I seem to be somewhat addicted to list-making recently. Keeping with the theme of light-hearted posts, I present to you a list of my top historical crushes, or Hot Dead Dudes. Arbitrary and ever-so-slightly shallow, a list of HDD is a must for any heteronormative female history nerd. And remember, ladies – dead dudes can’t dump you!
#1 Camille Desmoulins (1760-1794)
French revolutionary, lawyer, pamphleteer, floppy-haired heartthrob and wearer of awesome cravats. Desmoulins went to the guillotine aged 34, as a result of his opposition to the ‘Terror’ of Robespierre and Saint-Just, and his allegiance to Danton. Before losing that handsome head, however, he managed to rest it on the pillows of half the women in Paris – and a few of the men too, if contemporary rumours are to be believed. Despite this, his marriage to Lucile Duplessis was by all accounts a passionate and happy one while it lasted – Lucile herself was guillotined shortly afterwards, for conspiring to secure her husband’s release. Desmoulins: decadent, charismatic, principled, articulate and handsome. But sadly lacking a head.
#2 Rupert Brooke (1887-1915)
The ‘handsomest young man in England’, according to W.B. Yeats, and you can see why he said it. Poet and naval officer, Rupert Brooke was responsible for The Soldier, one of the most ubiquitous poems in the English language, and scourge of GCSE students everywhere. You know the one: ‘If I should die, think only this of me/That there’s some corner of a foreign field/That is forever England’. In a supreme twist of irony – or perhaps perceptiveness on Brooke’s part – he ended up making his own corner of Forever England, buried in an olive grove on the Greek island of Skyros after succumbing to an infection while serving in the Navy during WW1. Dead at 27, Brooke left a string of broken hearts of both sexes behind him among London’s literary and bohemian circles.
#3 Henry Brougham (1778-1868)
Another firebrand politician and lawyer, albeit one who managed to make it to old age. Brougham (pronounced ‘broom’, just to confuse you all) was a feisty young Scot with a finger in most of the social, legal and political pies of the early 19th century. Founder of The Edinburgh Review, MP, abolitionist and political reformer, he was noted as the lawyer who acted for Queen Caroline against George IV’s attempts to divorce her and strip her of her titles. Given that Caroline was regarded as a ‘long-suffering wife’ by the majority of disenfranchised middle-class Englishwomen, Brougham became something of a pin-up for defending her. He was also supposedly arrogant, stubborn and selfish. But he’s dead now, so I can just look at the portrait and admire his hair without worrying too much about that.
#4 Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510)
Florentine Renaissance painter, renowned for his sensuous and delicate depictions of women. It’s no coincidence that Venus, goddess of love, is a recurring figure in Botticelli’s art. Supposedly he suffered from a longstanding unrequited passion for Simonetta Vespucci, the ‘most beautiful woman of the age’ and mistress of his patron, Giuliano de’Medici. In old age he came under the influence of the ‘Mad Monk’ Girolamo Savonarola, producing ever more bizarre religious images, and eventually destroying many of his works in the infamous Bonfire of the Vanities. The fact that upon his death he requested that he be buried at the foot of Simonetta Vespucci’s grave, however, suggests that sacred love never quite overcame the profane in Botticelli’s heart.