"York was white, Lancaster red"

Linda asked, why is the red rose of Lancashire red? Not a simple question really because like so many emblems and badges of societies, clubs and countries, the origins of these emblems are often hidden and embedded in many complex and sometimes contradictory variables.

The red rose has for a long time, throughout history and literature, been associated with love and passion but also religion and fidelity. As far back as the ancient Greeks, ancient mythology claimed that the red rose sprang from the blood of Adonis, the lover of Venus. A little later, in Renaissance times, we can also encounter certain secret esoteric fraternities. One existed called the ‘Rosicrucians’ (rosy cross) in early 17th C Europe. Their symbol was a red rose on a cross and their beliefs were a mixture of ancient and Egyptian writings said to contain hidden truths. Then, as late as 1949, the Football Association, who incidentally reside at Lancaster Gate, decided to add 10 red rosettes to the football banner of England and naturally today red roses are associated with Valentine’s day and endearment.

Not surprisingly flowers are used as national emblems throughout the world, probably because of their natural beauty and also because of their pertinent local prevalence and relevance. In the UK alone, the Thistle is the emblem of Scotland, the Daffodil of Wales and the Clover of Ireland. The Lancashire rose, the exact species, or cultivas, is termed Rosa Gallica, became the heraldic badge of the House of Lancaster and was first utilised as such by John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster, 1340-1399, somewhere in the mid 14th C. Without wishing to get into the complexity of the Wars of the Roses, John was the third surviving son of King Edward III and his younger brother, Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York, 1341-1402, adopted the white rose as his symbol in the same century. As family dissension rose and the lords of England chose sides, the two ‘houses’ or descendants proceeded to squabble for the right to rule. The battle of Towton in March 1461, between Edward IV (Yorks) and Margaret of Anjou (Lancs), would result in the grisly claim to the most English dead, approx. 40,000, ever killed on English soil, an assertion sometimes disputed. Interestingly enough, neither side actually used the roses as their sole emblem during the wars and the combatting forces were associated more and more with these symbols after 1485.

Shakespeare’s famous quote, ‘in the battle for England’s head - York was white, Lancaster red’, is probably what and how many school students learn today of this period of history but to answer Linda’s question we can only answer that; the red rose was already an emblem of revered beauty and fascination by mid-14th C England and only John of Gaunt probably knows the answer to why he chose it has is symbol. Either way Linda, we’re kinda of glad that he did and we think it still looks ace and better than all the rest! Don’t you?

Peter John Fyles

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