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 This latest lock seems to have come from an unspesified source, but unfortunately the lot was withdrawn before it went to auction; I suspect it was either sold to a private collector or the auction room wasn’t happy with the provenance (although, as it came with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.


  1. This is all so interesting, hoodman1. I can’t say the thought of people grabbing his hair and spiriting it away is pleasant, but if they hadn’t, we wouldn’t have the hair to look at now. And discuss. One thing I read once, about Edward’s hair, was that it had been spoiled by some ‘black sticky stuff’ that was in the tomb. I don’t know where I read it now, but it was given as a reason why his hair colour was hard to assess. Maybe someone else has read of this?


    1. The Society of Antiquaries website (makinghistory.sal.org.uk) has an account of the opening of the tomb of Edward IV:

      “Edward IV’s tomb was discovered in March 1789 during the restoration of St George’s Chapel, Windsor. He had been buried there in 1483. The architect Henry Emlyn superintended the restoration, and his diagram of the excavated tomb is shown here.

      An ineffective attempt to find the entrance to the tomb in 1788 had damaged one of the stones, marked here on Emlyn’s drawing. The tomb was subsequently discovered during work in the north aisle when stones closing the entrance to the vault fell out. Inside the lead coffin was the King’s skeleton, and Emlyn records, ‘Some long brown hair lay near the skull; and some of the same colour, but shorter, was on the neck of the skeleton. There was in the bottom of the coffin a liquid, which at the feet was about three inches deep.’ Emlyn’s drawing shows the skeleton with long hair, and feet immersed in the dark liquid.

      An analysis of this liquid was carried out by James Lind MD, physician at Windsor, who concluded that it came from the dissolution of the body. After the discovery of the tomb, many relics were removed, including locks of the King’s hair. A small phial containing some of the liquid, a lock of Edward’s hair and wood from the adjacent Queen’s coffin were presented to the Society by John Douglas, Dean of Windsor and Bishop of Carlisle, in 1790. Emlyn’s diagram and the accompanying account were published by the Society in 1790. The phial and its contents no longer survive.”

      In 2007, the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, granted John Ashdown-Hill the request for the lock of Edward’s hair from the so a DNA sequence could be extracted from it. He delivered it to Professor Cassiman at the Catholic University of Leuven, but it turned out that a DNA sequence could not be extracted. (This is mentioned on JAH’s website, the article “Richard III’s DNA – The complete story”.)


  2. We currently have on exhibition in St George’s Chapel a very similar looking item. The Chapel has had this lock of hair since the examination of the tomb in 1789.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Isn’t there a lock of Mary Tudor Brandon’s hair out there somewhere? Or was at one time?
    Nothing to do with anything, except just to prove what a trivia freak I am.
    Oh, and there is a story about Mary of York’s (Elizabeth’s sister) grave being opened in the 18th century. It was discovered she was a blue-eyed blonde – because her eyes were open! But they soon crumbled away. Probably just a gruesome legend.


    1. Yes, a lock of Mary Tudor’s hair has been inside a golden locket since the 19th century. There’s an old article from 2007 online about John-Ashdown Hill asking for her lock of hair and Edward’s lock of hair for DNA analysis, and he’s quoted saying: “There is just one problem; at the moment the locket which has held this lock of hair since at least the 1840s, refuses to open! Hopefully conservation staff from the Colchester Museums Service will be able to unseal it for me.”

      You can also see the photo of the hair in the locket, just Google “Mary Tudor hair locket” and check the first result. (I would put links for both the article and the photo, but then the comment would need some time to be approved.)


  4. There is an incredibly detailed history about all the hair samples collected in 1789 exhumation of Edward IV’s corpse contained in Anne Sutton/Livia Visser-Fuch’s book “The Royal Funerals of the House of York at Windsor” (RIIIS, 2005). It goes on for 15 pages. (Not to quibble, but Edward IV’s corpse was measured in 1789 at 6’2″ which is pretty tall compared to the male average back then). The authors describe 19 different hair samples, and their subsequent provenance.

    One of the more delightful strands of this bizarre history (forgive the pun!), is this description of hair sample #9:

    “A famous owner of some of the hair was Horace Walpole, who was given it by Sir Joseph Banks himself, whom he knew well. Only a week after the discovery of the vault, on 20 March 1789, Walpole wrote to friends, who no doubt had heard rumours and expressed their curiosity: “PS I have got a few hairs of Edward IV’s head, not beard; they are of a darkish brown, not auburn.” The relic consisted of two pieces, each wrapped in paper and put in a round wooden box, kept at Strawberry Hill in the rosewood cabinet designed by Walpole himself. One paper was inscribed: “Presented by Sir Joseph Banks. Hair from the Beard of Edward IV taken when his tomb was opened 1789”; the other: “Hair from the Head of Edward IV died 1483. Tomb open’d 1789 at Windsor”. Walpole’s strands of hair were sold at Christie’s in April 1996, apparently as part of a collection of letters of Lady Dorothy Neville, who avidly collected historical relics and especially anything to do with Horace Walpole. They went for Ł450 to Stanford University Library.”


    1. Almost 6’4″, actually. Edward I Longshanks was 6’2″.

      Question: which is weirder, collecting locks of Edward’s hair from his tomb, or fangirling over Richard’s facial reconstruction? I’m wondering as someone who’s guilty of the latter. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Someone whose bones measure 6’2″ might well be 6’3″ or more in the flesh. You have a fat pad on the bottom of your feet, otherwise it would be painful to walk. And some people – but no, I won’t go there.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Antiquarian bone measurements were often a bit faulty, and tended to fall on the shorter side of reality….or, on occasion the reverse, and hence we hear stories of ‘giants’ (these were usually from graves with more than one person or with an animal buried in them.)

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.