There's a good argument for red hair being an important touchstone during the Protestant Reformation. In the second chapter we noted how the Spanish Inquisition took a dim view of red hair, viewing it as a token of heresy, and in the chapter following that we mentioned in passing some of the kings and queens from English history that stood in opposition to the dominance of Catholicism. The auburn-haired Henry VIII of course broke from the Church of Rome, and his daughter, the red-haired Elizabeth, became a totem of English independence and defiance (we mentioned her red-haired Protestant pirate Drake at the end of the last chapter). The Dutch too, along with their House of Orange, which we'll come to later, were also something of a Protestant bulwark against the forces of Catholicism. Could there have been a deeper symbolism to this use of the colour orange though?
It's interesting to note that the Reformation leader Martin Luther may have been red-haired too. There are portraits by the artist Lucas Cranach the Elder that show both him and his wife, Katherine von Bora, with red hair. In fact, many of the Northern Renaissance artists of the period seemed to have a penchant for painting redheads. The most celebrated of them Albrecht Durer was even a redhead himself, and his gingery locks can still be viewed in some of his self-portraits.
Oddly, Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of Wittenberg church on the 31st October - Halloween. This may seem incidental at first glance, however a deeper look reveals some strange points of interest. We take it for granted that the Pumpkin is a symbol of Halloween, but we rarely ask ourselves why. The big orange vegetable, often complete with a face carved in it, creates a powerful image. It resonates quite strongly with us, we can't help but associate it with Halloween, but what does it symbolise? Strangely enough it may be symbolic of the Protestant movement ..and maybe even red hair too.
As alluded to above the colour orange figures quite heavily in Protestantism. We have the famed Orange Order of Northern Ireland, and it's Scottish counterpart the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland. We also have the previously mentioned House of Orange - the Protestant William of Orange replacing the Catholic James II on the throne of England. There are even medals celebrating this "Glorious Revolution" that show an oak tree, symbolic of the Stuart line, being supplanted by an orange tree. The parliamentarians during the English Civil Wars also fought under an orange banner, in this case the orange tawny of the Earls of Essex. So why orange? Was it because there were disproportionately more redheads on the Reformation side? It was in the northern states of Europe that Protestantism took hold most strongly after all. The link between Mary Magdalene, red hair and the House of Orange from earlier springs to mind too.
More evidence reinforcing these links may come in the shape of the Christingle orange. For those unfamiliar, Christingle is a religious tradition where children decorate an orange with a red bow, a candle and four cocktail sticks. The service normally takes place sometime around the Christmas period. The candle supposedly symbolises the light of Christ, the red bow his blood and the four cocktail sticks the four arms of the cross. The tradition is a Protestant one and is said to have its origins in the Moravian Church, supposedly the very first Protestant church. We noted in the second chapter how the orange was said to be a symbol of Christ and enlightenment. In this case the idea that the candle on top of the orange symbolises the light of Christ fits quite nicely with that tradition.
The Christingle orange also has quite obvious parallels with the Halloween pumpkin. The Christingle orange is a round, orange fruit with a candle placed on top. The Halloween pumpkin a round, orange vegetable, often with a candle placed inside. They're both also traditions originating in northern Protestant countries. In fact, it's even said that French Huguenots were compared by their detractors to the ghouls and ghosts that would rise from their tombs and wander the night once a year every Halloween. No doubt this is another example of us keeping up a tradition, but losing track of its origins and meaning.
While on this theme it's also interesting to note that in America round "soup bowl" haircuts were once called "pumpkin-shell cuts" - the idea being that a pumpkin shell was put on the head and used as a template for the haircut. Again, this haircut likewise has its links with Protestantism - the parliamentary Roundheads, with their pudding bowl haircuts, being so-called for this very reason. They were literally the pumpkin-heads. Fighting under an orange banner, some possibly with red hair themselves, even led by a red-haired leader - the much-feared Oliver Cromwell.
In fact, in many ways Oliver Cromwell was the very embodiment of this entire arc of cultural and political change. Possibly the most towering figure from English history, maybe even European history. He seems to enter the political stage with an almost divine sense of purpose. A sense of unrelenting action. Not so much a man with a man's trivialities and personal traits, but more an archetypal totemic figure cutting through history like a scythe. Even now that period seems difficult for us to comprehend. We speak about it in hushed tones. We're not sure whether it was good or bad, divine or evil. Either way though the world would be very different now were he absent from that history.
Perhaps quite in keeping with his story we know he had red hair because of his severed head. Another ghoulish image fit for Halloween. Following the Restoration, when Charles II, son of the executed Charles I, came to the throne, Cromwell's body was dug up, publicly hung and then decapitated. His head was then displayed on a spike as a warning to anyone else who might be having thoughts about overthrowing the government and murdering a king. It's said the head was then taken by a soldier and that it eventually, via the hands of various owners, found its way to its current resting place in a secret location at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. Fortunately for us though, before being buried it was examined and said to possess Cromwell's red hair and trademark facial wart.
