I’m delighted to welcome back Regan Walker as my guest here today! Don’t forget to comment for a chance to win in Regan’s giveaway!
Though St. Valentine’s Day has been celebrated for a very long time, the Valentine’s Day cards we send today, and their romantic precursors with pictures, real lace and ribbons, didn’t really come into fashion until the mid 19th century with the Victorian era. However, that didn’t mean that lovers in Regency England (1811-1820), or in times before, didn’t observe the day. They did.
The day was first associated with romantic love in the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th century when the tradition of courtly love flourished. By the 15th century, it had evolved into an occasion in which lovers expressed their love by presenting flowers, offering confectionery and sending notes, sometimes in verse. In the mid 17th century, Samuel Pepys recorded the celebration, including gift giving among the wealthier members of society.
The writing of special notes and letters for Valentine’s Day gained widespread popularity as early as the 18th century. The modern cliché Valentine’s Day poem we remember comes from this time and the collection of English nursery rhymes Gammer Gurton’s Garland (1784):
The rose is red, the violet’s blue,
The honey’s sweet, and so are you.
Thou art my love and I am thine;
I drew thee to my Valentine:
The lot was cast and then I drew,
And Fortune said it shou’d be you.
By the time we arrive in Regency England, nearly three decades later, the romantic communications would have been handwritten on ordinary writing paper and may have included verse and other small items of sentimental value. Writing paper could have been procured from Hatchards and other shops that stocked such items. The love notes would have been exchanged between only unmarried adults, unlike today when we send Valentines to everyone.
Papers made especially for Valentine’s Day greetings didn’t begin to be marketed until the 1820s when their use became fashionable in both Britain and the United States. According to Hone’s Every-Day Book (1826), “Two hundred thousand letters beyond the usual daily average, annually pass through the twopenny post-office in London on St. Valentine’s Day.”
In my Valentine’s Day story, The Shamrock & The Rose, set in London in 1818, the heroine, Rose Collingwood, who has taken another identity in order to play the part of Portia in The Merchant of Venice on stage at the Theatre-Royal Hay-Market, receives many such love notes from her adoring fans. At one point a character in my story notes that Hatchards bookshop is “nearly sold out of writing paper” trying to accommodate its customers’ demands for supplies to create the love notes. Rose also receives several love poems from a mysterious person who does not sign his notes, a villain who would have her against her will. Of course, she is delighted to receive one whimsical love poem from the hero, the Irish barrister Morgan O’Connell, who has taken a fancy to the beautiful woman he knows is also an actress.
So, in the spirit of the Regency, make your own Valentine! And celebrate the day in Regency London with The Shamrock & The Rose!
The Shamrock & The Rose
Blurb: A stint playing Portia at the Theatre-Royal at Haymarket in London, a dropped valentine and a dangerous desire lead gentle-born Rose Collingwood into the arms of an Irishman whose love will hazard all she knows and is.
“Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath.”
—from The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
London, February 1818
Morgan O’Connell hardly noticed Sophie as she turned her attention from the stage and artfully tossed her head of dark curls, smiling at him from behind her lace-covered fan. He was tired of his companion’s feigned shyness and coquettish glances, just as he was tired of the play they would be seeing. The Merchant of Venice, though just beginning, held little interest for him. Once a favorite, he supposed he’d seen too many bad productions for it to remain so. Still, he liked the ambience of the Theatre-Royal at Haymarket, which seemed the place he most often sought entertainment now that he lived in London. Sophie seemed to be enjoying it, too.
His gaze drifted to the stage where appeared the three chests from which Portia’s suitors must choose, her dead father having left a puzzle to determine which man would gain both his daughter and his wealth. Gold, silver and lead; only one held the prize. And the cost to hazard a guess was high, for those who failed must vow never to wed.
As the play unfolded, Morgan’s eyes soon diverted from the chests to the woman acting the part of Portia. She was beautiful and young, somewhere between nineteen and twenty-one. Though he couldn’t tell if that luxurious long brown hair was the actress’s own, the sixteenth-century gown was most becoming to her curves. Her acting was extraordinary, holding him enraptured and sweeping him into a story he’d thought no longer held any allure. Small movements of her eyes, facial expressions and gestures conveyed much that Shakespeare’s lines did not. If she’d never spoken a word, he would have known Portia’s true heart. When she did speak, he believed in a real Portia of long ago.
Ignoring his female companion, Morgan leaned forward. “A superb Portia, Roger, would you not agree?”
