The following was originally published in my book, The Disinformation Book of Lists: Subversive Facts and Hidden Information in Rapid-Fire Format.
32 Famous People Involved in Triads
A triad is to three people what a couple is to two people. In other words, a relationship among three partners. It’s sometimes called a threesome or ménage à trois, but these two terms have a primarily sexual connotation, usually being applied to a physical encounter that doesn’t involve a long-term commitment.
This list is indebted almost completely to the amazing research of Barbara Foster, Michael Foster, and Letha Hadady. Themselves a triad, they went through history with a fine-toothed comb, digging up numerous examples of famous people involved in triads. The resulting book, Three in Love, is an unprecedented chronicle of this formerly unacknowledged type of relationship. (All quotes below are from this groundbreaking and highly readable book.)
1. Butch Cassady and the Sundance Kid
Wild West outlaws Butch Cassady and Harry Longabaugh (the Sundance Kid) committed crimes with Etta Place. All three of them lived together; details of the relationship are sketchy, but it appears that they thought of themselves as a family. (At left, Etta and the Sundance Kid, via Wikipedia.)
2. Catherine the Great
Imperial Russia’s most famous Empress formed a triad with two of her closest staff members, chief deputy Gregory Poterakin and secretary Peter Zavadofsky.
3. Friedrich Engels
Benefactor of Karl Marx and coauthor of The Communist Manifesto, Engels lived and loved with two sisters, factory-workers Mary and Lizzie Burns.
4. Jacob Epstein
Called “one of the leading portrait sculptors of the 20th century” by the Encyclopedia Britannica, Epstein lived with his wife and mistress.
5. George Gordon, Lord Byron
The archetypal Romantic poet was involved for several years with Countess Teresa Guiccioli (left, via Blupete). He was her cavaliere servente, which is basically a combination of errand-boy and male mistress. Count Guiccioli was fine with sharing his wife, a not uncommon attitude among Italian aristocracy of the time.
6-7. Henry II and Catherine de’ Medici
King Henry II was married to Catherine de’ Medici and openly loved the aristocratic beauty Diane de Poitiers, who knew Henry since he was nine.
8. Victor Hugo
The French novelist who wrote Les Miserables was married to Adèle (née Foucher) and was involved for most of his life with a gorgeous but minimally talented actress, Juliette Drouet. (He routinely cheated on wife and mistress with other women.) For years, Adèle hated Juliette, whom Victor always set up in a nearby dwelling. However, the two grew to like and respect each other, with Juliette eventually running the household. Victor remained with both women until their deaths; his relationship with Ms. Drouet lasted exactly 50 years.
Soviet leader Lenin was part of a fully cooperative triad involving his wife Nadezhda and mistress Inessa. The two women formed a friendship, and all three comrades worked together to further the revolution.
10. Lothar, King of Gaul
In the sixth century, Lothar was married to sisters Ingund and Aregund.
11. Harold Macmillan
As Three in Love sums up: “Harold Macmillan, the Conservative prime minister of England from 1957 to 1963, overlapping the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations, lived in a thirty-year triad that included his wife Dorothy Cavendish and her lover, his closest political connection, Bob Boothby.”
12. Marquis de Sade
The man whose name gave us sadism lived and loved for a while with his wife Renée and her sister, Anne. The sisters “performed together in the marquis’s lost plays, playing his heroines who acquiesce in the acts perpetrated against them.”
13. John Stuart Mill
One of the leading philosophers of freedom, Mill founds his soulmate in the intelligent Harriet Taylor (left), who happened to be married to merchant John Taylor. After some initial friction, John came to accept the triad. After he succumbed to cancer, Harriet and John Stuart married and spent the rest of their lives together.
14. François Mitterand
President of France from 1981 to 1995, Mitterand equally loved his wife Danielle and his mistress Mazarine, fathering children with both of them. The families knew of each other but lived apart, though sometimes the triad would vacation together. Both women and all three offspring attended François’ funeral.
15. Jawaharlal Nehru
The first Prime Minister of independent India formed a threesome with Louis, Lord Mountbatten (British Admiral of the Fleet) and Edwina, Lady Mountbatten.
16. Admiral Lord Nelson
One of history’s most brilliant naval commanders, the man who saved England from France was famously involved with Emma, Lady Hamilton. Less known is the fact that her husband, Sir William Hamilton, approved of the relationship. In 1802, the triad sent cards bearing the greeting: “Sir William Hamilton, Lady Hamilton and Mr. Nelson desire to wish you a merry Christmas.”
