The History of St Valentine’s Day

Bonjour, mes lecteures et heureuse Saint-Valentin, and for those who don’t now French it says hello, my readers and happy valentine’s day, yes you’ve guessed it my topic is the history of valentine’s day , the one day of the year dedicated to love and romance. So put down those chocolates and leave the cards to one side for a moment and stop sighing dreamily at to flowers as we begin our journey in to the history into Valentine’s Day.

History of Valentine’s Day

Perhaps it would have been more appropriate for me to say, felice san valentine, as our journey begins in Rome in the time of the Ancient Romans. As one theory suggests that Valentine’s Day was originally derived from an Ancient Roman holiday known as Lupercalis or Lupercalia, which marked the official beginning of spring. However, the Lupercaila was also a festival to the founders of Rome. In which priests of the Luperici would sacrifice a goat, for fertility and a dog for purification, at the cave where the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus were cared for by the she-wolf. Then the goats hide would be cut into strips, covered with the sacrificial blood and then it would be taken by men and gently sapped on the women and the crops in order to make them more fertile. Ok so not quite the happy lovey dovey stuff were used to, however it gets better as later in the day women would place their names in an urn, which the bachelors would pull out and were paired with the women for the following year, often with the relationships ending in marriage.

Another theory is that Valentine was a Christian martyr who has always been associated with romance, either marrying roman soldiers in secret when the Emperor Claudius II, decided single men made better soldiers or he was a prisoner who fell in love with a young girl, possibly the jailers daughter, to whom he left a letter upon his death, signed ‘From your Valentine’, which is still used today. Lastly it is also from the Romans that we get cupid the god of love, who in turn was derived from the Greek God Eros, the god of love, lust and desire.
Like us today those in the past also sent each other valentines; letters, cards, even poems and perhaps the oldest known one comes from Charles of Orleans, a Frenchman imprisoned in the tower of London as result of his capture at the battle of Agincourt. The poem is for his second wife, Bonne d’ Armagnac, it is known as the Rondel ;
Strengthen, my Love, this castle of my heart,
And with some store of pleasure give me aid,
For Jealousy, with all them of his part,
Strong siege about the weary tower has laid.
Nay, if to break his bands thou art afraid,
Too weak to make his cruel force depart,
Strengthen at least this castle of my heart,
And with some store of pleasure give me aid.
Nay, let not Jealousy, for all his art
Be master, and the tower in ruin laid,
That still, ah Love! thy gracious rule obeyed.
Advance, and give me succour of thy part;
Strengthen, my Love, this castle of my heart.

Sending Valentine’s cards/ notes to each other has continued right up to the modern-day where we now send card and gifts to our own loved ones. From the 17th century onwards it can be suggested that Valentine’s Day began to be celebrated in a manner that we would recognise with people sending each other handmade cards or notes of affection, which became printed by the end of the 18th century, and e-cards in the 21st. Other superstitions about Valentine’s Day, include if a woman saw a Robin flying on valentine’s day the she would marry a sailor, if she saw a Sparrow she would marry a poor man and be very happy and if she was lucky enough to see a Goldfinch the she would marry millionaire. Other versions of this include, if you saw an Owl you would remain spinster; a Bluebird you would marry a happy man; a Blackbird, a priest or a clergyman; and a crossbill an argumentative man . Birds actually go far back with their involvement in Valentine’s Day as in the Middle Ages it was believed that the 14th February was the beginning of mating season for birds.

