to a potential employer, Christian Ludwig, the Margrave of Brandenburg. That package, which included the Brandenburg Concertos—now considered some of the most important orchestral compositions of the Baroque era—failed to get Bach the job [PDF].

7. HE WROTE ONE OF THE WORLD'S GREATEST COFFEE JINGLES.

Bach apparently loved coffee enough to write a song about it: "Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht" ("Be still, stop chattering"). Performed in 1735 at Zimmerman’s coffee house in Leipzig, the song is about a coffee-obsessed woman whose father wants her to stop drinking the caffeinated stuff. She rebels and sings this stanza:

Ah! How sweet coffee tastes
More delicious than a thousand kisses
Milder than muscatel wine.
Coffee, I have to have coffee,
And, if someone wants to pamper me,
Ah, then bring me coffee as a gift!

8. IF BACH CHALLENGED YOU TO A KEYBOARD DUEL, YOU WERE GUARANTEED TO BE EMBARRASSED.

In 1717, Louis Marchand, a harpsichordist from France, was invited to play for Augustus, Elector of Saxony, and performed so well that he was offered a position playing for the court. This annoyed the court’s concertmaster, who found Marchand arrogant and insufferable. To scare the French harpsichordist away, the concertmaster hatched a plan with his friend, J.S. Bach: a keyboard duel. Bach and Marchand would improvise over a number of different styles, and the winner would take home 500 talers. But when Marchand learned just how talented Bach was, he hightailed it out of town.

9. SOME OF HIS MUSIC MAY HAVE BEEN COMPOSED TO HELP INSOMNIA.

Some people are ashamed to admit that classical music, especially the Baroque style, makes them sleepy. Be ashamed no more! According to Bach’s earliest biographer, the Goldberg Variations were composed to help Count Hermann Karl von Keyserling overcome insomnia. (This story, to be fair, is disputed.) Whatever the truth, it hasn’t stopped the Andersson Dance troupe from presenting a fantastic Goldberg-based tour of performances called “Ternary Patterns for Insomnia.” Sleep researchers have also suggested studying the tunes’ effects on sleeplessness [PDF].

10. HE WAS BLINDED BY BOTCHED EYE SURGERY.

When Bach was 65, he had eye surgery. The “couching” procedure, which was performed by a traveling surgeon named John Taylor, involved shoving the cataract deep into the eye with a blunt instrument. Post-op, Taylor gave the composer eye drops that contained pigeon blood, mercury, and pulverized sugar. It didn’t work. Bach went blind and died shortly after. Meanwhile, Taylor moved on to botch more musical surgeries. He would perform the same procedure on the composer George Frideric Handel, who also went blind.

11. NOBODY IS 100 PERCENT CONFIDENT THAT BACH IS BURIED IN HIS GRAVE.

In 1894, the pastor of St. John’s Church in Leipzig wanted to move the composer’s body out of the church graveyard to a more dignified setting. There was one small problem: Bach had been buried in an unmarked grave, as was common for regular folks at the time. According to craniologist Wilhelm His, a dig crew tried its best to find the composer but instead found “heaps of bones, some in many layers lying on top of each other, some mixed in with the remains of coffins, others already smashed by the hacking of the diggers.” The team later claimed to find Bach’s box, but there’s doubt they found the right (de)composer. Today, Bach supposedly resides in Leipzig’s St. Thomas Church.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios