Candice Holdsworth

In defence of redheads

We are unfairly maligned

  • From Spectator Life
(Getty Images)

I doubt many people reading this have much sympathy for Prince Harry, but spare a thought for those who have become the collateral damage in all the Harry hate: his fellow redheads.

Our precarious fortunes seem to be pegged to the popularity of the most famous male member of our kind. When Harry was loved, people would tell me that he was the ‘only ginger they fancied’, but now that he’s in the doldrums, his hair colour is spat out with scorn. It’s often the first thing people attack about him. Nasty comments about red hair are nothing new. But since the whole ‘Ginge and Whinge’ phenomenon, I’ve heard more negative comments about red hair, in the media and just in ordinary conversation, than I ever have previously. That is certainly not the same for any other hair colour of a controversial figure. In Harry’s case, his hair only seems to add insult to injury.

Francois Mauriceau, writing in 1688, warned in The Diseases of Women with Child that red-haired wet nurses were to be avoided because they were ‘amorous’ and loved to drink wine, which soured their milk

I am curious, what is it about red hair? Is it the bright colour itself which can be polarising to the eye, or is it as J.K. Rowling has said, not so much malignant as maligned? Some say it stems from historic prejudice towards the Irish and the Scots, others have linked it to a medieval fear of witches, who were often thought to have red hair. The Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of the Witches), written by a German Catholic clergyman in 1486, warned that witches could be identified by their red hair and green eyes. A French doctor, Francois Mauriceau, writing in 1688, warned in The Diseases of Women with Child that red-haired wet nurses were to be avoided because they were ‘amorous’ and loved to drink wine, which soured their milk.

Already a subscriber? Log in

Keep reading with a free trial

Subscribe and get your first month of online and app access for free. After that it’s just £1 a week.

There’s no commitment, you can cancel any time.

Or

Unlock more articles

REGISTER

Comments

Don't miss out

Join the conversation with other Spectator readers. Subscribe to leave a comment.

Already a subscriber? Log in