Friday Five… Historical Love Rats

Friday Five Love RatsPhew, Valentines mania has finally passed. No more sickeningly sweet Facebook statuses and having to fight our way through our front doors due to the mound of tat we’ve been posted by secret admirers (ahem).

It’s unescapable. You’ve been inundated with a barrage of soppy articles and stories – in the paper, on the news, in the DigVentures Site Hut… hmm sorry about that. Well we’re going to make it up to you. For the not-at-all-bitter single pringles and sentimentality scrooges out there, here’s our anti-Valentines post.Historical Love RatsHistorical love rats – it makes you quite glad to be single actually.

1. Nefarious Nero

Love rat extraordinaire, the great and powerful Nero, Roman Emperor from 54 to 68, was as nasty as they come. To accuse his wife Octavia of adultery and get her killed after he had already divorced her anyway seems a little unnecessary (now that’s what you call a painful breakup!). But to then send her head to his new girlfriend Poppaea is definitely a step too far. And poor Poppaea, already pregnant with Nero’s child when they married in AD 63, didn’t last long either.  When pregnant with their second child, she was reputedly kicked to death by the fiery tempered fiend. And to top it all off when he had finished mourning for these two he took a fancy to the married Statilia Messalina. How convenient that her husband should happen to ‘commit suicide’ in AD 65, one year after the beginning of her love affair with the emperor.

2. Cunning Cleopatra

If there’s one skill the alluring Cleopatra had honed to perfection (other than milky baths and asp-assisted suicide), it was the art of seduction. Perhaps these were true love matches, and her fellas did have kind hearts, nice smiles and a good senses of humour (to accompany their great wealth and power), though it seems more likely that her matches were motivated by brains rather than beauty. First Cleopatra married her younger brother Ptolemy XIII, moving on to marry another brother Ptolemy XIV when the first died. Next came love affairs with not one but two Roman Emperors. A first fling with Caesar until his assassination in 44 BC at which point she moved on to Mark Antony, teaming up with him to help conquer his rival Octavian. A mover and a shaker, this wily woman’s tale is often remembered as one of the great tragedies of history with a suicide by viper following Mark stabbing himself to death with a sword. How romantic.

3. Cath the Callous

Catherine the Great and her lover Grigory Potemkin would’ve had a great ‘how we met’ story had they ever married. Wife of Russian Czar Peter III Catherine oversaw his downfall and killing after just one year on the throne, allowing herself to become empress and sole ruler. To add insult to injury she ran off with Grigory Potemkin, a soldier charged with her protection. Perhaps a surprising match as Grigory was known to be one-eyed, pompous and overweight. But then again, with the track record she accumulated over the following years, she wasn’t exactly known for being picky about her men.

4. William the Woman Conqueror

Not what we would call a typical love rat, we worry about Willy’s wooing techniques more than anything. Mind you it did work in the end so maybe we should be taking notes. Smitten William asked Count Baldwin V of Flanders for his daughter Matilda’s hand in marriage but, already in love with an Englishmen named Brithric she not so politely declined saying she would rather become a nun than the wife of a bastard such as William was. Furious William did not like the taste of rejection and planned a hit-and-run revenge attack. According to legend he rugby tackled her in the street, pulling her off horse by her braids, slapping her, tearing her clothes, before racing off into the night. Believe it or not Matilda must have liked a bit of rough-and-tumble, she agreed to marry him, and bore him at least four sons and five daughters throughout the course of their (seemingly) happy marriage. Nevertheless we still recommend you don’t try this at home, even if your potential suitor does approve, the police most certainly will not.

5. Horrid Henry VIII

How could any love rat list be complete without the daddy of all double-crossers. One wife was nowhere near enough, oh no Henry worked his way through a staggering six in total – Catherine, Kathryn, Katherine, Anne, Anne and Jane. Henry’s love lust was so great it even factored in his break with the Catholic Church. Our question is how he managed to coerce so many women into marrying him in the first place, not the most appealing man, obese and covered with pus-filled boils later in life. Though, with Anne Boleyn rumoured to be his favourite of the six and her life still ending with her head on the chopping block, they probably didn’t dare say no.

With so many lecherous love rats littered through history being single may be a blessing in disguise. Here’s a Horrible Histories song from the most rotten of romantics…

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Written by Aisling Serrant

An all round museum educator and enthusiast, Aisling's the Family Festival Coordinator at the Museum of London Docklands.

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