Recently a lock of hair purporting to be from the head of Edward IV turned up at Rosebery’s for what was, in my opinion, a very low estimated price. Edward’s tomb in Windsor was opened in the latter part of the 1700’s and it was said that visitors emerged clutching handfuls of ‘long brown hair.’ One lock found its way to the Society of Antiquaries; another is (or was) in Brighton museum. This latest lock seems to have come from an unspesified source, but unfortunately the lot was withdrawn before it went to auction; I suspect it was either sold to a private collector or the auction room wasn’t happy with the provenance (although, as it came with a document that does appear to be of some age and bears a legible signature, it appears authentic to me. The colour of the hair also seems a close match to the other known swatches.)
One wonders what other interesting mementos of the Yorkist dynasty might reside in private collections. And what could they tell us?
A lock of hair, if the roots remained, could give us dna. In Edward’s case, we might be able to put the rumours of his illegitimacy to rest…or prove them. (Unfortunately the hair from the Society of Antiquaries’ collection was not viable.)
A sample could possibly tell us things about Edward’s health, and again confirm or deny the ‘poisoning’ rumours that attended his death.
The extant hair does, of course, prove that Edward was not the ‘blond giant’ beloved of fiction writers. His portraits showed brown hair, which is verified by the existing hair, and from the description of it at the tomb’s opening. Hair can change colour post-mortem, due to chemical processes, but generally it becomes lighter and redder as the pigments are revealed.
So, folks, keep your eyes peeled at auctions and sales, for you never know what granny or grandad has hidden in the attic, documents, jewellery, flags, preserved hair…Such items obviously do exist, many probably unrecognised for what they are, and what seems like a bit of old junk just might be very important to the study of Richard III and his family.