For this was on seynt Volantynys dayWhan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.
This poem was written to honor the first anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II of England toAnne of Bohemia. A treaty providing for a marriage was signed on May 2, 1381. (When they were married eight months later, he was 13 or 14, and she was 14.)
Readers have uncritically assumed that Chaucer was referring to February 14 as Valentine's Day; however, mid-February is an unlikely time for birds to be mating in England. Henry Ansgar Kelly has pointed out that in the liturgical calendar, May 2 is the saints' day for Valentine of Genoa. This St. Valentine was an early bishop of Genoa who died around AD 307.
Chaucer's Parliament of Foules is set in a fictional context of an old tradition, but in fact there was no such tradition before Chaucer. The speculative explanation of sentimental customs, posing as historical fact, had their origins among eighteenth-century antiquaries, notably Alban Butler, the author of Butler's Lives of Saints, and have been perpetuated even by respectable modern scholars. Most notably, "the idea that Valentine's Day customs perpetuated those of the Roman Lupercalia has been accepted uncritically and repeated, in various forms, up to the present"
Medieval period and the English Renaissance
Using the language of the law courts for the rituals of courtly love, a "High Court of Love" was established in Paris 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 a poetry reading. The earliest surviving valentine is a fifteenth-century rondeau written by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his "valentined" wife, which commences.
Je suis desja d'amour tannMa tres doulce Valentine...
—Charles d'Orlans, Rondeau VI, lines 1–2
At the time, the duke was being held in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt, 1415.
Valentine's Day is mentioned ruefully by Ophelia in Hamlet (1600-1601):
To-morrow is Saint Valentine's day,All in the morning betime,And I a maid at your window,To be your Valentine.Then up he rose, and donn'd his clothes,And dupp'd the chamber-door;Let in the maid, that out a maidNever departed more.
—William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act IV, Scene 5
Valentine's Day postcard, circa 1910
In 1797, a British publisher issued The Young Man's Valentine Writer, which contained scores of suggested sentimental verses for the young lover unable to compose his own. Printers had already begun producing a limited number of cards with verses and sketches, called "mechanical valentines," and a reduction in postal rates in the next century ushered in the less personal but easier practice of mailing valentines. That, in turn, made it possible for the first time to exchange cards anonymously, which is taken as the reason for the sudden appearance of racy verse in an era otherwise prudishly Victorian.
Paper Valentines being so popular in England in early 1800s, Valentines began to be assembled in factories. Fancy Valentines were made with real lace and ribbons, with paper lace introduced in mid 1800's.. The reinvention of Saint Valentine's Day in the 1840s has been traced by Leigh Eric Schmidt. As a writer in Graham's American Monthly observed in 1849, "Saint Valentine's Day... is becoming, nay it has become, a national holyday." In the United States, the first mass-produced valentines of embossed paper lace were produced and sold shortly after 1847 by Esther Howland (1828-1904) of Worcester, Massachusetts. Her father operated a large book and stationery store, but Howland took her inspiration from an English valentine she had received, so clearly the practice of sending Valentine's cards had existed in England before it became popular in North America. The English practice of sending Valentine's cards appears in Elizabeth Gaskell's Mr. Harrison's Confessions (published 1851). Since 2001, the Greeting Card Association has been giving an annual "Esther Howland Award for a Greeting Card Visionary." The U.S. Greeting Card Association estimates that approximately one billion valentines are sent each year worldwide, making the day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year behind Christmas. The association estimates that, in the US, men spend in average twice as much money as women.
Since the 19th century, handwritten notes have largely given way to mass-produced greeting cards. The mid-nineteenth century Valentine's Day trade was a harbinger of further commercialized holidays in the United States to follow.
In the second half of the twentieth century, the practice of exchanging cards was extended to all manner of gifts in the United States, usually from a man to a woman.Such gifts typically include roses and chocolates packed in a red satin, heart-shaped box. In the 1980s, the diamondindustry began to promote Valentine's Day as an occasion for giving jewelry. The day has come to be associated with a generic platonicgreeting of "Happy Valentine's Day." As a joke, Valentine's Day is also referred to as "Singles Awareness Day." In some North Americanelementary schools, children decorate classrooms, exchange cards, and eat sweets. The greeting cards of these students often mention what they appreciate about each other.
The rise of Internet popularity at the turn of the millennium is creating new traditions. Millions of people use, every year, digital means of creating and sending Valentine's Day greeting messages such as e-cards, love coupons or printable greeting cards.
Antique and vintage Valentines, 1850–1950
Valentines of the mid-19th and early 20th centuries
Esther Howland Valentine, circa 1850: "Weddings now are all the go, Will you marry me or no"
Handwritten poem, "To Susanna" dated Valentine's Day, 1850 (Cork, Ireland)
Comic Valentine, mid-19th century: "R stands for rod, which can give a smart crack, And ought to be used For a day on your back."
Valentine card, 1862: "My dearest Miss, I send thee a kiss"
Folk art Valentine and envelope dated 1875 addressed to Clara Dunn of Newfield, New Jersey
Whitney Valentine, 1887; Howland sold her New England Valentine Company to the George C. Whitney Company in 1881
Seascape Valentine, date unknown
Vinegar Valentine, circa 1900
Postcards, "pop-ups", and mechanical Valentines, circa 1900-1930
Buster Brown Valentine postcard by Richard Felton Outcault, early years of 20th century
Postcard by Nister, circa 1906
Valentine postcard, circa 1900-1910
A tiny 2-inch pop-up Valentine, circa 1920
Football-playing Disney-like rat and bulldog are set in motion by the pull-tab on the right, circa 1920
A grommet affixed to the center of the card permits the dog's eyes to glance side-to-side when the blue bow is moved
Rocking horse and rider, circa 1920-1930
Black Americana and children's Valentines
Raphael Tuck Valentine by Frances Brundage, circa 1910
Black Americana Valentine, circa 1940
Children's Valentine in somewhat questionable taste, 1940-1950
Anthropomorphic Valentine, circa 1950-1960
Similar days honoring love
In the West
Part of a series onLove
Love (scientific views)
Love (cultural views)
Types of emotion
Cultural views of love