If you have been following the news recently, then the story of French president Francois Hollande’s affair with actress Julie Gayet will be a familiar story. France’s first lady, Valerie Trierweiler, was consequently hospitalised reportedly due to the shock. It is, of course, not the first time that something like this has happened in modern politics. Comedians are still making references to Monica Lewinsky and her affair with Bill Clinton, which almost ended his presidency in impeachment. Closer to home, in 2002 Edwina Currie released a book detailing her four year affair with John Major whilst Margaret Thatcher had been Prime Minister. The contemporary examples could go on and on, yet sex scandals have been entwined with politics for most of our history.
Another famous example from France is the love affair between Napoleon Bonaparte and his Empress, Joséphine. She married him reluctantly in 1796 just before his tour of Italy, then whilst he was in Italy had a string of affairs. When he found out, he matched her with his own string of affairs before they eventually became faithful to each other. However, Napoleon divorced Joséphine in 1810 because she was no longer fertile and he craved a son. Napoleon had a locket filled with violets from Joséphine’s garden when he died in 1821, suggesting his love for Joséphine had never died.
This is the opposite of the slightly heart-rending scandal surrounding Elizabeth Tudor, who wanted to marry her childhood friend Robert Dudley, who unfortunately was already married. When he was finally available in 1560, she was advised not to marry him by her advisors. Thus despite many foreign suitors, she was never married.
Perhaps the most famous and interesting affair in history is that of Mark Anthony and Cleopatra. Following the death of Julius Caesar in 44BC, his best friend and ally Mark Anthony had to share power with Marcus Lepidus and Octavian. Anthony fell in love with Cleopatra on a state visit to Egypt in 41BC but to keep the peace had to marry Octavian’s sister in the same year. He returned to Egypt and Cleopatra in 36BC, which ultimately led to a major civil war in Rome and Octavian becoming Caesar Augustus, first Emperor of Rome. So, in fact, affairs in politics are nothing new, and we could be thankful that Hollande’s dalliance has not led to a major European war.