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Friday, February 12, 2021

 by Donna Hatch

As a romance author and hopeless romantic, I cannot possibly ignore Valentine’s Day. I admit, until I started researching the topic, I really didn't know the real history behind Valentine’s day except it was to honor a Christian named Valentine who was martyred for marrying people in secret. Which really didn't make sense to me. Was he martyred because he was Christian? Or because he was marrying people? To my surprise, I found the answer to be a bit of both. Maybe. Although no one really sure who, exactly the famous Valentine actually was. He may have actually been more than one person. Much is couched in myth and speculation. However, here's some fun history, sprinkled liberally with legend.

This much appears to be factual: In Rome 270 C.E. Emperor Claudius II put out an edict saying no man could marry. Ever.


Talk about a stupid law! No marriage? At all? And sex outside of marriage was considered to "prostitution" which was also illegal. Talk about a bunch of lonely, unhappy people. And how were children to be brought into the world? Did he think it was okay for his entire country to become extinct in a single generation? Clearly, this brainless emperor didn’t think that one through.

He apparently did have a reason for it, however short-sighted. He felt that marriage made men "soft" and therefore unreliable soldiers. Men wouldn’t want to leave his wife and child AND die for his country, and because Emperor Claudius needed a massive army to maintain his vast empire. So, he outlawed marriage. Clearly, he wasn't worried about becoming unpopular with his crazy law nor having a country peopled with soldiers for his posterity.

Into this confusing chaos steps Valentine, the Bishop of Interamna, who invited all young lovers to come secretly marry and, in turn, converted quite a few people to Christianity. This man was intelligent – much smarter than the Emperor because while getting his way of converting people to Christianity, he also saw to the needs of disgruntled lovers. Aw, isn’t that sweet?

Or it might have been a ploy to convert heathens. Either way, the Emperor inevitably found out and had Valentine arrested.

The odd thing is, Valentine may not have been condemned for going against the Emperor's edict. Some accounts suggest it was because he refused to renounce Christianity and convert to Roman ways AND even attempted to convert the Emperor to Christianity. Talk about pluck! According to legend, while Valentine was awaiting execution, he befriended a girl who was the blind daughter of the jailer. While in jail, Valentine restored her eyesight through his faith. Some people believe he fell in love with her. Then he supposedly wrote her a farewell letter on the day that he was stoned (or beaten, according to some sources) and then beheaded. Another account reports he simply died in prison, probably of typhus, or gaol (jail) fever. At any rate, Valentine reportedly signed his love letter, "FROM YOUR VALENTINE."

morning_st_valentineWe have been using his name, and even that phrase, ever since.

Also, there appears to have been anywhere from three to seven men who bore that name and were martyred, or died while in service to the church. Apparently one helped a number of Christians escape prison where they were being beaten and tortured. This Valentine was caught and executed. Another Valentine was a missionary in Africa, but little is known about him. Or, it’s possible, they were all the same men, but accounts of his death have been muddied. However, we do know that Valentinus, or Valentine, was a very common Roman name.

Though the marrying Valentine was executed on February 24, (according to some sources, anyway) 270, the Christian church chose to honor him and all the Valentines – who all supposedly died on or near February 14 – on February 14th because they wanted to replace a Roman rite of passage to the God of Lupercus. Part of the festival included men running around and slapping young women with a strap dipped in blood with the idea it was supposed to make them fertile. Another practice in that festival involved putting the names of virgins in a box (I wonder if they were willing or unwilling?) and drawn by not so virginal men (ARE there any virginal men?) in a lottery. Whichever girl was drawn was then assigned to "pleasure" the lucky man until the next lottery, which was a year later. (poor girl!!!) Sounds like a premise for a book, doesn’t it?

Anyway, the church was appalled by this pagan holiday (I don't blame them) so they chose to substitute it with a close second. Well, okay, maybe by the men’s standards it wasn’t such a close substitute. But Valentine’s Day appealed to the love aspect of the ritual instead of sex. I’m sorta surprised the men went for it, men being what they are. But I guess pleasing his wife, or the girl whom he hopes will be his wife someday, in the hopes he’ll get lucky (ahem) was the best substitute a good Christian man could hope for.

So, happy Valentine's day! And be grateful we aren't Roman!!!

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

No Occupation for a Lady: The Plight of Ladies Without Means in the 18th Century By Jenna Jaxon

For centuries women of the upper classes have lived precariously on the wealth of their families or their husband’s families. Lower and middle class women, especially in the 18th century, were allowed a variety of occupations, including “spinners, tailoresses, milliners, and washerwomen.” Other possible occupations were domestic service, midwives, and milkmaids. They have also been recorded as working as apothecaries, barbers, blacksmiths, seamstresses, and printers. Many of these were family-run businesses and the women of the family would learn the family trade and work there until they married, at which point they would take care of their own family and children or go into their husband’s family business. Not so for women of the upper classes. The occupation most young ladies of the aristocracy were trained for was marriage. It was the duty of each young woman to marry and afterwards take care of her husband’s house, bear and raise his children, and take over his duties with his estate should he be called away from it for any amount of time. This was the primary job opportunity for ladies, and should they not make a marriage, their life became extremely perilous.
A daughter who, after three Seasons found herself still unmarried, was deemed a spinster or “on the shelf” and usually was relegated to remaining in her father’s house to take care of her parents, or any of her brothers and sisters with families who needed assistance. At the death of her father, she might stay on in her brother’s household, helping as best she could, but could be sent away if she did not get along with her brother’s wife. One of the few other permissible occupations for ladies was as a companion to a respectable member of the family or another family
of good reputation. This could be a good position for any lady left alone (through widowhood or simple fate) must have a companion with her at all times to preserve her reputation. If the companion and her employer suited one another, then the companion position could be a godsend. However, if the employer was difficult, it might not be a permanent solution. The third occupation that was respectable for ladies was that of governess. Every house with daughters employed a governess once they attained the age of six or so. The family wanted a woman of good family and reputation who could instruct their children not only in their studies, but in their deportment. Of course, governesses were hired for a finite period of time, until the girls were ready to go out into society. They would then go on to another family, hopefully with a good reference.
If a lady could not secure any of these positions she would have to find some other means of making ends meet. Occupations such as domestic servant or shopkeeper were not considered “genteel,” thus rendering her no longer part of the upper class.
In my romance Only A Mistress Will Do, the heroine, Violet Carlton, is one such woman whose circumstances have brought her terribly low. She has been unable to marry and has not been able to secure a position as either a companion or a governess. She has been brought so low, in fact, that in order for her to live, she must seek employment at a brothel and sell her body at the House of Pleasure. A circumstance that, unfortunately, happens both then and now.