'When we desire to confine our words, we commonly say they are spoken under the rose'
-Sir Thomas Browne's Pseudoxia Epidermia, 1646
'Under the rose' or, in Latin 'sub rosa' is a term that figuratively means 'in secret'. In Roman mythology Cupid took a rose and used it to influence Harpocrates, the god of silence, to keep quiet about an amorous indiscretion by the goddess Venus. In early Tudor times the expression was adopted into English usage. I had always thought that carved roses, that can be seen in a lot of Tudor architecture in public halls, were there to symbolise the Tudor monarchy. However, these carved or painted roses and garlands of roses worn on the head were there to remind everyone that everything spoken of whilst in those premises, particularly by the inebriated apparently, was said to be under the rose and, therefore, to be kept in the strictest confidence.
I shall now look out for them more often and wonder about all the secrets that have been held 'under the rose' and what shocking facts may have been witheld for posterity.