It’s said that green is the colour of the Devil; it’s also my favourite colour, so I don’t know what that says about me. All I know is that when I was growing up, green was almost always declared to be unlucky. In my teens, I was invited to be a bridesmaid for a cousin, and I desperately wanted to wear pale green brocade. My mother was doubtful that this would be acceptable at a wedding, of all things, but it was. The subsequent marriage was happy, so I didn’t cast an evil gloom over it.
In the medieval period, green was definitely dodgy. Dragons were always green and wicked (it was the Tudors who popularised the red dragon of Wales). Sir Gawain had to battle the huge and dangerous Green Knight, who definitely had supernatural powers, and whose seductress of a wife presented the only-too-tempted Gawain with a green girdle (or sash, depending upon which version of the tale you read).
On the other hand, green is also the colour of nature and regeneration, the national colour of Ireland, the colour of Mohammed and so on. To say nothing of emeralds, which are by far my favourite precious stone. And the shamrock and four-leafed clover are said to be lucky.
There again, if the people of the medieval period did indeed think green was evil and unlucky, there are some odd exceptions to the rule. For instance, when Edward III heard and liked the story of Gawain and the Green Knight, he decided that the Garter knights at the tournament to celebrate St George’s Day should wear green. So their horses, were green as well, and so on.
Edward can’t have thought it unlucky, surely? Nor Richard II, if the above illustration is reliable. Especially on St George’s Day? Ah, but Edward was also said to be interested in alchemy and such things, and had books on the subject. So did his grandson Richard. Green had various meanings and powers in alchemy, so maybe there was more to this decision than at first met the eye? Who knows?
Anyway, given all this, and given the strenuous efforts made after the death of Richard III to damage the reputation of that unfortunate king, I would have expected to find a wealth of contemporary illustrations showing him wearing green. Well I’ve looked—granted I can’t possibly be sure of finding every single one—but success has eluded me. Surely his detractors wouldn’t have let such an obvious opportunity pass? On top of everything else, Richard was the Devil’s Own? What a headline for them. But the only illustrations I have found are more modern, and often of the eponymous character from the Shakespeare play, as at the top of this page.
So, did they really think green was unlucky? I never have, but countless people do. Who’s right?
(And please don’t someone tell me there’s a very famous image of Richard in green that I’ve overlooked! 🙄)