While the actions of great individuals will never get old, couples have their own charm about them. Happy or unhappy, successful or unsuccessful, famous or infamous, there has always been something particularly fascinating about people who have made an impact on the world–together. Here are some of the most famous couples in history.
Famous Couples in History: Intellectual Couples
Much may be said of brilliant individuals with supportive spouses, such as Harriet Beecher Stowe (author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin) with Calvin Stowe, or Auguste Rodin (“The Thinker”) and Rose Beuret. However, there is something appealing in two intellectuals meeting and falling in love, working either together or apart in their respective fields.
Famous Intellectual Couples in History: John and Abigail Adams
John Adams was 2nd President of the United States and father of 6th President John Quincy Adams. He was a Harvard graduate, and a lawyer. He helped draft the Declaration of Independence, and was both a diplomat and a legislator. Abigail Smith was daughter of a parson, home-schooled but well-read.
Because of the lack of girls’ education at the time, Abigail Smith stood out for her open-mindedness, intellect, and interest in politics and philosophy. She and her husband wrote over 1,100 letters to one another over the course of his various careers. The letters were full of political news and ideas, shared between equals.
Famous Intellectual Couples in History: Pierre and Marie Curie
Marie Sklodowska was a Polish immigrant to France, planning to study at the Sorbonne in Paris. She took a degree in physics in 1893, first in her class, and a degree in mathematics in 1894, second in her class. Pierre Curie was director of the lab at the School of Industrial Physics and Chemistry in Sorbonne. This is where he first met Marie.
It was Marie, looking for a subject for her doctoral thesis, who first investigated “uranium rays.” She soon discovered that thorium gave off the same rays, or radiation, and that some reaction in the element was what caused the radiation. Pierre left his own work to join her, and they made this study their life’s work. They are most famous for discovering radioactivity.
Famous Intellectual Couples in History: Mary and Percy Shelley
Percy Shelley was a poet, constantly pushing the bounds of philosophical thought in his time. He wrote pamphlets on his ideas. He was also expelled from Oxford for suggesting to a professor that God should not be taught as a fact. Mary Wollstonecraft is most famous as the author of Frankenstein, but she was also a poet.
Mary Shelley was better known in her time as Percy Shelley’s wife, but he was her greatest supporter. He constantly encouraged her to write, and it was her writings they carried around with them during their elopement. On her part, several books of poetry written by her also carried his verses inside.
Famous Couples in History: Wartime Couples
These famous couples in history were state leaders when their nations were at war. They are fascinating for their relationships even in the midst of the wartime state.
Famous Wartime Couples in History: Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun
Adolf Hitler is known as one of the worst dictators in history, in whose concentration camps 11 million died, 6 million of whom were Jews. He was also partner and then husband to Eva Braun. Eva Braun came from a Catholic family, and was educated at a convent school. She met Hitler while working as his photographer’s assistant, and became his mistress.
Eva Braun was kept hidden away for most of her life. At first, she could not join him for meals when there were guests, or travel with him. However, she remained fully loyal to him throughout her life. Eventually, she appeared at more social functions, and publicly. They married and committed joint suicide on the same day, when Nazi Germany fell.
Famous Wartime Couples in History: Abraham Lincoln and Mary
Mary Anne Todd was the daughter of a large landowner and slave-owner in Kentucky. Her father was part of the Kentucky legislature, and a close friend of Henry Clay of the Whig Party. As a result, Mary was well-versed and well-read in politics. Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the U.S., and brought his nation through the Civil War intact.
Both Abraham and Mary Lincoln were strongly abolitionist, the wife as forward about her views as her husband. Despite facing much criticism as a Southern-born daughter of a slave-owner, Mary gave political advice and recommendations to her husband. She also organized private funds for the aid of both Federal soldiers and freed slaves.
Famous Couples in History: Artists
A common love for art, and supportiveness of one another, characterizes the most famous couples in history who were also artists. These couples often successfully pushed the boundaries of their respective art styles.
Famous Artist Couples in History: Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning
Dorothea Tanning was a painter and sculptor in the 1940s in the United States. Max Ernst was a German, a soldier in World War I, and an “enemy alien” during his refugee years in both France and the United States. His art pioneered the Surrealism (rationalism-mocking) and Dada (nationalism-mocking) art styles.
