14th February 1667.
In Richard Inwards’ ‘Weather Lore’ (1893), (flowers which should open on certain day), he cites the crocus for Today St Valentine’s Day.
The earliest known Valentine is a letter sent in 1477 from Margery Brews to her fiance: ‘Unto my right well-loved Valentine, John Paston. No more to you at this time, but the Holy Trinity have you in keeping’. A letter interesting that Valentine had lost the title of ‘saint’ in this context; yet a love letter could invoke the Holy Trinity without embarrassment.
It was Today in 1667 that Will Mercer the son of a maid in the Samuel Pepys’s household presented the first recorded hand-made Valentine Card to the long-suffering wife of the famous diarist. ‘Her name writ upon blue paper in gold letters, done by himself, very pretty’, according to the Diarist.
Wooden spoons round one’s intended neck was a token of engagement and Pepys’s bemoans a custom of the times, ‘to take the first person seen on the day as one’s Valentine and requiring gifts. 18th Feb 1661: My wife and I and Miss Martha Batten, my Valentine to the Exchange, and there, upon a payre (sic) of embroidered and six payres (sic) of plain white gloves, I laid out 40s upon her’.
Valentine’s Day dates from Roman times when February 13-15th was celebrated, with the advent of spring, in honour of Faunus, in the festival of Lupercalia (Latin for wolf), (which later suggested a ladies’ man.)(1)
With the spread of Greek culture-Hellenization- the Romans equated their own gods with the Greek, thus Faunus became Pan, to be worshipped as the protector of sheep from the wolves.
Christianity ‘spoiled the party’ when Galasius in 498 instigated February 14th as a day of purification and spring-cleaning; Lupercalia fell by the wayside.
In the 19thc Valentine Card mass production came with improved techniques in printing and paper-making by such firms as Dobbs and Co., helped by the 1840 Penny Post.
The Diarist, Reverend Kilvert on Monday, Valentine’s Day 1870 describes getting, ‘A pretty flower Valentine from Incognito’.
However some Valentines, in country areas, had become debased with the sending of so-called comic Valentines addressed in disguised handwriting.
Sentimentality in some case gave way to bawdier and grittier cards, often crudely coloured prints on flimsy paper representing hideous forms and faces meant to be more or less applicable to the recipient, the 19thc equivalent of modern ‘vile texting’.
Many were obscene and meant to insult and these, usually unstamped, passed through village post offices in surprising numbers every Valentine’s Day.
Laura, working in the Post Office, as described in Lark Rise to Candleford received one of a female handing out stamps with the words suggesting ‘she wore a mask and her face would frighten the cows’.
This contrasts with the early part of the century as revealed in 2009 when a Valentine Card was discovered in a house in Burton-on-Trent, dated February 10th 1814.
It was to an unknown women Betsy Kilely. The message: ‘I choosed (sic) you out of half a score, and the choice of many more, none of them all could please my mind…I will leave you to guess…do not destroy this Valentine till you see me’.
(1) With the growth of Christianity, Pagan practice was absorbed, substituting Saint’s Days in their stead: But the themes of love and fertility continued particularly as at that time of the year birds chose their mates as noted in the 1400.s with Chaucer’s, ‘Parlement of Bryddes, or the Assembly of Foules’ (sic).
Pepys and Kilvert Diaries.
guardian.com. Sarah Gilbert.13.2.2014. Victorian Valentines.
Manchester Metropolitan Uni. Laura Seddon Collection.