20 Couples Whose Time Together Altered The Course Of History

Some relationships don’t just change the lives of the two people directly involved, they can also alter the course of history. Yes, over the years a number of romances have blossomed into something that extends far beyond just true love. So from royals and politicians to scientists and musicians, here’s a look at 20 of the most significant.

20. Prince Edward and Wallis Simpson

Few famous people have made as big a sacrifice in the name of love as Prince Edward VIII. You see, the royal gave up his title as King of England after falling for an American socialite named Wallis Simpson. But why exactly did he have to abdicate the throne to continue the relationship? Well, Simpson was a divorcee, which is a strict no-no with both the Church of England and the monarchy.

Yet their subsequent marriage didn’t just shake up the royal family. It also potentially changed the course of WWII, too. Yes, according to various sources, Prince Edward VIII had a strong connection to the Nazi regime. Adolf Hitler reportedly even intended to use the royal in his English invasion plans. But Edward put pay to the German plot by waving goodbye to the monarchy less than a year after being appointed king.

19. Cleopatra and Mark Antony

Romances don’t get much more dramatic than Cleopatra VII and Mark Antony’s. Their tempestuous relationship apparently began when the former decided to dress up as Roman god of love Venus in order to woo the latter. And this seduction technique sure had the desired effect. Mark Antony – a Roman general – had summoned the Egyptian queen to determine her loyalty. Though he ended up returning to Alexandria with her like a lovestruck puppy.

Sadly, the pair’s love story met a Romeo and Juliet-style tragic end. Believing that he’d been led astray, Mark Antony’s one-time co-ruler Octavian instigated a war against Cleopatra’s Ptolemaic kingdom – resulting in several deadly battles. After being incorrectly told that his lover had died, the Roman general then used his own sword to kill himself. On hearing the news, Cleopatra also committed suicide. The pair’s bodies were later buried together as Octavian celebrated his victory.

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18. Marie and Pierre Curie

Marie and Pierre Curie are undoubtedly one of the brainiest couples on this list. You see, the scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1903 after discovering radioactivity. And their work in both chemistry and physics is credited with shaping the technology of modern X-rays. Sadly, Pierre died aged just 46. But that didn’t stop his widow from continuing their legacy.

Yes, Marie became a two-time Nobel Prize winner before launching an institute in the Polish capital of Warsaw which focused on the research of radium. She also set a fine example to her daughter, too. In 1935 Irène Joliot Curie won a Nobel Prize herself alongside husband Frédéric. The couple were awarded the honor after discovering a form of artificial radioactivity.

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17. Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra

Tsarina Alexandra caused a scandal in the late 19th century when she refused to commit to an arranged marriage. Queen Victoria’s granddaughter had already fallen head over heels for another man by this point – the future Russian king Tsar Nicholas II. The star-crossed lovers went on to wed and have five children together. But their story sadly met a tragic end.

Problems began after the Russian population began to turn against the pair during World War I. Alexandra was also rumored to have sympathy for the German opposition. And her reliance on a notable faith leader called Grigori Rasputin didn’t do her reputation much good, either. In 1918 the Bolsheviks executed the couple alongside their son and four daughters.

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16. Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn

Royal divorces are, of course, ten a penny these days. But back in Tudor times, the idea of the King of England reneging on his wedding vows was considered scandalous. The rather fickle Henry VIII had been married to Catherine of Aragon for over two decades when he met Anne Boleyn in the mid-16th century. But he soon dropped his first of six wives like a hot coal. It was a decision which shook up the Catholic church, too.

As you’d expect, the Catholic church wasn’t exactly on board with the whole idea of divorce. And so when Henry VIII’s request to get his marriage to Catherine annulled and permission to tie the knot with Boleyn was inevitably refused, he decided to take matters in his own hands. The royal broke away from the church and appointed himself as the leader of an alternative: the Protestant Church of England.

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15. Juan and Eva Perón

Maria Eva Perón was one of the 20th century’s most important female political figures. Although you may know her better as Evita. Her story began when she walked down the aisle with Juan Perón – the president of Argentina – in the mid-1940s. Unlike other previous first ladies, though, Evita proved to be just as powerful as her husband.

You see, Evita fought for Argentinian women’s right to vote and increased help for the kind of poor communities she grew up in. Recognizing both her talent and popularity, Juan then invited her to become vice president for his re-election campaign. Her candidacy was blocked by the opposition, though. Why? Well, there were concerns that she may eventually end up taking the top job herself.