Max Ernst visited Dorothea’s studio in the company of other refugee friends, but stayed for a game of chess. They married, and traveled over Europe as artists together. He died in Europe, and Dorothea turned her grief into a series of poems and writings, and she continued to paint until her own death.
Famous Artist Couples in History: Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo
Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo were both Mexican artists, who pushed the boundaries of Mexican art and expression. Diego Rivera studied cubist, post-impressionist, and Renaissance art. In Mexico, his art themes glorified the Mexican Revolution, and the beauty of ordinary life.
Frida Kahlo was Mexican-Indian-German, and her early life was characterized by polio and a bus accident which broke many bones in her body. She was mostly introspective. She loved and appreciated Mexican culture, especially her Indian culture. Diego Rivera was her strongest supporter, and he called her “the greatest Mexican painter.”
Famous Artist Couples in History: Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner
Lee Krasner is often known as Mrs. Jackson Pollock, but she was a painter in the same style. While trained in traditional paintings that copied reality, she moved onto Picasso’s cubism and then the abstract expressionism that Jackson Pollock made famous. Later, she merged the two styles. Most of her married life, she served as editor and critic for Jackson Pollock.
Jackson Pollock was strongly supported by his eldest brother Charles, also an artist. Franklin Roosevelt’s Public Works of Art project jump-started his career. He soon met Krasner and married her, and she put her career on hold to support his, while never stopping her painting. Together, they advanced abstract expressionism into the respected style it is today.
Famous Couples in History: Influential Couples
These famous couples in history became renowned through their causes or lifestyles. Whether outspokenly attempting to influence others or belatedly influential, these couples go down in history for making lasting change.
Famous Influential Couples in History: Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King
Martin Luther King, Jr. is best known for his role as leader of the Civil Rights Movement in the 50s and 60s. He was a minister coming from a family of ministers. On the other hand, Coretta Scott King held two degrees, one in music, the other in violin and voice. She met Martin in Boston, and married him.
Throughout Martin Luther King’s career as a civil rights activist, Coretta was extremely supportive. She and he both joined the bus boycott (protesting segregation in buses), and she also made multiple speeches on civil rights before different groups. Both Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King are responsible for the strength of the Civil Rights movement.
Famous Influential Couples in History: Richard and Mildred Loving
Without planning to, this couple effectively started the case that would bring the 14th Amendment (non-discrimination on the basis of race) of the United States Constitution into play. Mildred Jeter was of both Native American and African-American descent. Richard Loving, who lived in the area, was white. They were married in 1958.
Because of Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924, Mildred and Richard were arrested in Virginia, and sent out of the state. 5 years later, the Lovings appealed to the American Civil Liberties Union for legal aid. In 1967, through the 14th Amendment, the Supreme Court overturned all state laws that banned interracial marriages.
Famous Couples in History: State Leaders
State leadership is rarely a one-man (or one-woman) show, and some of the most famous state leaders depended heavily on their partners. That partner could be in the background, or in the spotlight with the leader, but nonetheless important to the leadership.
Famous State Leader Couples in History: Ulysses and Julia Grant
Ulysses S. Grant is best known for being the General-in-Chief of the Union forces in the Civil War, and the 18th President of the United States. Julia Dent was sister to Ulysses’ friend in the West Point military academy, which is how they met. Ulysses married Julia after the Mexican War.
Between the wars, Ulysses Grant was not a very successful soldier, drinking and falling into depression until he retired from the Army in 1854. He also had difficulties making a living as a farmer or anything else. Despite that, Julia supported him privately and to their friends and acquaintances, up to his successes during the Civil War and afterwards.
Famous State Leader Couples in History: Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos
This couple is better known as infamous. Ferdinand Marcos was a lawyer-turned-legislator, elected president in 1965. He is best known for his 20 years of dictatorship over the Philippines. Imelda Romualdez was a beauty queen who married the soon-to-be president. She was also known for her extravagance as First Lady.
President Marcos spent much of his time enhancing Philippine foreign relations, particularly with China and Japan. Imelda Marcos was one of his most relied-on diplomats, especially to the Middle East, where she met with Libya’s Gaddafi. However, both Marcoses were known for extravagant spending and running up great foreign debts.
