National Geographic News
Henry-VII-Anne-Bolyen-Kings-Kill.jpg

Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, one of many romances with a world leader to meet a grisly end.

Photographs by IMAGNO Brandstätter Images/Getty Images (L), Universal History Archive/Getty Images (R)

Melody Kramer

National Geographic

Published August 30, 2013

It's good to be the king. It's sometimes less good to be the king's paramour.

From England's Henry VIII, who notoriously had two of his wives beheaded in the 16th century, to current North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, who may or may not have had his ex-girlfriend killed last week, rulers around the world and throughout history have sometimes used their executive powers to execute ... well, their exes.

A South Korean English-language newspaper called The Chosun Ilbo reported this week that Kim Jong-un's ex-girlfriend, the singer Hyon Song-wol—who was best known for her song "Excellent Horse-Like Lady"—was executed by firing squad on August 20.

Song-wol, the paper reported, was one of the dozen members of the Unhasu Orchestra and Wangjaesan Light Music Band who were arrested and then executed inside the repressive police state for allegedly violating pornography rules and possessing Bibles.

It's impossible to know for sure whether the killings did or did not take place, since Chosun Ilbo's report is anonymously sourced and no other media outlets have independently corroborated it (though news outlets around the world have picked up the story).

Chosun Ilbo wrote that "Kim Jong-un has been viciously eliminating anyone who he deems a challenge to his authority."

That description would certainly apply to earlier leaders who offed former lovers.

Dangerous Liaisons

Nero, the Roman emperor from 54 to 68 AD, reportedly ordered the death of his mother, poisoned his stepbrother, banished his first wife, and then kicked his second wife to death—all while ruling Rome with a tyrannical fist.

Claudius, Nero's predecessor, married four times, killing his third wife Valeria Messalina, who has been described as "ruthless, predatory, and sexually insatiable." But that reputation has been challenged by modern historians, who note that such accusations against Messalina may have been constructed to displace her children in the imperial succession.

Don't think this list of murdered exes is entirely composed of women, however.

Cleopatra, the queen of Egypt, married several of her brothers, including Ptolemy XIV—who she then had poisoned—to have his nephew and her son, Ptolemy XV Caesarion, ascend to the throne. (I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge Twitter user cidmonster, who led me to this bit of information.)

But the most notorious spouse-killer of them all was most definitely a man: Henry VIII, whose murderous proclivities inspired the mnemonic "divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived" to keep track of his six wives.

Both Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard—wives two and five, respectively—were beheaded after being accused of committing treason.

Surely there are more. Who are we forgetting?

Correction: An earlier version of this story wrongly stated that two of King Henry XIII's wives were beheaded with a guillotine, which wasn't invented until after the women were dead.

36 comments
Kate G
Kate G

If I cited some random guy on Twitter (and was still wrong about a lot) and submitted it to my job, I'd definitely get fired. And my stuff isn't published on the front page of the company's website. This makes me sad.

Lisa G.
Lisa G.

The idea of this article is interesting enough.  It's the editing and final approval that annoys me most.  The article reads as though it was written, submitted, edited, and approved all on the way to that amazing lunch Kramer had.

Kathleen Colvin
Kathleen Colvin

The guillotine, as we know it, was not in use until the 18th Century in France.

Henry had enough compassion left to send to France for a finely crafted and extremely sharp sword, which was used to take off Anne's head with one cut. 

Others on the block often did not fare so well, with several swings of the axe needed before a head was separated from a body.

terry wofford
terry wofford

Henry had 2, not "several wives" executed, both because they had affairs which was considered treason, but of course a woman author has no responsibility to actually know history. Natgeo is getting lower and lower  

Sunil Mathur
Sunil Mathur

This is more of National Historic material, how about articles which are more National Geographic in nature, I guess that's what we log in here to see.

David Robson
David Robson

I have only recently registered as a member and am appalled at this inaccurate clap trap.

I thought it was just Hollywood who had the rights to "creative history"?

Brenda Kelly
Brenda Kelly

Why would you slump to this level National Geographic?  You have naturally interesting topics without a need to fabricate and publish false ones.  What happened to standards and facts?  Is this all journalism is now, tweets and gossip? No actual research on the journalists part to get factual information in their article?  It's journalism not creative writing and this article wastes peoples time.

