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Valentine Traditions: A Guest Post by Heidi Ashworth

Love letters have been written since ink was first put to paper.. However, billet-doux were not referred to as valentines until the early 1400’s when the Duke of Orleans, imprisoned in the Tower of London after the Battle of Agincourt, wrote a poem to his wife.  Sadly, she died before he was released from captivity, but the tales of his passion lived on..

 

The Tower of London circa 2015..  The blue cupolas were added on Henry the Eighth’s orders in honor of Anne Boleyn’s coronation..  Pretty romantic..

 

 Ever since, love letters and cards exchanged on the 14th of February were commonly referred to as Valentines in honor of the man (or one of them–see history on the plethora of St.. Valentines, HERE) who wrote a love letter to his jailor’s beautiful, blind daughter, prompting one to wonder how she could possibly read it with any sense of privacy..  But I digress.

The making and writing of Valentine’s Day cards thereafter became a tradition.  The wealthy could afford manufactured cards, some of which date from as early as the 1700s.  Factory workers painted color onto black-and-white images, leaving the composition of the words up to the giver of the card.  However, it would be hundreds of years before the mass production of cards created a market for Valentines amongst all walks of life.

During the Regency era, most cards were still handmade.  As such, not many survived..  However, there are quite a few examples of a special card known as the puzzle purse, perhaps because they were so much work for the creator that they were cherished in ways that a simple letter was not.

This photo shows the back of a puzzle purse that is preserved at the British Postal Museum in London.

 

There are many stanzas of poetry found on this card, one of which very cleverly reads:
My dearest dear and blest divine
I’ve pictured here thy heart and mine
But Cupid with his fatal dart
hath deeply wounded my poor heart
And has betwixt us set a cross
makes me lament my loss
But now I hope when this is gone

That our two hearts will join in one.

Once the paper is unfolded, the cross (it’s actually an X) that bisects the heart is gone and the lover’s hearts, drawn together on the inside of the page, come together..  To view the front of this card and read the rest of the poetry, click HERE.

This puzzle purse, dated February 14th, 1816, is quite beautifully illustrated.  The current owner, an avid collector, has baptismal certificates that are folded in the same manner..  You can read more about this particular card and learn how to make your own puzzle purse via these instructions.

 

These elegantly written cards differ from most ordinary letters during this time period.  Due to the exorbitant cost of delivery, people “crossed” their letters, meaning that they wrote across the page horizontally, then turned it and wrote across it vertically, sometimes even turning it to write across the letter diagonally.  You can see a replicated example of a crossed letter here.

Though there is no evidence that the men and women who peopled the Regency era held parties for Valentine’s Day, they did enjoy some rather romantic parlor games throughout the year.  Kissing games were quite popular, a fact that might come as a surprise to those who think of the 19thC as an era of utter moral rectitude.   You can read about these games on this  blog post, complete with a delightful period illustration.

As with many holiday traditions we enjoy today, the tradition of sending mass amounts of Valentine cards through the mail dates to the Victorian era..  This was made possible by the decreasing cost of postage and printing..  However, it wasn’t until later that Valentines were no longer confined to sweethearts and were given to friends, siblings, parents and teachers..  Today, Valentine cards are the second most widely mailed cards in the U.S., second only to Christmas cards.
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My latest release is one of three stories that makes up the anthology, A Midwinter Ball..  Each of the stories takes place around Valentine’s Day..  It is filled with romantic balls, dashing heroes and strong heroines.
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From the publisher of the #1 Amazon bestselling A Timeless Romance Anthology series in Clean Romance..  Join three bestselling regency romance authors, Heidi Ashworth, Annette Lyon, and Michele Paige Holmes, for three new Regency romance novellas in A MIDWINTER BALL.

 

The cover photo for this book was taken at a recent Jane Austen Festival in Bath and depicts a very accurate reproduction Regency-era gown.
 The printed shawl, the elbow-length gloves, the small train of her gown, are all picture-perfect Regency..

Whatever your Valentine’s celebrations entail this year, they are part of a very long tradition of love all around the world, including that highly romantic time period and place known as The Regency.

 
Heidi Ashworth is the author of numerous Regency romances, including the popular Miss Delacourt series..  She is a wife and mother who enjoys working in the garden, documenting her travels to Ireland, England and Scotland on her blog, the process of transforming her 1970’s California bungalow into an English country cottage, and eating chocolate..  You can learn more about her Regency romances on her Amazon page and website, read about her travels, her romantic home decor, her roses and her experiences as mom to a special needs child, on her blog, Dunhaven Place..  You can follow her on GoodreadsFBPinterest , and Twitter @AshworthHeidi..