17-18. Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin
In perhaps the most well-known triad, pioneering erotic writers Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin formed a complex, rocky threesome with Miller’s wife, June, in which all three were having sex with each other. Nin’s husband stayed on the sidelines of this powderkeg relationship.
19-22. Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Paul Eluard, Max Ernst
Poet Paul Eluard, his wife Gala, and painter Max Ernst formed a triad that lasted several years. Gala’s second husband, for 53 years, was Salvador Dalí. She had numerous affairs with artists he knew, which apparently didn’t faze him.
Meanwhile, Paul Eluard became great friends with Picasso and married a Parisian prostitute, Nusch. She shows up in many of Picasso’s paintings (including the one here), and they formed a triad that lasted a decade, until Nusch’s death in 1946.
23-25. Sigmund Freud, Friedrich Nietzsche, Rainer Maria Rilke
One of the great lyric poets, Rainer Maria Rilke was emotionally and sexually involved with Louise “Lou” Andreas-Salomé, who later became a disciple of Sigmund Freud and a minor contributor to psychoanalytic theory. Lou at the time was in a sexless but loving marriage with an older scholar, F.C. Andreas. The three of them lived and traveled together, and Lou became Rainer’s hands-on muse, helping him find his voice.
This was actually the middle of three triads that Lou would form. In the first, she was in an emotional but chaste threesome with philosophers Friedrich Nietzshe and Paul Rée. (That’s the three of them to the left.) (Nietzsche had been in a previous sexless triad with Richard and Cosima Wagner.) In the last triad, Lou and Freud became very attached, though they never slept with each other; that honor was for the third party, psychoanalyst Victor Tausk.
26-27. Percy Byssche Shelley and Mary Shelley
Romantic poet Shelley had quite the complicated lovelife, with two aborted triads, one probable one, and an almost quadrad (i.e., involving four people). Early on, Shelley wanted to form a triad with his first wife Harriet and his best friend, Thomas Jefferson Hogg, but Harriet would have none of it. Later, he fell in love with Mary Godwin (daughter of pioneering feminist Mary Wollstonecraft), who would write Frankenstein. He proposed that he, Harriet, and Mary shack up, but again his wife said no.
Shelley and Mary went to Europe to frolic; accompanying them was Mary’s half-sister, Claire Claremont. We don’t know for sure, but it appears that Percy and Claire started hooking up, with Mary tolerating it.
Things got even more complex and ambiguous later—Percy, Mary, Clare, Lord Byron, his married lover, and her parents all lived under the same roof, along with Jane and Edward Williams, who had children and lived as a married couple though they weren’t. (By this time, Harriet had committed suicide, and Percy had married Mary.) Percy fell in love with Jane, and it is likely, though arguable, that they got physical with each other. Percy and Edward became fast friends, sharing Jane’s affections. Meanwhile, Mary also fell in love with Jane, who didn’t return the feelings. Confused? Imagine how they felt!
The witty philosopher (left) was deeply involved with the Marquis du Chatlet and his wife, Emilie. “The two men shared not only one woman but their money and influence at court.”
29. Orson Welles’ parents
The director of Citizen Kane essentially had three parents—his biological dad, Richard Welles; his mother, Beatrice Welles; and her lover, Dr. Maurice Bernstein, whom little Orson called “Dadda.” The big, happy family lived together.
30-31. Victoria Woodhull and Henry Ward Beecher
Through the middle of the 1800s, Beecher was America’s preacher, basically the Billy Graham of his time, except that he had progressive views. The most progressive he kept under wraps—he was an advocate and practitioner of free love. For many years he was involved with the wife of close friend Theodore Tilton, a situation that pleased all of them.
After a while, Tilton took a more active role in another triad when he began bonking pioneering feminist Victoria Woodhull. Her husband didn’t mind; together he and Tilton wrote a biography of Victoria. Beecher enters the picture again, when Victoria started getting it on with him, plus Tilton, not to mention her husband. It also looks as though Victoria, her husband, and her sister Tennessee Claflin formed an emotional triad that may or may not have been sexual. Further complicating the issue is the fact that Victoria took on various lovers throughout the years. If you find these overlapping triads, quadrads, and even pentads confusing, you’re not alone.
32. Emile Zola
French novelist Emile Zola split his time between two households—that of his wife and his mistress. The women tolerated each other, then became fast friends after Zola’s death.
Others: Marguerite Duras; Joseph Goebbels; Graham Greene; Ernest Hemingway; Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, and Carolyn Cassady; Frida Kahlo; D.H. Lawrence; Georgia O’Keeffe; Ezra Pound; Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir; and Oskar Schindler.