Audra Highley
Audra Highley

I found that Melody Kramer, the author of this article, "filled in as an editor and writer at National Geographic Magazine for someone out on maternity leave." Melody then goes on to state, "I also dropped out of grad school-which I probably shouldn't have gone to in the first place." -http://melodykramer.tumblr.com/about

My main concern is that Melody took a report from a newspaper called Chosun Ilbo's and listed as the chief source to create this entire article. This newspaper, stated that Kim Jong-un was the main influence behind a woman's death. And yet in the same breath, Melody back peddles to write, “since Chosun Ilbo's report is anonymously sourced [...] It's impossible to know for sure whether the killings did or did not take place."

Melody Kramer’s credibility as a journalist is totally lost.

Like many before me, I too though it highly unprofessional to give a 'shout out' to a twitter user. I mean, who is cidmonster, and is this cidmonster credible, and if so  - site cidmonster in a proper manner with a first and last name as well has his credentials. 

I was curious, so I researched to find that on August 30th, the day of this posted article, Melody posts on Twitter, “Melody Kramer@mkramer30 Aug Assigned one last story. It's on famous leaders who had their paramours killed. So we have Henry VIII and maybe Kim Jung-Un and um...?”

To which Cidmonster writes, “Cidmonster@Cidmonster 30 Aug@mkramer A lot of Roman folks. Nero, Claudius, Caligula...” and “Cidmonster@Cidmonster 30 Aug@mkramer Oh, and I think Cleopatra married her brother and then had him dismembered and stuffed in a trunk? Or something?” https://twitter.com/mkramer

So we have Melody, a journalist, hours away from going on vacation to San Francisco, assigned one last paper for her last day on the job at NG and creates this fictional piece of work.

Folks, she did not care about the quality of her work. She just needed to get the job done. She asked for references sources through her Twitter account, for goodness sake. 

And when she handed in her paper she was rewarded to lunch by the editor. “My editor took me out to lunch. It was amazing. Latkes were involved. http://instagram.com/p/dpYiwogbXN/

I would hope the editor and chief will have this, article and attached forum, on their desk tomorrow morning to review and advise Melody on creating work with substance and factual accounts if she is given the opportunity to write for NG ever again. Otherwise my time as well as others have been totally lost for expressing our concerns on this forum.

Beth Coats
Beth Coats

This was not a well-written article - I expect better of N.G..  Leading with 'several of Henry VIII's wives'?  2 out of 6, on the chopping block, not guillotine, is not 'several'.   'Murderous proclivities?   More like, 'politically expedient or necessary' in the context of info being fed to the monarch.  He wasn't any more bloodthirsty than other leaders of the time.   So inflammatory and beneath N.G.  Acknowledging a Twitter user mid-article for info?  How about doing your own research, check your facts and turn down the 'Entertainment Tonight' tone.  Please.

Cynthia Hashemi
Cynthia Hashemi

I'm the most amateur of history buffs, and even I could tell this whole article was riddled with wrong information.   ....Am I the only person who finds it disturbing that obviously no real effort to verify some really basic historical information was made and that someone via Twitter is being touted as a source authority?!   I have always previously trusted National Geographic's information more than most.   Based on this extremely lazy article I need to rethink that stance (and possibly subscribing to its publication).  

Dean Jones
Dean Jones

The gibbet (or guillotine) was not even invented at the time of Henry VIII.  Beheading was the most common, and believed to be the most humane, method of execution at the time but usually involved an ax. 

d wood
d wood

diana princess of wales was obviously murdered

Joe Wooten
Joe Wooten

Neither of Henry the VIII's wives was guillotined. Anne Boleyn was beheaded by sword, and Katherine Howard with the traditional axe.

Sarah Rable
Sarah Rable

Didn't Hitler kill his girlfriend/fiancé before turning the gun on himself?

Nick P
Nick P

Stalin killed his second wife...

Tom Mengel
Tom Mengel

She had an "end at the guillotine"???  That was not invented for another 200 years in France.  No, in merry old England in Henry's time they used an executioner with a large ax or a heavy sword and a chopping block (and it was customary for the victim to pay the hired henchman a tip to get the job got done in one blow - maybe where the term "To Insure Promptness" came from).  

