Dear Readers: This week on Canto Talk, my favorite military historian, Barry Jacobsen, will be sharing a different view of the past. He will be joining Silvio and I to discuss History’s Most Romantic Couples. As our show is on Valentine’s Day, this seems like a great time to switch gears to a slightly sweeter topic (click HERE for podcast; the show will be Thursday, Feb. 14, 7 pm PST-9 pm CT, 10 om EST).
So, this week, the Shrine of Flaming Capitalism will feature some noted couples in history. I continue with #4-6.
#4 LORD HORATIO NELSON and LADY EMMA HAMILTON
Readers of my blog will recall it was Team Nelson who grabbed the Rosetta Stone from a member of Napoleon’s Egyptian expedition. However, between harassing the French and acquiring antiquities, it seems Admiral found some time for a grand affair:
Nelson’s affair with Emma Hamilton was the biggest scandal of the age. Their actual liaison lasted only six years, but it transformed their lives, their respective positions in society, and the public’s perception of them both.
Horatio Nelson first met Lady Hamilton on 12 September 1793. He was a 35-year-old post captain and she was the 28-year-old wife of Sir William Hamilton, the British Envoy to Naples. Emma was a great beauty and a celebrated artists’ model, and she was also famous across Europe for performing ‘attitudes’, which were performances in which she moved quickly from one dramatic pose to another.
Mired in retirement in Norfolk for the previous five years, Nelson had hardly seen a woman since he had returned to sea six months before their meeting, and he was impressed by Lady Hamilton. He wrote to his wife Fanny that Emma was a ‘young woman of amiable manners who does honour to the station to which she is raised’.
The second meeting between Nelson and his future mistress was altogether more dramatic. By 1797 the Italian Court, including Emma and her husband, were terrified that Naples would be invaded by French troops. They were hugely relieved in the following year by Nelson’s victory over the French fleet at Aboukir, in the ‘Battle of the Nile’, and they craved the presence of the hero and his fleet in Naples. Emma wrote him a passionately admiring letter.
When Nelson arrived in September, Emma welcomed him in spectacular fashion and he was immediately captivated by her. Emma’s husband was also fond of Nelson and, bonded in their determination not to allow Naples to capitulate to the French, the three dubbed themselves the ‘Tria juncto in uno’. By the end of 1798, a French invasion seemed inevitable and the ‘Tria’, along with the Neapolitan royal family, their courtiers, hundreds of foreign travellers and many Neapolitan aristocrats, fled to Sicily.
Nelson, Emma and Sir William soon rented a large house in Palermo together, along with Emma’s mother and various English friends. The English press speculated about the close friendship between the ‘national hero’ – Nelson – and Lady Hamilton. Nelson’s wife begged to be allowed to visit him, but he rebuffed her harshly. Emma had encompassed all his attentions.
#5 EVITA AND JUAN PERON
Great romances make for great stories. Fans of the musical “Evita” will appreciate the dynamics of the relationship between the Perons:
By 1944, when she met Juan Peron, she was earning about 6,000 pesos a month. She had learned the value of appearances, making sure that she was seen in all the best restaurants and cafes. When Eva met Juan Peron, he was a colonel in the Argentine army, and had just been made both Secretary of Labour and Secretary of War after the army had seized control of the government in 1943. Almost twice Eva’s age at 48, he was a childless widower, his first wife had died of uterine cancer six years before. In early 1944, an earthquake rocked the small town of San Juan at the foot of the Andes mountains killing 6,000 people. Peron came up with the idea of an artistic festival to raise funds for the victims. Eva attended the gala concert with a close friend, but she left that night with Peron (expressed in the song “I’d be Surprisingly Good For You.” Peron had a mistress at the time, a young girl that he used to introduce to people as his daughter. Eva took care of the mistress by hiring a truck to move her stuff into Peron’s apartment, kicking the mistress out on the street (In Evita, this is the “Another Suitcase in Another Hall” sequence).
