Interesting Love Stories that Helped Shape the Modern World
Interesting Love Stories that Helped Shape the Modern World

Interesting Love Stories that Helped Shape the Modern World

Larry Holzwarth - August 7, 2020

Interesting Love Stories that Helped Shape the Modern World
Oscar Wilde in 1885. Wikimedia

18. Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas

Alfred Douglas and Oscar Wilde were in a relationship which came to the attention of Alfred’s father, the Marquess of Queensberry. The Marquess publicly called Wilde a sodomite, which led to the playwright charging him with criminal slander. Douglas encouraged the action. During the Marquess’s trial, evidence emerged that his accusations were in fact true, forcing Wilde to drop the charges, and exposing him to criminal charges, as same-sex relations were at the time illegal in Britain. The trial also strained the relationship between Douglas and Wilde, following the evidence of Wilde’s homosexual behavior with several other young men.

Wilde was tried and convicted of gross indecency in 1895 in a second trial, after the first ended with a hung jury. Following his conviction, which likely would never have occurred had Wilde not first charged the Marquess of Queensbury with libel, he was imprisoned for two years. After his release, Wilde and Douglas were reunited briefly in Naples, though by the time Wilde relocated to Paris in 1898, Douglas had returned to England. After converting to Catholicism, Douglas denied any relationship with Oscar Wilde other than friendship, a stance he maintained for the rest of his life. Wilde, who died in 1900, was the only one of the many men cited in his trials to face charges, or go to prison for his acts. Douglas later served six months in prison for libel, on unrelated charges brought by the crown on behalf of Winston Churchill.

Interesting Love Stories that Helped Shape the Modern World
Sickles successfully used an insanity defense after killing his wife’s lover. Wikimedia

19. Daniel Sickles, Philip Barton Key, and Teresa Bagioli

Daniel Sickles was a noted attorney and politician in New York and Washington, married to Teresa Bagioli. While married, Sickles drew censure from the State Assembly when he brought into its chambers a known prostitute. Sickles later took the same woman with him on a trip to London, when he was assigned to the American legation there. Meanwhile, his wife, Teresa, entered into an extramarital affair with Philip Barton Key, another attorney of note. He was the son of Francis Scott Key, the writer of what later became America’s national anthem. When Sickles learned of the affair he accosted Key, in broad daylight in Lafayette Square, in sight of the White House, and shot him dead.

His defense at his trial was extreme emotional distress. He was acquitted. It was the first successful use of the temporary insanity defense in American legal history. Sickles obtained a signed confession from Teresa with details of the affair, which he leaked to the press, creating considerable scandal and public outrage. After his acquittal, Sickles and Teresa briefly reconciled, though their marriage was effectively over. On the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, Sickles lost a leg while leading his corps into a position forward of the Union line. His corps took heavy casualties as a result, rendering it ineffective for the rest of the battle. After the war and the death of Teresa in 1867, he remarried, though he continued for the rest of his life to promote his reputation as a ladies’ man.

Interesting Love Stories that Helped Shape the Modern World
The tale of the John Alden-Myles Standish bargain are likely a myth. Wikimedia

20. John Alden and Priscilla Mullins

John Alden was not among the religious dissenters known to Americans as the Pilgrims. He was a carpenter and cooper, both skills highly valued on long ocean voyages. Mayflower’s captain, Christopher Jones, hired the young man for the voyage. He made the decision to remain in the New World at some point before the first huts of the colony were erected, as evidenced by his signature on the Mayflower Compact. During the first winter hunger and disease ravaged the settlers, and one – Priscilla Mullins – lost her entire family, both parents and a brother. Priscilla married John Alden, likely in 1622, since the division of land in 1623 listed John Alden, but not her.

The romantic story regarding John, Priscilla, and Miles Standish is almost certainly entirely fictional. It stems from the poem The Courtship of Miles Standish written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, (a direct descendant) one of a series of works which fictionalized American history. Standish was married when the Pilgrims arrived, his wife Rose was one of the casualties of the first winter. His second wife, Barbara, arrived in late 1623, they were married in the spring of 1624. By that time, John and Priscilla were residing in the house he built at the foot of Burial Hill. Eventually, John and Priscilla had ten children together. She died sometime around 1685, in Duxbury, where they moved in 1627. John Alden died in 1687, one of the longest-lived of the original voyagers on the Mayflower.

