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Monday, 14 February, 2000, 07:57 GMT
Love's labour found

Medieval script Be my olde Valentine: The script dates back to 1477

The oldest known Valentine's Day message in the English language has been uncovered by the British Library.

Written in Norfolk more than 500 years ago, the love letter will be revealed to the public for the first time next month as part of an exhibition celebrating 1,000 years of English literature.

It was originally bought by the library as part of a collection of papers from a family called Paston in the 1930s.

But it was only rediscovered last year when the new display's curator, Dr Chris Fletcher, was looking for exhibits.

Men still shy away from commitment, women still take care of the nitty-gritty of wedding arrangements - and a girl's best friend is her mum and has been for over 500 years
British Library spokesman
Heralding the forthcoming exhibition, a library spokesman said on Monday that, while the language used to word them may have changed, the sentiments expressed in the message would find sympathy with many people living today.

He said: "While technology may have changed beyond recognition since medieval times, it seems some things remain the same.

"Men still shy away from commitment, women still take care of the nitty-gritty of wedding arrangements - and a girl's best friend is her mum and has been for over 500 years."

The Valentine message, which dates back to 1477, is from Margery Brews to her fiancé, John Paston.

In it, she tells John she has asked her mother to put pressure on her father to increase her dowry, while at the same time saying that, if he loves her, he should be prepared to marry her anyway.

It is thought the couple did eventually tie the knot and had two children.

The full text of the manuscript

"Unto my right well-beloved Valentine John Paston, squire, be this bill delivered.

"Right reverent and worshipful and my right well-beloved valentine, I recommend me unto you full heartedly, desiring to hear of your welfare, which I beseech Almighty God long for to preserve unto his pleasure and your hearts desire.

"And if it pleases you to hear of my welfare, I am not in good health of body nor of heart, nor shall I be till I hear from you.

"For there knows no creature what pain that I endure, And even on the pain of death I would reveal no more.

"And my lady my mother hath laboured the matter to my father full diligently, but she can no more get than you already know of, for which God knoweth I am full sorry.

"But if you love me, as I trust verily that you do, you will not leave me therefore.

"For even if you had not half the livelihood that you have, for to do the greatest labour that any woman alive might, I would not forsake you.

Love you truly

"And if you command me to keep me true wherever I go, indeed I will do all my might you to love and never anyone else.

"And if my friends say that I do amiss, they shall not stop me from doing so.

"My heart me bids evermore to love you truly over all earthly things.

"And if they be never so angry, I trust it shall be better in time coming.

"No more to you at this time, but the Holy Trinity have you in keeping.

"And I beseech you that this bill be not seen by any non earthly creature save only yourself.

"And this letter was written at Topcroft with full heavy heart.

"Be your own Margery Brews."

The message will go on display as part of the Love section of the library's millennium exhibition - Chapter & Verse: 1000 years of English Literature.

The display aims to incorporate some of the library's oldest and rarest manuscripts, fine and first editions and modern favourites, to illustrate the evolving themes of English literature.

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See also:
14 Feb 00 |  Northern Ireland
Love on the net
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