If all this seems the act of a nouveau royal family desperate to create an impression, this is precisely what it was. The “Lancastrian” red rose was an emblem that barely existed before Henry VII. Lancastrian kings used the rose sporadically, but when they did it was often gold rather than red; Henry VI, the king who presided over the country’s descent into civil war, preferred his badge of the antelope. Contemporaries certainly did not refer to the traumatic civil conflict of the 15th century as the “wars of the roses”. For the best part of a quarter-century, from 1461 to 1485, there was only one royal rose, and it was white: the badge of Edward IV. Edward’s rose was ubiquitous, blooming on royal seals, on coins and in the bulky manuscripts that he began to acquire consistently from the 1470s onwards. But Edward’s death, and the usurpation of his teenage sons by their uncle Richard III, presented an opportunity to the man who would become Henry VII: the exiled Henry, Earl of Richmond, a focus for disaffected Yorkists and Lancastrians alike.
In the year before his invasion of England, Henry’s image underwent a thorough makeover. He and his advisers realised that his claim, flimsy as it was, had to be made with the greatest conviction. His letters into England seeking military backing bore the regal monogram “H”, while – a play to his Welsh ancestry – he adopted the red dragon of the mythical British king Cadwalladr. And, searching for an appropriate royal emblem, he dusted off the red rose.