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Symbolic Meanings of Hair in the Middle Ages

  • Robert Bartlett


BEATNIKS, hippies, punks; marines, convicts, monks—it does not need much reflection to see that styles of head and facial hair in our own society convey meanings about status, attitude and role. The same is equally true of other societies, including those of the past, and the purpose of this paper is to explore some of those meanings as found in medieval Europe.



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1 Special acknowledgement is due to two scholars who kindly provided the author with offprints of their publications that have been of enormous help: Giles Constable, ‘Introduction’ (on beards in the Middle Ages), to Burchard of Bellevaux, Apologia de Barbis, ed. Huygens, R. B. G., in Apologiae duae (Corpus Chnstianorum, continuatio mediaevalis, LXII, Turnhout, 1985), 47130; Sayers, William, ‘Early Irish Attitudes toward Hair and Beards, Baldness and Tonsure’, Zatschrift für celtische Philologie XLIV (1991), 154–89. Many years ago Keith Thomas supplied a helpful introductory bibliography which was an encouragement to think further in this area.

2 See the discussion in Leach, E. R., ‘Magical Hair’, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, LXXXVIII (1958), 147–64, and Hallpike, C. R., ‘Social HairMan: The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, IV (1969), 256–64.

3 Sachsenspiegel, Landrecht I, xlii, ed. Eckhardt, Karl (Göttingen, 1955), 104.

4 (Contributions to a) Dictionary of the Irish Language (Royal Irish Academy, Dublin, 19131976), s. w. gilla (e), mael II c; Sayers, , ‘Early Irish Attitudes’, 177.

5 Wolfram, Herwig, History of the Goths (Eng. transl., Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1988), 301–2.

6 Gregory of Tours, Libri Historiarum X III. xviii, ed. Krusch, B. and Levison, W., Monumenta Germaniae historica, Scriptores rerum Merovingicarum I, i (1951), 118. See Wallace-Hadrill, J. M., The Long-haired Kings (1962), 156–7, 232–3, 245–6; Cameron, Averil, ‘How Did the Merovingian Kings Wear Their Hair?’, Revue belge de philologie et d'histoire, XLIII (1965), 1203–16; Leyser, Conrad, ‘Long-haired Kings and Short-haired Nuns: Power and Gender in Merovingian Gaul’, Medieval World (0304 1992), 3742 (R. I. Moore kindly provided the last reference).

7 Gartenaere, Werner der, Helmbrecht, lines 1013, ed. Ulrich Seelbach, tr. Linda Parshall (New York and London, 1987), 2.

8 Pax Bawarica LXXI, ed. Weiland, Ludwig, Monumenta Germaniae historica, Constitutions et acta publica imperatorum et regum, II (1896), no. 427, 577 (1244).

9 Helmbrecht, lines 18961900, ed. Seelbach, , 124.

10 Germania XXXVIII

11 Confessor, Theophanes, Chronographia, ed. de Boor, Karl (Leipzig, 1883) sect. 6050, 232; Pohl, Walter, Die Awaren (Munich, 1988), 18.

12 William of Malmesbury, Gesta regum III, ed. Stubbs, William (2 vols., Rolls Series, 18871889) n, 301; the passage was borrowed by Pseudo-Alanus, , Commentary on the Prophecies of Merlin (Frankfurt, 1603), 62.

13 Paris, Mathew, Chronica majora ed. Luard, Henry R. (7 vols., Rolls Series, 18721884), II, 418.

14 Statutes and Ordinances and Acts of the Parliament of Ireland: King John to Henry V, ed. Henry, and Berry, F. (Dublin, 1907), 210; for culan and cul, Dictionary of the Irish Language, s. v..

15 For the general context see the present writer's The Making of Europe: Conquest Colonization and Cultural Change 950–1350 (1993), 214–20, and Frame, Robin, ‘;”Les Engleys nées en Irlande”: The English Political Identity in Medieval Ireland’, ante 6th sen, III(1993). 83103.

16 Parliaments and Councils of Mediaeval Ireland, I, ed. Richardson, H. G. and Sayles, G. O. (Irish Manuscripts Commission, Dublin, 1947), no. 13, 17.

17 Maxwell, Constantia (ed.), Irish History from Contemporary Sources (1509–1610) (London, 1923), 113; Jackson, Kenneth H. (ed.), A Celtic Miscellany (rev. ed., Harmondsworth, 1971), 218; see also Quinn, David B., The Elizabethans and the Irish (Ithaca, 1966), 92, 126, 151, 169.

