Tristan and Iseult

10 Most Famous Love Stories in History and Literature

Some Love Stories are immortal and remain as examples for all the lovers for generation after generation. They renew and reinforce our respect and faith for love. A closer investigation of such great love stories of some romantic historical couples reveals that many of them met a tragic end. They did, however, show us that true love is stronger than anything else in the world. This is the love that they had we are all hopping to find someday. Of course, with a happier ending.

Here, presenting the top 10 list of most famous love stories in history.

10. Anarkali and Salim

Famous Love Stories anarkali
Anarkali was a legendary slave girl. It is believed that she was originally from Iran and migrated to Lahore, Punjab. It is depicted in the Bollywood movie Mughal-e-Azam that during the Mughal period, she was supposedly ordered to be buried alive between two walls by Mughal emperor Akbar for having an illicit relationship with the Crown-Prince Salim, later to become Emperor Jahangir. The story was originally written by Indian writer Abdul Halim Sharar and on the first page of that book he had clearly mentioned it to be a work of fiction. Nevertheless, her story has been adapted into literature, art and cinema.

The love story of Salim and Anarkali is a story that every lover knows. Prince Salim was a spoiled and rude boy. Akbar sends him off to war, to teach him courage and discipline. Fourteen years later Salim returns as a distinguished soldier to rule the empire in Lahore. Since this day was one of great celebration, the harem of Akbar decided to hold a great Mujra (dance performance) by a beautiful girl named Nadeera. Since she was an exceptional beauty, she got access to Akbar’s court and later honoured with the epithet of Anarkali by Akbar.

During her first Mujra, Prince Salim fell in love with her and it later became apparent that she was also in love with him. Later, they both began to see each other secretly. Later, Prince Salim informed his father, Akbar, of his intention to marry Anarkali and make her the Empress. The problem was that Anarkali, despite her fame in Lahore, was a dancer and a maid and not of noble blood. So Akbar forbade Salim from seeing Anarkali again. Prince Salim and Akbar had an argument that later became very serious after Akbar ordered the arrest of Anarkali and placed her in one of the dungeons in Lahore. When Salim came to know of this, he declared a war against his own father. But the mighty emperor’s gigantic army is too much for the young prince to handle. He gets defeated and is sentenced to death. This is when Anarkali intervenes and renounces her love to save her beloved from the jaws of death. She is entombed alive in a brick wall right in front of her lover’s eyes.

9. Eloise and Abelard

Eloise and Abelard
‘Heloise and Abelard’ is one of history’s most passionate and romantic true love stories. This is a story of a monk and a nun whose love letters became world-famous. The 900 year old love affair of a philosopher and theologian and his student Heloise continues to inspire and move us. Their passionate relationship scandalized the community in which they lived. The details of their physical and spiritual intimacy is also a cautionary tale for our time.

In twelfth century, Peter Abelard went to Paris to study at the school of Notre Dame. He gained a reputation as an outstanding philosopher. The canon of Notre Dame, Fulbert hired Abelard to tutor his niece, Heloise. The the intellectually gifted young girl, strives for knowledge, truth and the answer to the question of human existence. They soon find themselves so interweave that neither can resist the spiritual and physical desires of their bodies, yet they both know that the laws of the time forbid such a relationship. But their physical love and the strength of their passion proved to be a power impossible to resist. When Heloise becomes pregnant, they realize it is not safe for her to remain in Paris. They flee for Brittany, and were secretly married. But Fulbert was furious, so Abelard sent Heloise to safety in a convent. Thinking that he intended to abandon Heloise, Fulbert had his servants castrate Abelard while he slept. Abelard became a monk and devoted his life to learning. The heartbroken Heloise became a nun. They never met again, yet through their famous letters, their love endures.

8. Napoleon and Josephine

Napoleon and Josephine
Napoleon was a French military and political leader who rose to prominence during the latter stages of the French Revolution and its associated wars in Europe. Joséphine was a widow, and after affairs with several leading political figures, se married Napleon and thus became the first Empress of the French.

The relationship between Napoleon and Josephine, a six years older widow with two children was turbulent from the very start. Only two days after their wedding day, Napoleon left on a military campaign in Italy. Josephine who stayed behind in Paris soon started an affair with lieutenant Hippolyte Charles. Napoleon was infuriated when he found out about his wife’s infidelity and soon started an affair on his own. No further Josephine’s affairs have been recorded but Napoleon’s love for Josephine was no longer the same. And when it became clear that Josephine is unable to have children, Napoleon decided to divorce her. He thereafter married Marie-Louise of Austria who gave birth to the long-awaited heir. But despite Josephine’s infidelity, divorce and remarriage, Napoleon’s last words are said to be “France, the Army, the Head of the Army, Josephine.” (

7. Orpheus and Eurydice

Orpheus and Eurydice
Orpheus was a legendary musician, poet in ancient Greek myth. He is best known for his beautiful music which charmed everyone, even the stones and wild beasts. But he is also known for his deep love for his wife Eurydice.

