My Very Gentle Valentine

The oldest existing Valentine card is believed to be housed in the manuscript collection of the British Library. In 1415, Charles, duke of Orléans, gave his wife a valentine while being held prisoner in the Tower of London. The French nobleman was wounded and captured at the Battle of Agincourt during the Hundred Years' War. The duchess died before the poem could reach her. Over the duke’s 25 year imprisonment, he wrote his wife 60 love poems that are often said to have been the first “valentines.”

Here is the poem – translated into English:

I am already sick of love,
My very gentle Valentine,
Since for me, you were born too soon,
And I for you was born too late.
God forgives him who has estranged
Me from you for the whole year.
I am already sick of love,
My very gentle Valentine.
Well might I have suspected
That such a destiny,
Thus would have happened this day,
How much that Love would have commanded.
I am already sick of love,
My very gentle Valentine.

By the middle of the 18th, it was common for friends and lovers of all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes, and by 1900 printed cards began to replace written letters due to improvements in printing technology.


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