Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day Dates Through The Ages!

What have you got planned for Valentine’s Day tomorrow? Maybe a steak dinner and champagne with your spouse or significant other–or maybe a cozy evening in with your favorite swoony fictional hero and a bag of mini-Reeses. If you’re a historical fiction buff, chances are you’ve dreamed of a Valentine’s Day date not with anybody from the 21st century, but with a knight in shining armor, a Highlander in a kilt, a gladiator in spiked leather greaves. (Anya Seton’s John of Gaunt and I enjoyed many a Valentine’s Day dates in my teenage years.) So let’s indulge: a few Valentine’s Day dates with five of history’s most dashing historical tropes . . .

Your Date: Man of Rome (Stephanie Dray’s Juba, Robert Harris’s Cicero, Margaret George’s Caesar)

If your man of Rome is along the senatorial lines, your V-Day activities will involve a stroll through Mars Field (sedate pace; those togas are binding) and afterward an intimate little meal for two featuring sea urchins in almond milk, stuffed sow’s udders, and jellied roses in pastry. Your post-dinner present? A really fabulous necklace of silver and pearls from Britannia, much more affordable than those “Kiss Begins With Kay” diamond studs because Britannia’s been recently stomped into submission, and all that slave labor in the silver mines means that fabulous silver jewelry comes cheap. If your man of Rome is more in the gladiatorial line, expect a more rough and tumble date: sour posca and the equivalent of a ball-park hot dog as the two of you hit the Circus Maximus and cheer his favorite team. Your gladiator may be on the track for a short life, so don’t get mad if he doesn’t call for another date–just enjoy those abs while you can.

Your Date: Knight In Shining Armor (Anya Seton’s John of Gaunt, Sophie Perinot’s Jean de Joinville)Your knight in shining armor may sweep you off to a castle in France for a passionate idyll, as John of Gaunt did for his Katherine Swynford: private troubadours, a roaring fire, a four-poster bed, banks of jasmine, a pleasure garden with a sweeping view of the Pyrenees, and a cup of wine for two to share. Medieval men tend to be a little rough-spun in their ideas of fine cuisine, however, so don’t be surprised if your knight’s idea of a romantic dinner is to go hunting and then proudly present you with a dead boar. Boar-on-a-spit takes forever to cook, so get your knight out of that tabard and prepare to wile away at least eight hours until dinner’s ready.

Your Date: Scottish highlander (Jamie Fraser from Outlander, any hero from Eliza Knight’s “Stolen Bride” series)

Och, the romance of a man in a kilt! There will be heather on this date, and there will be a picnic lunch overlooking some mist-shrouded loch. There will be the moment when your Highlander looks tenderly into your eyes as he slowly, sensuously, slices open the turgid stomach sac to release the steaming mass of haggis onto your plate. And knowing the weather patterns of the Scottish highlands, there will probably be rain. But he’s got that plaid for a reason, so wrap yourself up in it and get cozy. And hope this date doesn’t end all Braveheart with somebody getting hanged, drawn, and quartered.


Renaissance Man (Elizabeth Loupas’s Duke of Ferrara, Sara Poole’s Cesare Borgia)

Glory be, a man whose dream date is an art gallery! Your Renaissance man truly is a man for all seasons–he’ll take you to see those new Pinturicchio frescoes and talk knowledgeably about poetry, science, sculpture, warfare, and politics–and he’ll do it in a variety of languages, too. Post-gallery, expect a summer cena under the arched loggias: grilled sea bass in a truffles-and-caviar sauce, a strawberry and elderflower crostata, and wine chilled in snow. You’ll be serenaded by a choir of six sweet-voiced children who turn out (surprise!) to be your date’s various illegitimate offspring. Just in case a marriage proposal follows dinner, you should know that Renaissance men (at least in Italy) will expect you to raise the mistress’s kids as well as your own.


Your Date: Regency Man (Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy, Captain Wentworth, Mr. Knightly, Colonel Brandon . . .)

One thing you may be certain of: Regency Man will not present you with a dead boar on your date. No, your afternoon will involve a drive in his new barouche-landau so that the ton may admire your new spencer and his new cravat, followed by cards at Almack’s (if he is racy) and then a ball (brush up on your minuet figures, as the waltz is still considered shocking). Regency Man may polish his boots with champagne like Beau Brummell, but don’t be fooled by fancy dress–inquire closely as to his prospects. If he is a single gentleman in possession of a good fortune, not to mention a large estate in Darbyshire, then by all means, latch on. Or at least tip him in a lake so you can watch him wade out in his wet shirt.


And on that note, Happy Valentine’s Day!

Your Valentine’s Day Date: Modern Man or Medieval Man?

Once again, February 14th approacheth and with it The Choice: wangle a romantic evening with your spouse/significant other/person you’re kinda-sorta dating, or curl up with a bag of Baby Ruth bars and your favorite fictional knight-in-shining-armor. Last year on this blog I took that topic and ran with it: how does Valentine’s Day with a knight in shining armor actually stack up against Valentine’s Day with your typical 21st century dude? I know which side of the question I came down on, but this year I want to ask you: Modern Man, or Medieval Man? To help you decide, here are the criteria from last year’s blog post . . .


