The Oldest Valentine In HistoryThe Oldest Valentine In History

Born in 1394, French nobleman Charles of Valois is credited in penning the first Valentine's Day sentiment. Charles became Duke of Orleans in 1407 after his father was murdered on behalf of John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy. Charles was a fairly prolific poet, which is where the Valentine's Day letter comes from, though Charles' poetry was born out of a very interesting situation.

October 25, 1415 saw England triumph over France in the Battle of Agincourt - an important battle during the Hundred Year's War. For this historic battle, Charles co-led the first front against the English, who were armed with longbows and archers, but had inferior armor. Ironically, it was this superior army that may have cost the French the battle. The battleground was recently plowed and very muddy, and as it had rained heavily that month, the ground was muddy and sticky. The French, who were well-armored with heavy armor, had trouble moving quickly in these conditions, making them arrow-fodder for the English longbowmen.

Even when the French got close enough to the English for hand-to-hand combat, this superior armor caused even further problems. The English were unburdened by heavy metal armor, and were more nimble than the French knights. Additionally, the helmets provided little ventilation, and the French knights were hindered by a lack of oxygen as well as their heavy suits.

The English overtook the French, and the surviving French knights were taken as prisoners. The Duke of Orleans was among these captured and wounded soldiers. Lesser ranked prisoners were killed almost immediately.
Charles was a prisoner for the next 24 years. He spent time at The Tower of London, which is where he wrote his famous valentine to his wife, which exists today as part of the manuscript collection at London's British Library. The poem starts with the line, "On St. Valentine's day, the lovely sun, carrying along its lighted candle, made its way that fine dawn, not long ago, into my locked chamber, all in secret." The manuscript was eventually illuminated.

Eventually, Charles was ransomed by Philip the Good of Burgundy. This in itself is ironic, since it was the house of Burgundy that was responsible for Charles's father's death, and Charles had sworn an oath of vengeance for this trespass on his mother's deathbed.

Charles' imprisonment was not solely at The Tower of London. He spent time at Wallingford Castle, a castle that may have been founded by Miles Crispin himself. The terms of his imprisonment were not so bad - he was able to live like a nobleman despite his lack of freedom.

The wife to whom Charles wrote his famous love poems, Bonne d'Armagnac, died before Charles was freed. They had only been married five years before Charles was captured. Upon Charles' release, he met Maria of Cleves, who was the daughter of a German Duke and a French Duchess - who was also of the house of Burgundy and was the older sister of Philip the Good, who arranged for Charles' release.

Upon first sight of the 14-year old princess, it is said that he told her, "M'Lady, I make myself your prisoner." Maria went on to bear Charles his only son, Louis the XII of France. Maria would outlive Charles by many years, and would become a poet herself, though whether she wrote Valentine poems we do not know.

Love poems are written today in honor of Valentine's day, and many people borrow verses from Charles in their sentiments. Others, not so poetically inclined, give gifts of silver, gold, and pearls to substitute original poetry and prose. Modern women tend to like that just fine.
by EM Downing Johnson
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