Christmas in the UK
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Britain's floral history

The connection between the British isles and the floral world has always been a strong one. Indeed, a pagan herbalism and druidry was propounded by the true ancestors of Briton, the tribes of the pre-Roman era (flame-haired Boudicea being a famous example of one of the typically fierce and vibrant queens) as well as the Celtic tribes which populated the entire country before being squeezed to the coasts and margins of Wales, Cornwall, Scotland and Ireland by the Norman invasion.

Plant-life and the UK has a long-standing history, then. In fact, it has often been a symbolic centre of history. In the late fifteenth century, the north of England was wracked by the civil turmoil engendered by the two warring households of Lancaster and York, both of which were battling for the throne of England. These two households symbolically defined themselves as two versions of the same great British flower: the rose.

The red roses, the Lancastrians, led by Henry Tudor, fought tooth and nail with the white roses of York for over thirty years, from 1453 to 1487. The rivalry, which began truly in 1399 when Henry Bolingbrooke deposed his cousin Richard II. Nearly a century later, fellow Lancastrian Henry Tudor came to the throne after victory at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 – but many historians only judged the contest over in 1487 after the Battle of Stoke. It is not just coincidentally that the football and cricket teams of the rival regions of Britain still maintain the semiotic rivalry of the roses: for example, Leeds FC play in white, with a rose in the crest; Manchester United play in red.

From the War of the Roses to TV favourite Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced, to the character’s insistence, ‘Bou-quet’), flowers are a key part of British identity. To take a cue from Miss Bucket for a moment, the origin of bouquets is a particularly interesting one: most commonly used at weddings, they were introduced in upper class weddings to disguise or deter any smells which may be emanating from the bride!

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