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

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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)

World Leaders Who Killed Their Lovers

The allegation that Kim Jong-un had an ex-lover killed has echoes in history.

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.