Oh sweet, sweet william
To prepare you for one of my favourite flowers featuring in my boxes soon I thought I would tell you a little bit about them first. They really are as lovely as their name and last a long old time too. The exact origin of its common English name is unknown but it first appeared in 1596 in botanist John Gerad’s garden catalogue. Starting the long discussion of who they are named after!
Who is this is William and is he actually as sweet as the rumours?
There are many possibilities of who ‘sweet william’ took its name from. One is that the flower is called sweet william after Gerad’s contemporary William Shakespeare.
Another idea is that they are named after the 18thC Prince William, Duke of Cumberland to honour the Duke’s victory at the Battle of Culloden and his general brutal treatment of the king’s enemies.
Now if you ask me, I think that they are named after the Duke. Why? Well i’ll tell you why. The Battle of Culloden was a battle in Scotland between the Duke, son of George II and Charles Edward Stewart, The Young Pretender. On the Young Pretenders side were the Scots. The Scots were on the losing side and their name for the flower ‘sweet william’ is ‘stinking billy’. Probably after the Prince who trounced them in the Battle. To me that makes more sense!
Our own sweet Williams
The Victorians with their love of the language of flowers, Sweet Williams signified gallantry. And we have a few favourite William’s of our own.
- At the wedding of our Prince William and Kate Middleton, Kate had sweet williams in her wedding bouquet to symbolise her love for her bridegroom. Good choice Kate!
- William Wilberforce was a pretty sweet William indeed. He was the leader of the movement to stop the slave trade which led to the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 which abolished slavery in most of the British Empire. Well done Will, you sweet man!
Playwright, poet, botanist and all round genius!
Who would we be if we didn’t mention the most famous sweet William of them all? Apparently, Shakespeare was not content with just being the greatest playwright ever in the English language but he was also an expert amateur botanist. With a deep knowledge of homegrown and exotic plants showing in his work.
”Shakespeare’s botanical references are not mere literary devices; they take us to the very heart of social life in Elizabethan and Jacobean England” Mary Willes
According to Mary Willes (Author of ‘A Shakespearean Botanical’), Shakespeare mentions 49 specific flowers, veg, fruit and herbs in his plays.
What is so genius about old Will is that he used his botanical knowledge to perfectly describe his characters. For example – he describes Falstaff (an overweight Knight in The Merry Wives of Windsor) as a ‘gross, watery pumpkin’. Have that Falstaff!
We hope you enjoyed the sweet williams as much as we have and have a think of all the wonderful William’s in your life!
Here’s flowers for you;
Hot lavender, mints, savoury, marjoram;
The marigold, that goes to bed wi’ the sun
And with him rises weeping: these are flowers
Of middle summer, and I think they are given
To men of middle age.
The Winter’s Tale (4.4.122-7)