St Valentine, Patron of copulation

On 14 February 1646 — towards the end of the civil war — the London weekly newspaper The True Informer published the following editorial:

Episcopacy being abolished,* I see no reason why this day in which this book is extant, should be honoured in the commemoration of Bishop Valentine, or by what anomalous power of the Church of Rome, he should be made the Patron of copulation; there is no doubt but he was a Bishop, & I am afraid a very wanton one, for otherwise why should that lusty heat which in this pregnant season, make proud the blood, receive from his not only an allowance, but protection: Surely if his condition were correspondent to his title, everie piece of paper which the petulant youth weare this day in their hats, and every little scroule which the bashfull and conscious Virgins keep more concealed under their cuffe, are all but libells against his Gravity, whatsoever Epitome that custome heretofore have had I do believe the practice idle and unlawfull, yet peradventure as the Swedes will allow none to sell ale, or to keep such houses of hospitality, but unlesse such who serve their Ministers, because that by their neglect of sordid gaine, and the civility of their conversation they should give good examples unto others; so Antiquitie of Superstition, made this Bishop provident of this day, that in the remembrance of the excellence of his continence, and the severity of his life he might correct the fires and distempers of youth, which otherwise would be too unbridled and licentious; but of this enough …

[* the editor was jumping the gun: in fact the English Parliament would not formally abolish the episcopal system of church government by bishops until October 1646]

This facetious commentary on the role of the “Patron of copulation” (a nice phrase) explores a series of ironies. We aren’t really meant to believe that there is much chance of a bishop setting a good example to the youth, so the suggestion that St Valentines’ is a day of licensed licentiousness, which takes the edge off unbridled libidinousness, comments facetiously both on romantic conduct on that day and on the morality of Bishops. I wonder if there’s anything as rich in this morning’s papers.

It is an interesting and instructive example of the use of the newspaper for social commentary in the first half of the seventeenth century and of the simultaneous use of the newspaper for entertainment and humour.

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