This apparent relationship between political revolt and red hair would also continue across the pond in America, and also to some extent in France and Italy. In America the relationship was possibly even more pronounced than in England. Numerous American presidents over the years would have red hair, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren. The American Revolution in particular seemed to attract redheads like bees around honey. Not only were both Washington and Jefferson red-haired, but also founding father Alexander Hamilton and Military hero Marquis de Lafayette too. Hamilton was said to be small, blue-eyed and red-haired, while Lafayette was described as tall, red-haired and with a long nose. A 19th century account gives the following, quite lucid description of Lafayette's appearance;
"[T]he Marquis de Lafayette was a noble looking man, notwithstanding his deep red hair. His forehead, though receding, was fine, his eye clear hazel, and his mouth and chin delicately formed; exhibiting beauty rather than strength."As for George Washington, he was said to have had red hair as a child, though in adulthood he would come to powder his hair white - which is why it appears so white in the portraits we're used to seeing of him. Powdering hair was quite common at the time, as were wigs, and one wonders how many other historic redheads were hiding under this disguise. Jefferson is another redhead we're normally used to seeing with white hair. He was described in one account though as follows;
"His height exceeded six feet; his form was spare; his step even in old age light and springy; his hair was inclined to red. His eyes were blue, and had a most benignant expression."He was also described by Abigail Adams, wife of President John Adams, as looking "not unlike God." Quite a cool description by any standard. Martha Jefferson Randolph, Jefferson's daughter was also a redhead too. Indeed the entire state of Virginia seemed to have a reputation for red hair at that time, and it's said that during the American War of Independence red hair was quite a common sight amongst the soldiers from that state. One 19th century publication produced the following account;
"Red hair was another peculiarity of the Virginians. One who saw the Virginia troops pass through Petersburg on their way to join the army of Greene, told my informant that two-thirds of the officers had red hair. Jefferson, Campbell, the hero of King's Mountain, Arthur Campbell, John Taylor of Caroline, many of the valiant race of Green, had red hair."Again, it would seem that redheads were especially inclined towards overthrowing kings and embracing democracy. Slightly odd in light of the number of red-haired kings and queens we mentioned in our earlier chapter. It's almost as if the genes for red hair somehow decided a different strategy was needed for survival. Just as red-haired rulers started disappearing red-haired presidents started popping up. In fact, it really is quite an amazing fact that of the first three American presidents, two had red hair, and out of the first eight, four did. Quite incredible. It may also be worth remembering the importance of the pumpkin in the American holiday of Thanksgiving as well come to think of it.
The seventh American President Andrew Jackson was said to have had penetrating blue eyes and a shock of unruly red hair. He is probably now most famous for his opposition to a National Bank, believing it to increase the fortunes of a small "elite circle" at the expense of everyone else. A sentiment that would no doubt be quite popular today too. The eighth President Martin Van Buren had red hair and red sideburns. He was nicknamed "the Red Fox of Kinderhook" because of it.
Red hair also played its part in the Revolutions of France as well. The infamous Maximilien Robespierre was said to have "blue eyes, carnation lips, and light chestnut hair", and to go with the above mentioned Lafayette both Michel Ney and Napoléon Bonaparte were both red-haired as well. Michel Ney was a French soldier and military commander. He was known as Le Rougeaud - "red faced" or "ruddy" - by his men, and nicknamed le Brave des Braves ("the bravest of the brave") by Napoleon. Napoleon himself was said to have had "dark reddish-blond hair" and blue eyes. Incidentally, his famed lover Joséphine de Beauharnais was also chestnut-haired and hazel-eyed.
Another red-haired revolutionary was the unusually named Chilean independence leader Bernardo O'Higgins. Of duel Spanish and Irish ancestry O'Higgins helped to free Chile from Spanish rule in the Chilean War of Independence. He went on to become the Supreme Director of Chile from 1817 to 1823 and is now viewed as one of Chile's most important founding fathers.
The relationship between red hair and revolution continued in Italy as well with the red-haired revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi. He helped unify Italy in the 19th century and in many ways put the final seal on Europe's process of realignment that had started with Martin Luther & Co all those years before. He was known as "the hero of the two worlds" for his exploits in both Europe and South America. The fact that he was a redhead is nowadays not well known, although he is shown as such in many of his portraits. Perhaps quite fittingly his followers wore red shirts. Like George Washington and some of the other French and American revolutionaries he was also a Freemason. He saw his common enemy as the Church of Rome, stating: "The papacy, being the most harmful of all secret societies, ought to be abolished." Contrastingly, he viewed Freemasonry as a useful network for uniting progressive men as part of a global community.
Incidentally, Garibaldi wasn't the only red-haired Italian associated with this process of unification. The revolutionary poet Ugo Foscolo was also a redhead. After his death in 1827 he became something of a symbolic figure for the movement. He died and was buried in London, where he spent the last decade or so of his life. In 1871 his remains were then brought to Florence where they were finally laid to rest at the church of Santa Croce, alongside some of Italy's other famous sons, including Machiavelli, Michelangelo and that other famous redhead Galileo Galilei. In fact, Garibaldi's conflict with Rome in many ways brings us back full circle to Galileo's conflict with Rome. It's hard not to come to the conclusion that redheads are just born trouble makers.