Powerful political couples are not unique to the modern world. Thousands of years before Barack and Michelle Obama became the first Black president and first lady in US history, Cleopatra and Mark Antony were determining the fate of Egypt and the Roman Empire. Hundreds of years before Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King marched for civil rights, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand were sponsoring Christopher Columbus's journeys to the New World.
As with "normal" relationships, not every political power couple comes together in the same way; some pairings would be considered epic historical romances, while others were formed for political advantage and may or may not have involved any kind of love. Some couples faced opposition from friends and/or family, while others were supported by those closest to them. And while some of these dynamic duos stuck together through thick and thin, others either split apart or saw the relationship end in tragedy.
Below are some surprising stories about a few of the most powerful political couples in history.
As a startled Australian film crew discovered, even royal couples fight. It's just unusual for the fight to happen in view of the media or the general public.
On March 6, 1954, a crew was waiting to film Queen Elizabeth II looking at koalas and kangaroos when Prince Philip ran out of the house where the royal couple was staying on a weekend break during their official visit to Australia. The queen threw a tennis racket and shoes at her husband, angrily yelling at him to come back inside.
Neither noticed the film crew, nor the fact that second cameraman Frank Bagnall had turned on his equipment when the door opened, and had filmed the brief fight.
If this had occurred in 2021, the camera crew probably would have immediately shown the fight on TV and posted it all over social media. But in 1954, social media didn't exist. Even TV was still in its infancy. And perhaps more importantly, the media had different rules about dealing with royalty back in the day. So when Commander Richard Colville, the royal press secretary, angrily confronted the film crew, senior cameraman Loch Townsend simply exposed the film to the light and handed it over.
A few minutes later, a now-composed Queen Elizabeth II came out to speak to Townsend. She told the cameraman, "I'm sorry for that little interlude. But, as you know, it happens in every marriage. Now, what would you like me to do?"
No matter how often they might have fought - in or out of view of others - the royal couple stayed together. They had been married for more than 73 years when Prince Philip passed in April 2021.Surprising story?
- Photo: Hans Holbein the Younger (Henry) / Unknown (Anne) / Qp10qp / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn exchanged many gifts during their relationship. Among them were a picture of the king set in bracelets (from Henry to Anne) and a jewel showing a lone woman on board a ship being tossed around on stormy seas (from Anne to Henry).
But the first present the king gave his future (second) wife was reportedly a gold pendant that held a whistle, two toothpicks (one straight, one with a sickle-shaped end), and a spoon for removing earwax.
In the 21st century, doctors discourage people from sticking anything in the ear canal to try and remove wax, as doing so could damage the canal or the eardrum. But old medical texts discussed many therapeutic uses for one's spare cerumen. Some people believed that applying it to the nostrils could help one sleep, that an earwax beverage could help with colic, and that earwax applied to wounds would help them heal.Surprising story?
From the mid-1940s to the early 1950s, Juan Péron and his wife Eva were one of the most powerful political couples in South America. They married in 1945, and in June 1946, Juan was elected president of Argentina. As the first lady, Eva (or Evita) was quite popular with the poor and working class, as she advocated tirelessly for their rights.
Eva succumbed to cervical cancer at age 33 on July 26, 1952. Her corpse was embalmed and taken to her former office in the General Confederation of Labor building. In September 1955, a military coup overthrew Juan's government, sending him into exile. Not long after, Eva's remains disappeared, supposedly taken by the anti-Péronist military leaders, who hoped to destroy any symbols of the former government.
From there, her corpse went on quite the journey - it allegedly spent time hidden in a van parked on the street, behind the screen in a Buenos Aires movie theater, inside the city waterworks, and inside military intelligence offices. In 1957, with secret help from the Vatican, it was shipped to Italy and buried under a false name in a Milan cemetery.
In 1971, with the military no longer in power, the Argentinian government decided to disinter Eva's corpse and deliver it to her husband, who was living in exile in Madrid, Spain, with his third wife, Isabel.
"General Péron, the gardener, and I took the body out of the coffin," Carlos Spadone recalled in a 2012 interview with the BBC. "We lay it on a marble-topped table. Our hands got dirty from all the earth, so the body had to be cleaned. Isabel took care of that very carefully with a cotton cloth and water. She combed the hair, and cleaned it bit by bit, and then blow-dried it. It took several days."
In 1973, Juan and Isabel Péron returned to Argentina. They were elected to serve as the country's president and vice president, respectively. Eva's embalmed corpse remained in their living room in Madrid until Juan's passing the following year. When Isabel became president, she arranged for Eva's body to be brought home.
The plan was for Eva and Juan to be buried together in a national monument built in remembrance of the couple. That never came about, however; in 1976, another military coup deposed Isabel. Instead, Eva's corpse was placed in a fortified bunker in her family's mausoleum in Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires.Surprising story?
Mark Antony, a Roman general, had been a friend and supporter of the Roman emperor Julius Caesar. When the latter was assassinated in 44 BCE, Antony was one of many fighting to become the first man in Rome. He arranged a meeting with Cleopatra, the ruler of ancient Egypt, in 41 BCE in hopes of forming a powerful political alliance, similar to the one she had formed with Caesar.
The two became lovers, and Antony accompanied Cleopatra to Alexandria in 40 BCE. It was there that the couple formed the "Inimitable Livers," a group many believe was dedicated to Dionysus, the Greek god of wine. Others theorize it was simply formed as a way to live a life of debauchery. The group took part in nightly feasts and drinking binges, while also playing games or taking part in contests.
Aside from heavy drinking, Antony and Cleopatra enjoyed disguising themselves and wandering around Alexandria, pulling pranks on unsuspecting residents. But her subjects weren't the only targets of Cleopatra's playful nature - she also like to play jokes on her lover.
One story recounts how she allegedly made a bet with Antony that she could spend 10,000,000 sesterces (approximately $10 million to $20 million today) on one dinner. After ordering an inexpensive meal, she dropped one of her priceless pearl earrings into a cup of strong vinegar. Once the pearl dissolved, she drank the vinegar mixture, thus winning the bet.Surprising story?