When Queen Victoria married her ‘dearest, dear Albert’ in 1840, she wore myrtle in her wedding wreath. Back in 1585 when Sir Walter Raleigh brought the first myrtle plant (myrtus communis) to England, he couldn’t have predicted it would become part of a headpiece that replaced a royal crown. Queen Victoria chose the love plant to represent her feelings for Albert. Her marriage was secured and sustained by a deep love, just like the marriage of my mother Myrtle.
Sir Walter Raleigh must also have been blessed by the myrtle plant because he too made a love match when he married Elizabeth Throckmorton in 1591/92. Theirs was a forbidden love and a secret marriage because his Elizabeth was a maid of honour in the court of Queen Elizabeth 1. The pair’s defiance of royal protocol saw Raleigh’s bride expelled from the court and both of them imprisoned in the tower for a time. However, their love survived. So did the many lovely myrtle trees Sir Walter Raleigh planted in his garden at his home, Myrtle Grove, in County Cork, Ireland.
Before Queen Victoria and before Sir Walter Raleigh, myrtle had long been associated with love. The myrtle tree was sacred to Aphrodite, the ancient Greek goddess of love. During the Roman festival of Veneralia, the statue of Venus (the Roman counterpart to Aphrodite) was garlanded with myrtle. Not surprisingly, fragrant sprigs of myrtle were used in wedding rituals in ancient Rome.
According to Encyclopaedia Londinensis by John Wilkes ‘...this elegant and sweetly-scented shrub has been at all times the favourite theme of poets, cherished by lovers, as the rival of the rose; and, like that flower, dedicated to the goddess of beauty. Virgil mentions it always con amore, and represents it as thriving most successfully on the sea-shores of which they were reckoned a graceful ornament...’
Myrtle is an evergreen bush with fragrant white flowers. The word is pronounced ‘mertle’ and rhymes with ‘turtle’. Whisper my Secret is Myrtle’s story – my mother Myrtle, that is.
Each of my Dusty Kent Murder Mysteries (written under the pen name Brigid George) mentions ‘myrtle’ in some way. See if you can spot it!
Next month we’ll celebrate Myrtle with food.
Image from www.gardensonline.com.au