The White Rose of York & other roses

“To Summon the Spectre of a Rose”

Those Ricardians who are also rosarians might enjoy growing the roses associated with the fratricidal Plantagenent wars. Others may simply enjoy learning a little about the Red Rose of Lancaster, the White Rose of York, the rose called York and Lancaster, the “Tudor Rose,” and the Jacobite Rose associated with both the White Rose of York and the illfated Roman Catholic Stuarts.


The Red Rose of Lancaster

Also known as the Apothecary Rose, rosa gallica officinalis originally came from “the Land of the Saracens” to Provins in France when Thibault Le Chansonnier returned from the Crusades. Rose breeder David Austin in Old Roses and English Roses placed it “among the very finest of garden shrubs of any kind.” Its light crimson petals surround prominent golden stamens.



The White Rose of York

“In every way a first class garden shrub,” according to Austin, alba semi-plena displays large and very fragrant white flowers. For many decades, Bulgarians producing attar of roses have grown it for its rose oil.

York and Lancaster

While the Red Rose of Lancaster is a gallica and the White Rose of York is an alba, York and Lancaster is a damask rose. The flowers of this untidy shrub [rosa damascena versicolor] span the color possibilities: pink, white, white flecks on pink, pink flecks on white. The fable that named this rose alleges that Lancaster took a red rose from it, and York took a white.



The “Tudor Rose”

To quote Ricardian Webmaster Laura Blanchard, “the Tudor Rose grows only on paper, parchment, and stone.” Never a real rose, but instead an artistic and political emblem intended to disguise the flimsy royal lineage of the Tudors, the Tudor Rose superimposed the Yorkist White Rose upon the Lancastrian Red.


The Jacobite Rose

A sport of the White Rose of York, alba maxima displays great double flowers that change from blush pink to white. Gardeners have associated it with the 18th-century attempts of James Francis Edward Stuart, the Old Pretender, and Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Young Pretender, to assert their valid but doomed claims to the throne of Great Britain.



If I think of a king at nightfall
Of three men, and more, on the scaffold
And a few who died forgotten
In other places, here and abroad,
And of one who died blind and quiet,
Why should we celebrate
These dead men more than the dying?
It is not to ring the bell backward
Nor is it an incantation
To summon the spectre of a Rose.
We cannot revive old factions
We cannot restore old policies
Or follow an antique drum.
These men, and those who opposed them
And those whom they opposed
Accept the constitution of silence
And are folded in a single party.
–T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”

Ed. Note: Vintage roses have grown in popularity in recent years and can be purchased from many local and mail order nurseries.