Eurydice and Orpheus were young and in love. So deep was their love that they were practically inseparable. So dependent was their love that each felt they could not live without the other. These young lovers were very happy and spent their time frolicking through the meadows. Aristaeus, a Greek god of the land and agriculture, became quite fond of Eurydice, and actively pursued her. While fleeing from Aristaeus, Eurydice ran into a nest of snakes which bit her fatally on her legs. Distraught, Orpheus played such sad songs and sang so mournfully that all the nymphs and gods wept. On their advice, he traveled to the underworld and by his music softened the hearts of Hades and Persephone. They summoned Eurydice and gave her to him, but upon one condition: that he would not look back at her as she followed him, until they had reached the upper world. So the two passed through the great doors of Hades to the path which would take them out of the darkness, climbing up and up.

6. Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal

Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal
Taj Mahal, the magnificent monument that stands at the heart of India has a story that has been melting the hearts of millions of listeners since the time Taj has been visible. A story, that although ended back in 1631, continues to live on in the form of Taj and is considered a living example of eternal love.

It’s the love story of Mughal Royal couple “Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal”, who shared a loving marriage until Mumtaz died. Though Shah Jahan had other wives also, but, Mumtaz Mahal was his favorite and accompanied him everywhere, even on military campaigns. In the year 1631, when Mumtaz Mahal was giving birth to their 14th child, she died due to some complications. Shah Jahan was devastated by his wife’s death and plunged into deep grief that affected him both emotionally and physically. While Mumtaz was on her deathbed, Shah Jahan promised her that he would never remarry and will build the richest mausoleum over her grave. Shortly after completing Taj Mahal, Shah got ill and was overthrown by his eldest son. He spent the rest of his life in-house arrest and was buried next to his wife.

5. Paris and Helen

Paris and Helen love
The story of Helen of Troy and the Trojan War is a Greek heroic legend, combining fact and fiction. Helen of Troy also known as Helen of Sparta, in Greek myths she was considered to be the most beautiful woman in the world. She was married to Menelaus, king of Sparta. Paris, son of King Priam of Troy, fell in love with Helen and abducted her, taking her back to Troy.

See also; Legendary Greek Mythological Creatures.

According to Greek mythology, the story begins with the Trojan prince Paris being chosen to decide which of three goddesses – Hera, Athena and Aphrodite – is the fairest. He chose Aphrodite because in return she promised him the most beautiful woman in the world. And the most beautiful woman was Helen who, however, was married to King Menelaus. Paris went to Sparta and took Helen to Troy by which he triggered the Trojan War. The Greeks assembled a great army, led by Menelaus’s brother, Agamemnon, to retrieve Helen. Troy was destroyed. Helen returned safely to her husband in Sparta.

4. Tristan and Iseult

Tristan and Iseult
This is a tragic story of the adulterous love between the Cornish knight Tristan (Tristram) and the Irish princess Iseult (Isolde). It’s a legend made popular during the 12th century through French medieval poetry, and inspired from archetypal Celtic legends. It has become an influential romance and tragedy, retold in numerous sources with as many variations.

There are several versions of the story about the adulterous lovers but they all more or less follow the same outline. Iseult, the daughter of the king of Ireland is promised to King Mark of Cornwall. The king sends his nephew, Tristan, to escort Isolde back to Cornwall. However, from the moment they meet, the two fall for one another. Although the princess marries king Mark, she continues her affair with Tristan. In the end, Mark finds out, forgives Iseult and bans Tristan from Cornwall. Soon after, Tristan falls ill and sends for Isolde. He asks her to put white sails on the ship if the answer is yes, and black sails if not. In the end, Tristan dying of despair, convinced that Iseult does not want to come to him, while Iseult dies of grief after finding her lover dead.

3. Antony and Cleopatra

Antony and Cleopatra
Antony and Cleopatra is a tragedy by William Shakespeare. The plot is based on Thomas North’s translation of Plutarch’s Lives and follows the relationship between Cleopatra and Mark Antony from the time of the Sicilian revolt to Cleopatra’s suicide during the Final War of the Roman Republic.

The story of Antony and Cleopatra is one of the most memorable, intriguing love story. The relationship of Antony and Cleopatra put the Egypt in a powerful position. But their relations outraged the Romans who were wary of the growing powers of the Egyptians. Despite all the threats they got married. It is said that while fighting a battle against Romans, Antony got false news of Cleopatra’s death. Shattered, he fell on his sword. When Cleopatra learned about Antony ‘s death, she was shocked. She kills herself using the poison of a venomous snake called the asp. She died calmly and ecstatically, imagining how she will meet Antony again in the afterlife. Her serving maids, Iras and Charmian, also kill themselves.

2. Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy by William Shakespeare. It is probably the most famous lovers ever. It’s the story about two young star-crossed lovers whose deaths ultimately reconcile their feuding families. It was among Shakespeare’s most popular plays during his lifetime and, along with Hamlet, is one of his most frequently performed plays. Today, the title characters are regarded as archetypal young lovers.

Romeo and Juliet belongs to an ancient tradition of tragic romances. The story is based on an Italian tale “The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet” by Arthur Brooke in 1562 and retold in prose in “Palace of Pleasure” by William Painter in 1567.

1. Layla and Majnun

Layla and Majnun

Layla-Majnu is the name that is taken whenever there is talk about love or the most romantic pair. They have died, but their love remains alive even today. It is a tragic story of undying love much like the later Romeo and Juliet. This type of love is known as “Virgin Love”, because the lovers never married or made love.

This tragic love story was originated as a short, anecdotal poem in ancient Arabia, later significantly expanded and popularized in a literary adaptation by the Azerbaijani poet Nizami Ganjavi. The story has been translated into many languages.