The History of Valentine's Day

Celebrate Valentine’s Day in style at Clevedon Hall

February 14th, as you know, is St Valentine’s Day.  But what else do you know about it?  In this post we give you a quick history so you can impress your loved one with obscure facts as you gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes a few weeks from now.  What’s more, we’re also providing the perfect way to celebrate the occasion – an evening of fine wining and dining, with live entertainment, in the grand setting of our splendidly romantic mansion.   We still have some places available so check out the details here and book now!

Roman roots

Unlike Christmas, which was largely a Victorian invention, Valentine’s Day has very ancient origins stretching back around 2000 years.

In pre-Christian Rome the 13th, 14th and 15th of February were celebrated as Lupercalia, a pagan fertility festival inherited from the Ancient Greeks.  Part of the festivities involved the sacrifice of a dog and a goat whose hides were then torn into strips.  Plutarch explains what happened next: “Many of the noble youths and magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter striking those they meet with shaggy thongs. And many women of rank also purposely get in their way, and like children at school present their hands to be struck, believing that the pregnant will thus be helped in delivery, and the barren to pregnancy.”   

Over time the festival was adopted by the early Christians.  Valentine of Terni, a Christian Bishop was martyred in the reign of Emperor Aurelian around AD 197 on the orders of a Roman prefect with the odd-sounding name of Placid Furius.  The legend has it that Valentine died on the 14th of February, but that is likely a later embellishment.

Another Christian, Valentine of Rome, was martyred during the time of Emperor Claudius in 289AD. A priest or bishop in the city, he was apparently arrested for giving aid to Christians in prison and was jailed himself.  Legend has it he converted his guard to Christianity by healing his blind daughter's sight.  However, later stories claim he fell in love with her and sent her a note “From your Valentine”.  Valentine of Rome is also supposed to have died on 14 February.

Eventually, in AD 496, Pope Gelasius, declared that the14th February, a day on which many still celebrated the original pagan rites, should become a Christian festival to be known henceforward as St Valentine's Day.

Middle Ages

Geoffrey Chaucer, in his story the “Parliament of Fowls”, produced in 1382 to celebrate the engagement of Richard II of England and Anne of Bohemia, writes that “For this was on St. Valentine's Day/ When every fowl cometh there to choose his mate.”  This is the first time that the day was linked to romantic love (although he may have been referring to the 2nd of May, the saint's day in the liturgical calendar of Valentine of Genoa and a more likely time for birds to be mating in England).

In 1400 the French get in on the act, opening a court on St Valentine's Day in Paris, the High Court of Love.  This dealt with cases involving marriage contracts, divorces, infidelity and beaten spouses.  In 1415 Charles, the Duke of Orleans, who was held prisoner in the Tower of London after the French defeat at Agincourt, wrote the first recorded Valentine's note to his beloved.

Everyone starts sharing the love

St Valentine's Day gets a mention in Shakespeare’s Hamlet when Ophelia tells the hero that “To-morrow is Saint Valentine's day,/All in the morning betime,/And I a maid at your window,/To be your Valentine.”  This suggests the feast day had gathered general acceptance by the end of the 16th century.

By the mid-18th century the passing of love-notes had becomes popular in England.  They tended to be made of lace or paper.  In 1797 a guide, entitled The Young Man’s Valentine Writer, was printed to provide suitable rhymes and messages.   

As postal services became less expensive the custom of sending anonymous St Valentine's Day cards began to catch on and in the early 1800’s they started to be mass produced. Richard Cadbury produced the first box of chocolates for Valentine's Day in the late 1800s, Hallmark Cards produce their first Valentine card in 1913 and the jewellery industry followed suit in the 1980’s.  About 1 billion cards are now sent on St Valentine’s Day, making it the second busiest card giving day of the year after Christmas.

Well, I never knew that!

  •         73 percent of flowers for Valentine's Day are bought by men.
  •         The Italian city of Verona, where Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet was set, receives about 1,000 cards addressed to Juliet each Valentine’s Day.
  •         Women purchase approximately 85 percent of all Valentine’s Day gifts
  •         In the US 15 percent of women send themselves flowers on Valentine's Day!
  •         About 3% of pet owners buy Valentine’s gifts for their four legged friends.
  •         What’s the average number of wedding proposals on Valentine's Day each year?  220,000.

A card is not enough

If you really want to stoke the flames of romance a token card or a box of chocolates won’t do the trick!  The best way to rise to the occasion, and express your love, is with a romantic dinner served in suitably grand surroundings.  We’ve made it easy for you with our special Valentine’s Day celebration – all you need to do is book!