Ah, Sweet William. Sweet, sweet William. No one really knows who you were, the Will judged sweet enough to lend his name to such a delicately beautiful perennial as this. Speculation traverses a whole host of famous Bills, from Shakespeare to The Conqueror, however our favourite (or at least the one that makes the best story) centres around Prince William, the 18th century Duke of Cumberland. His flattering nickname was not taken to too kindly by the Scots he brutally defeated in the Battle of Culloden, and as a result they sometimes refer to the flower as ‘Stinking Billy’… Except they don’t. Unfortunately this heartwarming ode to Scottish-English relations is entirely refuted by the fact that the Dianthus plant was given the name ‘Sweetie William’ a full 150 years before the battle in question even took place… But why let facts get in the way of a good story, hey?
Anyway, the clustered pink and white petals of the Sweet William have taken on less-specific meaning over the years - most notably perhaps for being one of the few flowers to symbolise masculinity. In particular, it is the quality of gallantry, which ties in with many of the romantic ballads in which Sweet William is manifested as a noble, lovelorn hero (see ‘Sweet William’s Farewell To Black-eye’d Susan’ for one such example).