North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is officially married to Ri Sol-Ju, the mystery woman he has been seen with in public. Although the marriage announcement was buried casually in a TV news report, the news is significant.
By introducing his wife to the nation, analysts suggest that Kim is beginning a more open rule and presenting himself more like a normal guy.
Not much is known about Ri, except she’s not the pop star Hyon Song-wol, the singer of propagandistic “Excellent Horse-Like Lady” that everyone thought may be his wife.
We know a lot about the wives of other famous dictators, though.
Here are the wives of 10 of the most notorious dictators in the modern era:
1) Eva Braun (April 29, 1945 - April 30, 1945), wife of German dictator Adolf Hitler
Although she was married to Hitler for only 40 hours, Braun was a longtime companion of the dictator. She met him when she was 17, working as an assistant and model for his personal photographer, and began dating him two years later. She attempted suicide twice in their relationship. In 1936, she moved into his household at the Berghof and stayed inside for most of World War II. As a photographer, she took many of the color photographs of Hitler that survive today. As the Red Army bulldozed Germany on April 29, 1945, Braun stayed by Hitler’s side and married him in a brief civil ceremony. They committed suicide together soon after, she by taking a cyanide pill.
2) Jiang Qing (1938-1976), wife of Chairman Mao Zedong
Mao had four wives in his life, but only one during his rule. Known as Madame Mao, Jiang Qing was a major force in the Chinese Communist Party. An actress herself, Qing headed the Film Section of the CDC Propaganda Department in the 1950’s and bidded for power during the Cultural Revolution, creating momentary instability in the Communist Party. Madame Mao was a major visionary for the Cultural Revolution, which sought to enforce socialism by replacing traditional, capitalist symbols of culture with Maoist orthodox elements. During the 10-year period, she formed the “Gang of Four,” a radical political alliance that controlled propaganda. When Mao died in 1976, however, she lost control. She and her colleagues were arrested and blamed for the tumult during the Cultural Revolution. Qing was released from prison briefly in 1991 for medical treatment, but she committed suicide before being forced back to jail.
3) Mirta Diaz-Balart (1948-1955), Dalia Soto del Valle (1980-present), wives of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro
The daughter of a Cuban politician, Diaz-Balart married Castro while studying philosophy at the University of Havana and had one son with him, Fidel “Fidelito” Castro Diaz-Balart. The couple divorced while Castro was in exile, allegedly because he was unfaithful and neglectful of their son. Diaz-Balart got full custody of the child, but Castro kidnapped their son when he visited him in Mexico, depriving Diaz-Balart of her son for many years.
Del Valle met Castro in 1961. She was a secretary in the Sugar Workers’ Union, and he was working on his literacy campaigns. They married quietly in 1980 and have had five children together.
"It can hardly be seen as accidental that all of the women Fidel became deeply involved with were of one precise profile: all were upper class, Americanized, English-speaking, beautiful (most, but not all, were blond), and from 'old families' who had fought against the Spaniards,” notes Georgie Anne Geyer, author of Guerilla Prince: The Untold Story of Fidel Castro.
4) Ekaterina Svanidze (1906-1907), Nadezhda Alliluyeva (1919-1932), wives of communist dictator Josef Stalin
The Soviet Union dictator had two wives. Stalin first married Ekaterina Svanidze. Nicknamed “Kato,” she was a tailor for the women in the Russian army. They had one son, Yakov, before she died of typhus. Although he and Yakov had a nasty relationship, Stalin wrote about how much he loved Kato.
Alliluyeva, the daughter of a political revolutionary, was Stalin’s second wife. She met him as a child in 1911 when one night, her father sheltered Stalin after he escaped from Siberian exile; Stalin may have saved her from drowning once when she was even younger. After the 1918 revolution, Alliluyeva worked as a confidential code clerk for Lenin. She married Stalin in 1919 and had two children with him. But they had a difficult marriage, especially because she suffered from a psychological illness, probably bipolar disorder. One night in 1932, she had a public argument with Stalin and was later found in her bedroom, dead with a revolver. It’s unclear whether she committed suicide or Stalin killed her. In any case, no one knew the truth until after Stalin’s death -- official reports said she died of appendicitis.
