Lovers have been writing letters to each other for centuries. Some famous letters proclaim the writer’s everlasting love. Others are poignant, acknowledging the love affair is one-sided, and the writer despairs over the loss or has come to accept that the love is not meant to be.
Reading these letters gives us a window into history when we compare the letters with what we now know about the relationships and the times in which these famous letter writers lived. Here are just a few letters that have been preserved.
Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII, c.1528
It is easy to forget that Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII were once in love. When we hear the two names together, our thoughts go almost automatically to Henry ordering Anne Boleyn’s execution and her brave approach to the gallows for her beheading.
Before their marriage, they exchanged what are now famous letters by writing notes to each other in the Anne Boleyn Book of Hours. Remember that Henry was still married to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and his scandalous relationship with Anne was causing an uproar in Catholic England.
Henry wrote to Anne: “If you remember my love in your prayers as strongly as I adore you, I shall scarcely be forgotten, for I am yours. Henry Rex forever.”
To which Anne replied: “Be daily prove you shall me find/To be to you both loving and kind.”
Horatio Nelson to Emma Hamilton, 19 October 1805
Horatio Nelson, one of Britain’s greatest naval heroes, was married to Frances Nesbit when he met and fell in love with Emma Hamilton. Nelson and Hamilton had a daughter, Horatia, born three years after their affair began.
The lovers exchanged many letters, but Nelson destroyed the ones he received from Emma and asked her to destroy his letters to her, but she refused. His last letter, found unfinished on his desk after he was fatally wounded in battle, pledges his eternal love for her.
In this famous letter, Nelson wrote: “My Dearest beloved Emma the dear friend of my bosom…I will take care that my name shall ever be dear to you and Horatia, both of whom I love as much as my own life.”
Charlotte Bronte to Professor Heger, 18 November 1844
Charlotte Bronte was studying languages at a school in Brussels that was run by Professor Constantin Heger and his wife. Charlotte became infatuated with her married professor and wrote him love letters, which he tore up and threw away. Apparently, his wife retrieved the letters, and she sewed four of them back together.
One poignant famous letter that survived being torn up and put together reveals Charlotte’s despair at never seeing the professor again. She apologises to him for not writing a more cheerful letter and writes, “forgive me my dear master—do not be irritated at my sadness—according to the words of the Bible, ‘Out of the fullness of the heart, the mouth speaketh.’ And truly I find it difficult to be cheerful so long as I think I shall never see you more.”
Rupert Brooke to Cathleen Nesbit, 1913
World War I poet, Rupert Brooke, became infatuated with stage actress, Cathleen Nesbit. He wrote to her more than 80 letters from the time he met her until his untimely death two years later when he was only 27. In one such famous letter, he wrote:
“I wish to God you were coming in through the door now: and that I could hold your hands. There is beauty when we are together. I understand—in a way I understand you completely: because I love you so. I’m madly eager to see you again. My heart goes knocking when I think of it. I don’t understand… Little child, I will kiss you till I kill you. Be gentle with me. Goodnight.”
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