“She’s captured my attention,” his friend whispered, likely so Judith Seaton sitting next to him would not hear. Judith was a new love interest, and Roger had been trying to impress her. “I’ve heard she is fresh to the stage but already drawing many compliments.”
“Remind me who she is,” Morgan said in a voice too low for Sophie to hear.
“Lily Underwood, as I recall the playbill.”
Morgan nodded and sat back, relieved that Sophie had again taken up her study of the audience below. It was clear she was more a follower of the haut ton than a devotee of Shakespeare.
From his box above the stage, Morgan could see well the actors moving about below. His eyes lingered on the woman portraying Portia, the one he now knew as Miss Underwood. She had a compelling voice, one that deepened as the character she portrayed donned the guise of a man to adroitly argue the points of law that would save her lover’s friend while cleverly entrapping the moneylender who demanded Antonio’s flesh.
Leaning forward, he listened as she spoke the lines that were his favorites:
“The quality of mercy is not strain’d.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”
Portia was the kind of woman Morgan wanted: brave, forthright and intelligent, a woman whose spirit was equal to his own. Unfortunately, these were not qualities he’d find in an English actress, however comely. And though he might consider a tryst with such an actress, his Irish family would only be satisfied with an Irish bride.
Regan was raised in California and had a career as a lawyer that included stints in high levels of government. Her work has given her a feel for the demands of the “Crown” on its subjects. So, when she decided to become an author of historical romance, not surprisingly, her first novels are all about a demanding Prince Regent who thinks of his subjects are his private talent pool. She loves to weave history and real historic figures into her romances and promises to sweep her readers away to another time and place to experience adventure as well as love.
Her first novel, RACING WITH THE WIND, was published by Boroughs Publishing Group in July 2012, and her second, AGAINST THE WIND will be published in March 2013. She is currently writing the third, WIND RAVEN. She is a member of RWA Beau Monde and San Diego chapters and lives in San Diego.
You can find Regan at:
Author website URL: http://www.reganwalkerauthor.com/
Regan’s Romance blog: http://reganromancereview.blogspot.com/
Twitter: @RegansReview https://twitter.com/RegansReview
You can find The Shamrock & the Rose at:
Amazon buy link: http://www.amazon.com/The-Shamrock-Rose-ebook/dp/B00BA2DUVS
Smashwords buy link: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/281584
Giveaway: What do you love about Valentines? Do you have a favorite St. Valentine’s Day memory? Regan will give one lucky commenter a copy of The Shamrock & the Rose. Don’t forget to leave your email.
8 thoughts on “Valentines in Regency England, Guest Post by Regan Walker”
Wow. Interesting. I didn’t realize the actual celebration of the day went back that far. 🙂 I always like learning new things, thanks Regan… Good luck with the book!
Thanks, Juli, for stopping by–and thanks, Babette, for having me on your blog!
Great post, however, I have to be honest and admit I’m not a Valentine’s Day fan. I’m not a holiday fan at all, actually! But your books sound great and I’m looking forward to reading more.
Maria…at least you keep an open mind! I actually like reading romances set in holiday times as it puts me in the mood. That is why I wrote The Holly & The Thistle (for Christmas in Regency London) and this one for Valentine’s Day/St. Patrick’s Day.
What an interesting post. I didn’t realise that Valentine’s Day went back that far. We don’t really celebrate it in NZ. For us it’s another of those American holidays that retailers tell us we should celebrate 🙂 that’s strange since it has roots in English history. We’ve inherited most other English holidays and celebrations e.g Guy Fawkes Day.
Shelley, must be a conspiracy by all those men Down Under who would just as soon skip the flowers and candy. Perhaps you should suggest it’s one English custom they really should follow!
I love that Valentine’s Day gives you “permission” or even courage to wear your heart on your sleeve…although for a romance reader that really is allowed any time any day 🙂
My favorite St. Valentine’s memory was when I was in high school and we had Valentine grams (candy and a carnation with a little message) that people could buy and have sent to each other. Being nerdy and shy (which has slightly improved now), I was resigned to being one of the envious as usual…when suddenly my name was called out and I received one from a secret admirer. That made my day and imagination! Of course, later I found out it was my best friend (girl) who sent it to perk me up which it definitely did!
That’s a wonderful story pc…and I love secret admirers no matter they are our best friends. Best friends can be the best kind. Happy Valentine’s Day!