Valentine's day letters and cards from 1850s unearthed

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A collection of Valentine letters and cards sent to a relative of the present day Duchess of Kent during the 1850s have been unearthed in a county records office.

The 22 illustrated Valentines were sent by would-be suitors to Catherine Worsley, daughter of Sir William Worsley of Hovingham, in the 1850s.

Three generations of the family later, Katharine Worsley, married into Royalty and is now the Duchess of Kent.

Catherine was considered to be one of the most eligible and lovely women of her day.

The letters and cards are in the form of poems, sonnets and stories, decorated 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.

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