Hair of the Heir: Thoughts Inspired by the Birth of Prince George

The birth of Prince George Alexander Louis stirred up much celebrating, save for a few curmudgeons like Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of Russia’s Liberal Democratic Party, who rather excessively predicted that the little prince would  “suck the blood” of the Russian people by the middle of this century. Choice of the name George was particularly gratifying to those under the patronage of that saint.  He may well be the patron of more nations, provinces and institutions than any saint save Our Lady. The removal of Saint George to a third class minor saint by Pope Paul VI in 1963 was undone by Pope John Paul II when he restored him to the universal calendar and gave him special first class rank in England and India. George is the baptismal name of Pope Francis, and so April 23 will have special resonance during his reign.

Most iconography shows Saint George with thick curly hair, which is strange since his demotion in 1963 was because supposedly little is known about him.  Little Prince George Alexander Louis, like many babies, even royal ones, came into the world with fine but sparse hair.  Some of the press occupied airtime remarking that his father is balding. This is also the case with Prince William’s uncle, Prince Edward.  Prince Harry has thick red hair, encouraging gossips to claim that he is not royal at all.  Prince George’s maternal great grandfather, the 8th Earl Spencer, was pretty thin on top, as was the 2nd Earl, and his youngest son, the Venerable Ignatius Spencer, a Catholic convert and Passionist priest. Father Spencer collapsed and died in a ditch in 1864 in consummation of arduous preaching and begging for the poor.

The Queen has great hair and, being monarch of all she surveys and titular head of two billion people, she does not have any need to change styles. The first Elizabeth went bald and had at least eighty wigs, but she was a queen and not a king, and bald queens are not as handsome as bald kings. Louis XIII regretted his hair loss and affected wigs, and they became the fashion for a long time. Emperor Joseph abolished them as court dress in 1780 but the final blow was the French -Revolution when wigs were disdained as aristocratic symbols, and soon the guillotine saw to it that there were no heads to put them on. In the early days of the Church they were condemned as vanities:  St Cyprian said that wearing a wig was worse than committing adultery, and St. Clement of Alexandria held that when a blessing was given, it was blocked by the wig and did not reach the soul.  In the eighteenth century Clement XI forbade the wearing of wigs by local Roman clergy in the provincial councils of 1701 and 1706, and Benedict XIII ordered Cardinal Alberioni out of a procession for wearing one, but courtiers could wear them. Benedict XIV mitigated the strictures in 1725, and understandably so since he wore one in winter months. Curiously, wigs assumed an almost liturgical significance in the Church of England and were required for official acts; there was a special design for the clerical wig,  as there were for barristers and judges.  In the early nineteenth century in New York, a question arose among Episcopalians about the validity of their bishops consecrated without wigs.

As for the hair of the Windsors, the roots go back well into Saxon mists, assuming that the most common form of male pattern baldness, androgenic alopecia, is hereditary.  This genetic tradition is, according to experts, “autosomal dominant with mixed penetrance.” I quote that without comment, since I do not know what it means, but I do know that bald royals tend to beget bald royals here and there. In the present case of the Mountbatten-Windsors, one might check out the Count of Flanders, Baudouin I, born in 864, who passed the gene through the Princess Elfridam of Wessex.  The present alopeciac Prince Edward is Earl of Wessex.  The saintly (later canonized) king of the Angles, Aethelberht, son of Eormenric, and the first English king to convert to Christianity, on his return with his son Alfred from pilgrimage to Rome where he bestowed on the Pope lavish gifts of Saxon gold, he visited the court of Charles the Bald, king of the western Franks. There he married Charles’s twelve-year old daughter Judith, his first wife Bertha having died. Bertha may have been key in persuading Pope Gregory I to send St. Augustine and his retinue to Britain.

Aethelberht divided the Kentish kingdom between his eldest son Aethelbald and his favorite son Alfred. Aethelbald (whose name has nothing to do with hair) married his step-mother upon the death of this father and was succeeded by Alfred. The new king commissioned a book of charms, that is, Latin verses describing medical cures, which had been passed along to him by Elias, the Patriarch of Jerusalem.  An extant version of the book is called “Bald’s Leechbook” for its owner, mentioned in a colophon at the end of the Leechbook:  “Bald habet hunc librum Cild quem conscibere iussit  (Bald is the owner of this book which he ordered Cild to compile.)”  In early Anglo-Saxon usage, “bald” meant bold or courageous, and only gradually in Middle English did it come to mean a lack of hair.  The Welsh equivalent for bold is “ddewr” and the word for bald is “foel.”  When the Saxon king Aethelstan took the throne in 924, he joined forces against the Scots with the Welsh ruler Idwal Foel (Idwal the Bald) but as that alliance ended on the death of Aethelstan, it cannot be proven that any genetic trait was passed through a royal marriage.  The present Prince of Wales is thinning, appropriately, on the crown of his head.

