History on Their Skin – Part 2: Marks of Politicians and Royals

A study in 2019 found that about 30% of Americans had at least one tattoo whereas similar studies found that only 21% had a tattoo in 2012. As our last blog indicated, tattoos were not rare; but it seemed for a short period were known to be reserved for criminals, sailors, and derelicts. As we have seen before, this was not the case. Our previous blog indicated that some of the most recognizable names in history had skin art and this list is no exception.

Much like the rumor that 26th U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt had his family crest tattooed across his entire chest but the only tattoo that we know he had was permanent gun powder splatter tattooed on his hand. In this list, we find some recognizable royals and politicians that we can confirm had ink.

8. Barry Goldwater (1909-1998)

Cultural appropriation, controversy, secret societies, tattoos. Does that scream the attributes of an American politician? Well, the tattoo part doesn’t. Especially when you think about the ultra-conservative Republican politician Barry Goldwater. Though Senator Goldwater’s reputation earned him the title “Mr. Conservative,” he was tattooed for the most peculiar reason. A half circle and a series of dots adorned the underside of Senator Goldwater’s left hand. This symbol was a representation of his rite of passage in the now-extinct “Smoki People” organization. The “Smoki People were a mostly white group of professionals who claimed that their mission was to preserve the traditions of Native Americans. 

7. Andrew Jackson (1767-1845)

There is no substantial proof that the seventh president of the United States had a giant tomahawk tattooed on his inner thigh, but why would anyone make something like that up? But the rumor is that the first tattoo in the White House belonged to Old Hickory himself. The rumor is substantiated by Jackson’s brutal campaign time to remove Native Americans from eastern states and force them west. Being that the tomahawk was a long-time tool/weapon of the Native Americans…it could sadly be the reason why. 

6. Czar Nicholas II (1894-1917)

Whether he was known as Czar Nicholas II, the last Emporer of All Russia, or Saint Nicholas the Passion-Bearer, the czar was not known as a great leader. Besides being politically weak and stubborn, the last sovereign of imperial Russia made a lasting impression on the world. When Nicholas and his brother George set out to experience the world, they found themselves visiting Egypt, India, Singapore, Thailand, and Japan. While in Japan, Nicholas got a dragon tattooed on his arm by the famed Japanese tattoo artist Hori Chiyo. I am sure that the ink in his tattoo burned during Russia’s crushing during the Russo-Japanese War. 

5. James K. Polk (1795-1849)

North Carolina native James K. Polk was nicknamed Young Hickory as he was a protege of Andrew Jackson. It is rumored that he followed in the footsteps of his protege in many ways. He followed his example of continuing Jacksonian democracy and it is rumored that he followed him into the tattoo chair. Though in my opinion, it is unlikely, Polk is rumored to have had the Chinese character for the word ‘eager’ tattooed on him. 

4. King Harold II (1020-1066)

Fatally wounded in the Battle of Hastings, King Harold II’s death is immortalized in the Bayeux Tapestry. The tapestry records the fatal wounding of the last Anglo-Saxon King of England, showing the king shot through the eye with an arrow (or shot through the eye and brutally mutilated). Either scenario caused his wife, Edith, to come to identify his body. The only way that she could do so was to look for a tattoo over his heart that devotedly read “Edith and England.”

Emperor Nicholas II of Russia with his physically similar cousin, King George V (on the right), wearing German military uniforms in Berlin before the war in 1913.

3. King George V (1865-1936)

The Japanese government had cracked down on tattooing and was subsequently not allowed to tattoo Japanese citizens. Tattoo artists like the legendary Hori Chiyo (the artist who also tattooed Czar Nicholas II) had to find a loophole. The government did not allow artists to tattoo Japanese citizens, but there was no restriction against tattooing Western travelers who all seemed to be enamored by the Orient. 

Since the then Prince George and his brother were not excelling in academics, their father, the Prince of Wales, decided they needed navy training which he stated was “the very best possible training for any boy.” During their travels from everywhere from the American colonies to South Africa, they ended up in Japan. In 1881 on their visit to Japan, George and his brother took advantage of the Japanese tattooing loophole. The boys also visited famed tattoo artist Hori Chiyo as documented by their official tutor John Neale Dalton. He wrote, “everybody, it seemed, tattooed, whether belonging to the ward-room, gun-room, or lower deck, including, of course, both the Princes. A dragon in blue and red writing down the arm being a favorite design.” 

2. Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria (1863-1914)

The assassination of Franz Ferdinand (not to be confused with the Scottish indie rock band whose hit “Take Me Out” rocked music charts in 2004) at the hands of a Serbian nationalist set off World War I, causing his death to be more famous than his life but the man did live an interesting life. 

According to his newly published personal diary from his 1892 journey around the world, his adventures were just as important as the man’s beliefs. He spoke passionately about deforestation, his distaste of cowboys cavalierly putting their dirty boots on the table in his presence, and spoke with an anti-imperialist voice. During his world tour, he proved that many of us who are conservationists are also avid hunters. As he toured the world he watched tropical birds fly out of a cake and drank champagne in the jungle with the Nizam of Hyderabad. Bargained with a cannibal for a bag of nuts. Battled a huge monitor lizard in Ceylon, swan with and speared sting rays in India, hunted crocodiles in Indonesia, hunted tigers on the back of an elephant in the foothills of the Himalayas, and in Australia killed vultures, koalas, skunks, and storks. During that time he found time to visit Japan and, like many others on our list, got a tattoo of a dragon on his arm. 

1. Winston Churchill (1874-1965) 

The writer, orator, and inspirational statesman was known for Hamburg hats, cigars, and inspiring speeches, but British national hero Winston Churchill led Britain to victory during World War II. The strength and sturdiness of the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom could be heard in his words and seen through the anchor tattooed on his forearm


Featured Image: Big Stick propoganda cartoon by http://www.capitalcentury.com/1904.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=82518748

General Andrew Jackson by John Wesley Jarvis – This file was donated to Wikimedia Commons as part of a project by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. See the Image and Data Resources Open Access Policy, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57365476

James K Polk engraved portrait by The Bureau of Engraving and Printing – Restoration by Godot13, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33963340

Tsar Nicholas II and King George by Ernst Sandau – Transferred from en.Wikipedia; transferred to Commons by User: Oreo Priest using CommonsHelper. The original uploader was Mrlopez2681 at en.Wikipedia, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6368382

King George V as a young man by Bain News Service, publisher – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID again.05537, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2649296

Winston Churchill 1949 by PA-Press Association – https://i.pinimg.com/originals/f2/eb/f9/f2ebf9a2425be551775355477b737680.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=65200261

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