18 Córtes de los antiguos reinos de Leon y Castilla, I (Real Academia de Historia, Madrid, 1861), 59 (cl. 27); cf. González, Francisco Fernández y, Estado social y político de bs mudéjares de Castilla (Madrid, 1866), 130 n. 2.

19 Cortes de los antiguos reinos de Aragón y de Valencia y principado de Cataluñia, I/i (Real Academia de Historia, Madrid, 1896), 190 (cl. 12).

20 Boswell, John, The Royal Treasure: Muslim Communities under the Crown of Aragon in the Fourteenth Century (New Haven, 1977), 331 (cf. 289–90).

21 Conciliorum oecumenicorum decreta, ed. Alberigo, J. et al. (3rd. ed., Bologna, 1973), 241–3 (can. LXVIII).

22 Franz, Adolf, Die kirchlichen Benediktionen im Mittelalter (2 vols., Freiburg, 1909), II, 245–52. Franz believes that this ceremony does not simply represent the tonsuring of oblates (252).

23 Pactus legis Salicae XXIV, LXVII, ed. Eckhardt, Karl, Monumenta Germaniae historica, Leges nationum Germanicarum, IV, i (1962), 8990, 238.

24 Paul the Deacon, Historia Langobardorum VI. liii, ed. Bethmann, L. and Waitz, G., Monumenta Germaniae historica, Scriptores rerum Germanicarum in usum scholarum separatim editi, XLVIII (1878), 237.

25 Levy, Emil, Provenzalisches Supplement-Wörterbuch, VIII (Leipzig, 1924), 327–8, s. v. ‘tos’, 335–6, s. v. ‘toza’; Wartburg, Walther von, Franzözisches etymologisches Wörterbuch, XIII/ii (Basel, 1965), 32–3, s. v. ‘tonsus’; Pauli, Ivan, ‘Enfant’, ‘garçon’, ‘fille’ dans Us langues romanes (Lund, 1919), 260–8, ‘Dénominations établies d'aprés la coups des cheveux’.

26 La Chanson de la Croisade Albigeoise XV. cxliii, line 13, ed. Martin-Chabot, Eugène (3 vols., Les classiques de l'histoire de France au Moyen Age, Paris, 19311961), II, 42.

27 Anonymus Ticensis commentarius de laudibus Papiae XV, ed. Muratori, L. A., Rerum italicarum scriptores, XI (Milan, 1727), col. 31.

28 Gallus Anonymus, Chronicon, ed. Maleczynski, K., Monumenta Poloniae historica, n. s., II (Cracow, 1952), 912.

29 ‘Epitaphium Chabri Boleslai’, ed. Bielowski, A., Monumenta Poloniae historica, I (Lwó, 1864), 320.

30 Platelle, Henri, ‘Le problème de scandale: les nouvelles modes masculines aux Xle et Xlle siècles’, Revue beige de philologie et d'histoire, LIII (1975), 1071–1096. There is an important discussion in Barlow, Frank, William Rufus (1983), 101–10.

31 Eadmer, , Historia novorum, ed. Rule, Martin (Rolls Series, 1884), 48.

32 Vitalis, Orderic, Historia ecclesiastica IX. iii, ed. and tr. Chibnall, Marjorie (6 vols., Oxford, 19681980), V, 22.

33 Ibid. VIII. x, ed. Chibnall, IV, 186–90.

34 William, of Malmesbury, , Gesta regum IV, ed. Stubbs, , II, 370.

35 Eadmer, , Historia novorum, ed. Rule, , 143; Councils and Synods with Other Documents relating to the English Church I (871–1204) ed. Whitelock, D., Brett, M. and Brooke, C. N. L. (2 vols., Oxford, 1981), II, 677–8.

36 Vitalis, Orderic, Historic ecclesiastica XI. xi, ed. Chibnall, , VI, 64–6.

37 Nicholas, of Soissons, , Vita Godefridi episcopi Ambianensis, ed. Poncelet, Albert, Acta Sanctorum Novembris, III (Brussels, 1910), 905–44, at 926.

38 Eadmer, , Histotia novorum, ed. Rule, , 214.

39 Bernard, of Clairvaux, , De laude novae militiae II. iv, in Leclerq, J. and Rochais, H. M. (eds.), Opera, III (Rome, 1963), 205–39, at 216, 220; Alan, of Lille, , Anticlaudianus VII. iii. 32, ed. Wright, Thomas, The Anglo-Latin Satirical Poets and Epigrammatists of the Twelfth Century, II (Rolls Series, 1872), 268428, at 387.

