queer stories of a queer craze

In 1898, R J Stephen wrote this article –  TATTOOED ROYALTY: Queer Stories of a Queer Craze for The Harmsworth Monthly Pictorial Magazine.

image found here

“What wonder, then, that tattooing is now the most popular pastime of the leisured world? For one of the best-known men in high European circles, the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia, is most elaborately tattooed. And Prince and Princess Waldemar of Denmark, Queen Olga of Greece, King Oscar of Sweden, the Duke of York, the Grand Duke Constantine, Lady Randolph Churchill, with many others of royal and distinguished rank, have submitted themselves to the tickling, but painless and albeit pleasant, sensation afforded by the improved tattooing needle, aided by the galvanic current, the genius of the artist supplying the rest of the operation.

Lady Randolph Churchill found here

The Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, like his cousin Alexis of Russia is another elaborately tattooed man; but even his decorations, and those of other profusely tattooed men, fall short in point of quantity when compared with those marks upon the body of that Greek gentleman who was exhibited not long ago at the Royal Aquarium, whose body was completely covered with fine tattoo work, every square inch of it.

world’s most tattooed man found here

Professor Riley’s work is pronounced to be the finest in the world. The present fancy for being tattooed, according to Professor Riley, mainly exists among men who have travelled much; while ladies have also taken a strong liking to this form of personal decoration, which, from a woman’s point of view, is about as expensive as a dress, but not so costly as good jewellery. In place of spending her spare time posing in front of the camera, or reclining her head in the dentist’s chair, or placing herself resignedly in the hands of her hairdresser, or for the purpose of passing her time in the “off” season, the lady about town now consents to be pricked by the tattoo artist’s needle, and to have her forearm or shoulder adorned with a mark such as this – a serpent holding its tail in its mouth – a symbol representing eternity.

image found here

Tattooing has its humorous side. A lover who once felt a passionate love, got the artist to imprint a single heart of charming and delicate outline, coloured in all the blushing tints, with the name of his loved one stamped thereon. Three years later he followed the artist to London, and, seeking him out, with face pallid, the light of his eye almost gone out, and looking utterly miserable and careworn, he requested that the tattooer imprint under that same symbol, in bold, big letters, the word “deceived”.

A well known army officer had tattooed over his heart the simple name of “Mary” with a lover’s knot, but six months afterwards the same gentleman had the uncanny word “traitress” tattooed underneath.

An English actress had a butterfly tattooed on her fair shoulder, the initials of her fiance, “F.V.” being placed underneath. Not long afterwards she also came back and had the “F” converted into “E” and the “V” into “W”, the letters reading “E.W.” She eventually married “E.W.” and to this day “E.W” thinks his initials were the first tattooed on her arm.

image found here

Professor Riley is at the present time engaged in etching on a man’s back Landseer’s famous picture “Dignity and Impudence”. He is also outlining on the chest of a Scotch baron a copy of Constable’s famous etching, “Mrs. Pelham,” after Sir Joshua Reynolds, the original of which fetched, at Christie’s, the record sum of 425 pounds.

Dignity and Impudence by Landseer found here

While most people are pleased to go through the performance of being tattooed just for the fun of it, many approach the tattooer with a serious object in view. Eschewing all fancy designs, they choose frequently their own name and address as an aid to identification in case of accident

Stargate address tattoo found here

Tattooing spread among the upper classes all over Europe in the nineteenth century, but particularly in Britain where it was estimated in Harmsworth Magazine in 1898 that as many as one in five members of the gentry were tattooed. There, it was not uncommon for members of the social elite to gather in the drawing rooms and libraries of the great country estate homes after dinner and partially disrobe in to show off their tattoos. As well as her consort Prince Albert, there are persistent rumours that Queen Victoria had a small tattoo in an undisclosed ‘intimate’ location. Winston Churchill’s mother, Lady Randolph Churchill, not only had a tattoo of a snake around her wrist, which she covered when the need arose with a specially crafted diamond bracelet, but had her nipples pierced as well.

Lady Churchill and Winston found here

Published in: on March 20, 2012 at 7:58 am  Comments (48)  
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48 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. This is one of the best GH posts. Tattoos of the rich and famous could make a fine book.

