“COME live with me and be my Love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
That hills and valleys, dale and field,
And all the craggy mountains yield.
“There will we sit upon the rocks
And see the shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow rivers, to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.
“There will I make thee beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroider’d all with leaves of myrtle.”
The connection between myrtle and marriage can be traced all the way back to Greco -Roman antiquity. The myrtle was a sacred tree in Ancient Greek and Roman mythology, dedicated by the Greeks to Aphrodite (the goddess of love) and by the Romans to her counterpart, Venus.
Venus and Aphrodite were often depicted wearing the holy herb, most notably Venus who can be seen in the art of the era, rising from the sea with a crown of myrtle upon her head. The close association between myrtle and the goddess of love, led the herb to become an important part of wedding ceremonies in Ancient Rome. Brides bathed in ritual baths scented with oil produced by the tree’s aromatic leaves, and sprigs or garlands were often worn during weddings.
With its delicate, evergreen leaves and fragrant, star – like flowers dotted with striking long, golden stamen, it’s easy to why myrtle was held in such special regard by the Ancients. Fast forward to the Victorian era and the largely forgotten tradition of women wearing myrtle on their wedding day was revived by Queen Victoria, who influenced a number of wedding traditions, many of which continue to thrive today.
It all began when Prince Albert’s grandmother gave Victoria a posy containing myrtle during a visit to Gotha, Germany, in 1845. Once home, Victoria had the cuttings planted at her residence on the Isle of Wight, where they continue to grow to this day.
A new wedding tradition was born when Victoria and Albert’s daughter, Princess Louise, wore a crown of orange blossom (like her mother before her) entwined with myrtle foliage (sourced from her mother’s very own tree tree), on her wedding day in 1871.
All four of Victoria and Albert’s daughters included sprigs of myrtle in their wedding bouquets, and Queen Elizabeth, Princess Diana and Kate Middleton have followed suit. Queen Victoria’s myrtle tree made waves in royal circles further afield too – when her granddaughter, Princess Margaret of Connaught, moved to Sweden in 1905 to marry the future King Gustav, she planted a cutting of her grandmother’s beloved tree in the gardens of Sofiero Castle.
In memory of her mother, Margaret’s daughter, Ingrid, also wore a fresh myrtle crown using sprigs from the tree, as did Ingrid’s cousins, Princess Martha and Astrid. Right up to the present day, generations of Swedish royalty have followed in their footsteps and tied the knot with a sprig of myrtle in their hair.
As is often the case, bridal fashions favoured by royalty influenced ordinary women too. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, green fabric or paper myrtle crowns became popular in parts of Northern Europe, with silver and gold myrtle tiaras the gift of choice for 25th and 50th wedding anniversaries.
These anniversary diadems, which strongly resemble those of the Greco – Roman era, were accompanied by a matching boutonniere worn by the groom. A number of these much sought after headpieces have survived and are being worn by brides today. With their carefully filigreed leaves and branches, scattered with delicate myrtle flowers, these wonderful antique crowns are the perfect ‘Something Old’ for the boho bride.
The pliable nature of the metal makes them easy to shape and the crowns look equally good in flowing waves as they do in a soft updo. For a subtler look, the matching boutonnieres can even be crafted into hair slides with a little adaptation.
And it’s not just us here at The Mews, who have fallen in love with these romantic heirloom pieces; after discovering the originals, New Zealand jewellery designer, Anna Doezie (owner of Anna Marguerite) set about creating faithful replicas of the antique crowns, finished in gold and silver plating and bronze.
Meanwhile, in Holland, Daniella Huijssen of Naturae Design, has been busy creating ethereal headpieces which hark back to the myrtle crowns of days gone by.
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the history and symbolism behind antique myrtle crowns and that today’s article has inspired you to source something extra special as your lucky ‘Something Old’ (or ‘Something New’, for that matter!).
Words by Annora Sutton