The tradition of myrtle being used in a bridal bouquet is long established and largely European, although its associations with marriage has its origins in both ancient Greek mythology, as well as in Roman ritual, the myrtle being “dear” to Venus, as it had once been considered “sacred” to the goddess Aphrodite. Jewish liturgy also incorporated it occasionally in the form of branches, which could be given to the bridegroom at the conclusion of the marriage ceremony. Myrtle has long been used in royal bouquets, because it is symbolic of marriage and love in the language of flowers. But are there any other origins for this?
A sprig of myrtle was taken from the wedding bouquet of Queen Victoria on her marriage to Prince Albert in 1840. Some of the myrtle from the bush that grew out of this bouquet was then used within the bouquet held by Princess Alexandra of Denmark, when she married the Prince of Wales – the future Edward VII – at St. George’s Chapel, in 1863. Myrtle featured strongly in the wedding dresses of Queen Victoria’s daughters and daughters-in-law. Sprays of it either were included on the hems of the bridal gowns amidst the “deep flounces” of Honiton lace, or helped to make up the wedding wreaths amidst the sprigs of orange blossom that had such sentimental significance to Queen Victoria. Prince Albert having given the Queen a set of orange blossom jewellery on their sixth Wedding Anniversary in 1846, and which she wore until his death. Amidst the sprigs of myrtle and orange blossoms which featured on the wedding dresses, white heather also seems to have been a favourite in the Queen’s family, probably from Balmoral, just as the lace also featured the thistle amidst its patterns. Gradually however, there arose a tradition of myrtle coming from Osborne.
In 1846, Queen Victoria planted a myrtle at Osborne House, which still survives. It was planted using a spray which had been given to the Queen by Prince Albert’s grandmother. The terraces at Osborne bloomed with orange blossom, magnolia and myrtle in the summer, smells which the Queen would have recognised and loved in her lifetime; she particularly enjoyed painting the flowers at Osborne.
This would come to continue the tradition of wedding bouquets being used to plant bushes, or sprigs being taken from existing ones to be used for brides within the Royal Family. A piece of myrtle from Osborne was used for the wedding bouquet of Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter, the Princess Royal, who married Crown Prince Frederick William of Prussia in 1858.
Queen Victoria referred to Osborne myrtle in 1874, because she wanted to send some of it to St. Petersburg for the wedding nosegay of her future daughter-in-law, Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna, who married her second son, Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh. It is the only wedding of her children that Queen Victoria did not attend.
The Princess Royal’s bouquet was depicted in the painting by John Phillip of her wedding in the Chapel Royal at St. James’s Palace, laid in front of her at the altar. This myrtle, to which she referred to in 1874 would have been a second myrtle however, grown from the Princess Royal’s bouquet, because the Queen specifically mentions it as such; it was the original royal myrtle from Prince Albert’s grandmother, which was used in the Princess’s bouquet in 1858.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on their wedding day, 2011; the Duchess holds a wedding bouquet containing a sprig of the Osborne myrtle (By The_royal_family_on_the_balcony.jpg: Magnus D derivative work: Blofeld Dr. (talk / cont) (The_royal_family_on_the_balcony.jpg) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)
English Heritage, which maintains Osborne House, refers to the Osborne myrtle as the famous ‘royal myrtle’, which has been used in royal bridal bouquets since the wedding of the Princess Royal in 1858.
The myrtle has also been included in the bridal bouquets of both the future Queen Elizabeth II in 1947 and the Duchess of Cambridge in 2011. Similarly, English Heritage confirms that this is the same ‘original’ myrtle bush, which had been given to Queen Victoria by Prince Albert’s grandmother.
Queen Victoria mentions myrtle mostly in a traditional connection with weddings in her family, but also when admiring the summer flowers at Osborne, particularly in the evening, when their scent was strongest.
There were many myrtle bushes at Osborne House; Queen Victoria planted another myrtle bush near the Swiss Cottage at Osborne House in 1878 – from the original used for the Princess Royal’s bouquet in 1858.
A bush also seems to have been grown from the bridal bouquet of Her Majesty The Queen, on her wedding in 1947; a sprig from this and from the ‘original’ bush at Osborne was included in the wedding bouquet held by the future Duchess of Cambridge in 2011.
To the white orchid wedding bouquet of Her Majesty The Queen, myrtle had also been added from the bush grown from the bouquet held by the Princess Royal.
In 2017, the Lower Terrace in the gardens at Osborne opened for the first time to the public. It is here that the famous ‘Royal Myrtle’ may now be admired, grown from the Princess Royal’s bouquet and which continues to be used for royal weddings to the present day. The great ‘Royal Myrtle’, whose blossoms have been included in so many bouquets since, flowers in July and August.
©Elizabeth Jane Timms, 2018.