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The Wars of the Roses… It Isn’t Over Yet!

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The Wars of the Roses…  It Isn’t Over Yet!

With the media interest in The Wars of the Roses at an all time high and the newly re-found King Richard III set to become as famous as King Henry VIII,  red and white roses are now going to be more popular than ever in British gardens…

But what were the red and white roses of Lancaster and York? Did they actually exist?.. What remains of their heritage?…

Well they did and still do exist and we can all own a little piece of history in our gardens!

But who will you support?… The House of York or the House of Lancaster.

Rosa x Alba

Rosa x Alba





The White Rose of York

The York rose is called Rosa x alba ‘Semiplena’ and was the house of York’s emblem from the 1300’s. So by the time Richard III used it in the War of the Roses, it had already asserted itself as belonging well and truly to the Yorks.

Today it is still available and is well worth a space in your garden. It is a tall shrub reaching about 6ft and can be grown as either a shrub or a short climber. It has very fragrant pure white semi double flowers that were used in ancient times to create the highly desirable ‘attar of roses’ but like all old roses, it doesn’t repeat flower. A descendant of Rosa canina, the humble dog rose, it has the same large rosehips and grey green foliage. A beautiful, tough rose and a fantastic way to remember the amazing events of Richard III’s discovery and re-internment!

Rosa Gallica Officinalis

Rosa gallica var. Officinalis

The Red Rose of Lancaster

The red rose of Lancaster is thought to be Rosa gallica var. officinalis. However there is some question as to whether the red rose of Lancaster wasn’t just a response by Henry VII to the existing white rose of York… A PR campaign matching his power to the House of York and also enabling him to signify his dominance further after his marriage to Elizabeth of York by creating the Tudor rose – a dynamic emblem of the unity of both roses in a world where symbolism meant far more than words…

Whatever really happened a red rose did end up being the Lancaster emblem and it was Rosa gallica var. officinalis. This rose is still available today and is also known as the Apothecary’s rose. Since the early fifteenth century it has been used in medicine and was famous in its own right before the War of the Roses.

It makes a really stunning shrub for the garden and although only flowering once a year, when it does, you will know about it! The flowers smother the shrub and when the sun warms them, give off a truly beautiful old rose fragrance. A really tough and dependable shrub that you can’t help but love.

So have you made up your mind or still can’t decide?

Well how about combining them both and going for…

 Rosa gallica  var. Officinalis ‘Versicolor’

Rosa gallica var. Officinalis ‘Versicolor’

Rosa gallica  var. Officinalis ‘Versicolor’ aka Rosa Mundi

This stunning rose is thought to be a possible natural mutation of the Apothecary’s rose but I like to think that it was created by an unassuming gardener crossing the Apothecary’s rose with Rosa x alba in Henry VII’s time as a celebration of the unification of the York and Lancastrian houses. .. But that is probably a bit farfetched.

The first recorded mention of Rosa mundi wasn’t until 1583 but the stories go way further back than that. Legend has it that Rosa mundi was named after Henry II’s secret mistress, Rosamund Clifford. She was known as ‘The Rose of the World’ and that’s what ‘Rosa mundi’ means in Latin. Rosamund was said to have been murdered by Henry II’s jealous wife, Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine by means of poison. After Rosamund’s death, Henry and her family put an endowment in place for her tomb to be attended by nuns who were to place Rosa mundi blooms on her tomb upon each anniversary of her death. This legend however only becomes talked about in the 1500’s  – three hundred and fifty years after the event.

Another lovely story is of Rosa mundi being Anne Boleyn’s favourite rose – planted at Sudely Castle to commemorate a visit by her and Henry VIII and later walked by and enjoyed by Katherine Parr and her protégé, Lady Jane Grey.

With such conflicting datelines it’s hard to know where to place Rosa Gallica var. ‘Versicolor’ in history but a good guess would be the late 1400’s to early 1500’s. Perhaps it was discovered in the 1500’s and then named after Rosamund by some romantic soul!

So if you want a rose with majesty and mystery, Rosa mundi is the rose for you! Again it only flowers once but like the Apothecary’s rose, it becomes smothered in its radiant blooms – and their gentle perfume is like nothing you have ever smelt before – you can imagine ladies in heavy Tudor gowns stopping to smell these amazing blooms in the heat of a midsummer afternoon!

If you only have room for one rose – then I suggest a coalition and to go with Rosa mundi! Its history – its mystery and its beauty are reasons enough for it to earn pride of place in any garden.



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