15th to 19th C.



  Circa 10 February, 1477, Dame Elizabeth Brews wrote to John Paston III: "Cousin, I recommend me to you, thanking you heartily for the great cheer that you made me and all my folk the last time that I was at Norwich . . . and cousin, on Friday is St. Valentine's Day and every bird chooses for himself a mate . . ." [The Paston Letters]

  Margery Brews (Elizabeth's daughter) to John Paston III [Topcroft, February 1477]: "Right reverend and worshipful and my right well beloved valentine, I recommend me unto you, full heartily desiring to hear of your welfare, which I beseech Almighty God long to preserve to his pleasure and to your heart's desire.  And, if it please you to hear of my welfare, I am not in good health of body nor heart, nor shall I be until I hear from you: For there knows no creature what pain I endure, / and I should rather die than dare it discover." 

   Shakespeare gives us, in the 16th century, as Ophelia's song:  [Hamlet, Act IV, scene 5]

To-morrow is Saint Valentine's day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.

Then up he rose, and donn'd his clothes,
And dupp'd the chamber- door;
Let in the maid, that out a maid
Never departed more.

By Gis and by Saint Charity,
Alack, and fie for shame!
Young men will do't, if they come to't;
By cock, they are to blame.

Quoth she, before you tumbled me,
You promised me to wed.
So would I ha' done, by yonder sun,
An thou hadst not come to
my bed.5

  Pepys Diary, in the 17th century, records the custom of drawing lots with the name of the person upon whom one  would bestow a gift, and a motto, such as: "Most Courteous & Most Faire".  One superstition held that the first unmarried person of the other sex that one met on this morning in walking abroad, was a destined spouse. [David Kerr Cameron The English Year]

   By the 18th century young folks were setting their names down on 'billets' to be drawn by each sex to choose their Valentine.  The men then treated their chosen one to 'balls and treats', and this little sport often ends in love. [The English Year  

The 19th century sees the love-token turned into a card, preferably with hearts, lace, and sentimental verse, a fashion which has not quite worn out.  Charles Lamb pities the poor postmen staggering under their load. [The Oxford Companion to the Year]  The Day is heralded in by the appearance in printsellers' shop windows of vast numbers of missives calculated for use on this occasion, each generally a single sheet of post paper, on which is seen some ridiculous coloured caricature of the male or female figure, with a few burlesque verses below.  More rarely, the print is of a sentimental kind, such as a view of Hymen's altar, with a pair undergoing initiation into wedded happiness before it, while cupid flutters above, and hearts transfixed with his darts decorate the corners. [The English Year]