    • Someone’s probably already done it

  2. I like some tattoos. But I have seen too many, years after they were inked, and it’s not a pretty sight!
    A girl from school did her own, with a darning needle. L O V E on the fingers of one hand and, on the other, H A T E. She was hospitalised with septicaemia.
    But I would rather like a koru, high on a shoulder…

    • The koru is a beautiful shape

  3. Lovers come and lovers go, but tattoos stay. They shouldn’t be mixed.

    • Couldn’t agree more looby

  4. How the other half ink!

  5. interesting to learn that the “Butterfly” goes back over 100 years. it is the signature tattoo in my clan, and favored by many women still. my niece has a huge one on the back of her neck… i think it’s carrying a pink Smith and Wesson….

    • I like tattoos but there not on the neck, legs or the small of the back

  6. Beware permanent declarations of love – they could come back to bite you (literally and figuratively) in the ass.
    Lady Churchill was beautiful but pierced nipples? Ouch. *cringe*

    • I was totally surprised by that. Jennie Churchill and I have a lot in common.

  7. Looking at the worlds most tattooed man I am wondering if someone hasn’t done a full body tan tattoo.

  8. Soldiers, pimps and baronets … Victoria? Who had thought.

    *mumbling something about gesunkenes Kulturgut*

    • Arbus did a series about tattooed people, in the seventies?

      • That link wouldn’t work for me, but I’m familiar with Diane Arbus’ work and a big fan.

  9. I’ve never liked tattoos much but after my surgeries was pretty happy that they could tattoo something that look a lot like nipples.

  10. Grrrr…wordpress won’t let me log in as NB….anyway I pass out at the sight of a needle, so tattoos hold no appeal for me…either on me or others

  11. deceived ! haha.
    i’m not so fond of having tattoos myself.

  12. Fascinating about Lady Randolph – great pix as usual xx

    • Totally fascinating. I wonder what Winston thought of it

  13. Tattoos belong on sailors and prostitutes.

  14. An art form I have never understood or found appealing.

  15. I’ve never been tempted to go the tattoo or piercing route. The tatts are too permanent to be fashion and the piercings, in general, are not all that attractive. But that is for MY body. I try not to be judgemental unless the metal is a significant proportion of the body weight!

  16. I never knew royalty had such a fascination with tattoos way back then.

    • You and me both Binky

  17. Interesting. I would never have thought that it was a thing in society in that time to be tattooed.

  18. A snake (or dragon) with tail in mouth is called an Ouroboros, a cross cultural symbol that I’ve been wanting to have tattoed around my arm for many years (the money required is the stumbling block) so that’s fascinating to me how it was once so favoured.

    • If I win the lottery I’ll pay for your tattoo Syncy.

      • :) I’ll be getting Jack’s paw print first.

  19. I wouldn’t tattoo my address on myself in case I moved away. Actually I wouldn’t tattoo anything on myself, it’s that cursed desire for novelty I have which means that I would grow to hate my tattoo no matter how beautiful and interesting it was.
    .

  20. I think tatts are really skanky

  21. I have a very small tattoo on my shoulder. My threshold for pain is so low that I almost passed out when it was applied. I’m such a big baby. I’ve been thinking of getting my daughter’s initials tattooed on my ankle. My wife might get fed up and bail out on me one day, but my daughters will always be my daughters.

  22. Fascinating. I had no idea of the long history of the tattoo. I’m not interested in having a tattoo, but I do think some of them are lovely. I just hate the thought of something so permanent, though.

  23. My ex-wife loved both politics and tattoos. She had President Putin’s face tattooed inside her left thigh, and President Obama’s inside her right thigh.

    She also had what looked like Fidel Castro’s face in between them…..

  24. These days tattoos are so ubiquitous it’s almost a renegade act not to have one. And in reference to the comment above, arguably one of the best known Western incarnations of the ourobouros is Ragnarok (though I suppose this is debatable). It is also symbolically relevant in Gnosticism.

    Anyway, all this to say that tattoos have become quite the eternal recurrence…

    • What goes around comes around

  25. Tattoos with their name and address? That would cover a pretty big area in my case, as I’ve lived in 13 homes so far.

    • Crazy idea if you ask me

  26. I’m curious as to how “painless” this procedure really was. :\

    • Oh believe me, it’s not painless at all- some bits are less painful than others, but it definitely stings a little. I bet the machines in those days were a lot less reliable too…..

      • I didn’t find it painful. though mine is on my shoulder. Maybe that’s not the most sensitive area…..

  27. I think tattoos are interesting. When I was younger, I really wanted one, but not anymore.

  28. Tattoos seem like the kind of thing I could get addicted to…
    I have a feeling once I got started I would end up totally overdoing it…

  29. No tattoos for me. I prefer to keep my pasty and blinding whiteness intact.


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