There is no shortage of fascinating historical figures worth developing a crush on. Jonas Salk? Stetson Kennedy? Joan of Arc? Eleanor of Aquitaine? All would have been worthy recipients of one of those heart-shaped boxes of candy from the drugstore and at least one bundle of carnations. Hell, two bundles of carnations. But what do you get for history’s worst Valentine’s, who caused all manner of nightmares and agitation for their romantic partners? For that matter, who are those worst Valentine’s? They’re these guys, or, at least, these are the ones I featured in It Ended Badly and these are the gifts you should get them on Feb. 14.
All this writer famous for her 1812 affair with Lord Byron would want for Valentine’s Day is a chunk of Byron’s pubic hair. To be fair, she did send him a letter full of her pubic hair, so she was just asking for something in return for her efforts. Seriously. Immediately after their breakup she sent him a note with her pubic hair enclosed reading that “I cut the hair too close and bled more than you need,” advising him not to position the scissors as she had. He did not send her any hair in return, and she burned him in effigy. In retrospect, it might have been less stressful for him to (carefully) chop off a lock for her.
The 16th century king of England would have been a mercifully easy guy to shop for. He had endless hobbies and excelled in just about everything. Henry VIII was a consummate sportsman who enjoyed jousting (a new lance!) hunting (a horse, maybe?) and playing tennis (a racquet!). If you aren’t so into athletics, you could always get the rumored composer of “Greensleeves” any kind of musical instrument, as he played everything from the lute to the harpsichord. However, given that he also beheaded not one but two of his wives, the thing he’d appreciate most might be a new chopping block. That, or a male heir to the English throne.
Anna Ivanovna didn’t really care for marriage, perhaps because the 18th century Russian empress’s own ended after her husband engaged in a supposedly deadly drinking contest with her uncle, Peter The Great. Later, she held a horrible parody of a wedding when she forced one of her courtiers to marry one of her elderly maids, and spend their wedding night together in a frozen ice palace. In her free time though, she enjoyed making her courtiers dress up as chickens and pretend to lay eggs for her amusement. So you could just show up in a new “sexy chicken” costume, which is probably a thing that exists. Hell, we all need the eggs.
This famed 19th century art critic should have spent slightly less time staring at classical Greek statues. On his wedding night to Effie Grey he was supposedly shocked—and horrified—to discover that women had pubic hair and asked to postpone consummating their marriage for six years. So, if you’d like to spend Valentine’s Day in bed, a Brazilian bikini wax will be a gift not only to him but to yourself. That, or get him a few copies of Playboy from the ’70s to prepare him.
Rome’s maddest emperor, famous mostly for fiddling while Rome burned, didn’t actually fiddle—fiddles didn’t exist at the time. However, he did fritter away his time on his own entertainments, like attempting to be an actor, while Rome fell apart in more ways than one. And besides being a terrible emperor, he was also a terrible husband. He murdered his pregnant wife, according to lore, by jumping up and down on her belly. Afterward, he mourned her by 1) wearing a mask that resembled her when he played tragic figures, and 2) castrating a slave boy who looked somewhat like her and forcing that slave boy to act as his new empress. The best gift to all of Rome would likely have been to get Nero on some anti-psychotic medication, but he would probably also have gotten pretty into fiddling if you can bring him one from the future.
Norman Mailer famously stabbed his wife, Adele, at a party in 1960 where he was announcing his intention to run for mayor of New York. Guests recalled him doing so because she claimed he was “no Dostoevsky.” For Valentine’s Day, if you somehow decided he’d be a good person to be involved with—and he had four wives after Adele, so women did—I guess you could get him a copy of Crime And Punishment with his name scrawled on the front and his picture stapled to the back. You’d be doing so in spite of the fact that his crime never met with much in the way of punishment.
Jennifer Wright is the author of It Ended Badly: Thirteen of the Worst Breakups in History and a contributor to the New York Observer and the New York Post, covering sex and dating. She was one of the founding editors of TheGloss.com, and her writing regularly appears in such publications as Cosmopolitan, Glamour, and Maxim. Her breakup cure is gin, reruns of 30 Rock, and historical biographies. She lives and loves in New York City.