Saturday, 9 February 2013

Valentine's Day: A Twist of Fate

As part of the "Heart's Through History" blog hop, my post looks at Valentine's Day as experienced by Samuel Pepys.
My giveaway prize is a $15 Amazon voucher:  SEE the END of THIS POST FOR DETAILS.
Click for link to participating blogs.
(Scroll to bottom of the page.)

Times change and so do the customs associated with Valentine's Day. Indeed, Samuel Pepys diary gives us a fascinating insight into a 17th century tradition that has died out. In modern times Valentine's Day is about secret admirers and lovers, but in the 17th century it seems it was a much more random event. There seem to have been two variations on a theme but somewhat oddly to us, a person's valentine was rarely their spouse.

A Game of Chance
The first way a 17th century lover chose their valentine was by lottery - or rather, pulling a name out of a hat at a party. This was often done on February 13th so that the Valentine partners (rarely husband and wife) knew who to present gifts to on Valentine's Day itself.
Samuel Pepys diary 1665/
This morning called up by Mr. Hill, who, my wife thought, had been come to be her Valentine; she, it seems, having drawne him last night, but it proved not.

These gifts could be costly, indeed, members of the artistocracy took it upon themselves to out do each other with expensive and showy items. The tradition was for the man to give the woman a present, indeed the Lady Bulkely played the system rather well by putting in a request, via her valentine's (Sir William Petre) wife, for a present of six yards of black satin (worth 60 shillings).
Sanuel Pepys
Samuel Pepys diary 1667/8
Up, being called up by Mrs Mercer, who come to be my Valentine, …and this year I find it is likely to cost 4l. or 5l. in a ring for her, which she desires.

The gift giving could go on for several days and Samuel Pepys remarked about the cost involved in buying six pairs of plain gloves, and one pair of embroidered, for his valentine. However, it seems likely Pepys also used this Valentine's Day tradition as a cover for buying presents for his mistresses.
Elizabeth Pepys.
The First Person You See on Waking
The other custom was that your valentine would be the first person you saw on waking on February 14th. To this end it seems in 1661, Elizabeth Pepys spent a morning with her eyes closed in order to avoid seeing the painters who were redecorating the house!

Samuel Pepys' diary 1659/60
Called out in the morning by Mr. Moore, whose voice my wife hearing in my dressing-chamber with me, got herself ready, and came down and challenged him for her valentine...

So which do you think is more exciting: a game of chance, or having a secret admirer?
Would you prefer a 17th century-style Valentine's Day?
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Grace x


  1. I loved the part where Elizabeth Pepys closed her eyes -- very interesting Valentine's tidbits. (And the cat pictures are adorable!)

    I like the idea of a secret admirer. ^_^

    (I'm subscribed to your newsletter!)

  2. darling kittens =)
    and I too enjoyed Elizabeth\s response ! FuN Facts I didn't know..
    i have subscribed and look fwd to hearing more from you, Grace!

  3. As you know, I subscribe to your newsletter,. I love these historical tidbits!

    Both ways have their allure, image keeping a blindfold on around your house so family wouldn't count, then taking it off when you walked out the door to find the first man walking in Hyde Park. :-) (of course a lady in the know would know when her query was due to be walking.)

    Or having gifts dropped off from someone you didn't know who. Hmmm exciting.

    Thanks for the information. :-)

  4. Love the kitten pics :-) An interesting Valentine choice. being a 'need-to-know' kinda girl, I think I'd have to go for the 2nd choice, and probably end up spending the day with my eyes closed until I knew DH was in front of me!! how say is that? lol.

  5. This is fascinating! I hadn't run across this aspect of old Valentine traditions. Thanks so much for sharing!

    And the kittens are too cute for words. Love it! Sharon

  6. I'm really enjoying this hop!
    I thin k secret admirer would be more exciting - of course that depend on who it is.
    signed up for your newsleter - sallans d at yahoo dot com

  7. I'm also loving this Hop! First time for me. Great post, Grace.

  8. So Enjoyed your post! Glad to be a part of the Hearts Through History blog tour with you!

    Barbara Tiller Cole

  9. I'm a subscriber! Thanks for the great giveaway!
    Susan Heim
    smhparent [at] hotmail [dot] com

  10. I am subscribing

    I never knew the history of valentines day i do not know what to make of the 17th century version of valentines

  11. I used to love having a secret admirer. This year my husband is spoiling me with flowers & i think candy though. I know flowers for sure, he used a credit card and it posted to my email. :p We usually dont celebrate valentines day though. we have an anniversary at the end of the month we prefer to celebrate every year.

    Im a subscriber. :)

    Terri M

    Oklahomamommy0306 @

  12. I suppose that's one solution for those concerned about not getting anything on Valentine's day...I think I prefer the modern ways.

    I'm a subscriber.

    dancingcelt at gmail dot com

  13. I subscribed
    thanks for the hop

    thanks for the giveaway!!

  15. Grace,

    If only my husband felt such competition! But I will settle for a bar of chocolate!

    I would obviously love to win your prize, what reader/writer wouldn’t?

    Happy Valentine’s Day!


    Stephanie Renee dos Santos

    Email: stephaniereneedossantos at

  16. Such a strange new earth you're exploring. I love the channel and the mountains "like shark teeth on top." Fun that you'll get to meet the librarians. Enjoy the Hobbit! . adventure sport nq.


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