In addition a Welsh tradition, for Valentine’s Day, a partner would be given a spoon, ok before you go the crazy Welsh hear me out, as the spoons would be decorated with hearts, keys and padlocks meaning you unlock my heart. Which if you think about it is not unlike some jewellery today. Also in some countries if a women received a gift and kept it, it meant that she would marry the person who gave her the gift just something for you to think about when you next receive a valentine’s gift. (lol)

Historical lovers

Finally, I don’t think a history of Valentine’s Day wouldn’t be complete without some reference to all the great lovers of history who’s romantic endeavours have continued to influence our own romantic ideals to this day and although they might not all be historical they have had an impact on the history of romance and by extension Valentine’s Day.
Ok so my first couple need no introduction, Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare’s most famous lovers, perhaps even the words greatest known lovers, now although these are not actual historical people. Romeo and Juliet can be argued as having a great influence on literature and films since their creation so much so that there is now even a gnome version. Their love was epic and filled with drama and so they become real and their love lives on.
Now a historical couple which also have the drama of Romeo and Juliet are Helen and Paris, for those who don’t know Helen was the face that launched a thousand ships. Now there are many versions to this tale but the main story is this Helen was queen of Sparta and married to Menelaus but she fell in love with Paris of Troy and ran away with him or he abducted her (depends on what you believe), leading to the whole Greek army lead by Menelaus brother Agamemnon to troy in order t get her back. In this story there are two types love; the love of a husband and wife as Helen eventually goes back to Menelaus to live “happily” ever after and love at first sight the love of Helen and Paris.
Lastly, a royal love story, that of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Queen Victoria ascended the throne at 18, and married her cousin Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. The two were very much in love with each other, it is often said that they would write letters to each other and also gave each other grand gifts. I think it can be inferred that to Queen Victoria, Albert was her world and when he died of typhoid, on the 14th December 1861 she was devastated and as a result remained in mourning for the rest of her reign, as a sign of her grief but also of her love for Albert. There is a story which I don’t know if it is true but apparently Queen Victoria had Prince Albert’s clothes laid out every day as if he was still with her, showing the depth of her love for him.
In conclusion, our journey into the history of Valentine’s Day is over, we have seen the history of the day itself and shown all kinds of love, love at first sight; love that conquers all; and love that is everlasting in our look at a few great historical lovers. So all that is left for me is to wish you all a Happy Valentine’s Day, and leave you with a few of my favourite quotes about love, please feel free to comment with your own favourite romantic quotes. Sophie xx

‘Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind and therefore winged cupid is painted blind.’ Act 1 Sc1, A Midsummer’s Night Dream, William Shakespeare.
‘Doubt that the stars are fire, Doubt that the sun doth move his aide, Doubt truth to be a liar, But never doubt I love.’ Act 3 Sc1, The Tempest, William Shakespeare.
Love may not make the world go round, but I must admit that it makes the ride worthwhile .
Sean Connery
‘Love is patient, love is kind, love means slowly losing your mind’ . Kevin- 27 Dresses

Sources;
http://www.nosweatshakespeare.com/quotes/shakespeare-love-quotes.htm
http://www.pictureframes.co.uk/pages/saint_valentine.htm
http://oldpoetry.com/opoem/6004-Charles-I-de-Valois–Duke-of-Orleans-Rondel
http://www.history.com/topics/valentines-day
http://valentines-day.123holiday.net/love_quotes.html
http://www.stvalentinesday.org/valentines-day-fun-fact.html
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0988595/quotes
http://amolife.com/reviews/top-20-most-famous-love-stories-in-history-and-literature.html

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4 thoughts on “The History of St Valentine’s Day

  1. This was an interesting read. I think the most interesting bit was the part about Roman women putting their names in an urn and being paired up with men. Maybe it’s just me, but I find that idea strangely romantic.

    As for a quote about love:

    “Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies.” – Aristotle ❤

    (Love that Sean Connery one, by the way! 😉 )

  2. Okay. I know I’m late here, but I have to interupt you with the proper verses from Corinthians, which are just plain beautiful.

    Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

    And also my favouirte Shakespeare sonnet

    My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
    Coral is far more red than her lips’ red ;
    If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
    If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
    I have seen roses damask, red and white,
    But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
    And in some perfumes is there more delight
    Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
    I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
    That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
    I grant I never saw a goddess go;
    My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
    And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
    As any she belied with false compare.

    – Caroline

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