The History of the English Rose
The History of the English Rose

The term ‘the Wars of the Roses’ wasn’t used until after 1829 when Sir Walter Scott referenced it in Anne of Geierstein. The end of the Wars of the Roses came when Henry V11 was named king of England. By marrying Elizabeth of York, he combined two roses and two dynasties, which gave birth to the Tudor Rose, which was red and white. This was later called “the flower of England” and is now the national flower.

The ancient world

Going back even further, the same symbolism and veneration surrounded the rose and there was a focus on its moral associations, along with its powers to seduce. The ancient world was no stranger to the scent of roses. Its petals were scattered on the dinner table, on the bed, or on the floor, rose water was popular in food and for cosmetic use, and rose oil was used as a medicine, breath sweetener, and perfume. The Romans used roses to wreathe tombs and to give to the statues of the gods.

The rose was special both to Vends and Aphrodite. The Birth of Venus, the 15th-century painting from Botticelli, shows the subject showered in pink roses. However, the Romans used symbolism in a more complex manner. The rose had a big part to play in the Rosalia, a Roman feast designed to remember those who had passed. The custom of having a rose hang overhead (or a carving or painting of one on the ceiling) in secret meetings was meant to remind everyone in attendance that they weren’t allowed to discuss or repeat anything said at the meeting. These meetings are today described as sub rosa (under the rose). This practice became more widespread under Henry V111, and even today we see carvings of roses into ceilings.

The queen of flowers

The rose has retained a reputation as the queen of flowers over the centuries, with new meanings and varieties having evolved over that time. The Romantics adored the rose and created a sophisticated language of flowers with new symbolism. adding numerous layers to the various styles and colours of roses. However, it was red roses that stood out from the others to become the symbol of transience, sexual love, and beauty that we know it to be today. Among the more famous English language poems about the rose was a poem called Go, Lovely Rosemaries, written by politician and poet Edward Waller, which Roger Quilter later added music to. It was written about an unrequited love for the beautiful and intelligent Lady Dorothy Sidney.

The queen of flowers
The queen of flowers

The red rose is now such a symbol for romantic love that it has become something of a cliché, while the white rose and the lily are still seen as symbols of purity, grace, and innocence. Yet, within the scented petals of this revered flower lie hundreds of years of fascinating stories and meaning. Even in a century as cynical as this one, roses delight us whenever we see, read, or hear about them- in song, art, poetry, or in our garden.