John Lydgate - Valentine Poet For HireJohn Lydgate - Valentine Poet For Hire

Legend says that Henry V commissioned a talented poet named John Lydgate to write a valentine for Catherine of Valois, who was Henry V's intended. This sounds like a simple tale - a loving husband or fiancé giving his sweetheart a gift on Valentine's Day - but the story is much more complicated.

Henry V was instrumental in England's triumph over France at the Battle of Agincourt, a battle that caused the death and imprisonment of many of Catherine of Valois' contemporaries. Although Henry's father (Henry IV) had planned to marry his son to the daughter of King Charles VI of France, but he died before the subject could be broached with France.

The plans for Henry V's marriage to Catherine of Valois continued despite the Battle of Agincourt, though Henry did not take an active role in the planning until he caught a glimpse of Catherine, who was very beautiful. A peace treaty was forged between France and England in 1420 and Henry and Catherine were married under the terms of Henry's dowry requirements, which included that Henry would have the right to France's throne.

It was in this tumultuous time of 1420 that Henry commissioned the famous and talented poet and monk John Lydgate to write a Valentine poem for the beautiful Catherine. Lydgate became a monk at 15 years old, but showed literary promise and a great deal of literary interest. He was friends with Thomas Chaucer, and a great admirer of his friend's father (Geoffrey Chaucer's) work.

Many important people of the time patronized Lydgate to get him to write poems for them. He also wrote fables, allegories, and even romances - though he was a monk and therefore likely celibate. He also wrote longer works like Troy Book, which was actually commissioned by Henry V. Additionally, Lydgate is credited with being the first person to use the word "talent" to describe someone who had an exceptional amount of ability in a certain area.

Lydgate would have been well-deserved of that description himself. His versatility was vast in that he could write love poems, spiritually-moving works, and funny and satirical plays and poems. His love poem on behalf of Henry V to Catherine of Valois is just one of the many commissioned pieces he wrote.

Alas, a beautiful poem cannot sustain all love. A mere two years after the wedding between the couple, Henry V contracted dysentery and suffered for three long weeks before he died. He was only 34 years old. His body was interred at Westminster Abbey, and he left to his baby son, Henry of Windsor, England, France, and a wealth of riches including gold and precious jewels.

Catherine found love again with a man named Owen ap Maredudd - a Tudor of Wales. It is not known whether they actually married, though they produced four children. It also is not known if Owen ever sent Catherine beautiful Valentine poetry. She died at age 36 of an unspecified illness, and was interred also at Westminster Abbey.
by EM Downing Johnson
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