David Frum

11.13.12

Top Ten Military Sex Scandals, Part Three

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#4: The Memoirist

Harriet Wilson was perhaps the most famous courtesan of early 19th century London. She numbered among her clients the future Duke of Wellington, victor of the Battle of Waterloo. Later in life, she approached the duke with a proposition: if he paid up, she'd refrain from publishing her memoirs. He answered, "Publish and be damned." The memoirs remain in print to this day.

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#3 Lady Hamilton

Nothing dispels scandal like a hero's death.

The British admiral Horatio Nelson was killed in the course of winning arguably history's most decisive naval engagement at Trafalgar in 1805.

Suddenly the married Nelson's scandalous affair with the also married Emma Hamilton moved out of the tabloid sheets and into the story books. Emma was played by Vivien Leigh in the 1941 movie, "That Hamilton Woman" - and really what higher accolade can history bestow?

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#2 The Assassin

It's not true about Catherine the Great and the horse, but almost everything else they say about her is, including the fact that she became the ruler of Russia after her lover, Grigory Orlov, assassinated her husband, Czar Peter III. Orlov and other Russian aristocrats were disgusted with Peter III for granting an easy peace to Prussia's Frederick the Great, who had been on the point of total military disaster in the Seven Year War.

#1 Cleopatra's Nose

History's most famous military sex scandal turns out not to be all that sexy. Antony and Cleopatra had twins together, but the relationship seems driven as much by dynastic politics as by the passion imagined by William Shakespeare. Nor was Cleopatra really all that good-looking, as acknowledged by her disappointed contemporary biographers. Which is why we all prefer the Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton version of events.