Monday, 14 February 2011

The First Valentine

To mark Valentine's Day, the BBC has written an article on the first mention of Valentine in English, which can be seen in an exhibition at the British Library. It is in a letter written in 1477 by Margery Brews (aged 17) to her fiance John Paston (aged 33). Although the two are engaged, there appears to be a problem with the dowry, and her family are refusing to increase it. Margery pleads with John not to give her up. Calling him her "ryght welebeloued Voluntyne" (right well-beloved Valentine), she promises to be a good wife, saying, "Yf that ye loffe me as I tryste verely that ye do ye will not leffe me" (If you love me, I trust.. you will not leave me) and promising "Myne herte me bydds ever more to love yowe truly" (My heart me bids ever more to love you truly).

You will be pleased to know that John and Margery got married soon after, and had a son, William, in 1479. The Paston family were prolific letter writers, and over 1000 of their letters have been preserved in the British Library and elsewhere. They make for a fascinating record of the lives of a landowning family, with commentary on the Black Death and the Wars of the Roses as well as more everyday matters.

PS: You can read more about the Paston Letters here, the British Library exhibition here and read some more historical love letters (including one from Henry VIII here)

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