18th Century Valentine Traditions
The history of Valentine’s greetings, songs and verses, goes back to medieval times. One of the earliest written Valentine’s greetings (that we know of) was sent in 1415 from Charles, the Duke of Orleans, to his wife, while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London.
Some 18th century Valentine’s traditions included:
In 1725, clergyman Henry Bourne explained the tradition of drawing lots to find your valentine. On the eve of St Valentine’s Day, an equal number of maidens and bachelors would get together (sometimes in the local churchyard). They would each write their name on a separate billet. Sometimes they would use an alias in order to remain anonymous. The billets would then be rolled up and lots would be drawn, ‘the maids taking the men’s billets, and the men the maids’. Having thus allowed fate to decide on their partners, tradition dictated that the suitors should wear their mistresses billets ‘several days upon their bosoms or sleeves’ and lavish them with tokens of affection.
Towards the end of the Elizabethan era, gloves became a traditional Valentine’s Day gift for women. It became customary for a young woman to approach the man of her choice and say, “Good-morrow Valentine, I go today; To wear for you, what you must pay; A pair of gloves next Easter Day,”. The man, if he returned the maiden’s regard, would then send her a gift of gloves to wear on Easter Sunday. Sometimes a man would show his love by sending gloves without any encouragement. If the lady wore his gloves on Easter Sunday, it was a sign that she returned his feelings.
There is also a superstition that, if you find a glove on Valentine’s Day, your true love will have its partner.
If you catch a falling leaf on Valentine’s Day, your love life will be blessed with a whole year of happiness.
In England in the 1700s, a young English woman might pin five bay leaves to her pillow on the eve of Valentine’s Day. Other accounts state that two bay leaves, placed in a cross on the pillow would do the trick. By doing so she would see her future husband in her dreams.
To improve her chances further of dreaming of her valentine, she could wear her nightgown inside out and, once in bed, say softly to herself, ‘Good Valentine, be kind to me, In dreams let me my true love see’.
Written tokens and cards
Although written valentines and verses were given earlier, these became more popular in the late 18th Century. In 1797 ‘The Young Man’s Valentine Writer’ was published, which suggested verses for young men to send to their sweethearts.
As postal services became cheaper and more reliable, Valentines were sent by post and could, of course, be kept anonymous. A great deal of thought went into these tokens which were embellished with fabric and lace, ribbons and paper flowers and included a heart-felt verse.
Valentine’s Day Pinterest Board: