Royal Tattoos

I found the following story on an episode of QI (Series N, episode “Noble Rot”).

Apparently a lot of nineteenth-century European royal were tattooed. I would love to learn more about the history of tattoos to know why this was so stylish for the upper classes, and how tattoos came to be considered over the course of the twentieth century (I presume) to be a marker of the lower classes. What shifted?

Anyway, a few tattooed royals are:

Grand Duke Alexei of Russia

Prince and Princess Valdemar of Denmark (Prince Philip’s great-uncle and -aunt, and Elizabeth II’s great-great-uncle and -aunt, because inbreeding)

Queen Olga of Greece (Prince Philip’s grandmother)

King Oscar of Sweden (I assume they mean Oscar I)

-Grand Duke Konstantin (there are three Grand Duke Konstantins or Constantines of Russia alive during the nineteenth century, so I don’t know which one they’re referring to).

Edward VII (Queen Victoria’s son)

George V (Queen Victoria’s grandson)

When Edward VII visited Jerusalem as Prince of Wales aged 20, he had five crosses tattooed on him, and then his son, George V, had the same design done by the same artist 20 years later.

Another tattooed king was Jean-Baptiste Jules Bernadotte, who was originally Napoleon’s marshal and a revolutionary firebrand before later becoming king of Sweden and Norway. He reigned for 26 years after Napoleon was deposed, and during his reign he never allowed doctors to see his naked torso. After he died it was revealed that on his torso he had a tattoo that said: “Death to kings“. His heirs are still the Swedish royal family.

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