First Valentine

First Valentine

On this day in 1477, the world’s first known valentine was sent in Norfolk, England. It was addressed, “To my right welbelovyd Voluntyne.”

The valentine was written in Norfolk, England, from Margery Brews to her fiance, John Paston. In the message, Brews tells Paston she asked her mother to pressure her father to increase her dowry, and said that if he still loves her, Paston should marry her regardless of the dowry.

Written in looping cursive script, part of the valentine reads, “But if you love me, as I trust verily that you do, you will not leave me therefore. For even if you had not half the livelihood that you have, for to do the greatest labor that any woman alive might, I would not forsake you. And if you command me to keep me true where I go, indeed I will do all my might you to love and never anyone else…My heart bids evermore to love you truly over all earthly things.”

Sending valentines became more and more popular as printing and postal services improved. By 1830, so many valentines were sent that postal workers were flooded in the first weeks of February. By 1840, printed, ready-to-buy paper cards appeared. Still, most valentines were homemade paper cards that grew increasingly elaborate over time. They were often adorned with sketches, watercolors, pinpricks, and cutouts as decoration. Natural adornments were also popular, with senders decorating their cards with bark, feathers, dried flowers, and even locks of hair. Over time, the sending of flowers also became popular on Valentine’s Day, with Victorians elevating the practice to a complex art, complete with a language of its own. Red roses declared true love, white said “I love you not,” yellow signified jealousy, and pink indicated innocent love.

By contrast, Brews’s card to Paston was relatively simple, but it seemed to have done the trick. Historians believe the couple did eventually marry and had two children.


Photo Credit: © Photopat vintage / Alamy
Photo Caption:A Victorian handtinted photographic postcard of a young couple, 1906.