A Tearoom by Any Other Name

English Rose Tea Room in Carefree, Arizona
English Rose Tea Room, Carefree, Arizona
[Photo Credit: English Rose Tea Room, Facebook]

More than a century after the rose had been dubbed the flower of England, The Bard of Avon penned Juliet’s line,

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet…”

Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare, 1595

Whether or not it was Shakespeare’s intention to praise his homeland in so writing, many American tearooms do just that, naming themselves after the English Rose, paying homage to the founding nation of afternoon tea.

interior The English Rose Virginia Beach
The English Rose Tea Room in Virginia Beach, Virginia

The Tea Room and the Rose – What’s the Connection?

The English Rose signage
Outside The English Rose Tea Room in Virginia Beach, Virginia

We first realized that this topic needed exploring when we noticed that our afternoon tea directories boast three independently owned English Rose Tea Rooms — in Arizona, Virginia and California — and 25 more with “rose” in their names. We wondered, why is the rose so popular amongst tearoom owners? After reading up on the rose’s many appearances in English history and culture, here’s what we learned.

The English Rose Tea Room & Gifts, Pleasanton, California
[Photo Credit: The English Rose Tea Room, Facebook]

It Begins with War (of the Roses)

Actually, not just yet. The first appearance of a rose at the British court was the golden rose, floral emblem of French royal Eleanor of Provence, Queen Consort and wife of King Henry III. In the late 1200s, when her son Edward I came into power, he adopted her floral badge, and several generations later, his progeny in the houses of Lancaster and York also used roses for their emblems.

When the houses of Lancaster and York in the 1450s went to war over competing claims to the British throne, their rose badges ultimately earned their war’s moniker. The house of York used the white rose, and late in the war, the house of Lancaster assumed the red rose, likely in response to their adversary’s symbol. Over the centuries following the conflict, what had once been called “The Cousins’ War” became popularly known as “The War of the Roses.”

Cleverly, at the war’s end in 1485, when Henry VII (Henry Tudor) of the Lancasters was crowned king of England, he married Elizabeth of York to unite the warring dynasties. And in a modern-day-like genius branding move, he introduced the new Tudor Rose logo to represent the two houses’ merger: a white rose inside a red rose, which today stands as the country’s national flower.

Tudor rose with white center

The Tudor Rose is a common sight in England even today. It can be seen as a symbol on a number of old buildings, most notably Hampton Court Palace, which was built during the reign of Henry VIII. The badge is found on the uniforms of the Yeoman of the Guard (Beefeaters) at the Tower of London, on the Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom, and also on the back of our 20p coins. It is a common emblem in stained glass in public houses and palaces all over England.”

— Deborah Swift, “The Rose – Emblem of England“, March 16, 2017
stained glass tudor rose by Abinger Stained Glass in Surrey, UK
[Photo Credit: Abinger Stained Glass, Surrey Hills, UK]

Queen Elizabeth I Crafts Her Image with the Rose

In the second half of the 16th century when Queen Elizabeth I ruled England, she often incorporated the rose in her carefully designed portraits. Firstly, she used the Tudor Rose to remind everyone of her Tudor heritage (Henry VII was her grandfather). More subtly, she used the rose to reinforce her branding of herself as the Virgin Queen, wedded to her kingdom, and head of the Church of England. Since medieval times, the rose had represented virginity, purity and specifically served as a symbol of the Virgin Mary. In her portrait below, note the Tudor Roses with black gem centers on her jeweled chain, as well as the red (Lancastrian) rose she holds.

The ‘Phoenix’ portrait, Queen Elizabeth I,
by Nicholas Hilliard, 1575
National Portrait Gallery

Tea Roses Come to Europe

Wow, we were nowhere close to guessing the origin of the “tea rose.” Was it a rose popular in tea gardens? Was it a small rose that would fit in a teacup? Actually, the term refers to the flower’s fragrance. Yup, roses are thought to give off seven basic fragrances: rose, nasturtium, violet, apple, lemon, clove, and believe it or not, tea. So the tea rose was thought to smell like black China tea, and in the 1800s, the cultivar was brought to Europe from Asia, eventually finding its way into English lexicon. 

Tea rose
Tea Rose Mme Emilie Charron, sect. Chinensis
[Photo Credit: A. Barra]

Roses and Tea Parties in “Alice in Wonderland”

John Tenniel's illustration of Alice's tea party from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Illustration by John Tennial, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1865

Written about 20 years after the advent of afternoon tea, it’s natural that Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland would include a tea party, one that would in fact become iconic, indelibly linking Alice and the Mad Hatter with afternoon tea in today’s pop culture. Unsurprisingly, “Alice in Wonderland” is a very popular theme for afternoon tea parties and tearoom names at several venues throughout the US (more to come on our “mad” friends in a future post).

