Famous Historical Love Letters


These days lovers can bridge the distance of a thousand miles with the single click of a mouse - and yet something remains to be said about the charm of a traditional love letter. Written by hand and on real paper, such letters are as much a tactile as a deeply emotional expression of the love of the sender. No wonder then famous personalities down the ages have taken recourse to this means of conveying their love, whether by necessity or choice. Here is a sampling of some of most famous love letters in history.

King Henry VIII to Ann Boleyn

A larger-than-life figure in British history, King Henry VIII lived and loved on a truly majestic scale. Though popularly known as the king who married six times and put two of his wives to death, his claim to a place in history is more on the strength of his severance from the Roman Catholic Church which granted true freedom to British politics, governance and the led to the founding of the Church of England. Ann Boleyn was the second wife of King Henry VIII, though it was her sister Mary who the king began courting initially. When the willful Anne caught the king’s eye, she shrewdly refused to be his mistress and would only give in to him if he married her and made her queen. Upon being met with such intransigence, King Henry VIII wrote,

“I beg to know expressly your intention touching the love between us. Necessity compels me to obtain this answer, having been more than a year wounded by the dart of love, and not yet sure whether I shall fail or find a place in your affection.”

Ludwig Van Beethoven to his “Immortal Beloved”

Hailed as one of world’s most famous and accomplished composers, Ludwig Van Beethoven nevertheless led a mysterious life. Upon his death at the age of 57, a love letter was found among his possessions which was written to an unknown woman who Beethoven simply called his “Immortal Beloved”. Historians have tried and failed to put a name and face to this epithet and have come no nearer in discovering the circumstances of their affair. The love letter remains solitary proof of the only romantic attachment that Beethoven ever felt in his life, and it comes as no surprise that the contents of the letter is as passionate as the music he composed. Speaking of a love that can never be openly expressed, he writes

“Why this deep sorrow where necessity speaks -- can our love endure except through sacrifices -- except through not demanding everything -- can you change it that you are not wholly mine, I not wholly thine?”

Napoleon Bonaparte to his wife Josephine

Few know that apart from being an expert military general and ruthless leader, French ruler Napoleon Bonaparte was a prolific writer of letters. He reportedly wrote as many as 75,000 letters in his lifetime, many of them to his beautiful wife, Josephine, both before and during their marriage. This letter, written just prior to their 1796 wedding, shows a rarely seen tender and romantic side of the feared general and future Emperor,

“Sweet, incomparable Josephine, what a strange effect you have on my heart! Are you angry? Do I see you looking sad? Are you worried?... My soul aches with sorrow, and there can be no rest for your lover; but is there still more in store for me when, yielding to the profound feelings which overwhelm me, I draw from your lips, from your heart a love which consumes me with fire.”

Winston Churchill to his wife Clementine

Known as one of the most astute statesmen of the western world, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill nevertheless had a romantic side which was evident in his letters to his wife, Clementine. The two wrote to each other whenever they were apart and little wonder then that the couple were married for over 56 years. Churchill wrote the following letter to his wife on Jan. 23, 1935, when she was travelling abroad:

“My darling Clemmie, in your letter from Madras you wrote some words very dear to me, about having enriched your life. I cannot tell you what pleasure this gave me, because I always feel so overwhelmingly in your debt, if there can be accounts in love…What it has been to me to live all these years in your heart and companionship no phrases can convey.”

Charles Darwin to Emma Wedgewood

One of the most famous naturalists in history, Charles Darwin is chiefly remembered today as the author of Origin of Species and formulating the theory of the ‘survival of the fittest’. In keeping with his rational bent of mind and the prevailing utilitarian philosophy of Victorian times, Darwin apparently wrote list a pros and cons for getting married, and eventually decided to propose to his first cousin Emma Wedgwood. Though the couple went on to have a long happy marriage and ten children in the bargain, Darwin’s  note to Emma just a few days before their wedding in 1839 is typical of the Puritan philosophy of the times, in both the chaste overtones of the content as well as notion of marriage as ‘good deed’.

“How I do hope you shall be happy as I know I shall be. My own dearest Emma, I earnestly pray, you may never regret the great and I will add very good, deed you are to perform on the Tuesday: my own dear future wife, God bless you…”

Gustave Flaubert to Louise Colet

In complete contrast of tone and content is the love letter from Gustave Flaubert to his wife Louise Colet. Flaubert is remembered as one of the principal figures of nineteenth century European fiction, one whose clean and precise writing style went on to influence future generation of writers, both on the continent and elsewhere . The following letter written by him is a thrilling ode to marital love not only because it is a celebration of the joys of conjugal bed but also promises a romantic companionship for life and into old age.

“I will cover you with love when next I see you, with caresses, with ecstasy.  I want to gorge you with all the joys of the flesh, so that you faint and die… When you are old, I want you to recall those few hours, I want your dry bones to quiver with joy when you think of them.”

Frida Kahlo to Diego Rivera

Mexican painter Frida Kahlo is famous today for not only ushering in a new wave of indigenous and feminist art but also of waging a lifelong battle with ill-health which was the result of a road accident. In her typical trenchant style, Frida once wrote, “I suffered two grave accidents in my life. One in which a streetcar knocked me down … The other accident is Diego.”
The latter is a reference to Diego Rivera, a painter and her teacher who eventually became her lover and husband . Even though he was twenty years older to Frida and often unfaithful, she loved him and called him her ‘big child’. The following is from a letter that Kahlo sent to Rivera in 1940:

“Diego my love- Remember that once you finish the fresco we will be together forever once and for all, without arguments or anything, only to love one another. Behave yourself and do everything that Emmy Lou tells you. I adore you more than ever. Your girl, Frida.”