Lecturer in History Dr Rachel Moss gives us a peek at the first known Valentine’s letter written in English. This post first appeared in a slightly adapted format on her blog.
Every few years an enterprising reporter does a bit of googling and stumbles across the letter from Margery Brews to her suitor John Paston, which is regularly described as the oldest English-language Valentine greeting. Of course, well before the fifteenth century people were celebrating St Valentine’s Day, and the feast is referred to in English by fourteenth century authors (‘For this was on seynt Volantynys day / Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make’ in Chaucer’s Parlement of Foules providing the most obvious example), but it does seem that it was not until the mid-fifteenth century that people were referring in written English to their sweethearts as Valentine. The English poetry of Charles d’Orleans gives us a sweet example:
Als wele is him this day that hath him kaught
A valentyne that louyth him.
With this in mind, we can imagine the young Margery Brews, probably in her late teens, sitting down to write a letter to John Paston, addressing him in a newly-fashionable term. But who were the couple, and how did their relationship come about?