Tuesday, 11 April 2017

H = Hair apparent

From a royal haircut sometime between 1738 and 1820.
My photo edited with Color Effect
Set in a wall-case all its very own in Wellcome's Medicine Man gallery is a wisp of wiry hair: a lock reputedly snipped from the bonce of King George III, Britain's longest serving—and arguably craziest—king.

Do you think some enterprising court coiffeur made a few farthings on the side running a hush-hush under-the-counter business dealing in tiny packages of His Highness's crowning glory? 
Psst... wanna score some sovereignty? 

However and whyever it was acquired, (and letter J may reveal all, so stay tuned) the existence of this peculiar souvenir has allowed modern scientists to investigate just exactly what ailed the mad monarch.

According to current opinion, records of his erratic behaviour indicate the king was bipolar. He is also likely to have suffered from porphyria, a genetic condition that can lead to the sorts of episodes George experienced. A genetic condition that Mary,Queen of Scots, apparently introduced to the bloodline.

A very hairy King George III
Drawn by M Wyatt & engraved by W Lowry
November 6th 1817
And according to his hair, the poor guy had enough arsenic in his system to poison a small elephant: 300 times the recommended safe level.
Arsenic levels amplify the effects of porphyria.
Guess which heavy metal was in the substance that physicians of the day administered to treat his manic episodes? 

Arsenic was also an ingredient in the powder liberally sprinkled on the wigs that were the shit in the G-man's day. Powder could be pleasantly scented with lavender or orange oil to hide that certain 18th century-lack-of-bathing funk. 

So, a big-wig like our boy George would employ a minion (such as the aforementioned coif peddling candyman) to regularly shave his skull and look after his hirsute big-wiggish needs. 

You see, you could send your head-piece off to have it boiled until it was vermin-free. Not such a good idea if your hair is attached.

Of course it's also altogether possible that the hair is not George's at all, and this is all part of an H for hoax.

During the month of April, I am participating in the Blogging from A–Z Challenge.

My posts will all feature images of and by the Wellcome Collection, Euston, London: the free destination for the incurably curious.


  1. so if I knit a shawl with his hair I could call it Arsenic and Old Lace!

  2. Genius!
    And I think I know exactly where it could be exhibited.

  3. Hello, Fellow A-to-Zer! The hair of George III, eh? Wow! How interesting, to think of modern analysis shedding new light on the madness of a long-dead king. It is also interesting to think of people saving the hair of a king. I know I've heard mention of Charles the 1st's hair, being saved in reliquaries by Cavalier families who were obviously upset about his beheading.
    Melanie Atherton Allen

    1. But apparently, despite all scientific advances, they cannot isolate George III's DNA.
      No king cloning yet.

  4. I don't recall ever having seen an image of a bearded George before...
    They prolly took away all his razors, don'cha think?

    1. No doubt. And by this stage in his life, I reckon the minions would have been too scared to get that close.

  5. Just spent an extra 10 mins in Wiki reading about porphyria and who was thought to have had it - so much stuff I don't know!
    Leanne | cresting the hill

  6. I keep disappearing down holes while I'm writing, too, Leanne. Hope you found something interesting.

  7. YUCK! There is something about vermin infested hair that rather turns my stomach. No wonder poor old George was mad! :-)

    1. I told my kids I'd shave their heads if ever they got nits.

  8. A lock of hair. Good for research and not much else. Did you know that some people have a tendency to eat hair? Trichophagia. Ugh.

  9. I did NOT know that...
    Human hairballs.

  10. Hum...interesting food for thought none the less. I don't want to hear a bad word about Mary. She's my favorite character on the TV series Reign.

  11. I haven't watched Reign yet. Currently lost in Versailles. I plan a eign binge one rainy London day.