Saturday, May 5, 2018

Red Hair and the Merovingians Revisited

Someone recently left a comment drawing my attention to the following painting. Titled; The Last Merovingian, it shows a very red-haired Childeric III getting his kingly locks shorn off by three monks. Quite a striking image.

(The Last Merovingian)

(The Last Merovingian - detail)

It's by the French artist Évariste-Vital Luminais. He was active during the 19th century and his works seem to feature red hair quite frequently.

(The Death of Childeric I)

(The Gallic Scouts)

(Les énervés de Jumièges)

As I've mentioned before on this blog, it's sometimes repeated online that the Merovingians were said to be red-haired. However, it's difficult finding any actual sources for this claim. The Merovingians were known as the "long-haired kings" - hence the symbolic shaving of the head in the painting - but the actual colour is difficult to pin down. Of course, most Europeans tend to have an array of hair colour in their family, so it would be unlikely that any colour would be common to an entire family. Then again though, that would make it even more interesting if it were found to be the case that the Merovingians were especially red-haired.

Given how far back in the past the Merovingian story is set it's perhaps also entirely possible that their entire history is more myth than reality. In fact, given how dishonest our current media is I'm starting to wonder if this was always the case. I'm starting to view all history as simply the aggregation of nonsense. These paintings do suggest though that the tradition relating red hair and the Merovingians was current in the 19th century, and that it's not just a modern phenomena. Again though, it could just be an aesthetic choice on the part of the artist. Maybe the way we write (or in this case paint) history says more about us than it does about any supposed distant point in time.

A quick search on Google Books for the keywords "red hair Merovingian" brought up the following description from a 19th century work;
Sidonius Appollinaris saw and has delineated one of their military bands. He describes the host as bareheaded, with masses of long red hair falling between their shoulders, their bodies tightly girt about with raw hides, though naked from the knee downward, carrying neither slings nor bows, nor other missiles, except a hatchet and a short pike, to which was strung a barbed harpoon, marching on foot, and protected by no defensive armour.
Lectures on the History of France - Sir James Stephen

This description seems to parallel the descriptions of Germanic, Gaulish and British tribes given by Greek and Roman writers. Again, one wonders how much is fact and how much is imagination.

Redhead - Ian Cook

In other news I recently had contact via email with Ian Cook, the author of the red hair themed novel Redhead. Quite fitting following on from the previous topic really given the far reaching historical and mythological themes featured in book.

He informed me that there is a revised edition of the book now available, and that he's also well into the sequel, which I look forward to reading :D

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