Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

EXHIBITION: Queens in Waiting

Queens in Waiting, a free exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, London, until September 2012, deals with Princess Augusta of Wales and Princess Alexandrina Victoria of Kent (later Queen Victoria), both of whom were grand-daughters of King George III.
After the dissolute behaviour of George and his younger brothers it was hoped that the popular Augusta, daughter of the Prince of Wales, would restore the dignity of the monarchy; however following the birth of a still-born son she died at the age of 21 in 1817. This led to an out pouring of grief, possibly comparable to that following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1997.
Two years later Princess Alexandrina Victoria, daughter of the Duke of Kent (who had married the widowed sister of Augusta’s husband), was born. As Queen Victoria she acceded to the throne in 1837, restoring and enhancing the monarchy’s respectability.
Both Augusta and Alexandrina were considered to be the ‘Rose of England’, and consequently roses feature in early portraits of them. (Notes attached to tributes in memory of Diana, Princess of Wales, also refer to her as a ‘Rose’).* Augusta seems to have favoured wearing a circlet of roses as a head-dress. Other plant symbolism can be found in a print showing the apotheosis of Princess Augusta, who is shown ascending to heaven with her still-born son. Among other symbols are rose, thistle and shamrock growing together symbolising ‘the Union of the Three Kingdoms’ – England, Scotland and Ireland. A snapped off full-blown rose and a rose bud, symbolising the Princess and her son.

* It appears that the tradition of referring to royal young women as ‘roses’ continues; on 15 February 2012 the front page of the London Metro featured a photograph of the Duchess of Cambridge (wife of Diana’s elder son) on a visit to Liverpool, with the headline ‘English Rose’.

Image: Princess Augusta of Wales, after Sir Thomas Lawrence, in W. Jerdan, The National Portrait Gallery of Illustrious and Eminent Personages of the Ninteenth Century, London, 1830-4.

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