Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Very clearly rosemary?

Posted on by royvickery |

The chapel of Haddon Hall, Derbyshire, completed in 1427, contains some well-preserved 15th-century wall paintings, including three skeletons, known as the trois morts.  Each of these has what could be a long sprig of plant material held in its mouth.  According to a display board in the chapel:  ‘the mouths … are filled with what is very clearly rosemary [Rosmarinus officinalis].  This flowering herb, native to the Mediterranean, was introduced to England by Philippa of Hainault, Edward III’s queen, in the fourteenth century.  It was always associated with death, funerals, and memorials, partly because its fresh strong scent would have been useful for disguising any smell of decay and also because its hardiness made it a good symbol for longevity.’

While this explanation may be correct, it is doubtful if the rather crudely depicted sprigs can be  very clearly identified as rosemary.  They could perhaps be fish bones?

Note:   Miles Hadfield mentions these wall-paintings in his History of British Gardening, ed.3: 29, 1979:  ‘flowers shown in the early fifteenth-century wall-paintings in the chapel at Haddon Hall might be taken as formalized versions of the rose and Madonna lily’.  Perhaps significantly he makes no mention of rosemary.

Photographs taken May 2019.

Updated 31 October 2023.

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