20 Tragic Love Stories Throughout History That Put Romeo and Juliet to Shame

By Jennifer Conerly

As much as we yearn for a good love story, tragic love stories of unrequited love, the premature death of a lover, or couples separated fascinate us. Shakespeare knew this when he penned his classic tale of star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet. While we know that Shakespeare’s play is fiction, many historical figures suffered tragic love stories of their own. Many of the couples in this list will be familiar to us, the major players in creating history as we know it. Others may not be as familiar, but that doesn’t mean their stories are  less important.

 

Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning, 1852. Set of portraits painted by Thomas Buchanan Read. Brain Pickings.

20. The Successful Poet Elizabeth Barrett Died Before Her Husband Robert Browning Became a Respected Victorian Poet in His Own Right

In 1844, the reclusive, partially-crippled 39-year-old Elizabeth Barrett found literary success with the publication of her poetry. The volume impressed a 32-year-old struggling writer, Robert Browning. When Browning wrote Barrett in January 1845, he admired her work. Elizabeth responded, beginning months of correspondence with him. The couple fell in love after they met in May 1845, but Elizabeth’s domineering father forbade them to marry. They secretly exchanged love letters, and Elizabeth penned several love sonnets, inspired by her relationship with Browning. Over one year after their first meeting, in September 1846, the couple eloped and settled in Italy.

Elizabeth’s health improved, and she tried to reconcile with her father for many years. He returned all of her letters without reading them, and they never spoke again. During their marriage, Robert convinced Elizabeth to publish her love sonnets to him. The Sonnets of the Portuguese feature lines that every lover knows: “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” Elizabeth died in Robert’s arms on June 29, 1861, before her husband earned his own fame. After her death, Browning found success as a Victorian poet, and his work is still studied today.