A Valentine’s Day poll was recently conducted by a British life insurance company, apparently to encourage Brits to be more romantic on February 14. The poll was to gauge which famous love letter was the greatest of all time. Men who polled came out on top of the romantic spectrum, with nearly one in four (24%) admitting that they’d written a love letter in the last year, while 38% of women admitted they’d never written a love letter.
Despite 46% of women saying the tradition was outdated, Beagle Street managing director said that a handwritten note is still appreciated. ‘A well-written love letter,’ he writes, ‘can stand the test of time and be a permanent record of affection, so it is important the tradition doesn’t die out. We hope our research inspires people who have never written a love letter to take some time out and write down and share exactly how they feel with a loved one.’
Here are the 10 love letters that are considered the greatest of all time.
10. Jimi Hendrix to ‘Little Girl’
Jimi Hendrix has been described by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as “arguably the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music.” While that may be a bit subjective, there’s no doubting that Hendrix made an indelible stamp on music before his untimely death at the age of 27.
In his undated letter to his anonymous ‘little girl,’ he writes as if he were composing lyrics for one of his songs, writing that ‘Happiness is within you… so unlock the chains from your heart and let yourself grow– like the sweet flower you are… I know the answer– Just spread your wings and set yourself FREE.’
9. Gerald Ford to wife Betty Ford (1974)
Gerald Ford is the only person in US history to serve as both the Vice President and the President of the United States. He became the 38th President after Richard Nixon’s resignation on August 9, 1974. He married Elizabeth Bloomer Warren, a department store fashion consultant, in 1948. Gerald and Betty Ford were married for 58 years, until Gerald’s death in 2006.
Shortly after Betty Ford was diagnosed with breast cancer (which she would go on to beat), Gerald reminded her of his and their family’s love for her in a 1974 letter. He wrote that, ‘No written words can adequately express our deep, deep love. We know how great you are and we, the children and Dad, will try to be as strong as you.’
8. Ludwig van Beethoven to his ‘Immortal Beloved’ (1812)
What Jimi Hendrix may have done for rock music, Beethoven did for all music before. The German composer was a crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western music, and he remains one of the most influential composers of all time. One crazy tidbit that some might not know, is that Beethoven began to lose his hearing by the age of 26. Despite that, his hearing loss did not prevent him from composing music.
In 1812, Beethoven wrote a long love letter to an unknown partner that he described as his ‘Immortal Beloved.’ In the letter, he wrote that ‘Where I am, you are with me,’ and ‘Love demands everything and that very justly – thus it is to me with you, and you with me… only by a calm consideration of our existence can we achieve our purpose to live together – Be calm – love me – today – yesterday… never misjudge the most faithful heart of your beloved.’
7. King Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn (1527)
King Henry VIII ruled England with an iron fist from 1509 until his death in 1547. Many people have adapted his life into plays and films. He was known for his role in separating the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church, and also for having six marriages. Despite being married so many times in search of a legitimate heir, there was one wife he always held dearest – Anne Boleyn. That was, of course, until he had her head cut off.
Henry penned many letters to Boleyn (his mistress at the time) in 1527, while he was still married to Catherine of Aragon. In the letters, he wrote that ‘I beg to know expressly your intention touching the love between us. Necessity compels me to obtain this answer, having been more than a year wounded by the dart of love, and not yet sure whether I shall fail or find a place in your affection.’
6. Richard Burton to Elizabeth Taylor (1964)
Richard Burton was a famous Welsh stage and cinema actor, and one of the highest paid actors in the world in the 1960s. Perhaps even more famous was his second wife, Elizabeth Taylor, who has been recognized as one of the greatest screen actresses of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Taylor was Burton’s second (and third) wife, from 1964 to 1974, and then again from ’75 to ’76, while Burton was Taylor’s fifth and sixth husband (out of eight). Their turbulent relationship was rarely out of the news.
