Our twenty-third A&S Research Paper comes to us from Baroness Ysabella de Draguignan, of the Barony of Dragonship Haven. She takes a closer look at the historical roots of a very public upcoming holiday – Valentines’ Day! (Prospective future contributors, please check out our original Call for Papers.)

The Roots of Valentines’ Day

Venus presiding over a group of men and women, who are presenting their hearts to her. The Book of Queen, by Christine de Pizan (1410), f100r, MS Harley 4431. Image courtesy The British Library,

Venus presiding over a group of men and women, who are presenting their hearts to her. The Book of the Queen, by Christine de Pizan (1410), f100r, MS Harley 4431. Image courtesy The British Library,

Table of Contents
Roman Beginnings
Medieval Flowerings
Be Mine?
A Model Celebration

What do you think of when you hear Valentine’s Day? For me, it’s chalky sweet hearts with silly sayings on them, the smell of Elmer’s glue, and a ridiculous amount of paper lace doilies that Sister Jerome and Sister Helen Collete at Holy Rosary passed out to us all (they were sisters and they were also Sisters, my young mind boggled!)

Valentine’s Day, filled to the brim with modernity: flavorless chocolate, scentless roses, packed restaurants!  And yet, it has ancient and medieval ancestry – let us examine.

Roman Beginnings

It began as an ancient, and likely Pre-Roman, fertility festival called Lupercalia (Green). Lupercalia had been long connected to the Presentation of Christ to the Temple. In the 5th century, the Senator Andromachus wished to encourage a time of purification, which Lupercalia also represented. Pope Gelasius I suggested in a letter to Andromachus that they not revive the pagan tradition, but instead set aside the month of February as a month of purification dedicated to the Virgin Mary: Candlemas, which begins February 2nd.  Thus, Galesius not only suppressed Lupercalia but also abolished it.

(Candlemas – If you wish to celebrate Candlemas, light all the candles in the house and eat crepes or pancakes. And if you still haven’t put away your nativity scene, now is the time.)

For several hundred years it was a Saint’s feast day: several martyrs appear to share the same day, including Valentine of Rome (Valentinus presb. m. Romae), Valentine of Terni (Valentinus ep. Interamnensis m. Romae). Scholars now believe that these Saints were actually the same person.

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Medieval Flowerings

Geoffrey Chaucer’s poem “Parlament of Foules” (written 1382-1383) is the first written instance where Valentine’s day is thought of as a romantic notion and was written to celebrate the engagement of King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia. Lines 309-310:

“For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.” /
For this was on St. Valentine’s Day,
when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.”

However, this day isn’t February 14th either! Scholars believe it to be actually May 2rd, which was the Feast Day for Valentine of Genoa, which has since been moved to November 6th. And at any rate, early spring would be far more likely to be when birds would come and choose a mate than the middle of winter. Although the date is not the likely the same, the sentiment is.

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Be Mine?

The word “Valentine” for a lover was first written by Charles, Duke of Orleans, while in the Tower of London following the battle of Agincourt. This letter, written in 1415 when the Duke was twenty-one, constitutes the earliest Valentine, and was sent to his wife Bonne of Armagnac:

Je suis desja d’amour tanné,
Ma tres doulce Valentinée, Car pour moi fustes trop tart née,
Et moy pour vous fus trop tost né.
Dieu lui pardoint qui estrené
M’a de vous, pour toute l’année.
Je suis desja d’amour tanné,
Ma tres doulce Valentinée.

 I am already sick of love,
My very gentle Valentine,
Since for me you were born too late,
And I for you was born too soon.
God forgives him who has estranged
Me from you for the whole year.
I am already sick of love,
My very gentle Valentine. (trans.)

Five years later, in 1420, Henry V hired the poet and monk John Lydgate to write a poem for Catherine of Valois:

“Seynte Valentine of custome yeere by yeere
Men have an usance, in this regioun
To loke and serche Cupides kalendar,
And chose theyr choyse by grete affeccioun,
Such has been move with Cupides nocioun,
Takying theyre choyse as theyre sort doth falle;
But I love oon whiche excelleth alle.”

The second oldest extant Valentine letter still in existence was written in 1477 is the first we find associated with the date we now associate with Valentine’s Day, February 14th. It was written by Margery Brews to her fiancé John Paston:

Letter from Margery Brewes to John Paston, 1477, Add MS 43490. Image courtesy The British Library.

Letter from Margery Brewes to John Paston, 1477, Add MS 43490. Image courtesy The British Library.

