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Hair and Wigs of Kings and Queens

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Categories: Royalty | British History | French History.

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  • On Ancient Egyptian Royalty (circa 3000-30 B.C.E.)
    • Wigs Under the Wadjet Eye
    • False Beards of the Pharaohs: The false beards so commonly seen on pharaoh wall murals and pharaoh mummies had divine significance. Those who wore them imitated Osiris, Lord of the Afterlife.
      • Hatshepsut (c. 1500-1450 B.C.E.), famous as one of the few she-pharaohs of ancient Egypt, donned a square-bottomed beard for many of her stone portraits.
      • Tutankhamun (c. 1345-1325 B.C.E.), or 'King Tut,' for his death mask wore a narrower beard which curled up at the tip.
  • Wigs of Rome (circa 50 B.C.E. to 500 C.E.)
    • Imperial Comb-Over: (Julius Caesar)
    • Faux-Egyptian: (Cleopatra VII)
    • Caesar in Drag: (Caligula)
    • A Whore's Disguise: (Messalina)
    • That Was a Wig?: (Otho)
    • I Remember the Beard...: (Hadrian)
    • Getting Wiggy with It: (Julia Domna)
  • In the Middle Ages (500-1500 C.E.)
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  • In the Early Modern Period (1500-1800 C.E.)
    • The Rubeous Rug of Mary Stuart: Mary, Queen of Scots, executed in 1587, wore a martyr's deep red chemise to the block... and one other surprise. When head had been parted from body, the executioner attempted to lift Mary's head up, and instead lifted its auburn wig clean off.
      • In 1542, Princess Mary Stuart had been born a Scotch redhead, but a hard life as a queen and 19 years of incarceration took their toll. So, like the cousin that she had allegedly conspired to kill, she took to wigs at the end of life to hide her grayed hairs.
      • Robert Wynkfield, a witness at Mary's February 8th execution, in his account refers to the wig as her 'dress of lawn.'
    • 80 Wigs of a Virgin Queen: Always conscious of her personal appearance, Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) battled the balding process with her army of wigs.
      • The red wigs, which mimicked Elizabeth's natural color, are most famous. Frequently, they consisted of tight curls bound up with jewels and precious metals.
      • Historian Victoria Sherrow mentions blond wigs worn in Elizabeth's twilight years. Not many portraits of these survive, however, as Elizabeth was known to destroy any unflattering depictions of herself. The 1592 portrait of Elizabeth in a blonde wig (displayed below) likely survived because Elizabeth never saw it.
      • Describing an audience that he had with Queen Elizabeth in 1597, the French ambassador wrote, "On her head she wore a garland... and beneath it a great reddish-colored wig, with a great number of spangles of gold and silver, and hanging down over her forehead some pearls, but of no great worth. On either side of her ears hung two great curls of hair, almost down to her shoulders and within the collar of her robe, spangled as the top of her head."
      • Sherrow's Encyclopedia of Hair reports approximately 80 wigs in the total collection. Sherrow further notes that, thanks in large part to Elizabeth, wigs became much more popular in England during and after her reign.
    • The Unparalleled Periwig: The 17th century saw the rise of the frighteningly huge periwig (from the Old French word perruque or Old Italian perruca, meaning 'head of hair') on royal scalps all over Europe.
      • Jill Condra, author of the Greenwood Encyclopedia of Clothing Through World History, has described the periwig as 'a fat mass of curls falling over the shoulders and down the back... large, heavy, and expensive... requiring more than ten heads of human hair.' Apart from being a handy home for lice, these uber-wigs were a symbol of class. Few could afford them, and during their domination of Europe, wig theft spiked.
      • The French king Louis XIII went bald at age 23, and wore dozens of wigs to hide it. He did not invent the periwig; his wigmakers merely copied the rug of Abbe La Riviere, who had visited the Parisian court in 1620.
      • His son, Louis XIV (1638-1715), though reluctant to trim his own excellent set of locks, bowed to fashion and embraced the wig in 1670. The trendsetter of the 18th century, Louis XIV went further with the wigs than his father did. This so-called 'Sun King' took the periwig to its greatest heights - in fame and in literal inches. On several occasions, his periwig hair really seemed to be pushing upward, giving him a mighty pair of 'hair horns.'
      • English monarch Charles II (1630-1685) grayed prematurely, so it should come as no surprise that, in the mid-1660s, he jumped on the periwig bandwagon with gusto. His brother James, later James II, followed suit. Their father, too, had at one time worn a periwig during a trip to Paris, but he dropped it before returning home.)
      • Gradually, the periwig gave way to shorter and powdered wigs. Portaits of English dynast George II (r. 1727-1760), for example, show the monarch both in periwigs and with much shorter styles. English judges and peers would continue the periwig tradition, but the periwig had more or less disappeared from the royal ranks by the 1750s.
    • Powdered Princes:
  • In the "Long 19th Century" (1789-1914 C.E.)
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  • In Our Lifetimes (1914-present)
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