The red rose, or Tudor rose as it is also known, is the national flower of England and is regarded as a symbol of hope, prosperity and unity.
Today, however, it’s probably better known as the emblem of the English rugby team. It has lain prominently on the England rugby jersey since their first fixture against Scotland in 1871, and now serves to evoke pride and patriotism amongst rugby fans throughout the country.
But does anyone actually know why the England rugby rose was adopted over the ‘more traditional’ and indeed battle hardened three lions, which derived from the royal coat of arms carried into battle by English Kings?
Well, in truth, nobody knows the true reason, it’s regarded as a casualty of history, but there are a few mooted explanations – some perhaps more likely than others.
The story behind the first reason dates back to 1485 and the battle of Bosworth when the red rose of the House of Lancaster was pitted against the white rose of the House of York.
It was the penultimate battle in the 32 year civil war, also referred to as the War of the Roses, and its conclusion signalled the end of the Middle Ages in England. It also led to the marriage between Henry VII (House of Lancaster) and Elizabeth (House of York) and, the creation of a red and white rose – a new symbol of peace.
The red and white rose has in fact recently been adopted by Visit England. Although the red and white rose subsequently became symbolic with royalty, ensuing monarchs continued to be associated with just the red rose because they were descended from the House of Lancaster.
Some think the England rugby team therefore, almost incorrectly, adopted the red rose as a sign of loyal patriotism to their monarch and indeed country.
The second reason involves a man called Lawrence Sheriff. Lawrence Sheriff was a London grocer during the reign of King Henry VIII and was eventually elected to the ‘Worshipful Company of Grocers’, a great privilege in the day, which led to him becoming grocer to many of the upper classes, including Princess (later Queen) Elizabeth.
As well as amassing a vast fortune during his career, he was eventually presented with a coat of arms by Elizabeth I who also allowed him to use her red rose on his own family crest.
When Lawrence passed away, his will stipulated that his money should be used to found a school to educate the children in his home town of Rugby and Brownsover.
Rugby School, which gave its name to the sport when William Webb Ellis first picked up a football on the sports field and ran with it, subsequently based its coat of arms on that of Lawrence Sheriff, and so the red rose ended up on the Rugby School crest.
It’s a known fact that the white kit worn by England is taken from the kit used at Rugby School, so it’s not unrealistic to think that the England rugby rose was also taken from the school crest as a badge.
The third and final possible reason dates back to the first ever rugby union international match between England and Scotland in 1871. Of the group of players who selected the first England side, two came from clubs in Lancashire (Liverpool and Manchester), and therefore opted to use the red rose of Lancaster as an emblem of the national team.
Although somewhat plausible, it is highly unlikely that the other members of the selection committee would have agreed to such an obviously regional emblem being used on the national jersey.
Whichever story you choose to, or would like to believe, it’s true that various versions of the England rugby rose appeared on shirts up until 1920, when Alfred Wright, an RFU employee, standardised the use of the rose used on all jerseys.
His design stayed as the national team’s emblem up until 1998 when Nike became the official strip sponsor and the rose was modernised as part of an update of the RFU’s overall corporate branding. The result was the rose which we all know and love today.
The rose was also centre stage for the recent world cup launch event for the England rugby team, which aptly took the name ‘Wear the Rose’ and spawned the hashtag #weartherose. The London Silver Company have a range of England Rugby Rose products available.