The Tudor Society

Why did everyone have red hair?

Today's Claire Chats video is inspired by an "ask the expert" question submitted by Tudor Society member Beth on red hair in Tudor times - thank you, Beth!

This is the portrait of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, by Marcus Gheeraerts that is mentioned in the video.

Here is a gallery of some of the people mentioned in my talk. I wonder if James Butler dyed his beard too!

By the way, on this day in history, 29th September 1553, Mary I created fifteen Knights of the Bath as part of her coronation celebrations - click here to read more. 29th September is also Michaelmas and you can read more about it on our September Feast Days page.


There are 3 comments Go To Comment

  1. B

    Claire, thank you so much for this talk! You’ve definitely answered my question and after seeing all the portraits together, you can understand my confusion on the red hair issue! Yet, Robert Dudley, the “swarthy one”, was Elizabeth’s true love. I do wonder what their children would’ve looked like, had that union taken place. *sigh*

    I was most surprised that vampires were said to be red-headed!! Not even Bram Stoker made his fictional Dracula red-headed, nor have I ever seen an actor in that character with anything other than dark or even gray hair. I’m off to study the primary sources–my Tudor research for the day!
    PS I’ve recently purchased an absolutely beautiful Tower Treasures Elizabeth I porcelain doll (1976) by Peggy Nesbit and she has glorious red hair! 😃

    1. C - Post Author

      That’s ok, it was a fascinating topic to research and I still don’t feel I got to the bottom of it. Lots of places were saying that the Montague Summers’ translation of “Malleus Maleficarum” had a bit in it about witches being redheaded, but I couldn’t find anything in my copy or by searching online. It’s frustrating that we don’t know the colouring of the Boleyns or many of the Howards.

      I bet Dudley’s and Elizabeth’s children would have been very good-looking!

      Oooh, how lovely. I have the Peggy Nisbet model 601 of Elizabeth and it’s gorgeous – flaming hair and beautiful dress.

  2. R

    Fascinating and interesting article. The Salic Franks had red hair and the areas of Spain that Catherine came from had red hair. The Lancastrians had red hair and they were related to Catherine but also the Welsh Tudors came with red hair and the mix with blonde hair seems to have given even more red haired relatives. The varied relationship lines of course all link to the Plantagenets who probably had reddish blonde hair and as they are related to the Franks it would link there as well.

    However, it is not true that the Egyptians sacrificed people to Osiris or killed people who were red haired. It was rare for people to have red hair, but it came from the far north and also from people who were intermarried to those of the Hyskos people. Although the Hyskos were driven out many had married into the ruling classes and remained. The Hyskos like the Hebrews were Semitic and were generally hated in later Egypt but not treated as witches. However, traditional views held people with red hair as sacred and good luck.

    Rameses the Great had red hair and it can be seen still on his mummy. By his time it was very rare as the Hyskos had mainly left Egypt. It was a symbol of corn and as gold was the skin of the Sun God Ra, of the sun also. The only evidence ever found for human sacrifices in Ancient Egypt are from pre Dynastic times and they were in a leaders tomb. This is before 3500 B.C. A few tombs with hunan bones which may have been sacrificed at other times are from two periods of famine and have also been identified as being killed to prevent them from starvation as they were children. There is no specific evidence that red haired people were targeted and sacrificed in Ancient Egypt. Animals alone may have been sacrificed unless they represented a god.

    I find it great that so many people copied the monarch and dyed their hair as we do this today. Even with quite a bit of royal blood running around it is unlikely that everyone had naturally red hair. They may have had lighter hair or dark brown. E W seems to have been more fair, but she wasn’t royal. Her mother had foreign royal blood, but many of the Plantagenet relatives had fair or red hair, as did their Tudor and Stuart off shoots. When you think that the population was much smaller and so many noble families cousins its not surprising they produced so many people with similar colouring.

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Why did everyone have red hair?