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14. James Obergefell and John Arthur

John Arthur sadly passed away following a lengthy battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 2013. But his death ended up changing the institution of marriage in America. Just three months previously Arthur had tied the knot with partner James Obergefell in Maryland. Unlike their native Ohio, this was a state where gay marriage was legal.

This meant that when Arthur passed away in their hometown, Obergefell had to fight to be recognized as his husband on the death certificate. The widower was thankfully successful with his petition. But more significantly, his actions also inspired the United States Supreme Court to overrule the ban on same-sex marriage.

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13. Franklin D. and Eleanor Roosevelt

As you may know, Franklin D. and Eleanor Roosevelt had to overcome several obstacles throughout their long-standing relationship. In 1918 the latter was distraught after discovering that her husband and his secretary had embarked on an affair. Then three years later Franklin was diagnosed with polio. Yet the couple always put on a united front. And after Franklin was sworn in as the 32nd president, they both helped to make the American political system more progressive.

Most first ladies had been happy to stay in the background. But Eleanor was determined to make just as much of an impact as her husband. The president also made sure that he supported her efforts, too. In her book Franklin and Eleanor: An Extraordinary Marriage, biographer Hazel Rowley wrote, “Their bond was strong enough to withstand betrayal, polio and the White House.”

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12. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott

“The four things that I look for in a wife are character, personality, intelligence and beauty. And you have them all.” That’s how the smooth-talking Martin Luther King, Jr. reportedly managed to woo Coretta Scott in the early 1950s. The theology student had been introduced to the violinist/vocalist by a friend, and within a year their blind date had blossomed into a marriage.

The pair managed to remain equals throughout their 16 years together. Sure, King may have been a more visible presence. Yet Stone also worked tirelessly for the civil rights movement that ultimately changed the political landscape. And the latter continued to fight for their cause after the former was tragically gunned down in 1968.

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11. Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir

Jean-Paul Sartre was regarded as one of the most brilliant minds in France back in the mid-20th century. But so was his wife. Yes, Simone de Beauvoir regularly competed with Sartre for top of the class honors at the prestigious university where they first met. As he pioneered the movement known as existentialism, she was busy making a name for herself as a feminist philosopher.

Yet the couple didn’t exactly subscribe to the traditional notions of romance. Instead of walking down the aisle together, Sartre and de Beauvoir instead committed to something they termed an “essential love.” This meant that the pair would always share a strong connection, whether they stayed together or not.

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10. Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo

Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo are a prime example of how a romantic couple can also make a major change through art. But how did the famed duo first meet? Well, the two first locked eyes when Rivera was working on a mural titled Creation. And it was Kahlo’s famous eyebrows that first caught his attention. In memoir My Art, My Life, he wrote, “They seemed like the wings of a blackbird – their black arches framing two extraordinary brown eyes.”

Rivera was familiar to millions at the time, while Kahlo was a complete unknown. But she soon became just as celebrated in the art world thanks to her pioneering and colorful Mexican style. Although the pair had a famously turbulent marriage, they were always on the same page when it came to both their work and politics.

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9. Antoine and Marie-Anne Lavoisier

Antoine and Marie-Anne Lavoisier became one of the all-time great husband and wife scientists in the late 18th century. The pair made a name for themselves thanks to their discovery of oxygen’s role in both combustion and animal and plant respiration. The couple’s work was also responsible for proving the law known as the conservation of mass. This centered on the theory that the mass of matter will remain the same no matter how it changes shape or form.

But like many couples who have changed the world, the Lavoisiers’ romance ended in tragic circumstances. In 1794 Antoine was executed after being charged with treason. Marie-Anne had desperately tried to save his life by arguing about the significance of their work together. But it was to no avail. A year later France’s new government sent her a letter admitting that her husband’s death had been a mistake.

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8. Jerome and Isabella Karle

It wasn’t exactly a case of love at first sight when Isabella Lugoski and Jerome Karle met in 1940 at the University of Michigan. But after working together as lab partners, the physical chemistry students began to develop a bond. And just two years later they tied the knot. Pretty soon, the couple were making waves in the science world thanks to a partnership which played to both of their strengths.