40 William, of Malmesbury, , Gesta regum IV, ed. Stubbs, , II, 369–70.

41 William, of Malmesbury, , Historia novella, ed. and tr. Potter, K. R. (1955),56. Gaimar has a story about hair-cropping at Rufus' court, but this is very difficult to interpret: Gaimar, Geffrei, L'Estoire des Engleis, lines 6072–6104, ed. Bell, Alexander (Anglo-Norman Texts XIV–XVI, Oxford, 1960), 192–3.

42 William, of Malmesbury, , Vita Wulfstam XVI, ed Darlington, R. R. (Camden 3rd. ser., XL, 1928),23.

43 Gillingham, John, ‘The Beginnings of English Imperialism’, Journal of Historical Sociology V (1992), 392409

44 Paris, Mathew, Chronica majora, ed. Luard, , IV,2.

45 E.g. Galbert, of Bruges, , ed. Pirenne, Henri, Historie du meurtre de Charles le Bon (Paris, 1891), 162–3 (1128); Flores historiarum ed. Luard, H. R. (3 vols., Rolls Series, 1890), III, 256 (1265).

46 Amarus, of Montecassino, , Storia de' Mormanni IV. xlix, ed. Bartholomaeis, Vincenzo de (Forth per la storia d'ltalia, LXXVI, Rome, 1935), 211.

47 La Chanson de Roland, lines 2596, 2906, 2930–1, 2943, 2982, 4001–1, ed. Whitehead, F. (Oxford, 1942), 76, 85–7, 117.

48 Reginald, of Durham, , Libellus de admirandis beati Cuthberti virtutibus LXX, XXX, ed. Raine, James (Surtees Soc., I, 1835), 142–5, 67–9.

49 Germania XXVII.

50 Hartmann von Aue, Erec lines 5760–2, ed. Leitzmann, Albert (Altdeutsche Textbibliothek, XXXIX, 5th ed., Tübingen, 1976), 150 (there is nothing corresponding to this phrase in Chretien's version, on which Hartmann's was based).

51 See, for discussion of hair and mourning, Barasch, Mosche, Gestures of Despair in Medieval and Early Renaissance Art (New York, 1976) 18, 22–7, 36, 42, 68, 78, 88, 103–23.

52 Libellus XCII, ed. Raine, , 201–4.

53 Gregory, of Tours, , Historia Francorum III. xxix, ed. Krusch, and Levison, , 134.

54 Rockinger, M Ludwig (ed.), Briefsteller and Formelbücher des elften bis vierzehnten Jahrhunderts (Quellen und Erörterungen zur bayerischen und deutschen Geschkhte IX, 2 vols., Munich, 18631864), I, 141.

55 Ibid., 141–2.

56 Chrysostom, John, Homilies on John LXII. iv. ed. Migne, J. P., Patrobgia graeca, LIX (Paris, 1862), col. 346.

57 St Penitential, Hubert LIII, ed. Schmitz, J., Die Bussbücher und das kanonische Bussverfahren (Düsseldorf, 1898), 338 (for other examples see 300, 344, 356).

58 Hughes, Diane O., ‘Sumptuary Law and Social Relations in Renaissance Italy’, in Disputes and Settlements, ed. Bossy, John (Cambridge, 1983), 6999, at 74–59

59 Codice diplomatico delta Citta d'Orvieto, ed. Fumi, Luigi (Documenti di storia italiana), VIII, Florence, 1884), 804.

60 Grammaticus, Saxo, Gesta Danorum XIV. xxxix. 4, ed. Olrik, J. and Raeder, H. (2 vols., Copenhagen, 19311957), I, 465.

61 Constable, , ‘Introduction’, 105–7.

62 Historia regum Britannie XI. i (143), ed. Wright, Neil (Cambridge, 1984), 101; the implication might alternatively be that minstrels had short hair and were clean shaven.

63 Gabrieli, Francesco (ed.), Arab Historians of the Crusades (Eng. tr., Berkeley and London, 1969), 201 (Baha' ad-Din).

64 Vitalis, Orderic, Historia ecclesiastica XII. xxxix, ed. Chibnall, , VI, 352.

65 Helbig, Herbert and Weinrich, Lorenz (eds.), Urkunden und erzählende Quellen zur deutschen Ostsiedlung im Mitllalters (Ausgewahlte Quellen zur deutschen Geschichte des Mittelalters, XXVI, 2 vols., Darmstadt, 19681970), I, no. 19, 98.

66 William, of Rubruck, , Itinerarium, XXV, XXVIII, ed. van denWyngaert, Anastasius, Sinica Franciscana I: Itinera et Relationes fratrum minorum saeculi XIII et XIV (Quaracchi, 1929), 164332, at 229–30, 248.

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