The tradition that romantics show their affection by exchanging tokens of love, letters and cards to their ‘Valentine’ on February 14th has been popular since the mid Seventeenth century in the UK.
As many of us start to consider how we to spoil that special someone this year – a romantic meal, city break, an overly affectionate showering of gifts or just a bottle of plonk accompanied by chocolates and wine – have we ever wondered why this ritual exists and how it all began?
Although there are a number of possible theories of who Saint Valentine was, one of the most feasible is that Valentine was a Roman priest who served during the third century in Rome. The Emperor at the time, Claudius II, decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, therefore, he outlawed marriage for young men so that he had a strong and fulsome Army. Valentine, defied the Emperors wishes and secretly performed weddings for young lovers desperate to commit their love to each other.
Imprisoned for his treachery, it is believed that Valentine fell in love with a young girl — who many believe to have been the jailer’s daughter — who visited him during his confinement. Before he died, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter, which he signed “From your Valentine,” an expression that is still used in many Valentine’s cards today. Although there are several theories about Saint Valentine, what is apparent in all the accounts of his life is his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic, and, most importantly, romantic figure.
Many suggest that the importance of February 14th comes down to the fact that this was the day that Valentine died. Others point to the beginning of the bird’s matting season in Europe, adding to the ideal that the middle of February should be the day for romance. The oldest known valentine still in existence today was a poem written by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. The greeting, which was written in 1415, is part of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London, England. Several years later, it is believed that King Henry V hired a writer named John Lydgate to compose a valentine note to Catherine of Valois.