“Unto my right well-beloved Valentine John Paston, squire, be this bill delivered. Right reverent and worshipful and my right well-beloved Valentine…”

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On January 6, 1400, Charles VI, along with nobles of his court created a charter, written by Pierre de Hauteville, the steward, and cupbearer of Charles VI, and in this court Pierre was titled, Prince of Cour Amoureuse (“Court of Love”). The charter describes the feasting, jousting, singing, dancing and poetry competitions that were to be attended by the royal court.

It was also a time for ladies to hear about lovers’ disputes and rule on them in a Court of Love. This was purely for the wealthy to pass their time with something that was enjoyable during difficult times, specifically the second major plague pandemic of 1399-1401.

An armorial for the Cour Amoreuse, c. 1560. Jacques Le Boucq [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

An armorial for the Cour Amoreuse, c. 1560. Jacques Le Boucq [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Charter set dates of celebration for Feb 14th and May 2; as noted above May 2nd is the Feast Day for Valentine of Genoa and the day that Chaucer wrote about in his poem. However, the latter date was dropped.

The court of love helped redefine the nobility to coincide with what was written in popular poems like the Roman de la Rose (Romance of the Rose) by Jean de Meun: the only notice of nobility that mattered was defined by the heart and lifestyle, and one’s renown could be an acceptable surrogate for lacking a noble birth.

This Charter was read at Hôtel D’Artois on February 14th, 1401. (The term Hôtel, in this case, describes a lavish townhouse). The Hôtel D’Artois was Jean sans Peur, the Duke of Burgundy’s, residence in Paris, and future site of his planned assassination of his cousin Duke Orleans, the younger brother of the King, on November 23, 1407, setting the civil war between the Armagnacs and Burgundians.

(No Valentines were sent that day.)

In 1537, Henry VIII took up this fashion in England and established a Charter for the Valentine’s Day fair, a time of trade and celebration.

In the 18th Century, the Charter of Charles the VI was rediscovered and used as a model for how society should behave on Valentine’s Day. Handmade Valentine’s cards were the norm until the late 19th century when purchasing pre-made cards became common practice. The Victorians and their obsession with Medieval Courtly Love and Chivalry indulged extensively in Valentine’s Day.  In 1861, Cadbury sold a heart-shaped box of chocolates, in 1907 Hersey created their famous Kisses for the holiday, and in 1913, Hallmark began making their now ubiquitous cards.

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A Model Celebration

How is Ysabella de Draguignan celebrating this day?

The crèche(nativity) has been safely stored away, and a lavish feast has been prepared for her household, invited wealthy merchants, and even the bishop – her house is definitely a place to see and be seen. A poetry contest will take place mid-morning, and later there will be jousting. After dinner, of course, there will be music and dancing; indeed, there will very likely be music all the day. At the end of the dancing, there will be handwashing and the guests will all retire to her drawing room while their servants eat; after this, all will depart for home.

What follows are the arrangements for the Valentine’s Day feast that her cook, Master Jehan, will give on a Thursday in February. It is a dinner of eight platters; eight platters indicate that there are 16 guests, each pair of guests will share one platter.

To accompany the meal: two half gallons of Granache wine which is enough for dinners and their servants, Raison Drink, hot biscuits, walnut jam, red cider apples roasted and topped with white comfits.

Pottage – Menjoire, White Porée, Green Egg and Cheese Soup
Saltwater Fish – Fresh cod, Jance Sauce
Roast – Helmeted Cock, Norse pies
Entrements – Flan
Dessert – Parti-colored Blanchmanger (Azure and Gold)
Closing – Wafers and hippocras
Boutehors – Wine and spices

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Raison Drink

Take sweet raisins cleaned of twigs and dirt and wash them with water until they are clean. If you like it infused, throw in for each measure of raisons, two parts of hot water and put in a clay vessel until it infuses; then strain and mix in it honey. And if you like it cooked, place one measure of raisins with three of water and take the measure with a stick [to see the height in the pot]. Then add to the pot as much water as you wish. Cook it until it returns to the measuring mark [the water boils away]. Then strain it and mix in honey and leave it until it cools, and then drink it, God willing.


Menjoire – Firstly, the meat needed is young peacocks, pheasants or partridges, or if you can find none of these, plovers, cranes, larks or other small birds. Roast the meat on the spit and when it is nearly cooked, dismember them (especially the large birds such as young peacocks, pheasants or partridges), fry them in lard in an iron pan, and put them in the pot in which you wish to make your pottage.

To make the broth, take some white bread browned on the grill, soaked and sprinkled with the broth of a shin of beef, and strained through cheesecloth. You need cassia flowers, cinnamon, Mecca ginger, a bit of clove, long pepper, grains of paradise and some Hippocras (depending on the quantity of pottage you wish to make). Steep the spices and Hippocras together, throw them into the pot with the meat and broth, and boil everything together. Add just a bit of vinegar, but do not let it boil for very long. Add sugar to taste. According to the fashions, put gilded wafers on the pottage when it is set out, or white or red anise, or pomegranate powder (this could also be seeds).

