This is probably the oldest surviving Valentine's Day letter in the English language. It was written by Margery Brews to her fiancé John Paston in February 1477.
Describing John as her 'right well-beloved valentine', she tells him she is 'not in good health of body nor of heart, nor shall I be till I hear from you.' She explains that her mother had tried to persuade her father to increase her dowry – so far unsuccessfully. However, she says, if John loves her he will marry her anyway: 'But if you love me, as I trust verily that you do, you will not leave me therefore.' There was a happy ending to the story, as the couple would eventually marry.
The letter comes from one of the largest collections of 15th century English private correspondence, known as the Paston letters. The collection offers a unique glimpse into the personal lives of the Paston family from Norfolk – the family name comes from a Norfolk village about 20 miles north of Norwich.
Who were the Paston family?
The Pastons had risen from peasantry to aristocracy in just a few generations: the first member of the family about whom anything is known was Clement Paston (d. 1419), a peasant, who gave an excellent education to his son William, enabling him to study law. John and Margery's son, William, would become a prominent figure at the court of King Henry VIII.
- Article by:
- Laura Ashe
- Heroes and heroines, Gender and sexuality, Form and genre
In the Middle Ages, the greatest knight was not simply the greatest warrior. He was also kind, courteous, generous and devoted to his lady: qualities that combined to produce perfect chivalry. Laura Ashe explores the ideal of chivalry through several works of the period.