5) Carmen Polo, wife of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco
Polo, who married the Spanish dictator in 1923, was from a Spanish noble family. Franco was often away on duty throughout their relationship, as he rose in the ranks to lieutenant colonel, official commander, and eventually to general. In 1926, they had a daughter named Carmen Franco y Polo, nicknamed Nenuca.
When Franco became head of state during the Civil War in 1936, Polo became the first lady, or La Señora. She instantly became an image of glamour, with fancy dresses and signature pearl necklaces. She often went on foreign trips abroad alone, and played an important role in electing Carlos Arias Navarro as Prime Minister and censoring the press.
6) Rachele Mussolini (1915-1973), Ida Dalser (1914), wives of Italian fascist Benito Mussolini
Ida Dalser, the lover and likely first wife of Mussolini, was born in a small village and owned a beauty salon in Milan. She financially supported Mussolini while he was unemployed because of his socialist politics, married him in 1914, and had a child with him, Benito Albino. But it’s likely that Mussolini was cheating on her with his future second wife, Rachele Guidi, whom he married in 1915. When he gained power after World War I, Mussolini persecuted her and forcibly interned her in a psychiatric hospital, where she died.
Mussolini actually met Rachele in 1910. They married in 1915, renewed their vows in 1925, and had five children together. During the Mussolini regime, Rachele was the symbol of the fascist wife and mother. She was loyal to him, although Mussolini wasn’t loyal back -- he was killed by Italian partisans while with one of his mistresses. After a brief time in prison, Rachele ended up owning a pasta restaurant. (Trivia: After Rachele’s father died, her mother became the mistress of Mussolini’s father. Eek).
7) Kim Young-sook (Unknown - 2011) and Ko Young-hee, wife and mistress of North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-il
Kim Young-Sook was the North Korean dictator’s official wife. The daughter of a high-ranking official was picked to marry Kim Jong-Il by his father, Kim Il-Sung. The couple had a daughter from the marriage, but they were on bad terms for a long time.
His second mistress, Ko Young-Hee, is the mother of Kim Jong-Un. Ethnically Korean but born in Japan, she began working as a dancer in Pyongyang in the early 1970’s. The North Korean public knows her as “The Mother of Pyongyang,” but they do not know her real name or personal details. Her Korean-Japanese heritage and family association with the imperial Japanese army would be a mark of shame, so they have become family secrets.
8) Sally Hayfron (1987-1992), Grace Mugabe (1996-present), wives of Zimbabwe dictator Robert Mugabe
Sally Hayfron, the first wife of Mugabe, was a teacher, independent political activist, and campaigner. She married Mugabe in 1961 and went into exile in London in 1967. While in exile, she pressed for the release of political detainees in Rhodesia, including her husband. Although her son died from malaria, she ended up becoming the mother, or Amai, to Zimbabwean refugees and revolutionaries who had fled the Rhodesian government. As her husband became prime minister, Hayfron became politically involved and founded organizations that supported children and women in Zimbabwe. She died of kidney failure in 1992, but remains a beloved figure in the country.
Grace Mugabe, whom Mugabe married in 1996, was a secretary to Mugabe as president and became his mistress while still married to her former husband. She is known as “Dis Grace” and “The First Shopper” for her extravagance. One of her palaces, named “Graceland,” caused controversy for its huge lavishness. In a trip to Paris, she dropped about $120,000 on shopping.
9) Sajida Talfah (1937-2006), Samira Shahbander (1986-2006), wives of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein
Sajida Talfah, Saddam’s first wife and cousin, was arranged to marry him when he was five and she was seven. They had five children together, but was rarely seen in the public eye until Saddam married another woman, Samira Shahbander. The regime fought rumors that their family life was strained by issuing photos of the couple together. That said, his new marriage infuriated Talfah and their son, who believed his inheritance would be threatened.
10) Fatiha al-Nuri (1969-70), Safia Farkash (1970-2011), wife to Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi
Little is known about Qaddafi’s wives. Al-Nuri’s status is unknown. Safia Farkash is the second wife and widow of former Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi. Her family is either from Eastern Libya or was born in Bosnia-Herzegovina with Croat and Hungarian origin. She became his wife while hospitalized with appendicitis in 1970 and had seven of his eight children.