Those without a loved one to share Valentine’s Day have more in common with the tradition of sending cards than those with a significant other. Imprisoned and alone, a nobleman sent the first card.
I thought the Victorians began the tradition with their sentimental, flowery, lacy, and cupid adorned cards. I imagined a scene like this one:
The couple meets at a soiree where the fine lady’s heart beats like a caged canary. The gentleman wears gloves and even with them worries he’ll leave a thumbprint on the greeting card. He escorts her to a small chamber not far from the ballroom. Her cheeks flush with the touch of his warm hand on her back. It sends a thrill of which she is not accustomed. He pulls the declaration of love from his breast pocket and presents it with a bow. She smiles, rips it open and gasps when she sees two naked cupids complete with jiggly bits dancing in the sky. Underneath are the words “Be My Lover.” She drops the card and trounces from the room.
And that is when the gentleman became acquainted with the florist’s establishment around the corner which he frequented in years to come.
Sending cards began more than 400 years earlier with a French romantic poet, of course! It did not begin with the uptight Victorians, but the English had their part in history.
The French nobleman, Charles I de Valois, Duke of Orleans fought against the English and became trapped in his own armor. (How does that happen? “Help me! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!) In 1415, he took up residence as a prisoner in the Tower of London.
That is where he wrote the very first Valentine poem to his wife, Bonne of Berry, whom he missed dearly. They were married the year Charles was imprisoned when she was the ripe age of eleven.
Go Forth My Heart
Go forth, my hert, with my lady;
Loke that we spare no business
To serve her with such lowliness,
That ye get her grace and mercy.
Pray her of times prively
That she keep trewly her promise
Go forth &c.
I must as a hertless body
Abide alone in hevyness,
And ye shal do wel with your maistress
In plesans glad and mery. (pleasure)
Go forth &c.
© Charles I de Valois, Duke of Orleans.
I’m not sure the Duchess had much time for pleasure or merriment since she died five years later at age sixteen. She left the Duke childless.
The first Valentine is included in this letter to the Duke’s wife in 1415. The over-adorned cards came later. Photo credit BBC.
Not to be outdone by his romantic prisoner, King Henry V had a poet, John Lydgate, write a Valentine poem for his wife, Queen Catherine de Valois. Henry only lived a few more years and then Catherine married a Tudor. They kept poor Charles locked up. Such was life in the Middle Ages.
After twenty-five years as a prisoner of war, Charles was freed.
That same year, he married Maria of Cleves who was thirty-five years his junior.
Is this where the most overused verb in romance novels, “cleave” originated?
I can imagine there was a lot of cleaving going on in the Duke’s bedroom after being imprisoned for such a long time.
The freed Duke and fourteen-year-old Maria waited seventeen years to become proud parents. They had two daughters and their son became King Louis the XII of France. The Duke died in 1465 and Maria secretly married a much younger man fifteen years later. Good for her!
Here’s another fun fact: The Duke of Orleans’ mother was named Valentina and was also a poet.
Many claim, she died of a broken heart at age 40 after her husband was killed by a cousin. Her son was the first to send a Valentine card.
Was that ironic, poetic justice, or poetic irony?
I’m sure she had no idea her son would become such a trendsetter. According to History. com, around 150 million Valentine’s Day cards will be sent this year. That may have cheered her up.
Valentina mourning the death of her husband – By Francois Fleury Richard – Wikimedia
So if you are alone this Valentine’s day, buy yourself a box of chocolates and a romance novel. Every time you see the word “cleave” eat a delicious bon-bon and think about the man who sent the first Valentine card who was without a lover for 25 years! Maybe you should buy two boxes…
Photo credit – Wikimedia
Happy Valentine’s Day!
How will you celebrate the day?
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