The Dressing of the Hair, Moustachios and Beard (3)Previous page
While the hair was the pride, the glory, and the strength of Samson, it was the bane of Absalom, for by the abundance of his hair he met his death. "In all Israel there was none to be so much praised as Absalom for his beauty: from the sole of his foot even to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him. And when he polled his head (for it was at every year's end that he polled it: because the hair was heavy, therefore he polled it), he weighed the hair of his head at two hundred shekels after the king's weight." Had he polled it at more frequent intervals he might have made good his succession to the crown, and Solomon never have been king, for Absalom had "stolen the hearts of the people of Israel."
As in a mighty river we may trace back its course to the little rill or rivulet which trickles from the mountain side, so we may often trace the origin of great events to very small beginnings. How might the face of both French and English history have been changed but for Peter Lombard's dislike of a beard! Louis VII imagined it a matter of conscience to give an example of submission to 'the command of the bishops on the subject of long hair, and to atone for his many cruelties by being shaved in public. He reckoned, however, without his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, a jocose madcap, who rallied him upon his short hair and shaven chip. "I thought I had married a prince, but find I have wedded nothing but a monk." The breach occasioned by a bare face was widened, and the marriage dissolved. Six weeks afterwards Eleanor was again a wife. Henry, Duke of Normandy, who afterwards reigned as Henry II of England, being the husband, who obtained with her fair Aquitaine with its three provinces. Hence arose those wars which ravaged France for near three centuries, in which upwards of three millions of Frenchmen perished on the fields of Cressy, Agincourt, and Poitiers, and on many a lesser field.
Henry I issued an edict for the suppression of long hair, and as a natural consequence long hair immediately became the rage. This edict, however, was the result of a visit to Normandy, and the preaching of a prelate named Serlo, whose eloquence was such that the monarch and his courtiers were moved to tears. The astute priest, perceiving the impression he had created, immediately whipped a pair of scissors from his sleeve and cropped the whole congregation!
The patriarchal beard and long hair of Edward III, as exhibited in his effigy at Westminster, is in strict conformity with the general character of this serious minded monarch, strongly contrasting with the character of his successor, Richard of Bordeaux, who was the greatest fop of the day.
During the century which followed the reign of Edward III beards were worn of every imaginable cut. There was the fantail beard, with its wadded nightcap for protection during sleep, of the stiffening which was applied. There was, as later, the cathedral beard, the spade beard, the stiletto beard, and there was an extraordinary curled tuft which resembled a corkscrew. There was apparently as much variety of colour as of form.
"I will discharge it in either your straw-colour beard, your orange tawny beard, your purple-in-gram beard, or your French-crown-colour beard, your perfect yellow " (" A Midsummer Night's Dream," Act I. sc. 2).
Our Royal "Bluebeard" registered a solemn vow before the French Ambassador that he would never touch razor till he had visited "his good brother" upon the Field of the Cloth of old, the "good brother" making a similar vow. With characteristic " nglish perfidy" Henry broke his vow, while the French man remained true; it was therefore found necessary for Sir Thomas Boleyn to apologise for his master's bad faith by saying that "the Queen of England felt an insuperable antipathy to a bushy chin."
Henry, indeed, not only shaved his own chin and wore his hair short, but commanded all his subjects to do the same. He granted the barbers a new charter, incorporated them with the surgeons, and became a member of their company.
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