If you wish to make it for a fish day, take whole unpeeled almonds, wash very well, crush and grind in a mortar, and strain through cheesecloth. If there is not enough liquid, take a bit of white bread, or bread crumbs from two or three white bread loaves; have a bit of clear puree [of peas] in which the peas have not burst too much, a bit of white or red wine, and a bit of verjuice; steep the almonds and bread; and strain everything through cheesecloth. You need the same spices mentioned above. Fry all the fish (to wit, perch, pickerel, crayfish tails and loach, the finest that you can find) in fresh or salted butter, and then de-salt it. Set out your fish on plates and put the broth on top. Add white or red anise, pomegranate [seeds], or some peeled almonds browned a bit in a little fresh butter on the fire.

White Porée – Made from the white of leeks and pork chine. In winter when leeks are tougher they should be boiled instead of blanched as in summer. Fry with onions and pork, and add cow’s milk. This is sometimes thickened with bread.

Saltwater fish

Fresh cod – Cleaned and cooked like red mullet; add some wine while cooking; eaten with Jance Sauce. Add some garlic if you wish.

Jance Sauce – Put almonds in hot water, peel, and grind together with two pieces of gingerroot or powdered ginger, a little garlic, untoasted white bread (rice flour in Ysabella’s household), a little more of than almonds, mix with white verjuice and a quarter part of white wine. Strain, then boil very well and serve in bowls. Serve more generously than you would other sauces.


Helmeted cocks – Roast pigs, and poultry such as cocks and old hens. When the pig is roasted on one hand, and the chicken on the other, stuff the chicken (without skinning it, if you wish), and [glaze] it with beaten egg batter. When it is glazed, set it riding on the pig with a helm of glued paper, and with a lance fixed at the breast of the chicken. Cover them with gold or silver leaf for the lords, or with white, red or green tin leaf [for the others].


Flan –  Take tench, large pike, carp, almonds and some saffron (for colouring it a bit), crush everything together, steep it in white wine, and fill your flans and tarts. When they are cooked put some sugar on top.


Parti-colored Blanchmanger -Take blanched and peeled almonds, crush very well, steep in boiled water, [and make your milk]. For thickening you need some starch or beaten rice. When your milk has been boiled, divide it into several parts, into two pots (if you wish to make only two colours) or (if you wish) into 3 or 4 parts. It should be as solidly thickened as Frumenty, so that it cannot spread out when it is set out on the plate or in the bowl. Take alkanets, turnsole, fine azure, parsley, or avens. Sieve a little saffron with the greens so that they will hold their colour better when boiled. Soak the alkanets or turnsole, and the azure likewise, in some lard. Throw some sugar into the milk when it boils, remove it to the back [of the fire], salt it, and stir it strongly until it is thickened and has taken the colour that you wish to give it.


Wafers (waffles) – First, beat eggs in a bowl, then add salt and wine, toss in some flour (blanched almond flour at this home), then spread the batter a little at a time into two irons, each time as much batter as the size of a slice of cheese. Press it between two irons, and cook one side; then turn and cook the other.

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Bishop, C. (2012). Henry VIII gave King’s Lynn Mart a Royal charter – and the council can’t cut our days or stop us opening on Valentine’s Day, say Norfolk showmen,. Retrieved February 03, 2018.

The Book of Cooking in Maghreb and Andalus in the era of Almohads, by an unknown author. (n.d.).

Cerquiglini-Toulet, J. (1997). The color of melancholy: the uses of books in the fourteenth century. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Gilliéron, Jules (1854-1926). Auteur du texte, & Bos, Alphonse (1835-1913). Auteur du texte. (1970, January 01). Romania : recueil trimestriel consacré à l’étude des langues et des littératures romanes. Retrieved February 03, 2018.

Greco, G. L., & Rose, C. M. (2009). The good wifes guide = Le ménagier de Paris: a medieval household book. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Green, W. M. (1931). The Lupercalia in the Fifth Century. Classical Philology, 26(1), 60-69.

Kelly, H. A. (1986). Chaucer and the cult of Saint Valentine. Lugduni Batavorum: Brill.

McRae, J. E. (2004). Alain Chartier: the quarrel of the Belle dame sans mercy. New York, NY: Routledge.

Prescott, J. (n.d.). Le Viandier de Taillevent. Retrieved February 03, 2018.

Sheffield, U. O. (2015, May 01). National Fairground and Circus Archive. Retrieved February 03, 2018.

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