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In Love and War: The King of Chocolate and St. Valentine’s Day

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**”For this was on Seynt Valentynes day

Whan every foul cometh there to chese his make,

Of every kynde that men thynke may…”

-Chaucer, Parliament of Fowles

Chocolate bar featuring Carlos V, aka Charles V / image courtesy of Ismael Aguilar Ruiz
Chocolate bar featuring Carlos V, aka Charles V / image courtesy of Ismael Aguilar Ruiz


To go into this nice swirl of chocolate and Valentine’s Day, I think we have to go down memory lane a bit.  There’s some history and some cultural notes, but I promise we’ll eventually get to some legal stuff.

St. Valentine

Because Valentine was a saint, we should look to hagiographies, which will tell us about the lives of saints.  The Golden Legend (Aurea Legenda) is a compilation of hagiographical manuscripts by the 13th century chronicler Jacopo di Viraggio (aka Jacobus de Voragine).  It was translated into English—like many other significant works—by William Caxton.  Although there may have been earlier hagiographies, Voragine’s is often considered a sort of bestseller of the late medieval and early modern periods.  In it were captured the lives of saints, hence its original name:  Legenda sanctorum. According to the Golden Legend section on St. Valentine, Valentine was a priest turned martyr, who lived in the 3rd century ACE and was beheaded at the behest of Roman Emperor Claudius II.    Like many texts today, where later editions were published with new material, the Golden Legend contains materials that enhanced the narrative—expanding it, perhaps, to meet the tastes and interests of later peoples.

Some sources, like the Irish Province of the Order of the Carmelites, state that the martyrdom of Valentine took place on February 14, 269 or 270 ACE.  Although, given that many holidays harken back to antiquity, like the tradition of the King Cake, it is likely that this holiday’s roots too rest in the pre-Christian past.  In this case, the likely predecessor would be the Feast of Lupercalia.  Keeping in mind that it is not that one was a substitute for the other; rather, it is syncretism that sets in where the new tradition salvages those most prized or adaptable customs.

Today, as chocolate is probably one of the most popular products consumed on Valentine’s Day, I’d like to turn your attention to that tasty treat and its introduction to the world.

Chocolate and Its King
Charles V, King of Spain and Emperor of Germany, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing right

As one of the most prominent encounters between the Spaniards and the native peoples of the Americas occurred in what is now Mexico, it is not unusual to see that many words that were added to the lexicon of Castile have their origins in Nahuatl and Mayan, the languages of the peoples of this region.  Certainly, Mexico does not have a monopoly on chocolate; however, the recorded history traces the finding of cacao o cocoa to this geographical space.

Many have written about the history of chocolate, its nutritional qualities and its migration; so researchers would be advised to weigh sources with caution.  As many historical notes record the belief that this tasty treat had additional attributes, often associated with the goddess Aphrodite, there may be a link between the overwhelming presence of chocolate and the day dedicated to love.  (A further cultural note:  in many countries, this day is designated the Day of Love and Friendship.)

If you’re familiar with the histories of chocolate, then you may have heard that it was not always the sweet treat we know today.  In fact, it was quite bitter. Although there is some discrepancy about who made it sweet, many sources attribute this to a recommendation made by Hernán Cortés to his sovereign, Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor. (From its origins to today, ingredients may vary from land to land—as you may have read in Clare’s post:  Chocolate, Candy and the Law.)

In British America, cocoa is one of the subjects of the Townshend Acts of 1767, “a series of four acts passed by the British Parliament in an attempt to assert what it considered to be its historic right to exert authority over the colonies through suspension of a recalcitrant representative assembly and through strict provisions for the collection of revenue duties.”

Because of the nutritional values of chocolate, there are documents that include it as an element of rations in times of war.  In fact, one source notes that the “U.S. government included chocolate bars in rations for the Allied Armed Forces during World War II and still provides chocolate to the U.S. Armed Forces.” This is a curious detail, which also takes us back to Charles V, who supposedly had cocoa processed and hidden away for nearly a century but made it an imperial food crop in many of the lands of his realm.

Now, some may have heard that Belgian chocolate is the best, but how does chocolate make it to Belgium?  Well, the history of the realm of Holy Roman Emperor is vast and interesting.  As such, I would invite readers to explore it a bit further.  Briefly, Charles V was the son of Joanna of Castile (Joan the Mad) and Philip I of Habsburg (Philip the Handsome). “As Holy Roman Emperor (r. 1519-56), Charles V ruled a vast European realm and New World empire.  In the Low Countries, he sought […] territorial consolidation.  The addition of Friesland in 1515, Utrecht in 1538, and Gelderland in 1543 brought all the Northern Netherlands under Habsburg rule.  The Pragmatic Sanction of 1549 stipulated that a single heir—Charles, the son of Philip—would inherit a Netherlands united north and south, and a law of 1550 imposed a uniform policy to combat heresy throughout the whole country.” (Paul F. State, A Brief History of the Netherlands p. 37).  To be clear: Charles V (aka Carlos V) was the monarch in power over the realm comprising both of the lands that today are Belgium and Mexico.

The story of chocolate is vast and one that is both bitter and sweet.  Its use in love and war is one that is astounding.  My aim here was not to give you a comprehensive history; rather, I simply wanted to give you a taste of chocolate and its reach.  So until next time, stay warm and have a Happy Valentine’s Day.

**Translation from Middle English:

“For this was on Saint Valentine’s day,

When every fowl comes there his mate to take,

Of every species that men know…”

—Chaucer from Parliament of Fowles


  1. Great article! Good condensing of critical info with fantastic sources make it an interesting read!

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