Burton and Taylor fell in love on the set of the 1963 epic Cleopatra. A year later, Burton wrote her a love letter, saying ‘My blind eyes are desperately waiting for the sight of you. You don’t realize of course, E.B., how fascinatingly beautiful you have always been, and how strangely you have acquired an added and special and dangerous loveliness.’
5. Napoleon Bonaparte to Josephine de Beauharnais (1796)
Napoleon is the most prominent French leader in history, and he is considered to have been one of the greatest military minds of all time. His campaigns are still studied at military schools worldwide. His first wife, and therefore the first Empress of the French, was Josephine de Beauharnais. Before divorcing Beauharnais in 1810 for not bearing him any children, Napoleon was positively smitten with his wife.
In a 1796 love letter to Josephine, Napoleon writes that ‘My happiness is to be near you. Incessantly I live over in my memory your caresses, your tears, your affectionate solicitude. The charms of the incomparable Josephine kindle continually a burning and a glowing flame in my heart.’
4. Ernest Hemingway to Marlene Dietrich (1951)
Ernest Hemingway probably did more for 20th-century fiction writing than any other author. His sparse and understated style of writing influenced many famous authors who followed in his footsteps. He was married four times, and despite being wed to Mary Welsh Hemingway at the time, he wrote numerous letters confessing his love to the hugely popular actress Marlene Dietrich. Dietrich has been named as the ninth-greatest female star of all time by the American Film Institute.
The letters were written from 1949 to 1953, in his usual style, and stated that ‘I can’t say how every time I ever put my arms around you I felt that I was home. Nor too many things. But we were always cheerful and jokers together.’ Dietrich wrote back in 1952, saying, ‘I love you and you are always in my thoughts,’ and ‘I hate waste more than anything, and particularly any waste of you.’
3. John Keats to neighbor Fanny Brawne (1819)
John Keats was one of the main figures of the second generation of Romantic poets alongside Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley. He was most famous for his series of odes, and although they were not well received by critics during his life, they’ve become some of the most popular and analyzed pieces in English literature.
It’s no surprise, given his profession as a poet, that he wrote some of the most romantic letters in history, before his untimely death at the age of 25. One particular love letter was to his neighbor, Fanny Brawne, in which he writes, ‘I cannot exist without you – I am forgetful of everything but seeing you again – my Life seems to stop there – I see no further. You have absorb’d me.’
2. Winston Churchill to wife Clementine Churchill (1935)
Winston Churchill was the twice-Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and is widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the 20th century. He was also the first person to be made an honorary citizen of the United States. Clementine was Winston’s wife of 57 years, from 1908 until his death in 1965. They met in 1904, and were re-acquainted at a dinner party in 1908.
The two were instantly attracted to each other and married less than half a year after that fateful dinner party. They had five children together, and Winston repeatedly confessed his undying love for her. In a 1935 letter, he wrote that ‘I always feel so overwhelmingly in your debt, if there can be accounts in love… is it not joyous to see how great and growing is the treasure we have gathered together, amid the storms and stresses of so many eventful and, to millions, tragic and terrible years?’
1. Johnny Cash to wife June Carter (1994)
Johnny Cash, the Man in Black, was one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century. He is primarily remembered as a country and rock icon, but he was also an actor and author. His second wife was June Carter, whom he first met backstage at the Grand Ole Opry in 1955. 13 years later, in 1968, they were married, and stayed together and toured for 35 years until June’s death in 2003. Cash, perhaps from a broken heart, died four months later.
In 1994, Cash wrote what has been voted as the greatest love letter of all time – wishing his wife a happy 65th birthday. He wrote, ‘We get old and get used to each other. We think alike. We read each other’s minds. We know what the other wants without asking. Sometimes we irritate each other a little bit. Maybe sometimes take each other for granted. But once in a while, like today, I meditate on it and realise how lucky I am to share my life with the greatest woman I ever met.’