Carnation

(Dianthus caryophyllus) Loudon said that we owe the introduction of the carnation into Britain to the Flemings in the 16th century, but actually the plant was well-known under the name of gillofres, for centuries before that (Friend. 1882). It was certainly well in cultivation in Edward II's time, and it was used to give a spicy flavour to ale and wine, particularly the sweet wine presented to brides after the wedding ceremony (Grindon). Hence the name Sops-in-wine. See Shakespeare, Taming of the shrew, act 3, sc 2 :

Quaff'd off the muscadel, And threw the sops all in the sexton's face.

Chaucer called it the Clove Gilliflower, an odd combination, for both names mean 'clove', gilliflower being a corruption of caryophyllus (clove), the specific name, more properly, 'nut-leaved'. 'Carnation' itself is really 'coronation', from Latin corona, a chaplet, or garland. The flowers must have been used to make chaplets, though Gerard speaks of the "pleasant Carnation colour, whereof it tooke his name". He must have been thinking of incarnardine, the flesh, or crimson, colour.

This is a good luck plant, and figured as such quite a lot in oriental carpet symbolism (Bouisson). It was also a symbol of fascination (Leyel. 1937), and of conjugal felicity, or of marriage itself (Ferguson). In early German painting, it was occasionally used as the emblem of the Virgin Mary, and in Italy too it was put with the lily in a vase by the Virgin (Haig). These days, red carnations are the emblems of workers' movements in most European countries (Brouk).

Lands and tenements in Ham, Surrey, were once held by John of Handloo of the men of Kingston on condition of rendering them three clove gilliflowers at the king's coronation (Friend. 1883). Red roses as rent are perhaps more familiar, but the Ham record of the use of carnations is not the only example. The manor of Mardley, in Welwyn parish (Hertfordshire) was held for the annual "rent of a clove gilliflower", while two of them plus 3s. 6d. paid the yearly rent of 100 acres and a 40-acre wood in Stevenage. And at Berkham-stead a tenant of the royal manor provided one clove gilliflower "at such times as anie King or Queen shall be crowned in the Castle" (Jones-Baker. 1974).

The good luck of a red carnation was once extended to protection from witchcraft in Italy. On St John's Eve, when they were always specially active, all you had to do was to give them a flower. For any witch had to stop and count the petals, and long before she had done that, you were well out of their reach (Abbott).

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