Posted by: Brendon O-L. | December 3, 2009

Painting the Roses Red

At the beginning of chapter eight, Alice stumbles upon three gardeners who are painting the previously white roses red.

I spent some time thinking about why Carroll would have the gardeners painting the roses red. Eventually, I remembered the War of Roses that took place from 1455 to 1485 in England.

The late fifteenth century was a period political turmoil in England. Following the Hundred Years’ War, two houses began fighting for the throne: the House of York and the House of Lancaster. These two families oddly enough had roses for their symbols. The House of York was the white rose, while the House of Lancaster was the red rose.

Alice asks the gardeners why they painting the roses. One of the gardeners replies with the following,

“This here ought to have been a red rose-tree, but we put in a white on by mistake, and if the Queen was to find out we should all have our heads cut off, you know.”

The Queen and King of Hearts are from the House of Lancaster as symbolized by the fact that they are the red king and queen of hearts. This would also explain why they are painting the roses red, as it is their symbol. Another reason they were painting the roses red was due to the fact that the previous white roses represented their rivals, the House of York.

The King of Hearts represents King Henry VI, while the Queen of Hearts represents Queen Margaret. We can tell it was these rulers due to the fact that King Henry VI was insane. In the last couple of chapters, The King of Hearts appears to be insane during the trial, often skipping over necessary court procedure. He also makes several wierd remarks and asks strange questions. Since he is King Henry VI, the Queen of Hearts has to be Queen Margaret. We could also conclude that the Knave that is being put on trial is from the House of York.

The Duchess must have some importance in this satirical depiction of the War of Roses, since the Queen of Hearts despises the Duchess. We can probably be certain that this Eleanor, the Duchess of Gloucester. From this we can say that the baby that the Duchess is holding is Richard of Gloucester, who eventually became Richard III. We can also probably say that the Cheshire Cat represent the Parliament who probably met on and off during this time or turmoil, just the Cat often appears and disappears.

There are other events that occurred in the War of Roses that are not included, thus I am sure that there are also references to the War of Roses in the sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland called Through the Looking-Glass.

Sources: Wikipedia


  1. I enjoyed the way you really identified each part of this symbol. You have mapped each element to something that makes sense in history and you have done so in expressive language. Nicely done.

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