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A true-love story for Valentine's Day - from the archives

[Friday 12 Febuary 2010]

Katie Robinson with some of the Valentines
letters she found in the archive

A collection of exquisite Valentine letters and cards sent to one of the most sought-after women in Victorian high society has been unearthed in the North Yorkshire County Records Office. The Valentines were sent by would-be suitors to Catherine Worsley, daughter of Sir William Worsley of Hovingham, in the 1850s.

Catherine, whose descendant Katharine Worsley married into Royalty and is now the Duchess of Kent, was considered to be one of the most eligible and lovely women of her day. The twenty two illustrated Valentines demonstrate what a catch she was thought to be.

They take the form of poems, sonnets and stories, beautifully illustrated with watercolour and pen and ink sketches. Cupid's hearts and merging family crests depict the serious romantic business of courtship, while others attempt to woo her with domestic scenes of marital bliss to come. One admirer wrote: 'I'll gratify your slightest wish, whether t'were small or great, say the word at once you're heard, my pretty pretty Kate.'

Some of Catherine's wooers use humour to steer her away from rivals, while another wrote: 'I'm ugly I know, but I'll presently show, that I really am not to be sneezed at.'

The correspondence provides a glimpse into Victorian courtship and romantic practises, but also the events taking place in the 1850s; one admirer mentioned being sent to Crimea in his letter. Even the fashions and hobbies of the day are represented in the sketches and watercolour images painted round the messages in many of the letters.

Catherine eventually married her cousin, George Allanson Cayley, in 1859, who urged her in his letter to "Keep your kisses all for me." They went on to have three children.

The Valentines were unearthed by Katie Robinson, a Record Assistant at the County Records Office, while she was carrying out some research on a different family for the BBC television programme Who Do You Think You Are?

"These wonderful Valentines are charming and fascinating in their own right," said County Councillor Chris Metcalfe, Executive Member for North Yorkshire County Council's Adult and Community Services.

"But as well as telling a charming Valentine's Day story, they also illustrate the wealth of material about family history held in the County Record Office – a marvellous resource which is available to all."

The Valentine letters are on display to the public at the North Yorkshire County Record Office. For more infofmation, visit www.northyorks.gov.uk/archives

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