Eva had now hitched her wagon to Peron’s rising star. Juan Domingo Peron was born on October 8, 1895. Although his paternal grandfather had been a doctor, Peron’s father became a farmer and landowner. Like Evita, Peron was illegitimate, but he seems not to have suffered the psychic wounds that Eva suffered from, although it was not public knowledge. By the time Peron turned 16, his parents had married. Peron attended military school and joined the army at the age of 21. He was tall, taller than most Argentine men at the time, macho, with black hair and a movie star smile. He suffered from a mild form of psoriasis that required medicine that also made him look good in photos. He had traveled to Europe in 1939, staying for two years, visiting all the facist countries. He was particularly taken with Mussolini, attracted to the pomp and ceremony of the facist rallies. Like most successful politicians, Peron was charismatic. While other members of the government avoided the press like the plague, Peron was always ready to talk to them. He also had the ability to reflect and interpret the mood of his supporters and also to shape it. He appeared enigmatic and evasive at times. While Secretary of Labor, Peron helped the government to establish the minimum wage, paid holidays, and medical care for the workers, which was revolutionary at the time in Argentina and hated by the wealthy landowners. The Oligarchy or Aristocracy as they are called in Evita had been the dominant political power in Argentine life. in 1930, 1,804 people owned the equivalent in area of Holland, Switzerland and Belgium. They were mainly conservative and more concerned about keeping and consolidating their power. The army coup changed all that and in particular Peron’s courting of the working class who had been overlooked by previous regimes.
The image that people most associate of Eva, the smiling, laughing blonde came from her first starring role on film, which she got because Peron provided the film stock to the production company. She also in 1944 became the first president of the newly formed actor’s union in Argentina. Soon Eva added a political radio show to her line-up caled “Towards a Better Tomorrow,” which consisted solely of content designed to promote Peron. From being apolitical, Eva took to politics with a vengeance. Using the most ordinary language, designed to appeal to the working class, Eva conveyed what she wanted people to believe about Peron. Eva’s political education at first consisted of her sitting in on Peron’s meetings with his supporters. By now they were living together openly. She would sit quietly, not saying anything, but absorbing everything. She was seen as inconsequential and unimportant.
In 1945, Peron became Vice-President of Argentina, but while he was popular, he was also accumulating enemies, even amongst the army. Rumors began that Eva had been a prostitute on her way up. This was used to explain her ‘hold’ as it were over Peron. Prostitutes, far from being seen as victims, were considered to be exploiters of men. Only a prostitute or a femme fatale could hold such sway over a powerful man like Peron. What they didn’t realize was that it was the other way around, Peron was the one who held sway over Eva. Like other power couples, it was also thought that it was ambition not love or sex that held them together.
#6 SHAH JAHAN AND MUMTAZ MAHAL
Romances are not only the inspiration behind musicals, but also of behind some of the most beautiful endeavors undertaken by humanity. The story behind the Taj Majal is there perfect example:
Taj Mahal, the magnificent monument that stands at the heart of India has a story that has been melting the hearts of millions of listeners since the time Taj has been visible. A story, that although ended back in 1631, continues to live on in the form of Taj and is considered a living example of eternal love. It’s the love story of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal, two people from the course of history who set an example for the people living in present and the future to come.
An English poet, Sir Edwin Arnold best describes it as “Not a piece of architecture, as other buildings are, but the proud passion of an emperor’s love wrought in living stones.” The story that follows next will prove why the statement is true. Shah Jahan, initially named Prince Khurram, was born in the year 1592. He was the son of Jehangir, the fourth Mughal emperor of India and the grandson of Akbar the Great.
In 1607 when strolling down the Meena Bazaar, accompanied by a string of fawning courtiers, Shah Jahan caught a glimpse of a girl hawking silk and glass beads. It was love at first sight and the girl was Mumtaz Mahal, who was known as Arjumand Banu Begum at that time. At that time, he was 14 years old and she, a Muslim Persian princess, was 15. After meeting her, Shah Jahan went back to his father and declared that he wanted to marry her. The match got solemnized after five years i.e., in the year 1612.
It was in the year 1628 that Shah Jahan became the Emperor and entrusted Arjumand Banu with the royal seal. He also bestowed her with the title of Mumtaz Mahal, meaning the “Jewel of the Palace”. Though Shah Jahan had other wives also, but, Mumtaz Mahal was his favorite and accompanied him everywhere, even on military campaigns. In the year 1631, when Mumtaz Mahal was giving birth to their 14th child, she died due to some complications. While Mumtaz was on her deathbed, Shah Jahan promised her that he would never remarry and will build the richest mausoleum over her grave.
It is said that Shah Jahan was so heartbroken after her death that he ordered the court into mourning for two years. Sometime after her death, Shah Jahan undertook the task of erecting the world’s most beautiful monument in the memory of his beloved. It took 22 years and the labor of 22,000 workers to construct the monument. When Shah Jahan died in 1666, his body was placed in a tomb next to the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal. This magnificent monument came to be known as “Taj Mahal” and now counts amongst the Seven Wonders of the World. This is the true story of the Taj Mahal of India, which has mesmerized many people with its bewitching beauty.