An English Rose is a nostalgic idea of a beautiful young English lady. She is virtuous and possesses a certain type of modest beauty. This character is always of English (or British at least) breeding, and likely to speak in the RP accent.
If from a historical period (and upper-class), she was raised to be a Proper Lady. A modern specimen does not need to follow the full of Proper Lady ideals, but still has to be a nice girl: well-mannered and goodhearted.
An English Rose is often composed and dignified in any social setting. A major characteristic is her humility in terms of family and society. Her will can be iron-hard, while subservient to her husband, if she has one. Before marriage tends be a more spirited version, but doesn't necessarily lose that spirit after marriage. In fact, one of the charms of the English Rose may be her ability to maintain decorum and pleasure regardless of any trouble.
While English Rose is not defined by a specific look, it does have a set of associated characteristics.
- her figure, beauty, dress, and manners are modest and conservative rather than provocative or sexy
- is more on the petite side, and slender—an English Rose can sometimes be a bit chubby, but is never very tall (outside of modeling business use of the trope) or of very substantial build
- is fair skinned, has a rosy glow to her cheeks rather than being eerily pale
- hair can be of any shade as long as it isn't too exotic—wavy, light brown or copper hair is most archetypal, as well as hairstyles more 'natural' and less fabricated than of her peers, but any moderate and understated hairstyle fitting the period fits the type
- has gentle eyes, that are almond shaped or drooping rather than cat-like (following the Japanese Droopy Eyes = gentle, Catty Eyes = active stereotypes)
There is no requirement for actresses portraying her actually to be English, or even British.
The phrase comes from the 1902 comic opera Merrie England, in which there is a description of a garden where women are the flowers, and the fairest is "the perfect English rose".
- Rose DeWitt Bukater of Titanic is a perfect china doll until her deflowering. Afterwards she is more of the Spirited Young Lady variety with all the smoking and dancing with third class passengers.
Rose: No Jack, no! Jack, I'm engaged. I'm marrying Cal. I love Cal.
- The Other Boleyn Girl has the Tudor beauty Mary making an impression on the king.
Henry: You don't think he'll miss court? A young ambitious man.
- Truly Scrumptious in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
- Elizabeth's sister Jane from Pride and Prejudice, both the book and the film. Kind, polite, well-mannered and beautiful English country gentry. Jane is considered the most beautiful young lady in the neighbourhood. Her character is contrasted with Elizabeth's as sweeter, shyer, and equally sensible, but not as clever; her most notable trait is a desire to see only the good in others.
- In The Royal Diaries book Elizabeth I: Red Rose of the House of Tudor Henry VIII of England got angry at Prince Edward for being lazy while the girls worked on the rose bushes. Elizabeth was quick to respectfully tell her father that she thinks that Edward's humors were out of balance. For that the king tenderly told the princess that she was the true Tudor rose.
- Pam on The Winds of War and War and Remembrance is this as well as being an Intrepid Reporter, and Lady of War in both the books and the miniseries. She is the Veronica of the romance angle of the story. She is not a Proper Lady in all respects, for she claims to not be very moral and in the strictly sexual sense that is true. But she is loyal to her father and country, patriotic, and has a clear idea of who the bad guys were in her time when some people were naive, fearful, or opportunistic. Which gives her an edge up on other categories of morality. In any case she is charming and attractive and, well, ladylike.