Kimberly Listrud
Kimberly Listrud

Attention National Geographic. I am available to properly research and write articles. Seriously. It would be money well spent. This article is embarrassing to you. School children use your information as a source.

Emily J.
Emily J.

We all will be a history and that's true. May be scientist after 10000 years will find us world ancient mummy or human remain.

DAVID Capettini
DAVID Capettini

Elizabeth I and Sir Walter Raleigh? Mary, Queen of Scots? Caesarion never ascended the throne. The Ptolemaic Dynasty was abolished by Augustus after Cleo's suicide.

DAVID Capettini
DAVID Capettini

Elizabeth I and Sir Walter Raleigh? Mary, Queen of Scots? Caesarion never ascended the throne. The Ptolemaic Dynasty was ended by Augustus after Cleo's suicide.

Dirk van Toor
Dirk van Toor

It would become National Geographic to at the very least properly research the topic, before blurting out an inaccuracy riddled piece like this. I am appalled and quite disappointed.

Lucy Star
Lucy Star

Marilyn Monroe and the Kennedys, for starters.

Codifex Maximus
Codifex Maximus

Error in main graphic subtitle.  Should be Henri VIII not VII.

Keelin Huggins
Keelin Huggins

Incorrect information: Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, beheaded wives of Henry VIII and distant cousins, were not guillotined, but beheaded by sword and ax-respectively. The guillotine was not invented until, and for the specific purpose of, The French Revolution.

Bob Burnitt
Bob Burnitt

@Sarah Rable Eva Braun voluntarily died with Hitler.  With the collapse of the Third Reich she had no place to go.  Can you even begin to imagine what her life would have been like if she had NOT???  Even being his clerical secretary after the war was bad enough.  Check out "Traudle Junge" she was one of Hitlers "clerical workers" that survived the war.  Excerts from an interview of her were included in the Movie "The Downfall" a great movie on the last few weeks of Hitler's life in the Bunker.  Martin Bormann was Hitler's "SECRETARY' but this was like a Cabinet Post.  Bormann was a BIG behind the scenes player.  Traudle Junge was a "secretary" as in shorthand and typing.  Her life was tough enough after the war.  So Hitler did NOT kill Eva Braun.  Not that its a big deal, she still wound up dead.  He had a step niece that was also his girlfriend that committed suicide before Hitler came to National Power.  Not a good guy to hang out with.  Hitler himself was suicidal after the death of this girlfriend / niece and had to be kept under watch by his "inner circle".

The Color Home Movies shot at the "Berghoff" Hitlers "retreat" where he hosted meetings with his "inner Circle" these films were almost ALL shot by Eva Braun.  Eva Braun was not a particularly bright person I don't think, but she shot these films and it appears she had an eye for "touching moments" and she was a fun loving person.  She probably was not a bad girl, just backward and NAIVE.  She would be a very interesting person to study.  There are some things known about her, but then during Hitlers' "reign" her existence was kept SECRET so a lot is lost to history.  Her Sister Gretl was married to one of the Feggelein Brothers who were both in the SS.  Gretl did from time to time appear at the "Berghoff". 

But Hitler ddin't kill Eva Braun, she died due to her association with him though.  In some ways she is kind of an "innocent" MAYBE.  BB



Joe Wooten
Joe Wooten

@Tom Mengel Actually there were several devices invented as far back as the 13th century that acted in the same fashion as the guillotine. They just didn't have the inventors name attached. Anne Boleyn was executed by sword, and Catherine Howard by Axe.

Robert McManus
Robert McManus

@Kimberly Listrud Perhaps a valuable lesson for us all to learn is to never take at face value that which is published.  Question and verify!

Robert McManus
Robert McManus

@Kimberly Listrud One thing schoolchildren will learn by reading this article is to never take at face value what one reads, whether in a book or online or by journalists or authors.  Question and verify always!

Joe Wooten
Joe Wooten

@Keelin Huggins Actually, the Guillotine was just an improved version of several devices that were already in use and practically the same. Monsieur Guillotin simply perfected some of the elements. Paintings exist that show similar devices well before the French Revolution.

Lucy Star
Lucy Star

@Keelin Huggins Hard to believe, and sad, that Nat Geo writers don't know this.  Even I know this and I'm not a historian.

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