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 #7-9.
#7 JOHN AND ABAGAIL ADAMS
The British cannot possible outdo us when it comes to romance. To prove the case, here is the story of the romance of one of America’s Founding Couples!
The Romance of John and Abigail Adams John Adams, a 24-year-old lawyer in Braintree, Massachusetts, first met the teenage Abigail Smith in the summer of 1759 at her father’s home in Weymouth. John’s initial impressions were less than complimentary: “Not fond, not frank, not candid” was the overall assessment in his diary. But from these inauspicious beginnings a romance developed that would sustain this most famous of American couples through fifty years of marriage, five children (three of whom they outlived), multiple homes in numerous cities and towns across three countries and two continents, lengthy separations, and all the rigors of eighteenth-century life—not to mention a revolution, wars, and a wide array of political and diplomatic crises.
What we know of John and Abigail’s relationship stems largely from the letters they wrote to one another, of which some 1,160 have survived to the present day. Their earliest extant note, written from John to Abigail in October 1762, shows just how much had changed between them in the three short years since they first met. “Miss Adorable,” John wrote. “By the same Token that the Bearer hereof satt up with you last night I hereby order you to give him, as many Kisses, and as many Hours of your Company after 9 O Clock as he shall please to Demand and charge them to my Account.” In time their flirtatious correspondence evolved to reflect a deeper, more abiding relationship, but they never lost what Abigail described as “that unabated affection which has for years past, and will whilst the vital spark lasts, burn in the Bosom of your affectionate A Adams.”
Along with that affection and intimacy, Abigail and John proved to be kindred spirits, with shared interests in and a common outlook on the world around them. Abigail had never received a formal education, but her access to some of the finest libraries in Massachusetts and her voracious love of reading gave her a wide-ranging knowledge that allowed her easily to serve as John’s equal in any intellectual debate. Her place as John’s primary political advisor was merely a logical extension of her role as wife and manager of their household in a partnership of equals.
Their letters not only reflected this emotional and intellectual interdependence; they also became symbols of it. Abigail found writing to John “the composure of my mind.” John, even more strikingly, asked, “Is there no Way for two friendly Souls, to converse together, altho the Bodies are 400 Miles off?— Yes by Letter.— But I want a better Communication. I want to hear you think, or see your Thoughts. The Conclusion of your Letter makes my Heart throb, more than a Cannonade would. You bid me burn your Letters. But I must forget you first.”
In the 1770s and 1780s, as John’s work toward the creation of a new American nation expanded—from first representing Massachusetts in the Continental Congress, to spearheading the move toward independence, to representing the United States in France, the Netherlands, and Britain—he and Abigail faced longer and longer periods apart. This naturally strained their relationship, especially when John’s preoccupation with business caused him to fail to write as frequently or as fully as Abigail demanded. He brought even worse trouble upon himself when he foolishly heaped praises on the “handsome, and…exceedingly brilliant” French ladies he met in Paris. Abigail could hardly let that stand; she fired back with a lengthy missive expounding on “how much female Education is neglected… tho I acknowled it my happiness to be connected with a person of a more generous mind and liberal sentiments.”
No quarrel, however, lasted for long and they soon resumed addressing one another as “My Dearest Friend.” Through all the difficulties of John’s time as vice president and president, they found respite from politicking and social obligations in their time together. When the moment arrived for John to leave the political scene, after his defeat in the election of 1800, he wrote to Abigail, “I am very glad you consented to come on… It is fit and proper that you and I should retire together and not one before the other.” Partners to the end, they spent the remainder of their lives in Massachusetts. They wrote no more letters to one another. There was no need—they were together.
#8 HERNAN CORTES AND LA MALINCHE
While John and Abigail’s love helped build a country, this romance took down a major empire.
In the 16th century, one woman forever changed the course of Mexico’s history. She served Hernan Cortes as his translator and mistress and without her assistance, the Spanish conquistador would likely have been defeated. She was a woman who had many names, Malintzin in her youth and Donna Marina, after she had been christened. However, today the name she is frequently remembered by is La Malinche or simply, Malinche. Her name has become synonymous with hatred and scorn. Many look upon her as a traitor and hold her responsible for contributing directly to the conquest of her people.
