Rosa York and Lancaster (Rosa damascena var. versicolor): The Damask Rose of Peace for England

by DerdriuMarriner

Lancaster's red rose bearers and York's white rose wearers disagreed. York lost. England's damask roses mix both colors ever since Lancaster's king married York's heiress

Depending upon one of two definitions, the phrase civil war can be a contradiction in terms.
• It does make sense when it describes a government-related conflict.
• It does not make sense when it designates polite hostilities.

Battles generally end with impolite piles of casualties and rude relations between peoples. Victors therefore face challenges in making peaceful unity more palatable than simmering rebellions.
• A super-successful measure involves euphemistically reinventing the past.

For example, it is less shocking and more romantic to view conflicts between rival dynasties in fifteenth-century England as disagreements between royal houses whose purportedly different-colored emblems ultimately merge peacefully into a damask rose variety reconciling red and white on one shrub and even on one flower.


Sir Walter Scott: 1822 oil on canvas portrait by Sir Henry Raeburn (March 4, 1756 – 8 July 1823)

National Galleries of Scotland
National Galleries of Scotland


The phrasing Wars of the Roses comes from Sir Walter Scott’s (August 15, 1771 – September 21, 1832) novel Anne of Geierstein, or The Maiden of the Mist of 1829. It euphemistically evokes Lancastrian and Yorkist rivalries over England’s throne. King Henry IV’s (April 15, 1367 – March 20, 1413) overthrow of his Yorkist cousin, Richard II (January 6, 1367 – February 14, 1400?), generates challenges to:

  • His grandson, Henry VI (December 6, 1421 – May 21/22/23, 1471?), in 1461 and 1471 by Yorkist cousin, Edward IV (April 28, 1442 – April 9, 1483);
  • Edward IV, in 1470 by Henry VI;
  • Richard III (October 2, 1452 – August 22, 1485), in 1485 by Lancastrian cousin, Henry VII (January 28, 1457 – April 21, 1509).


Battle of Towton in North Yorkshire on March 29, 1461 was decisive Yorkist victory in War of Roses: Yorkist Edward, 4th Duke of York (April 28, 1442 – April 9, 1483) displaced Lancastrian King Henry VI (December 6, 1421 – May 21, 1471) as monarch ~

"Henry VI at Towton": 1860 oil on board by William Dyce (September 19, 1806 – February 14, 1864)
Guildhall Art Gallery, London
Guildhall Art Gallery, London


The Edinburgh-born Scots author’s phrasing defers to Henry VI Part 1 by William Shakespeare (April 26, 1564 – April 23, 1616) in 1591.  The history play draws upon the London Temple Church garden in Act II Scene IV. The twelfth-century building’s grounds evoke conflicts involving:

  • Knights Templar;
  • Edward II (April 25, 1284 – September 21, 1327);
  • Knights Hospitaller;
  • Henry VIII (June 28, 1491 – January 28, 1547).

It foretells dynastic troubles through:

  • A lawyer, Richard Plantagenet (September 21, 1411 – December 30, 1460), Vernon, and Warwick (Richard de Beauchamp, January 25?/28?, 1382 – April 30, 1439) choosing York’s white roses;
  • Somerset (Edmund Beaufort, 1406 – May 22, 1455) and Suffolk (William de la Pole, October 16, 1396 – May 2, 1450) selecting Lancastrian red.


White rose (Rosa alba), historic emblem of male descendants of Edmund of Langley, first Duke of York, who acted as Keeper of the Realm for King Richard II ~

"Dukes of York, Gloucester and Ireland dining with Richard II": c.1470- c.1480 half-page miniature, attributed to Master of the Vienna and Copenhagen Toison d’Or
Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts
Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts


The white rose (Rosa alba) historically acts as emblem to male descendants of Edmund of Langley (June 5, 1341 – August 1, 1402), first Duke of York and fourth of Edward III’s (November 13, 1312 – June 21, 1377) five sons. As a representation of Heaven’s Mystical Rose, Our Lady Mary (18 B.C.? – A.D. 41?), it communicates pure acts and intents. But its symbolism does not foredoom that of the red rose (Rosa gallica officinalis?). The red rose historically links just with the House of Lancaster’s first earl, Edmund Crouchback (January 16, 1245 – June 5, 1296), as:

  • Second surviving son of Edward III’s great-grandfather Henry III (October 1, 1207 – November 16, 1272);
  • Stitched cross-wearing Ninth Crusade (1271 – 1272) participant.


