Saint Valentine’s Day, or The Feast of Saint Valentine, has been associated with romantic love since the fourteenth century and the time of Geoffrey Chaucer when the tradition of courtly love flourished. By eighteenth-century England, it had evolved into an occasion which resembled our modern-day celebration where people express their love by sending flowers, chocolate and greetings cards. To mark Valentine’s Day 2017, we’re going to delve again into the wonderful resource that is the Broadlands Archives.
Henry Temple, second Viscount Palmerston, resident of Broadlands house near Romsey wrote on 24 June  to “my dearest Miss Poole”:
I will not attempt to describe how melancholy and uncomfortable I have felt ever since you have been gone. I never in any solitude felt so much alone as I have done in this town these last five days, and most of all as when I have been in company. [BR16/9/1]
The object of his affections, Frances, was the daughter of Sir Francis Poole and his wife, also called Frances. Palmerston felt she had “all the qualities he could wish for in a wife” but did not want to press her for a decision “at this time”: one of Frances’s brothers, Henry, was very ill – and in fact died the following month – which was partly the cause of the delay in their marriage negotiations. Frances appears more cautious than Henry: “you deserve a woman beautiful & young, & with every quality of the mind that can make her amiable.” [BR16/9/3].
Frances was 34 and six years senior to her suitor, hardly old, but possibly more unusual by eighteenth century standards. Henry attempted to reassure her:
The disproportion of age is nothing: the consideration with me is not about years but qualities and I am fully convinced that no woman in the world but yourself possesses all those that are requisite to my happiness [BR16/9/16]
Frances did marry Henry, the second Viscount, on 6 October 1767 but sadly died, only two years later, in childbirth at his Lordship’s house in the Admiralty on 1 June 1769.
Palmerston was lucky enough to find love a second time, this time with Mary Mee, the daughter of Benjamin Mee, a London merchant living in Dublin. Towards the end of 1782 he writes to her:
My dearest M:M’s [Miss Mee’s] kind note found me just beginning to write a few lines to her (tho with such a headache I can hardly see) as I could not refrain from telling her how much I think of her and long for her society. [BR20/1/9]
They married on 4 January 1783. The Broadlands Archives contains extensive correspondence between the couple who were clearly in love and wrote frequently whenever apart. Towards the end of his life, in November 1801, he reflects on his relationship with his first wife to his second:
I cannot conceive why one is never to speak of what one has felt the most; and why the subjects that lie the deepest in one’s heart and are the dearest to one’s remembrance are to be eternally banished from one’s lips [BR20/18/8]
A few days later, 12 November 1801, he comments that he has been going through his deceased wife’s papers. [BR20/18/9]. He passed away less than six months later on 16 April 1802 of “ossification of the throat”.
Mary was clearly distraught at the loss of her soul mate. She writes from Lavender House, home of her sister and brother-in-law near Henley-on-Thames, in early May 1802 to an unknown recipient:
My heart is so loaded with sorrow that I hardly know how to support myself […] alas if I do not unburthen my sorrow to some friendly bosom my heart with surely break. [BR19/15/3]
Henry and Mary had four surviving children, the eldest being Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston, future Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister. A week after his father’s death, 23 April 1802, Mary sent her son a long letter full of advice. Among many things, she advises that he marry “at no very early age”, how he should treat his wife and the qualities he should look for in one, including “to be sure neither madness or evil affects her family”. [BR21/8/19]
Palmerston married the widow Emily Cowper, née Lamb in 1839, aged 55, although they had likely been having an affair from around 1808: not sure if this was exactly what his mother had in mind! If you would like to read an excerpt from a poem Palmerston sent to Emily on their tenth wedding anniversary – as well as other love stories from the Broadlands Archives – take a look at last year’s Valentine’s Day blog post.
If you are interested to know more about the development of Valentines – in the second week of February 1841, for example, an extra half million letters were delivered, one eighth of all the mail, because of the traffic in Valentines – you could take a look at this post from Chris Woolgar from 2015.