Henry III and Eleanor of Provence are among the most romantic of royal couples, but thanks to them Valentine’s Day is an important date in history for another reason. On this day in 1254, Eleanor dispatched a writ ordering local elections to be held for Parliament. This is the first time on record that democracy factored into the evolution of constitutional government. Unlike Simon de Montfort, who generally gets credit for these things, Eleanor was no populist appealing to the masses. She was then the regent of the kingdom – the king having gone abroad to Gascony to clean up the mess there left behind by none other than Simon de Montfort – and had summoned Parliament to win approval of a special aid (tax) for her husband, who was facing war with nearby Castile. In Parliament the lords told her they were willing to help, but copped out by refusing to speak for the local baronage and clergy. This forced Eleanor to order the sheriffs to have two knights elected from their respective counties for the purpose of coming to Westminster to discuss the aid with her. In the end a peace treaty averted the war and the experiment with democracy wasn’t repeated in her lifetime. The writs to the sheriffs had started going out three days earlier, enclosed is the one to Hertfordshire dated 14 February 1254.