The History of The Red Rose
“Roses are red,
violets are blue”
“why do we say this?”
“I haven’t a clue!”
Everyone knows what a red rose symbolises. From stories to films to retail campaigns, we are bombarded with messages that tell us the red rose is a signifier for romance, perfection, delicacy, beauty and LOVE. But why? How did the red rose garner its romantic reputation? In this post, we pick apart the history of the rose’s association with love. If you’re thinking of sending your valentine roses this year, we’ll unravel the tangled thorns of history and tell you why you should:
The Rose Itself
The rose is an ancient specimen. In fact, there is fossil evidence to suggest that the rose is 35 million years old. That’s a whole lot of time to evolve into the sweet smelling, thorny perfection we know today.
The rose is naturally enchanting in this way: guarded with its thorns, but with a stunning beauty and sweet smell that surpasses any other plant. For this reason, humans have always been drawn to the flower (especially in the smellier times – sans deodorant). It is thought its cultivation began 5000 years ago in China, where the flowers were grown and made into valuable perfume and antiseptic medicines. From there, roses travelled along the silk road over to the Middle East and Europe to enchant everyone there too.
Timeline of The Rose and its Meaning
The lasting legacy of the red rose embedded itself through a number of enduring tales throughout history, each one symbolic of its cultural significance to society at the time.
Here’s our short history of nearly everything (rosey version):
800 BC – The Greek myth of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, is said to have been inspired by the Mesopotamian goddess “Ishtar” or “Inanna”. Legend goes that, as she rushed to the side of her slain lover, Adonis, she cut her foot on the thorns of a white rose bush, turning all of the roses red with her blood.
200 BC – During the Roman festival of Rosalia, red roses were scattered on the graves of the dead as a symbol of the fleetingness and beauty of life. Romans also painted red roses on the ceiling in meeting rooms as a symbol of secrecy.
40 BC – Cleopatra carpeted her boudoir with mounds of rose petals in her seduction of Mark Antony
33 AD – Jesus wears a crown of thorns during his crucifixion.
300 AD – Symbolism proliferates in art, churches and poems depicting Mary as a “Rose without thorns”.
800 AD – A typical feature in the lyric of a Persian Ghazal is how the beauty of a red rose provokes the song of the nightingale. The nightingale’s desperate love song is an allegory for the poet’s pining for his lover and thorns on the stem represent the pain he feels in love.
1400s AD – The House of Lancaster in England takes the red rose as its emblem in a time when symbols could speak louder than words. At the end of the “War of the roses” Henry VII married Elizabeth of York of the white rose faction, bringing their two symbols together to form the Tudor rose, uniting the houses romantically and symbolically.
1600 AD – William Shakespeare writes a line in Romeo and Juliet that will be canonised for ever more
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
1780 AD – Robert Burns writes “O my luve is like a red, red rose”
1850 AD – The Victorians adopted flowers as a way to convey messages. Floriography or the “language of flowers” was used by the Victorians to communicate in a time when openly speaking about some subjects was frowned upon. The delivery of a red rose in this language of course represented romantic interest.
By tracing the rose’s journey through history, it is clear to see why it is one of the most enduring symbols of all time. Our attachment to it as a romantic symbol has been culturally produced and replicated over millennia.
Nothing says “I love you” quite like a red rose.
When gifting a rose to your loved one this year, know the power of the symbol. For it is one that has been used again and again, by men and women in the throws of passion, to describe the indescribable better than words ever can.
Please note our extended opening hours over Valentines
Tuesday 12th: 9am – 6pm
Wednesday 13th: 9am – 9pm
Thursday 14th: 7.30am – 6.30pm
To browse our valentines collection, click here