Jerome would focus on the equations which explained the atomic structure of molecules. Isabella, on the other hand, would then put her husband’s findings to the test. The Karles were famous for working together, yet the Nobel Prize panel decided in 1985 to only honor the former. Surely, then, Isabella must have been furious with the snub? No, it turns that although Jerome was reportedly upset with the decision, his wife barely batted an eyelid.

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7. John F. and Jackie Kennedy

President John F. and First Lady Jackie Kennedy were one of the most iconic couples of the mid-20th century. The pair became household names across the globe in 1960 when they took up residence at the White House. Sure, John F. may have held the power, but both of the Kennedys were equally adored by the American public.

Yes, like Eleanor Roosevelt before her, Jackie was the kind of First Lady who wanted to make her own mark. She famously became something of a style icon thanks to her glamorous wardrobe and White House makeovers. But the couple’s seemingly picture perfect romance met a tragic end in 1963 when John F. was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.

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6. John Lennon and Yoko Ono

John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s love was so strong that it’s rumored to have broken up the most popular and pioneering pop group of all time. Yes, just a year after the pair walked down the aisle, the Beatles went their separate ways. And many fans believe that Ono’s influence was to blame.

Lennon certainly embraced a new hippyish side after meeting Ono, that’s for sure. The same year they tied the knot the couple decided to stage the legendary “Bed-In for Peace.” This form of protest inspired Lennon and the rest of the Fab Four to record the track, “The Ballad of John and Yoko.”

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5. Johnny and June Carter Cash

“Ring of Fire,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Man in Black.” Johnny Cash helped to define the sound of country music in the post-WWII era – scoring more than a century of hits in the process. But it’s unlikely he would have stuck around so long if he hadn’t met the love of his life June Carter.

In 1968 Cash asked for fellow country singer Carter’s hand in marriage in front of a live audience. Luckily, she said “yes” and the pair barely left each other’s sides over the next 45 years. As well as regularly joining her husband on stage, Carter was also instrumental in helping him to cope with his various addictions. And within just three months of her death in 2003, Cash passed away, too.

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4. Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal

Shah Jahan had at least three wives during his reign as the Mughal emperor back in the 17th century. But he only really had eyes for one of them. Mumtaz Mahal was the lucky lady who instantly captured the young prince’s heart at an Indian marketplace. The pair also went on to have 14 children during their quarter-century together.

Jahan further proved how madly in love he was when Mahal died in 1631. He demanded that the entire Mughal empire should observe a two-year mourning period. And he ensured that his late wife’s name would forever be immortalized with the building of the Taj Mahal. Nearly four whole centuries later, this was named as one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

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3. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert

Scandals and the British royal family have always gone hand-in-hand. Actually, way back in the mid-19th century, the monarchy was in a state of disarray thanks to years of various wrongdoings by its members. But its reputation was saved when Queen Victoria took to the throne with her husband Prince Albert.

Yes, Britain’s second longest-serving monarch managed to reinstall some much-needed decorum within the world’s most famous family. Queen Victoria’s marriage was viewed as a model one by most of the general public. And when Prince Albert passed away in 1861, his widow spent no fewer than 40 years in mourning.

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2. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were initially the toast of the tabloids when they first got together in 2016. After all, he was regarded as something of a playboy and she was the star of a prime-time TV drama. Their relationship was the stuff of editors’ dreams. But things soon began to sour following their marriage two years later.

Yes, at the start of 2020 Harry and Meghan shook up the royal family like no other members had in years. They announced that they would be relocating to North America and dropping their official titles. As you might imagine, this decision didn’t go down well with the press. Since then, the couple have been establishing their financial independence – landing a multi-million dollar deal with Netflix.

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1. Mildred and Richard Loving

Caucasian Richard Loving and African-American Mildred Jeter met as teens in the late 1950s. At the time, their home state of Virginia didn’t actually allow mixed-race couples to marry. As a result, the pair had to say “I do” 80 miles away in Washington, D.C. Incredibly, local police arrested the couple after discovering that Loving and Jeter were man and wife. They were subsequently ordered to leave their home state for a quarter of a century.

But the Lovings thankfully didn’t take this sentence lying down. Following several years in Washington where they’d also welcomed three kids, the couple decided they wanted to head back home. After getting in touch with Robert F. Kennedy – then the U.S. Attorney General – the pair’s story became more high profile. And thanks to several lawyers working on a voluntary basis on their behalf, the ban of interracial unions in Virginia was eventually lifted.

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