Click to purchase (affiliate commission link)

In 1865 and 1872, when English author Charles Lutwidge Dodgson under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll published Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Through the Looking Glass respectively, he created characters and storylines that allude to the War of the Roses. Upon leaving the tea party, Alice finds her way to the garden where the Queen of Hearts’ gardeners are painting the white roses red. They explain, “Why the fact is, you see, Miss, this here ought to have been a red rose-tree, and we put a white one in by mistake; and if the Queen was to find it out, we should all have our heads cut off, you know.”

The Playing Cards Painting the Rose Bush from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,
illustrated by John Tenniel, 1865

Crowning Rose Queens in England

Rose Queen Barbara Dixon at St. Anne’s Rose Queen Crowning in Cheshire, England, 1959
[Photo Credit: Sale Guardian]

A spinoff of the church’s May Queen, the “Rose Queen” tradition began in English villages during Victorian times. The Rose Queen fulfills much the same role as the May Queen, excepting that she may be nominated year-round. To honor the chosen Rose Queen of a festival, she processes through the village crowned in roses and acts as a local celebrity, blessing other regional fêtes during her year’s reign.

Sunnyside Baptist Church Rose Queen Lorry by Woodcroft Blog
Sunnyside Baptist Church Rose Queen Lorry, Rawtenstall, England
[Photo Credit: “Woodcroft. A 1950’s childhood.“]

Saying Goodbye to England’s Rose, Princess Diana

Goodbye England’s rose,
from a country lost without your soul,
who’ll miss the wings of your compassion
more than you’ll ever know”

Candle in the Wind, revised, performed by Elton John, 1997

The one and only time Elton John performed Candle in the Wind with these revised lyrics was for Princess Diana’s Westminster Abbey funeral in 1997, to pay tribute to his friend and beloved princess of England. Referring to Diana as “England’s Rose” acknowledged her as the heart and symbol of England.

English Rose Tea Rooms in The U.S.A.

  • English Rose Tea Room in Carefree, AZ
  • The English Rose Tea Room in Virginia Beach, VA (we’ve been there!)
  • The English Rose Tea Room & Gifts in Pleasanton, CA

Now that we’ve revisited centuries of English lore, war and royalty, we can understand how the rose became synonymous with quintessentially British customs like afternoon tea. But then, who is to say a tearoom wasn’t named after a dearly beloved Aunt Rose, or a favorite grandmother’s rose garden? Anything is possible, though it’s worth noting that several tearooms in these lists are run by British expats.

Owner of The English Rose Tea Room, Jo Gemmill
Jo Gemmill, owner of The English Rose Tea Room in Carefree, AZ
[Photo Credit: The English Rose Tea Room]

Honorable Mentions: 25 More Afternoon Tea Venues Named after The Rose

  • The AubreyRose Tea Room in La Mesa, CA
  • Clockwork Rose Tea Emporium in Beaverton, OR
  • Corner Rose Tea Room in Orlando, FL
  • Cottage Rose Tearoom and Bistro in North Richland Hills, TX
  • Dusty Rose Tea Room in Georgetown, CO
  • Enchanted Rose Tea Parlour & Gift Boutique in San Dimas, CA
  • The Granite Rose Tea Parlour – Granite, MD
  • Historic Rosemont Manor in Berryville, MD
  • The Huntington’s Rose Garden Tearoom in Los Angeles, CA
  • Orchard Tea Room at Rose Hip Barn in Thornton, PA
  • Primrose Inn in Bar Harbor, ME
  • Rose Arbour Tea Room in Chester, VT
  • The Rose Garden Tearoom(s) in Arlington and Fort Worth, TX
  • The Rose Tea Room at Weathered in Broomfield, CO
  • Rose Tree Cottage in Pasadena, CA
  • Rosebriar Dining in Eads, TN
  • Roseland Cottage in Woodstock, CT
  • Roseland Plantation in Ben Wheeler, TX
  • Tea Rose Garden in Pasadena, CA
  • The Tea Rose Inn in Plymouth, NH
  • Tea Roses Tea Room in Cromwell, CT
  • Tonia’s Victorian Rose Tea Room & More in Rochester, MI
  • Tipple + Rose Tea Parlor and Apothecary in Atlanta, GA
  • Tudor Rose English Tearoom in Santa Rosa, CA
  • Windsor Rose Tea Room in Mount Dora, FL

Find these afternoon tea venues in our state directories to learn more about their menus, reservation details and special tea events.

Tea Voyageuse, discovering the world of afternoon tea, based in Atlanta, Georgia.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

We love comments! Destination Tea's comment policy shares a guiding principle with afternoon tea etiquette: please be gracious. We welcome honest comments that are not rude or scathing.