What is a Tudor Rose?

July 25, 2018

If you’re in England, you see them everywhere.  The Tudor Rose is an incredibly prevalent image in political and historical iconography. From Hampton Court Palace to the local pub sign, Tudor Roses can be found on architecture, signage, heraldry --  if you just look, you’ll see them everywhere.

 

 

If you are at all interested in early modern England (from the mid-15th century, right after the War of the Roses through the mid-18th century, right before industrialization), you will have come across the motif of a Tudor Rose.  

 

Where you won’t find them is in nature.  This little flower is entirely allegorical -- there was never any actual flower that represents this visual hybrid.  But this lovely double layered rose represents a massive political shift in English politics and history.

 

Roses have been a symbol of beauty and love in many different cultures. And remember, our modern rose is a hybrid creation from the Victorian Era (mid-19th century).  The original rose is a much simpler, five-petaled flower.

 

 

During the aptly named “War of the Roses,” two competing branches of the ruling family (Lancasters and Yorks) fought each other for control of the crown.  The heraldic symbol of the Lancastrian family is the five-petaled red rose:

 

 

 

And the heraldic symbol of the York side is the five-petaled white rose:

 

At the end of the war, Richard III (of York) was slain and the crown was taken by Henry Tudor (a Lancastrian).  In order to legitimize his claim to the crown and ensure a political accord, Henry married the Yorkist princess Elizabeth -- a white rose, as it were. The new Tudor dynasty needed an equally powerful symbol and the “Tudor Rose” was born: a white rose drawn atop a red rose.  And to cement the regime change, this new allegorical rose was propagated everywhere -- woodworking, painting, illumination, windows, stonework, and embroidery.

 

 

 

 

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