In my novel, Burning Embers, the male protagonist, Rafe, uses a number of terms of endearment when speaking to his lover Coral – my darling, my sweet, my love. But the most prevalent, and the most fitting in terms of her character, is ‘rosebud’.
To the non-British reader, this may seem an odd choice of word. But ‘rosebud’ in fact makes perfect sense as a description for Coral. She is a young girl who is becoming a beautiful woman; she is the rosebud who is blossoming into the quintessential English rose.
But what is the English rose? The term has come to mean a beautiful, feminine woman of English birth. She is likely slender and fair with pink cheeks and a pale complexion. Often, when thinking of an English rose we think back to bygone eras – to the heroines in Brontë and Austen.
The rose is deeply symbolic in England. It is a beautiful flower, of course, but its hardiness and thorns encapsulate the indomitable spirit of the English through history.
Roses have long been cultivated in English soil; they are the essential flower in any English country garden. I have many different varieties in the gardens around my home in Kent. Roses are so loved in the UK that one of the honours we impart on those we revere is to name a rose after the person – so, for example, we have the Churchill Rose, the Queen Elizabeth Rose, the Princess Diana Rose and the William Shakespeare Rose.
The rose is also the national flower of England. So called the Tudor or Union Rose, the symbol originates from the Wars of the Roses (1455–1485), during which the houses of Lancaster and York fought for the English throne. The Lancaster emblem was a red rose, and York’s was a white rose. When Henry Tudor won his battle against Richard III to take the throne, ending the wars, he married Elizabeth of York, so uniting the factions, and he designed the Tudor Rose to incorporate both the red and white roses.
Such an important symbol, the rose appears throughout the poetry, verse and prose of classic English writers like William Blake, William Shakespeare, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Keats, William Wordsworth, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning, to name but a few. Every child in an English playground will at some point chant the rhyme ‘Roses are red, violets are blue’, which is thought to have originated from the line ‘She bath’d with roses red, and violets blew’ in Edmund Spenser’s 1590 work, The Faerie Queen.
I will leave you then, with a celebration of the rose from one of my favourite English poets: Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Song of the Rose
If Zeus chose us a King of the flowers in his mirth,
He would call to the rose and would royally crown it,
For the rose, ho, the rose! is the grace of the earth,
Is the light of the plants that are growing upon it.
For the rose, ho, the rose! is the eye of the flowers,
Is the blush of the meadows that feel themselves fair, –
Is the lightning of beauty, that stikes through the bowers
On pale lovers who sit in the glow unaware.
Ho, the rose breathes of love! ho, the rose lifts the cup
To the red lips of Cypris invoked for a guest!
Ho, the rose, having curled its sweet leaves for the world,
Takes delight in the motion its petals keep up,
As they laugh to the Wind as it laughs from the west.