My very gentle Valentine,
Since for me you were born too soon,
And I for you was born too late.
God forgives him who has estranged
Me from you for the whole year.
I am already sick of love,
My very gentle Valentine.
— Charles Orleans to his wife, Bonne of Armagnac, 1415.
Valentines Day will soon be here. What I have discovered over the 13 years that I have published this blog is that the more I research, the more contrary and contradicting information I discover. Everyone wants to take credit for being first, whether it is a superb invention, or the publication of the first valentine.
On 6 February 1962 an Associated Press released a story, published in the Portsmouth Herald (Portsmouth New Hampshire). That story stated that some 500 million valentines would be exchanged by Americans alone in that year. They give credit to the Ancient Roman’s for holding a yearly lottery for young bachelors to obtain a “Valentine” maiden, and that this custom eventually reached England. This article contrarily to the next newspaper article credits the French for creating the first written Valentine about 1400, and that Pope Pius II illustrated a valentine “embellished for the first time with Cupid and his Bow.” [Pope Pius II did draw a cupid illustration but that it was part of a valentine is questionable in my opinion. Show me the proof!].
By Shakespeare’s time, Valentine’s Day customs were in full flourish. By 1797 there was a book called “The Young Man’s Valentine Writer” to help the lovelorn men better capture their sweetheart’s eye and heart. The article goes on to state that in the United States, a woman by the name of Esther A. Howland of Worcester, Massachusetts was the first publisher of mass-produced valentines in 1847 (or 1849 in some sources).
In 1977 Kathie Neff of the Nashua Telegraph (Nashua, New Hampshire) published a lovely story of Valentines Day. She wrote that on that February 14th in 1977 somewhere in that city, “a woman is receiving her first Valentine’s Day card from her husband in 33 years of marriage.” Elsewhere women were baking cakes for their husband. She stated that “by several accounts, the very first Valentine’s Day card probably came from a prisoner in the Tower of London.” The then Duke or Orleans was an “unwilling guest” after the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, and he “doodled” a heart and flowers design around a love poem for his wife on the anniversary of the Catholic martyr who called himself Valentine.
New Hampshire’s first Valentine was a person–Valentine Hill of Oyster River who had several of his descendants named after him. I’ve included links to my previous stories about Valentine’s Day for your reading enjoyment.
100 Years Ago: A WWI Valentine’s Day (1918)
100 Years Ago: New Hampshire’s Valentines Day of 1917
A 2016 New Hampshire Valentine’s Day Compilation (with links to 6 previous stories)
The lady’s valentine writer, or, Amatory banquet : consisting of chaste, elegant, serious, humorous, comic, & satirical love epistles, letters, answers, replies, &c. &c. : supposed to come from persons under various circumstances and situations in life; Robert Cruikshank, 1824. Internet Archive.
Richardson’s New London fashionable gentleman’s valentine writer, or, The lover’s own book for this year; containing a very choice selection of original and popular valentines with appropriate answers, 1828. Boston Public Library. Internet Archive.
New and Improved. The Sentimental VALENTINE WRITER, containing a selection of THE BEST AND NEWEST VALENTINE POETRY. Glascow, 1850.