The Tudor Rose

Historian Elena Brown on rivalries between the White Rose and the Red Rose, and the heraldic badges of the English aristocracy

WTFact | September 27, 2016

What it is

A rose with red and white petals is the Tudor dynasty’s heraldic emblem (1485-1603). In the XV-XVI centuries symbols and emblems were very popular. Every English nobleman used one or few images as some kind of identification mark. Heraldic emblems used to adorn almost everything, ranging from nobleman’s personal banner to his housewares. Every wedded pair had his personal sign combining marrieds’ symbols. That’s exactly the way the Tudor rose appeared. In 1486 the founder of the House of Tudor, Henry VII, married king Eduard IV’s daughter (1461-1470; 1471-1483). Tudors traced their genealogy to the House of Lancaster. The latter had a red rose as his symbol. Eduard IV’s favorite emblem was also a rose, but a white one. Red-and-white rose signified a union between Henry VII and Elisabeth of York.

What scientists think about it

Tudor rose is interesting, because it evolved from its initial purpose to the symbol of the whole dynasty. This exotic flower can be considered as a brilliant example of the graphic propaganda. During previous thirty years (period, known as the Wars of the Roses) the throne of England was divided by the House of Yorks and the House of Lancaster. Henry VII’s court historians described those years as a terrible and bloody period. According to their version, the marriage of Henry and Elizabeth united two conflicting dynasties and thereby put an end to the rivalries. Henry VIII Tudor and Elizabeth I continued to take advantage of this idea, emphasizing that the Tudors literally saved England, gave it its peace, calm and prosperity.

Why one should know about it

It is worth studying the history of the Tudor rose at least to understand that there are so much politics and so surprisingly little truth about it. Firstly, the White and the Red Roses were not the common symbols of the House of Yorks and the House of Lancaster, they were used just from time to time along with the others. Secondly, the idea underlying the Wars of the Roses is very far from being true. At that time people were not thinking about the period from 1450 to 1480th as of the confrontation between two Roses. Probably they did not even know that they were living during the period of a civil war. Plenty of frightening details were just invented by the court propagandists in order to support the reputation of the new dynasty. In the course of time, the legend of the War of the Roses has accumulated more and more details. Shakespeare has created the scene in which the House of Yorks has chosen the White rose as their symbol, while the Red was chosen by the House of Lancaster and both have sworn to hold these flowers ’till the death. The expression “War of the Roses” has appeared much later – in the 19th century. And it’s interesting to know that it has been spread not by a historian but by a writer –  famous Walter Schott.

So, the Tudor rose when studied more closely appears not just as an emblem of a dynasty – she contains all the ideological program. Nowadays this flower is perceived as one of the symbols of England. Today we willingly buy souvenirs with the Tudor rose, use the expression “War of the Roses” and in that way we confirm again and again a familiar expression saying that the history is written by the victors.

PhD, Associate professor at Russian State University for the Humanities, Department of History
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