Well, no…not exactly.
There really was a St. Valentine…at least a dozen or so of them, in fact, depending on whether one consults the lists of martyrs of the Roman Catholic or the Eastern Orthodox Church. The name “Valentine” (or “Valentinus”) is from the Latin word, valens, meaning “strong.”
The simple feast (or Commemoration) of St. Valentine in the Roman Martyrology, the Catholic Church’s official list of recognized saints, has traditionally been February 14th, reportedly the date in the year 273 when Bishop Valentine of the Diocese of Terni (in what is now Italy), was imprisoned and killed in Rome.
The truth behind the legends of this particular St. Valentine is murky, to say the least. In 3rd century Rome, Emperor Claudius II believed that young men who were single, without the encumbrances of wives or children, were more dedicated, so he forbade his young soldiers from marrying. Bishop Valentine defied this decree and continued to perform marriages, a stand that cost him his life.
The first recorded connection of St. Valentine to the concept of “romantic love” was in the poem by Geoffrey Chaucer, Parlement of Foules, in 1382, which was written to celebrate the first anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia, who were married when each was but 15 years old. (Without doing any further research, I’m thinking that might have been an arranged marriage.)
Later writers such as John Donne and Shakespeare (in “Hamlet”) also mention Valentine’s Day. By 1797, a British publisher printed The Young Man’s Valentine Writer, with a number of suggested verses for young lovers who felt they were incapable of composing their own. By the early 1800s, the Regency era in England, factory-produced paper valentines became popular, with fancy ones adorned with real cloth lace and ribbons for those who could afford them. It was also common for friends and lovers of all social classes to exchange handwritten notes and small tokens of affection.
Real lace became paper lace by the mid-1800s. In the United States, a young woman named Esther Howland received an English valentine from one of her father’s business associates in the late 1840’s. Since her father operated a book and stationery store, Esther decided to create and mass produce valentines, using decorations imported from England, and is known as the “Mother of the Valentine.”
Hand-written valentines thus led to greeting cards, which paved the way for Valentine’s Day to become the commercialized, multi-billion-dollar industry it is today. Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the United States, Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France and Australia. Paper cards, e-cards, flowers, chocolates, and even diamonds are now necessary accoutrements each February 14th to go along with those three little words that never seem to go out of style: “I love you.”
If you enjoy reading traditional Regency romance, please check out my novella, An Arranged Valentine, available only on Amazon and free for subscribers of Kindle Unlimited. Here’s a bit about it:
In the coldest days of February, can St. Valentine generate enough heat to melt these two strangers’ hearts into one?
“…a perfectly lovely afternoon read.”
“This is a wonderful little gem of a story, heartfelt and touching.”
“Of course, the overriding situation is one where it suits both parties to be arranged.”
“An Arranged Valentine” is a traditional Regency romance novella told in 10 short chapters.
Miss Penelope Braxton has never met either sensible George Harburton or his more dashing younger brother, Henry, but she agrees to grant her dying father peace of mind by considering marriage to one of them.
The advantage of the match for the brothers is evident in the form of Miss Braxton’s substantial dowry. However, her money takes second place when the brothers realize the extent of Penelope’s courage, wit, and devotion.
Henry doesn’t plan to give up his philandering to romance Penelope. George’s days are filled with the running of the family estate and he has never put aside his duties long enough to contemplate marriage. When one of the gentlemen changes his ways, will he be able to compose the perfect poetry to win Penelope’s heart?