Just when you think you’ve done everything right for Valentine’s Day – you’ve got the box of chocolates, the dozen red roses, the champagne – these guys come along and make your romantic efforts look like child’s play. Check out these historical romantic gestures – and try not to feel too bad about your Russell Stover’s. We can’t all be Nebuchadnezzar.
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon
Yes, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World may have been created because Nebuchadnezzar II wanted to impress his wife. While some historians think the gardens only ever existed as a poetic creation on paper, others contend that the Chaldean King felt bad for his wife, Amytis of Media, because she missed her Persian homeland so much. As any doting husband would do, Nebuchadnezzar decided to embark upon a massive landscaping project using plants and trees that would remind her of Persia’s forested mountains. OK, he wasn’t exactly out there with a wheelbarrow himself, but what he had created sounds like it was pretty spectacular. Greek Historian Diodorus described it like this:
“The Garden was 100 feet (30 m) long by 100 ft wide and built up in tiers so that it resembled a theatre. Vaults had been constructed under the ascending terraces which carried the entire weight of the planted garden; the uppermost vault, which was seventy-five feet high, was the highest part of the garden, which, at this point, was on the same level as the city walls. The roofs of the vaults which supported the garden were constructed of stone beams some sixteen feet long, and over these were laid first a layer of reeds set in thick tar, then two courses of baked brick bonded by cement, and finally a covering of lead to prevent the moisture in the soil penetrating the roof. On top of this roof enough topsoil was heaped to allow the biggest trees to take root. The earth was leveled off and thickly planted with every kind of tree. And since the galleries projected one beyond the other, where they were sunlit, they contained conduits for the water which was raised by pumps in great abundance from the river, though no one outside could see it being done."
Not bad, right? His romantic gesture must have worked, because Amytis stuck around.
The Taj Mahal
You might not want to attempt this Valentine if your loved one is still living, lest they think you’re after their insurance policy. But Shah Jahan had good reason to create a massive tomb for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal - she had just died while giving birth to their 14th child. Shah Jahan was devastated. He immediately went into seclusion and was rumored to be considering abdicating the throne and turning to a solitary life as a religious recluse. Reports say that his hair went from having a few strands of grey hair to a full head of it, and that he wept so much his vision deteriorated. His family put up with it for a while, but eventually became frustrated with his constant grieving. "If he continued to abandon himself to his mourning, Mumtaz might think of giving up the joys of Paradise to come back to earth, this place of misery,” one of his honorary uncles wrote, “He should also consider the children she had left to his care." Ouch. Well, sometimes when you’re upset, you just need to throw your energies into something else - so that’s what Jahan did. Six months after she died, the foundation was laid for what would end up being one of the greatest architectural and artistic accomplishments in history. It took 22 years, about 20,000 workers and 32 million rupees or so to complete. Poet Sir Edwin Arnold referred to the Taj Mahal as, “Not a piece of architecture, as other buildings are, but the proud passions of an emperor’s love wrought in living stones.” Both Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal have taken up final residence in the Taj Mahal. Photo from PlasmaPool.
The British Throne
OK, Prince Edward VIII didn’t give his wife the throne, he gave it up for her. Prince Edward was in a relationship with a married American woman named Wallis Simpson when his father, King George V, suddenly passed away. In fact, Edward watched the public announcement of his father’s death (and, subsequently, Edward’s reign) from a window, accompanied by the married Simpson. Edward served as King for less than a year, with advisors repeatedly telling him that the public would never accept Wallis Simpson as queen for many reasons, including her two divorces and the fact that she was born in the United States. Edward suggested a morganatic marriage, meaning that although he would remain King, there was no way Wallis could ever become Queen. This suggestion was immediately shot down. There was so much pressure on the couple that Simpson was just about ready to make a public announcement saying that she was ready and willing to give up the King, but Edward refused to allow it. On December 10, 1936, Edward signed the Instrument of Abdication, stating that he was willingly giving up all of his kingly duties. He issued a statement to the people of England, saying “"I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility, and to discharge my duties as King as I would wish to do, without the help and support of the woman I love." Simpson hadn’t divorced her husband yet and began proceedings immediately. The couple had to stay away from each other until the divorce was final; they finally reunited in May of 1937 and married a month later on June 3, 1937 - which would have been King George’s 72nd birthday. Photo from the BBC.