The marriage of Henry VII to Elizabeth of York on January 18, 1486 united the Houses of Lancaster and York, respectively. The Tudor rose of red around white center symbolized union of York's white rose with Lancaster's red ~

Double Portrait of Elizabeth of York with White Rose of York and Henry VII: c. 1825 by Sarah Malden, Countess of Essex (c.1761 - January 16, 1838)
Lucy Aikin, Memoirs of the Court of Queen Elizabeth (1825)
Lucy Aikin, Memoirs of the Court of Queen Elizabeth (1825)


Heraldry instead associates red-colored flowers with England’s Tudor-instigated floral emblem. Red-petaled, white-centered roses emerge as Tudor Union roses only with Henry VII’s:

  • Coronation on October 30, 1485;
  • Marriage on January 18, 1486 to Edward IV’s daughter, Elizabeth of York (February 11, 1466 – February 11, 1503);
  • Elizabeth’s coronation as Queen Consort on November 25, 1487;
  • Elizabeth’s delivery of Henry VIII, Margaret (November 28, 1489 – October 18, 1541), and Mary (March 18, 1496 – June 25, 1533).

They thereby jumpstart the third installment in the back-story to England’s historically embattled and subsequently reconciled red roses and white roses: the real-time existence of all-red and all-white roses on one shrub and of mixed red and white patterning on one rose’s petals.


Elizabeth I (September 7, 1533 – March 24, 1603), with Tudor rose depicted, slipped and crowned, above her right shoulder ~

"Pelican Portrait" of Queen Elizabeth I: c.1575 oil on panel by Nicholas Hilliard (c. 1547 – January 7, 1619) ~ According to Hilliard, Elizabeth preferred to be painted outdoors to reduce possibility of shadows.
Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool
Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool


Old mottled and striped candidates abound as York and Lancaster roses. But color-changing damask roses communicate the clearest back-story. The lineage of Rosa damascena var. versicolor recognizably dates back to no later than 1550 - 1551, what with such iconic, signature characteristics and features as:

  • Exhibiting double and semi-double blooms.
  • Expressing petals of pure rose pink and/or pure white;
  • Gathering in clusters of 3 – 5 flowers individually sized at 2.76 inches (7 centimeters);
  • Getting blue- and grey-green, downy, elliptic, lush, soft leaves;
  • Giving off delicious, strong, sweet scents;
  • Growing to heights and spreads/widths of 2.46 - 8.2 feet (0.75 - 2.5 meters);
  • Having an arching, rounded habit;
  • Including prickles and thorns;
  • Tolerating shade despite requiring full sun.


Chromatic chameleon: Rosa 'York and Lancaster'~ white petaled variety

Real Jardín Botánico, Madrid
Real Jardín Botánico, Madrid


Excepting aphids (Aphidoidea family), York and Lancaster damask roses generally attract no pests. They benefit from:

  • Fertile, humus-rich, well-drained soil;
  • Irrigation / precipitation sufficient to keep soil slightly moist;
  • Monthly organic fertilizer treatments during growing seasons.

They cooperate with propagation by:

  • Autumnal hardwood cuttings;
  • Springtime softwood cuttings.

For flowering on old wood during June, they demand:

  • Pruning damaged, dead, diseased, disfiguring branches every year;
  • Thinning old canes by one-half every 2 – 3 years.

They deliver more marketable essential oils and floral waters for bathing and flavoring when petals daily are hand-picked at or before sunrise. Rose oil does not have the 2-phenyl ethanol content which gives damask roses their fresh fragrance. Rose water contrastingly holds it in.


Rosa 'York and Lancaster': closeup of buds, flower, and foliage

open flower with buds
open flower with buds



Intranational and international conflicts appear to be historical norms. It therefore can be refreshing to become acquainted with the back-story to the world’s peace flower, the York and Lancaster damask rose. It likewise can be rewarding to become proficient cultivators of the color-changing rose whose other back-stories bespeak European introductions by Crusaders returning from Damascus, Syria. Damask roses indeed continue to embellish all environments with:

  • Spacing equal to the shrub’s mature height;
  • Soil pH levels between 5.6 and 6.5;
  • Temperatures not exceeding -30°F (-34.4°C) or -- for more than 120 – 150 days -- 86°F (30°C).

