Victorian Valentine's Card
It appears that Geoffrey Chaucer and his circle in the fourteenth century were the perpetrators of the myth surrounding St Valentine and his association with romantic love, as set out in Chaucer’s “Parlement of Foules (1382) (Assembly of Fowls); but this may be the result of misinterpretation. Chaucer wrote the following lines to honour Richard II of England and Anne of Bohemia his betrothed (they were only 14 years old):
“For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Wha euery bryd comyth there to chese his make”
Shakespeare had Ophelia ruefully mention Valentine’s Day in Hamlet in 1600 some two hundred years after Chaucer. Perhaps the French had one of the quaintest links – the ritual for the High Court of Love was established on Valentine’s Day in 1400. The court dealt with love contracts, betrayals, and violence against women. Judges were selected by women on the basis of poetry reading!
Saint Valentine of Terni oversees the construction of his basilica at Terni, from a 14th century French manuscript
The earliest surviving valentine is a fifteenth-century rondeau written by Charles, Duke of Orleans, who was being held in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt, 1415, to his wife which commences:
"Je suis desja d’amour tanné
Ma tres doulce Valentinée ..."
During the 1800s printers had begun publishing sentimental verses for young lovers to use, then along came “mechanical valentines”, while the reduction in postal rates ushered in the less personal but easier practice of mailing valentines. This led to another Unintended Consequence in an era otherwise prudishly Victorian – the sudden appearance of racy verse!
Paper Valentines began to be assembled in factories made with real lace and ribbons; paper lace followed on, while talented lovers painted and wrote prose and poetry to their loved ones. In the1800s the legend and lore of the language of flowers were included, some with hand-coloured and detachable flowers containing a hidden message behind each, others containing perfumed sachets, and all of them bearing words of love.
Valentine's Day postcard, circa 1910
Eugene Rimmel, the celebrated parfumier, also specialised in Valentines. From his sweetly-scented emporium in London in the late 1860s and 1870s hearts and darts, and loves and doves, encircled with gilt and paper lace, secured with satin bows, were dispatched to all parts of Britain.
Along came the 20th century when the ease of posting cards encouraged the industry to new growth levels – ever expanding the possibilities for a retail explosion ... more cards, chocolates, flowers etc
The British postal strike of 1971 discouraging the posting of cards, with their love messages, encouraged one innovative evening paper to suggest that the sending of flowers might be an alternative – ie circumventing the Post Office. This different approach to Valentine’s Day provided the florists with a new trade .. especially a single red rose in a ribbon-tied box delivered to the girl of their dreams; since then flowers abound at this time of year, though cards have too made a comeback.
I hope you all get a bunch of wonderful red roses ...
Love tokens though have been around through the centuries not necessarily tied in to Valentine’s Day, possibly being influenced by the religious tokens produced in early Christianity. The Love Tokens that caught my eye are the Love Spoons of the Celtic world, which before becoming decorative love symbols, would have shown that the suitor was capable of providing for his future family through woodcarving.
They probably originated from the “cawl” (thick welsh vegetable and meat soup) spoon, which over the generations would have been decorated until it lost its original practical use and became a treasured decorative item to be hung proudly on a wall.
Certain symbols came to have specific meanings or identify the carver – an anchor for a sailor, a horseshoe for luck, a cross for faith, bells for marriage, hearts for love, a wheel supporting a loved one, a lock for security, a flower would mean affection or how about a dragon for protection.
Love spoons are also to be found in Scandinavia and parts of Eastern Europe, which each have their own unique styles and techniques. Wooden spoons or ladles have been found dating back to Iron Age Celts (250 BC); while wooden spoons dating back to the 5th – 8th century Anglo Saxon and the 8th – 11th century Viking invasions have also been found.
Celtic Lovespoon with hearts, lock and wheel
Love has always been the igniter of life .. love starts it, love nurtures, love comforts, love supports and love is with us at the end .... love is all – on Valentine’s Day and for us all for always.
Dear Mr Postman – another 18 cm (7 inches) of snow this week here in Eastbourne seemed to bring us to a standstill once again, fortunately a sunny day yesterday melted a great deal of it, but it’s still very cold. My mother still isn’t well and I’ll get up to see her again today having been laid up myself .. lets hope we can resolve her ailments .. if we can get her hearing back I’d be grateful.
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