Fast forwarding through the royal ages, androgenic alopecia cropped up in the reign of George III.  His tenth child, Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge, was totally bald and became the uncle of Queen Victoria who married the prematurely balding Prince Albert.  Prince Adolphus was also, through the Wurttemburg line, the grandfather of Mary of Teck, who became the queen consort of George V and the present Queen’s grandmother. Queen Mary’s brother took the name of his great great uncle as 1st Marquess of Cambridge and, as can be seen in a chromolithograph by Sir Leslie Ward, was bald at an early age.

One wishes the best for every baby, and it is certainly hoped that the newborn Prince George will not be like Absalom, the princely son of King David, with hair so long that it got caught in the branches of a terebinth tree, leading to his death.  What the Bible teaches us about all this, is left for dispassionate exegetes to tell.  We do know that God’s judgments are severe against those whose sense of humor is so primitive that they resort to telling bald jokes.  A crowd of boys jeered at the prophet Elisha on his way to Bethel, shouting: “Go up, baldhead!  Go up, baldhead!” The prophet cursed them in the name of the Lord. “Then two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the children to pieces” (2 Kings 2: 24). The meaning of this edifying scene is for those wise enough to understand.

Fr. George W. Rutler


Fr. George W. Rutler is pastor of St. Michael's church in New York City. He is the author of many books including Principalities and Powers: Spiritual Combat 1942-1943 (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press) and Hints of Heaven (Sophia Institute Press). His latest books are He Spoke To Us (Ignatius, 2016) and The Stories of Hymns (EWTN Publishing, 2017).

  • baileywalker

    Brilliant! Well done, Father Rutler.

  • Ben

    I’m afraid your Anglo-Saxon history is a bit muddled. Æthelberht of Kent was the first English convert, in 597. He was married to the Frankish princess Bertha. Æthelwulf of Wessex (d. 858) was the father of Alfred the Great and the husband of Osburh and Judith of Flanders. He did not divide the kingdom between Æthelbald and Alfred. Æthelwulf was succeeded by Æthelbald. It was not until the death of his older brothers (Æthelbald and Æthelberht and Æthelred) that Alfred acceded to the throne.

  • S

    Reading this was like riding a roller-coaster: aimless, but fun.

    I was very surprised when I told the story of Elisha-the-bald-head to a priest in his fifties (bald, bald, bald) and he did not recognize the reference at all. In fact, I only heard it in a literature class at university (from a balding professor), so I assumed it would be well-known and instantly recognized by any priest. But when the priest professed ignorance of the text, it occurred to me that I can’t recall ever hearing the story read out at Mass, daily or Sunday, despite being a daily Mass-goer lo, these many years. And indeed, that part of the Second Book of Kings is not in the lectionary.

    Now here’s a subject for the Dan Browns of the world: by what dark conspiracy did the Catholic hierarchy ban ‘the curse of the bald man’ from being read in the Mass? What secret power – known only to the tonsured – does this curse hold, that it should be hidden from the female and the hirsute? What, after all, is the white papal zucchetto, but a symbol of baldness (and moreover, the symbol of the power of the bald WHITE man!) and the power of the bald to curse the young and hairy, and thus keep them under their power; yea, verily, to thwart the natural power of long-haired women and hairy young men, who would take over power from the balding old men if given their natural rights? Did not Pope Benedict have a BEAR on his papal coat-of-arms? Surely this is a sign that the full curse of Elisha is about to be unleashed on the world, probably at a mass meeting of young, hairy, men and women. World Youth Day! What better moment…!?!

    I sense a best-seller coming over me, or maybe it’s just the heat…

    • Uuncle Max

      You were rolling along quite nicely and I was really enjoying your writing and then you had to bring in Dan Brown.


    • Bono95

      If the Pope’s white skull cap symbolizes the power of the Bald White Man, what do the cardinals’ red skull caps symbolize?

  • MLT

    love it, love it love it!!!

