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Did you know that the Valentine’s Day that we know and love was the invention of a Londoner? Geoffrey Chaucer, of Canterbury Tales fame, allegedly first brought courtly love and St Valentine’s Day together in a match made, little heart shaped box in 1343.
Before this time, 14th February or Saint Valentine's Day was a saint’s day honouring an early Christian martyr. The day first became associated with romantic love in the royal circles in which Geoffrey Chaucer moved during the High Middle Ages. The tradition of courtly love flourished and by the 15th century, it had evolved into an occasion in which lovers expressed their love for each other by offering such tokens as flowers, confectionery and cards.
"For this was Saint Valentine's Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate."
On 14th February 1400, a ‘High Court of Love’ was established in Paris. The court dealt with love contracts, betrayals, and violence against women. Maybe the French aren’t as romantic as we thought! St Valentine’s Day really took off, and enamoured men everywhere were relieved when The Young Man's Valentine Writer was first published in the UK in 1797. It was basically a book of Georgian chat up lines for those who struggled to convey their true feelings to a fair maid that had caught their eye.
The boom time for Valentine’s Day was when the postal rates were reduced in 19th century. We are not assuming that men liked a bit of a bargain when sending out their cards but they could now send anonymous, ready-made cards that conveyed their sentiments through the post. And so many years of confusion, embarrassment and downright disappointment were borne!
The red rose as a token of love can also be linked to an Englishman. Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queen (1590) includes the beautiful lines…
Maybe not quite so romantic but the modern Valentine’s ‘roses are red’ evolved from an English nursery rhymes ‘Gammer Gurton's Garland‘ (1784)
Well, I hope that goes a little way to helping dispel the myth that the English are way behind the French and Italians in the ways of love. At the very least, we keep the postal service going.