Their appearance, fragrance, and taste inject peace and pleasure into the most stressful lives. They never renege on their historic, peace-making heritage.


Rosa 'York and Lancaster': play of light highlights rosy perfection

International Rose Garden (Internationale Rozentuin), Kortrijk, West Flanders Province, northwesern Belgium.
International Rose Garden (Internationale Rozentuin), Kortrijk, West Flanders Province, northwesern Belgium.



My special thanks to:

  • Talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the Internet;
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for superior on-campus and on-line resources.

Sources Consulted


Aikins, Lucy. 1825. Memoirs of the Court of Queen Elizabeth. London : Printed for Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown.

Cairns, Thomas; Young, Marily; Adams, Jolene; and Edberg, Bob. 2000. Modern Roses XI: The World Encyclopedia of Roses. San Diego, CA; San Francisco, CA; New York, NY; Boston, MA; London, England; Sydney, Australia; Tokyo, Japan: Academic Press.

"Edmund of Langley, Duke of York (1341-1402)." Excerpted from Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th edition (1926), Vol. XXVIII.

  • Available at:

Ellis-Christensen, Tricia. "What is Rose Water?" Edited by Niki Foster 11 September 2014. wiseGEEK. Retrieved October 30, 2014.

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Jones, Dan. 2014. The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors, New York: Viking.

Katzer, Gernot. "Rose (Rosa damascena Miller)." Gernot Katzer's Spice Pages. Retrieved October 30, 2014.

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Kitsteiner, John. 6 July 2011. "Hardiness Zones, Heat Zones, and Sunset Zones." Temperature Climate Permaculture. Retrieved October 30, 2014.

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Laurent, Anne. "Botanic Notables: York and Lancaster Rose." Garden Design: Design > Ideas. Retrieved October 30, 2014.

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Phillips, Roger; Rix, Martyn; and Grant, Wiliam A. "Damask: Rosa x damascena versicolor." Rogers Roses: The Roses. London, England: Rogers Plants Ltd. Retrieved October 30, 2014.

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"The Phoenix and the Pelican: Two Portraits of Elizabeth I, c. 1575." National Portrait Gallery > Research > Research Programmes. National Portrait Gallery, London. Web.

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Quest-Ritson, Charles and Brigid. 2003. The American Rose Society Encyclopedia of Roses. London, England; New York, NY; Munich, Germany; Melbourne, Australia; Delhi, India: Dorling Kindersley.

"Rosa damascena versicolor Rose Description." Help Me Find. Retrieved October 30, 2014.

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"Rosa gallica 'Versicolor'." Rainy Side Gardeners: Plant Gallery & Growing Guide > Shrubs and Trees. Retrieved October 30, 2014.

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"Rosa x damascena var. versicolor." Plant Finder. Retrieved October 30, 2014.

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Traill, H.D., and J.S. Mann. 1902. Social England: A Record of the Progress of the People in Religion, Laws, Learning, Arts, Industry, Commerce, Science, Literature and Manners, from the Earliest Times to the Present Day. Vol. II. London, Paris, New York, and Melbourne: Cassell and Company, MCMIII.

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Rosa 'York and Lancaster' (Monardes, 1551)

Rosarium Uetersen, Schleswig-Holstein state, northwestern Germany
Rosarium Uetersen, Schleswig-Holstein state, northwestern Germany
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

Advice From A Rose ~ Light Pink Sweatshirt by Earth Sun Moon ~ Available via Amazon

Advice: "Make someone's day ~ Enjoy the sunshine ~ Remember your beauty stems from within ~ Be colorful! ~ Look past the thorns ~ Make new buds ~ Bloom! ~ Be scent-sational!"
rose-themed clothing

Encyclopedia of Roses by Charles Quest-Ritson

Features over 2,000 of the world's best rose species and cultivars. Each entry is illustrated with a full-color photograph and describes the rose's growing habit, cultivation needs, and breeding, as well as explains the origins of its unique name.
rose books

The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones

The crown of England changed hands five times over the course of the 15th century. Celebrated historian Dan Jones describes how the longest-reigning British royal family tore itself apart until it was finally replaced by the Tudors.
War of the Roses-themed books

York and Lancaster Rose, Rosa Damascena Variety: by Pierre-Joseph Redoute

York and Lancaster Rose, Rosa Damascena Variety

Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 10/30/2014, DerdriuMarriner
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