Towton Rose Search



The search is STILL on for the elusive Towton Rose, despite hopes that the ghostly bloom had been found.

Author Peter Algar, from Leeds, and museum curator Peter Boyd, from Shropshire, had approached the press in the hope of tracking down the rare red and white rose, not seen for over 70 years.

The rose allegedly grew in its thousands on the graves of the fallen at the famous Battle of Towton just a few miles from York.

More than 28,000 Lancastrians and Yorkists fell at the spot in 1461, reputedly the bloodiest battle in English history.

The rose – proper name Rosa spinosissima – is only purported to have bloomed on the soil where the blood of the dead is supposed to have been spilled, according to legend and poetry.

The pair hoped they had found a candidate when Mr Algar visited Mrs Sybil Davis in Tadcaster who had a red and white rose growing in her garden.

The plant was cultivated by her husband from an original found at Cock Beck, the scene of much carnage during the War of the Roses battle.

But, unfortunately, the specimen – which sports red and white petals – is not the original Towton Rose.

Peter Boyd, curator at Shropshire Museums, and a world expert on the Scots or Burnet Rose, says:

“The Towton rose was identified in the 19th century as a form of the native Scots Rose (Rosa spinosissima), also known as the Burnet Rose. There is no doubt that it DID exist but it is said that it has not been seen for over 70 years.

“We are very grateful to Mrs Davis for coming forward but this rose is definitely NOT Rosa spinosissima and I do not think that it is the original Towton Rose if the original nineteenth century descriptions and identifications were correct - and everything suggests to me that they were. This is Rosa gallica 'Rosa Mundi' (The York and Lancaster Rose), a very well-known rose since before about 1580 and not to be confused with Rosa spinosissima.

“'Rosa Mundi' is the variegated flowered form of Rosa gallica officianalis and plants of 'Rosa Mundi' often 'revert' to the plain red form.

“The 'Rosa Mundi' was found on the site of the battle during a walk by the husband of Mrs Davis about 30 years ago but it must have been planted by someone on the site at some time. Rosa gallica and its variety ‘Rosa Mundi’ are cultivated garden roses and not native to Britain. There seems to have been a long tradition of planting cultivated roses on the battlefield site in the erroneous belief that it was appropriate.

"Selling 'Rosa Mundi' in place of the real Towton Rose would be an effective scam and planting some of them on the site might have supported the scam! Therefore, people may have bought a rose souvenir from vendors at the battlefield as being the Towton Rose - not realising that it was a scam.

Leeds’s Peter Algar, from Horsforth, author of The Shepherd Lord, set during the aftermath of Towton, and a keen Towton Battefield enthusiast says:

“I think there will be a concerted effort by many this summer, as we approach the 550th anniversary of the battle, to seek out the truth behind the history of the elusive Towton Rose – and maybe – just maybe – find a surviving specimen.  We have had a lot of publicity on Towton this year following on from some really professional and gripping TV and radio programmes on the subject, therefore we were delighted but not entirely surprised to be contacted about the Towton Rose.

“We were delighted to be contacted by Mrs Davis and had high hopes that this might be the first Towton Rose spied in 70 years. But alas, it isn’t. Nevertheless, we remain undeterred in our search for this most beguiling of symbols.”

Hundreds of Towton or ‘Battle’ Roses grew on or near the battle site 70 years ago according to reports, but many were grubbed up by farmers who regarded them as a nuisance.

If anyone can help Peter and Peter, they can mail or visit where the full story of the rose appears, and a contact is available.

Peter Boyd’s website at has articles about the history of Rosa spinosissima and Scots Roses.