Early accounts of her life indicate she was noble-born to a father who was the ruler of the Nhuatl-speaking village of Paynala. Generally, her date of birth is attributed to the year 1505 with the year of her death, 1529. However, there is some evidence that she may have lived longer. Malinche received an education, which was rare for a female in her society. Undoubtedly, it was her father’s status that afforded Malinche this privilege. Unfortunately, her father died when she was still a young girl and this tragic event forever changed her life.
Hernan Cortes and La Malinche holding court
Before long, Malinche’s mother remarried and gave birth to a son. Sadly, Malinche was no longer welcome in the home and was either sold or given away to Maya slave-traders. Perhaps, the mother was forced to abandon her child. Some speculate that Malinche threatened the son’s future inheritance. Regardless, the chain of events that followed held greater consequences than anyone could imagine.
In 1519, Cortez and his men won a battle against a Mayan settlement in the area of present-day Tabasco. As a form of tribute, 20 Indian slaves were presented to the Spaniards. Malinche was amongst them. Her unique knowledge of Nhuatl, the Aztec language, as well as Mayan dialects, came to the attention of Cortes. Another translator was already a part of Cortes’ entourage, a Spanish priest by the name of Geronimo de Aguilar.
This priest was imprisoned by the Mayans for several years and had learned their language. This proved an invaluable asset to Cortes. However, they soon encountered Indians who only spoke N’huatl. The priest initially played a role in these translations. The representatives of Montezuma would speak N’huatl with Malinche, who in turn would translate their words into Mayan for Aguilar. The priest would then translate the Mayan into Spanish, for the benefit of Cortes.
Before long, however, Malinche learned Spanish and became the direct interpreter for Cortes. Cortes utilized Malinche’s linguistic abilities to his advantage in his negotiations with the Aztec Empire. Indeed, Malinche arranged and mediated the introductions and meetings between Montezuma and Cortes. Montezuma carefully considered the Spanish conquistador the return of Quetzacoatl. However, this illusion evaporated when he realized Cortes’ true intent.
La Malinche serving as translator for Hernan Cortes
Malinche became more than just an interpreter for Cortes. Christened with her new name of Dona Marina, she became the Spaniard’s mistress and in 1522, bore him a son named Don Martin Cortes. Their child represents one of the first known Mestizos, an individual whose blood is a mixture of European and indigenous American. However, after the affair between Cortes and Malinche came to an end, she married another Spaniard named Juan Jaramillo. Their union produced a daughter, Maria Jaramillo.
Malinche’s ability to communicate and negotiate with various tribes allowed the Spanish to march through territories without being attacked. They picked up converts along the way. Many indigenous people joined Cortes and fought by his side. These tribes were motivated to join the Spanish, in hope of defeating their long-standing enemy, the Aztecs. This brutal and mighty empire had subjugated them for far too long.
Today, in Mexico a derogatory name to call someone is a “malinchista”, a person who turns their back on their own culture. Interestingly enough, some do not consider Malinche a traitor. Some view her as a heroine, helping spread the word of Christianity. For others, she was a woman in love, who had no choice but to follow her heart and protect her beloved Cortes. Malinche is viewed as well with honor by those who consider her one of the first “mothers” of the Mestizo race. Regardless of how one perceives Malinche, she forever changed the course of Mexico’s destiny.
#9 LORD HARRY SMITH AND JUANA
The Napoleonic Wars not only impacted Lord Nelson and Emma Hamilton, but also set up the circumstances for the meeting of this historic couple.
The manner of their meeting was unprecedented. During the lawless mayhem that followed the capture of Badajoz by Wellington, a 14 year old Spanish girl sought the protection of Captain Harry Smith.
The French had ignored the longstanding rule that a town must be surrendered after sufficient breaches had been made in its walls. As a result, once the allied army gained access, their behaviour was brutal since they assumed that the remaining Spaniards were French sympathisers. Harry Smith married Juana since it was the only way to protect her. Years later when he was knighted, Juana became Lady Smith….
It will however be the couple’s achievements and legacy in South Africa that they are best associated with, after the exceptional circumstances of their first meeting. Travelers to Natal are reminded of this by the towns of Ladysmith and Harrysmith.