  • Carl

    “Imagine” John Lennon music

    Imagine love of all the unborn
    It’s easy if you try
    No abortions to stain us
    Imagine all the people
    Loving you like Prince George!…

    Imagine all life as sacred
    It’s easy if you try
    Nothing but God’s love for all
    Religion is respected too
    Imagine all the unborn and old
    Living Life in Peace…

    You may say I’m a dreamer
    But I’m not the only one
    I hope someday societies respect life
    And the world will respect the dignity of all

    Imagine life more important than possessions
    I wonder if man could ever
    No need for lust or greed
    A brotherhood of man
    Imagine all the people
    Loving you like Prince George…

    You may say I’m a dreamer
    But I’m not the only one
    I hope someday you’ll join us
    And the world will live as one
    Under God…

  • Andrew Greenwell

    Surely Fr. Rutler could have introduced here the great traditions of the Church regarding baldness. This is all very well and good as far as secular history goes, but the piece is very weak in theology. I would have expected more from a priest, and one obviously bearing a baldness charism. I would have incorporated the works of Bishop Synesius of Cyrene (who wrote against Dio Chrysostom) regarding the advantages of baldness. He also could have cited to Hucbald’s Ecloga de Calvis. Oh, how a teaching moment was lost!

    • carl

      LOL, my receding hairline is substantial and I have some thinning on top as well, do I qualify for the baldness charism?

      • Andrew Greenwell

        Of course, but please remember, baldness (at least normally) is not a “once bald, always bald” type of thing, it is generally a process. You will have to labor hard (with the help of age and grace) to perfect your baldness. You should think of baldness as a natural tonsure.

    • G W Rutler

      These are excellent reminders. Synesius of course was something of an eccentric as well as a heretic and contradicted his own argument by admiring Hypatia who was famous for long hair. Admittedly, Hucbald was a genius – like Synesius – and every child should be made to memorize his Ecloga.

  • Jim

    Considering the new boy has been named George, I offer an interesting bit of biography.

    The current head of the Royal Order of St. George and for the Defense of the Faith and for the Immaculate Conception is the legitimate King of England; that is, is to say the current house sitting atop the English is revolutionary and therefore offensive to God according to our Church Doctors.

    Forced by force of arms he must go by Duke, but in justice his name should be styled King Francis II Bonaventure, and thus the heir presumptive is Prince Max Emanuel.

    Perhaps they should have named the baby Francis, or Charles.

    • Sigroli

      Don’t know what a constitutional monarchy is, do you?

  • Sue

    I believe Absalom was David’s son, not Solomon’s.

  • Adam__Baum

    Hirsutism is much over-rated. It’s so much easy to groom with Pledge.

    Only downside is need to wear a cap in Summer.

  • Mark Millward

    Fr Rutler, Prince Edward is brother to Prince Charles, he is Uncle to Prince William not his brother. I’m sure you’re aware of this and your mistake is just a slip of the keys as it were!

    Keep up the excellent posts.

  • Uuncle Max

    I have an Episcopalian friend of considerable intellect whom I have been trying to convert for years. One of my selling points is the intellectual firepower we have – now and stretching back 2 millenia. I sent him this piece and he likes it.

  • Uuncle Max

    What a lovely picture it is of two new parents. They look wonderfully grateful for what God has given them.

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  • jhmdeuce

    Who cares?

    • Augustus

      Some readers have an appreciation for history and a sense of humor. You obviously don’t.

  • Art Ainsworth

    Obviously most of the world cares. It preempted virtually every other
    news item for days. Within the first two days, merchants sold $325
    million (US $) in souvenir items. Not a bad investment, considering
    that the Royal Family costs Britons just 83 cents per capita annually.
    Of course the Queen does not anything: she has an estimated estate value
    of $44 billion, although only about $4 billion of it is liquid assets.
    And she is the most dutiful servant her people have ever had.

  • Sigroli

    Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge, was the uncle, not great-uncle, of Queen Victoria.

  • Bono95

    Richard III was said to have been born with a full head of hair. Of course, he was also said to have been born with horns, fangs, claws, and a hunchback, his mom was supposed to have been pregnant with him for 2 years, he was supposedly delivered by C-section (which his mom apparently survived, which wasn’t common in the 15th century), and he was said to have a taste for live frogs.

    Those Tudors are shameless liars.

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  • Bernonensis

    So, the Merovingians were doing comb-overs?
    We who bear the tonsure of Chronos thank you, Father, for these words, welcome as shade in the summer’s glare.

  • hombre111

    Rutler at his best: A delightful journey into historical obscurities.

  • Vicki

    Preface to ‘Summer Lightning’ by P.G.Wodehouse: A certain critic – for such men, I regret to say, do exist – made the nasty remark about my last novel that it contained “all the old Wodehouse characters under different names”. He has probably by now been eaten by bears, like the children who made mock of the prophet Elisha: but if he still survives he will not be able to make a similar charge against ‘Summer Lightning’. With my superior intelligence, I have outgeneralled the man this time by putting in all the old Wodehouse characters under the same names. Pretty silly it will make him feel, I rather fancy.

