By: Cornelia Powell
Bridal folklore throughout history, inspired by ancient mythology, tells of maidens entwining creamy white, aromatic orange blossoms into a bridal wreath for their hair, to ensure ‘fertility’; or carrying a bunch of sweet-smelling white lilacs, representing ‘innocence’; or tucking fragrant herbs into their bouquets, rosemary for ‘remembrance’ and dill, believed to provoke ‘lust’. (Both herbs were also eaten for their supposed powers!)
Along came the French, picking up where the ancient Persians left off by assigning meanings to flowers and herbs, and in 1819 published “Le Langage des Fleurs”. The etiquette-driven, ritual-loving Victorians, as passionate as they were sentimental about flowers, followed suit. With so many rules and restrictions about what was proper to say to whom (and outright flirtations certainly prohibited), they adopted the romance-filled ‘language of flowers’ and, to help sort it all out, created their own dictionary-like books, lyrically illustrated.
This romantic language was perfect for weddings since many brides, including royal ones, lead with the heart when it comes to their wedding bouquet. Queen Victoria carried a nosegay of snowdrops, noting ‘friendship’ (they were her beloved Albert’s favorite flower); and Grace Kelly, after much thought, selected lilies of the valley as her simple wedding bouquet, meaning ‘return of happiness’. And along with the other all-shades-of-white flowers, Kate Middleton, of course, had blooms of Sweet William, signifying ‘gallantry’.
Princess Diana’s massive bouquet—to match the scale of her bouffant gown—was filled with fragrant cream and yellow flowers and greenery from gardens all over England and included (by special request from the palace) “Mountbatten” roses, a glorious shade of yellow mimosa rose named for Prince Charles’ adored late uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten. However, according to the Kate Greenaway version of “Language of Flowers”, yellow roses have the unfortunate, but in this case prophetic, meaning of ‘decrease of love’ and ‘jealously’. (Ouch!)
Yet nothing could be as sincere and sentimentally dear as Meghan Markle’s small, almost childlike arrangement bound in a raw silk ribbon. The morning before their wedding, Prince Harry picked a handful of white flowers from the couple’s private garden at Kensington Palace for the florist to use in his bride’s bouquet—including scented sweet peas, jasmine and forget-me-nots; other petite blossoms were astilbe, lily of the valley and astrantia. Sweet peas represent ‘delicate pleasures’; jasmine, ‘sensuality’ and ‘grace’; and the fabled forget-me-nots (a favorite of Harry’s mother) speak for themselves—yet for an added heart-tug, they also indicate ‘true love’.
The bridal bouquets of Diana and both her daughters-in-law had green sprigs of myrtle, Victorian-era symbols for ‘fidelity’. Like the last several generations of royal brides, the myrtle came from shrubs at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, planted by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The legendary connection continued when stems from the 1947 bridal bouquet of then Princess Elizabeth, Harry’s grandmother, were also planted amid the mythical landscape. So through the language of flowers, the hope of ‘fidelity’—and love forever—continues. ~
[Bits excerpted from “The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride: For Better or Worse, How Princess Diana Rescued the Great White Wedding”—and other bits added after the flower-feast and love-fest wedding of Harry and Meghan!]
More by: Cornelia
Wedding Folklorist, Fashion Historian, Author & Guest Speaker
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