The Meet And Greet
You meet Modern Man through, laying eyes on him for the first time after a lot of text-messaging. You meet Medieval Man through an arranged marriage, laying eyes on him for the first time at the altar. Your parents have at least had the chance to vet Medieval Man already for financial stability, healthy bloodlines, and future job prospects – leaves you no defense against a guy who described himself as “tall red-haired financier,” but who turns out in person to be a 5’2 bank teller with Ronald McDonald hair. On the other hand, weddings are stressful enough without scanning the line of groomsmen on your way down the aisle, and trying to figure out which one is your future husband.

The Clothes
Modern Man shows up for the big Valentine’s Day date in a suit; Medieval Man shows up in a suit of armor. This one comes down to personal preference: do you drool more over George Clooney in “Ocean’s Eleven,” or Viggo Mortensen in “Lord of the Rings”?

The Personal Hygiene
Medieval Man bathes once a week if he’s fastidious, and has never heard of dental floss. Modern Man has deodorant, toothpaste, electric razor, and breath mints . . . but he also waxes his back, self-tans, wears four different products in his hair, and talks knowledgeably about the difficulty of finding a shade of plum to flatter “Summer” skin tones.

The Job
Modern Man works nine-to-five at an office compiling Excel spreadsheets and filling out TPS reports. Medieval Man spends his days building up serious muscle as he hulks ninety pounds of armor and a fifteen-foot lance around on regional wars. On the other hand, Modern Man at least comes home at nights whereas Medieval Man might head off on Crusade and not come home for years.

The Politics
An old Obama ’08 “Yes We Can!” bumper sticker for Modern Man; a solid pro-church, pro-torture, pro-witch-burning stance for Medieval Man. Ladies who practice Wicca, consider carefully.

The Ride
Modern Man picks you up for the big V-Day date in a nice shiny car with leather seats. Medieval Man gallops up on a horse with a flowing tabard.

The Romantic Getaway
Modern Man takes you to a three-star restaurant with candles and waiters. Medieval Man takes you to a castle in Castile with torches and troubadours. The Castilian view will definitely be better, but please bear in mind that castles don’t have flush toilets.

The Food
On a date with Modern Man, you will get a pasta dinner with wine, and something chocolatey for dessert. Medieval Man will go hunting and proudly present you with a dead boar. Overseeing the skinning, butchering, spit-roasting, and serving of the boar will be entirely up to you. And chocolate hasn’t been discovered yet.

The Conversation
Modern Man will bore you to death with the details of his golf handicap, his fantasy football league, or his latest score in World of Warcraft. Medieval Man will talk all night about his warhorse’s shoeing requirements, his last blow-by-blow tourney victory, and how to clean the rust off chain mail. Do we have a tie?

The Gifts
A modern Valentine’s Day date with Modern Man will probably net you a bouquet of flowers, a box of chocolates, and maybe a little velvet box containing tasteful diamond studs. Medieval Man will toss you a lapful of diamond necklaces and emerald rings: loot from all the plundering he did during the Hundred Years War. Just don’t ask to see the sales slip.

The Check
Medieval Man digs into his wallet without a word of protest when the check comes–it’s the least he can do, since you have no vote and no job. Modern Man might throw down a Black Card, ask you to go dutch, or cover the check but get offended later if you don’t offer nudity in repayment.

The Trouble
On the way home, your date’s convertible/horse breaks down. A group of Hell’s Angels/French mercenaries start hassling you. Modern Man whips out his cell phone and hopes he has 911 on speed-dial. Medieval Man whips out his broadsword and hopes they give him a good fight before the heads start to roll and the survivors flee for their lives.

The Sex
Valentine’s Day sex . . . probably the most subjective category here. Has Modern Man relied on locker rooms or stolen Cosmos for his sex advice? Does Medieval Man take the priests seriously when they tell him no sex on Fridays, feast days and religious holidays, and no woman-on-top sex of any kind? Maybe the deciding issue should be birth control: Modern Man may not want to wear condoms, but at least he can’t use the excuse that they haven’t been invented yet. The only thing to save you from having a yearly kid with Medieval Man is a nice long Crusade.

The Day After
Will he commit on February 15th? Medieval Man: Yep. You met him at your wedding, remember? Modern Man: much more doubtful. But if he does, and things go wrong, at least you can divorce him. Medieval Man, not so much–though with the Black Plague and all those French mercenaries running around, odds are much better you’ll end up a widow.

For myself, I come down on the side of the knights in shining armor . . . with just a few small tweaks in the areas of personal hygiene and birth control. But what about you – Modern Man, or Medieval Man? Let’s poll the results!

And whether you will be spending this Valentine’s Day with John of Gaunt from Anya Seton’s “Katherine” or with your very own 21st century knight in shining armor, Happy Valentine’s Day.