  • The Jacobite

    The child has no more right to an eventual claim to the English throne than I do. The Windsors are descentents of the Hanoverians. The only reason the Hanoverians, the first of whom was George I, claim the throne is because an act of Parliament in 1701 declared them holders of the title. The only reason Parliament passed that Act of Settlement was to exclude the legitimate Catholic House of Stewart from the succerssion. A total of 142 people with a better claim were passed over simply because they were Catholic, in order to give the crown to the protestant George I. In the legitimate de jure Stewart succession, the King of England, the “King Over the Water”, is the Catholic, Francis II, who is also the Duke of Bavaria. Long Live the King.

    • John Albertson

      As one who affectionately toasts the Bonnie Prince at annual dinners and honors the White Cockade, I am regularly amused by the remnant few who still
      indulge the romantic illusion of the Stuart claims. To say that the
      Orange/Hanoverian claims are invalid because of the Act of Settlement is
      to question the origins of most royal houses including the Stuarts and Tudors. The Stuarts had a tenuous claim through the House of Dunkeld by an indult to the High Stewards of Scotland by King David I. The Tudors ended the Plantagenet dynasty by overthrowing the Yorks at Bosworth Field, and on and on. As for Catholicism, Pope Alexander VIII supported Protestant William of Orange against Catholic James II because James was allied with the French against the League of Augsburg. William’s Dutch Blue Guards in the Orange Army carried the Papal Flag. Moreover, the first Hanoverian king, George I was grandson of James I (James VI of Scotland.) James III’s brother, the Cardinal York styled himself Henry IX of Scotland but his claim was never recognized by any of the popes he served, and Benedict XIV thought the claim was benignly eccentric. While not wasted by alcohol like his brother, his particular friendships with such as Giovanni Lercari and Angelo Cesarini and his household of young men, while never producing concrete evidence for scandal, were an embarrassment to the papacy and had earlier moved James II to threaten to disinherit him. His tomb designed by Canova in St.Peter’s basilica was restored at the expense of the late Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother who had no doubts about the legitimacy of her husband or her daughter. The Cardinal’s nearest blood relative was Charles Emmanuel IV of Sardinia who never claimed a right of succession. The vague claims of Stuart pretenders moved from the House of Savoy to the House of Hapsburg-Lorraine (Modanese branch) and on to the House of Wittlesbach in 1919. The Wittelsbachs resisted the Nazis with distinction, surviving concentration camps, and never pressed a claim to the Britishthrone, and the present Duke of Bavaria, Franz, has not done so. Indeed, his only right to his own title is due to the decision of his grandfather Prince Rupprecht to grant dynastic rights to the morganatic marriage of his father Albrecht to the Countess Maria Draskovich of Trakostjan, The
      present Duke of Bavaria has never married and so his title presumably will pass to his brother Prince Max. Making the Stuart line ever more obscure, Prince Leopold has no sons, so the title next would pass to his second cousin Prince Leopold. It may be fun to play the tease in Stuart claims, but to take them
      seriously risks sounding a bit too much like Prince Franz’s great great
      grandfather the Mad King Ludwig and his great great uncle Mad King Otto.

      • Bono95

        I don’t know much about Stuart and Hanoverian claims, but I do know that Henry Tudor (aka Henry VII) had no right to the English throne. He had only a thin streak of royal blood from his mother’s side of the family, and that was thanks to a double adultery. And even if every charge brought against Richard III was true (murdering his nephews, Henry VI’s son, his own brother Edward IV; the evidence for the first charge is unclear and conflicting, there is a very decent probability for Henry VI’s son having died in battle, and very little to support Richard killing his brother, whom he loved and served with the greatest loyalty), 2 wrongs don’t make a right. Even if Richard really was a usurper, that doesn’t make Henry any less of one. Upon Richard’s death, the throne should have gone to either the the Duke of Warwick or the Duke of Lincoln. Throughout his reign, Henry VII continued to eliminate Richard’s surviving family and supporters by imprisonment, exile, or death. In all fairness, he only did so when he could find a legal reason for it (however flimsy), but he obviously felt threatened. If Henry VII was the rightful king, why did he need to take such steps, and why did the former supposedly evil and unlawful “tyrant” Richard III still have supporters even after his death?

  • ScottishHungarian

    I love this article !
    The family seems wonderful and filled with Joy and Happiness which is very much deserved as the Mama and Papa seem very much in love !
    I also was happy to read about God’s judgement on those whose sense of humour is so primitive ….. since once, when Fr. Rutler, was scolding me (unfounded of course) a female stood behind him laughing at me, pleased to see Fr. Rutler annoyed with me. It is a crude human being who seeks and enjoys humour at the expense of others… I am a monarchist for sure, and in fact would love to have the Royals back in the USA ruling here, especially wonderful Harry as their representative. LOVE THAT RED HAIR, it runs in this Scottish-Hungarian family, and we love it.
    Bonnie Joy Osborn