January Update

“He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not”: Margery Brews and the “first” Valentine’s Letter.

We’re happy to announce our first virtual event on Saturday 13th February at 2.00pm. We welcome back Dr Elizabeth McDonald and appropriately for Valentine’s weekend she’ll be telling us the story of the first Valentine’s letter.

In February 1477 Margery Brews wrote to John Paston III in which she, by addressing him as “my right well-beloved Valentine”, is recorded in history as writing the earliest surviving Valentine’s Letter. The letter is special for a number of reasons aside from its greeting: it is a rare case of hearing the voice of a medieval woman and contains a stanza of original verse possibly composed by Margery herself. It is celebrated on social media and by medievalists every February 14th but just how romantic is the letter?

In this talk Elizabeth McDonald will explore the circumstances that prompted Margery’s letter to show that behind the love poetry and declarations of affection were a multitude of anxieties, pseudo-business negotiations and romantic rivalries.

Through examining this letter we will discover the emerging celebration of Valentine’s day and its traditions, first recorded in the poetry of Geoffrey Chaucer and how this grew in the fifteenth century to influence the courtship practices of both Margery Brews and the wider Paston family. As we map the intentions behind Margery’s letter and the literary interests of John Paston III we will come to see a rich tapestry of personalities with distinct concerns about marriage and love. Finally, through her single letter Margery gives us a tour-de-force education in the subtle art of making “friends” and influencing people.

Elizabeth McDonald is an independent researcher. She has been studying the letters and literary cultures of the Paston family for over a decade, completing her PhD thesis at the UEA in 2018.

This talk will be free to attend, please book your place on our Eventbrite page here. We’ll send joining instructions out to everyone who’s signed up nearer the time. Regrettably, no tea and biscuits this time.

We hope to continue this series of online talks into the summer. We’ll see what the world looks like then.

The Hidden Commemoration

Finally, we’ve added a short video to our Hidden Commemoration site giving a brief insight to some of the stories we discovered during the project. I’m also pleased to report that the Hidden Commemoration will be added to the Imperial War Museum’s Mapping the Centenary portal.

Stay well and stay safe.

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