Interesting Love Stories that Helped Shape the Modern World
President Harding and his wife, First Lady Florence Harding. Wikimedia

21. Warren Harding and Caroline Fulton Phillips

Both Caroline – known as Carrie – and Warren G. Harding were married when they began their affair, which at first they were able to keep a secret from their respective spouses. The four were friends, socializing together and even traveling to Europe together. When Florence Harding, wife of Warren, learned of the affair, she exploded in fury, informing Carrie of other affairs her husband had pursued. The Phillips’ went on another European trip while the Harding’s remained at home in Marion, Ohio. Carrie decided to remain in Germany, her husband returned to the United States alone. Harding meanwhile won a seat in the United States Senate. Carrie returned to the United States as it became evident that war was imminent.

In 1920, Harding secured the Republican nomination for President. Aware that Carrie retained more than 200 letters which Harding had written, he informed the leading party officials of their existence. They approached Phillips with a request that the letters be kept private, to which Carrie responded with demands of her own. In order to obtain her discretion, Republican leaders agreed to pay for a lengthy journey to the Pacific and Asia for Carrie and her husband. They also agreed to continued annual payments for the rest of her life. What Harding had not told the party was that the affair had continued up to the time he stood for the nomination, a fact revealed when a trove of letters to Carrie written by Harding was discovered in 1964. All were written between 1910 and 1920.

Interesting Love Stories that Helped Shape the Modern World
From right; William Holden, Nancy and Ronald Reagan, and Ardis Holden at the Reagan’s wedding. Wikimedia

22. Ronald Reagan and Nancy Davis

While serving as the Director of the Screen Actors Guild in 1949, Ronald Reagan received a message from Nancy Davis, who had been included in a list of communists subject to blacklisting. In her case, it was mistaken identity, and Reagan helped her clear up the issue. They married in 1952. Another Hollywood actor, William Holden, served as Reagan’s best man. It was his second marriage, her first. By all accounts, their relationship was strong, warm, and very close. Both used pet names for each other, even decades later when Reagan served as the 40th President of the United States. He relied on her counsel in all things and was not ashamed to speak about it.

Her influence on his two terms in office was often controversial. At times it was subject to open ridicule, as when reports surfaced that she consulted an astrologer for recommendations on which days were fortuitous for various activities, such as travel. Her influence led to friction with Reagan’s Chief of Staff, Don Regan, and according to several sources led to his being fired by the President. Regan later wrote, “Virtually every major move and decision the Reagans made during my time as White House Chief of Staff was cleared in advance with a woman in San Francisco who drew up horoscopes to make certain that the planets were in a favorable alignment for the enterprise”.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Cleopatra”. Article, BBC History Online.

“The Love Affair of the Roman Emperor Hadrian and the Handsome Antinous”. Article, Ancient Origins. March 9, 2018. Online

“Beatrice and Dante”. Article, Florence Inferno. Online

“Ferdinand of Aragon marries Isabella of Castile”. This Day in History.

“Successful and Unsuccessful Lovers of the Rich and Powerful in History”. Natasha sheldon, History Collection, November 1, 2019

“Anne Boleyn” Article, Tower of London. Historic Royal Palaces. Online

“Abigail Smith Adams”. Article, The White House. Online

“Queen Charlotte, Consort of George III”. Article, Royal Collection Trust. Online

“Benedict Arnold: The Aftermath of Treason”. Milton Lomask, American Heritage Magazine. October, 1967

“Dolley Madison”. Biography, National First Ladies Library. Online

“Frank Butler”. Biography, The American Experience. PBS, Online

“Mistresses and Lovers of Historical Figures Who Left Their Mark on History”. Sarah January, History Collection, December 17, 2019

“Truman”. David McCullough. 1992

“Mornings on Horseback”. David McCullough. 1981

“The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill”. William Manchester. 1984

“Isidor Straus”. Article, Jewish Virtual Library. Online

“What Happened When King Edward VIII Quit the Royal Family?” Elise Taylor, Vogue. January 12, 2020

“He betrayed Wilde. But that wasn’t the worst thing Bosie did”. Philip Hoare, The Guardian. June 3, 2000

“Representative Daniel Sickles of New York”. Article, US House of Representatives. Online

“Beyond the Pilgrim Story”. Article, Pilgrim Hall Museum. Online

“Heart Wrenching Love Stories Throughout History”. Jennifer Conerly, History Collection, January 21, 2019

“The Letters That Warren G. Harding’s Family Didn’t Want You To See”. Jordan Michael Smith, The New York Times Magazine. July 7, 2014

“The Love Story of Ronald and Nancy Reagan”. Nicole Pelletiere, ABC News. March 11, 2016. Online