How did the Merovingian Kings wear their hair?
By Averil Cameron
Revue belge de philologie et d’histoire, Vol. 43:4 (1965)
Introduction: Some time ago J. Hoyoux challenged the old belief that the Merovingian kings were distinguished from their subjects by their long hair, to which was attached some magical or at least ceremonial significance. In an important and arresting article he tried to show first, that all free Franks, except perhaps the lowest class, wore their hair long and that consequently the kings were not distinguished from their subjects by the length of their hair, and second, that when kings were deposed, they were not tonsured or otherwise shorn, but actually scalped — a bloodthirsty punishment then, as Hoyoux proves from numerous texts, in common use.
The second part of Hoyoux’s thesis has found some adherents, notably P. E. Schramm in his monumental work on Herrschaftszeichen, but has, I think, been convincingly refuted by E. Kaufmann. In the course of his argument, Kaufmann affirmed his belief that the first part of Hoyoux’s thesis was equally weak, relying, as it does, on a false progression from the contention that others besides the kings had long hair to the conclusion that the kings in no way differed from their subjects in this particular.
He did not, however, discuss all the evidence, nor did he explain exactly how the kings were to be distinguished if others too wore their hair long, as Kaufmann accepts. This is what I hope to do here. I propose to leave aside the question of the symbolic meaning of the royal hairstyle, which is connected with the explanation of the practice of tonsuring deposed kings, or pretenders, and to discuss only whether or not the kingly style differed from that of the nobles and common people, and if so, how. We are forced to rely upon the literary texts, as we have no representations of non-royal Franks ; fortunately, however, the written sources, literary and legal, present an unequivocal picture.