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Countdown Day 2: Why Blue Flowers Should Be Avoided

Billie Thomas, one of our Casual Reading Room Services Assistants, is here to talk about the dangers of blue flowers, according to those superstitious Tudors, for Day Two of our Heritage Open Day Countdown!

Billie Thomas

Across England blue was associated with the devil, and therefore blue flowers became very unlucky!

Nigella Romana
Nigella Romana

The flower we know as ‘love-in-a-mist’ or Nigella Romana - which adds some colour to our gardens - was known by the Tudors as ‘devil-in-a-bush’, and thought to bring omens of misfortune and death if brought into the house.

Many other everyday plants of today are also subject to this superstitious thinking. Shakespeare was aware of the associations to certain plants and flowers, and references them frequently within his plays.

For example, violets, with their purple/blue hue, were seen as a sign of an early death because they bloom early in the spring, and fade before the summer. This is a common belief which Shakespeare makes use of in Hamlet:

A violet in the youth of primy nature,
Forward, not permanent, sweet, not lasting,
The perfume and suppliance of a minute.
No more.

Hamlet Act 1, Scene 3

Similarly, rosemary was associated with death, however in a much kinder way. Used within wreaths at funerals, it stood out as a sign of remembrance for the deceased, as so in Romeo and Juliet:

Dry up your tears and stick your rosemary
On this fair corse, and, as the custom is,
And in her best array, bear her to church.

Romeo and Juliet Act 4, Scene 5

However, this plant was also used at weddings to dedicate good wishes to the couple, as well as being a sign of remembrance between friends. This is seen in the poem ‘A Nosegaie, always sweet, for Lovers’ which featured in a popular song book in the Elizabethan era, A Handeful of Pleasant Delites, 1584.:

Rosemarie is for remembrance
Between us daie and night,
Wishing that I might alwaies have
You present in my sight.

So, when delving in to the history of flowers and plants across the years, it may seem that we have many differences to our Tudor friends when observing a blue flower. However, we have not shaken these floral superstitions entirely; as I am sure you can think of many flowers today which hold their own special meaning!

Join us on the 10th and 11th of September from 10-4 for activities and fun, all whilst learning something new about Tudor gardens!

March Violets
March Violets

References:

Flowers in the Home: Domestic floral decoration in the reign of Elizabeth I and James I, Museums Department Booklet, Lucy Mckail.

Shakespeare Flora, Leo H. Grindon (Palmer and Howe, Manchester, 1883).