Famous State Leader Couples in History: Juan and Eva Peron
Eva Duarte began life inauspiciously, becoming an actress at 16 but gaining roles through relationships with those in power. She eventually became a celebrity actress. Juan Peron, on the other hand, was a career military man in Argentina, part of the bloodless coup in 1943. He met Eva Duarte in a social event, and married her before becoming President in 1946.
Juan Peron was a strong advocate of labor rights, advocating “unity” rather than the more controversial “Communism.” He instituted paid vacations, free medical care, and free education. Eva Peron won the right of women to vote in Argentina, arranged for homes for runaway teenage girls, and would listen to at least 100 welfare pleas a day.
Famous Couples in History: Notorious Couples
No list of famous couples in history would be complete without the notorious couples who made history through that notoriety. They are neither State nor Wartime leaders, nor influential or artistic couples, but they made waves in their own ways.
Famous Notorious Couples in History: Bonnie and Clyde
Clyde Champion Barrow was arrested for burglary; that was his first recorded crime. Bonnie Parker smuggled him a gun so he could escape; that was her first recorded crime. They stole an automobile and brought it from Dallas to Oklahoma, bringing the Federal Bureau of Investigation into the picture.
Bonnie and Clyde stuck together for as long as their crime spree lasted, from 1932 to 1934. They were wanted mostly for robbery, but also for murders, especially of police officers who recognized them. They were the core of a gang that grew by degrees until they numbered 7. No list of famous notorious couples is complete without Bonnie and Clyde.
Famous Notorious Couples in History: Julius Rosenberg and Ethel Greenglass
Julius and Ethel Greenglass Rosenberg were the only people ever executed, in U.S. history, for espionage. Ethel Greenglass was an actress-to-be before marrying Julius, but settled for secretary. Julius Rosenberg was a member of the Young Communists’ League, and worked at the engineering laboratories of the U.S. Army Signal Corps.
Julius was recruited by the Soviets to pass information about nuclear weapons. By all accounts he was the only spy of the two. He recruited his brother-in-law, David Greenglass, who implicated Ethel as well. She was arrested as leverage, and charged as a full conspirator. Neither she nor Julius ever implicated anyone else who might have been involved.
Famous Couples in History
Couples come in all shapes and sizes, as this list shows. All the different kinds going down in history, sometimes for wildly different reasons, sometimes for amazingly similar ones. However, each couple in the list is the same in this: they will go down in history together.
FAQs about Famous Couples in History
- Who were Bonnie and Clyde?
- Bonnie and Clyde were an American criminal couple who operated during the Great Depression era. They were known for a string of robberies and murders across the central United States from 1932 to 1934. The couple was eventually killed in a police ambush in Louisiana.
- Who were Romeo and Juliet?
- Romeo and Juliet are fictional characters in William Shakespeare’s play of the same name. They are a young couple from rival families in Verona, Italy, who fall in love and ultimately take their own lives due to their families’ feud.
- Who were Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton?
- Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were a Hollywood power couple in the 1960s and 1970s. They were married twice and starred in several films together, including “Cleopatra” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”.
- Who were John Lennon and Yoko Ono?
- John Lennon was a British musician and member of the Beatles, and Yoko Ono is a Japanese artist and musician. The couple married in 1969 and were known for their activism, including their “Bed-In for Peace” protest against the Vietnam War.
- Who were Prince Charles and Princess Diana?
- Prince Charles is the heir to the British throne, and Princess Diana was his first wife. The couple married in 1981 and had two sons, Prince William and Prince Harry. They divorced in 1996, and Princess Diana died in a car crash in 1997.
- Who were Napoleon and Josephine?
- Napoleon Bonaparte was a French military and political leader, and Josephine de Beauharnais was his first wife. The couple married in 1796, but Napoleon divorced Josephine in 1809 because she could not bear him a child.
- Who were Antony and Cleopatra?
- Mark Antony was a Roman general and politician, and Cleopatra was the queen of Egypt. The couple had a romantic and political relationship during the final years of the Roman Republic, but their alliance ultimately led to their defeat in the Battle of Actium in 31 BC.