It’s no secret that redheads are rare—between 1 and 2 percent of the world’s population has natural red hair. Yet despite the fact that they are a genetic minority, redheads have tended to make waves in history. Alternately loved or feared, hated or admired, redheads have divided people’s opinions for centuries.
Here are some famous redheads who rocked history’s boat. They led very different lives, but most of them share the traits of being bold and unconventional people.
Erik the Red
This redheaded Viking explorer got his nickname from his fiery locks and allegedly also his fiery temper. Unwelcome in Norway and Iceland after various feuds, he discovered Greenland, which he named, and started a Viking colony there.
King Henry VIII
Who doesn’t know the story of the famously hotheaded king of England and his six wives? During his lifetime, Henry broke his nation’s ties with the Pope, founded the Church of England, and became notorious for his series of divorces (not to mention for ordering his various wives’ executions once they had fallen from favor.) He also became the father of Queen Elizabeth I.
Queen Elizabeth I
Inheriting her father’s aggressive disposition in addition to his red hair, Elizabeth made her mark on history as one of England’s most powerful and successful rulers. A survivor of royal intrigues and a strategist, Elizabeth I gave her kingdom a newfound sense of stability, independence and pride.
Also known as “Red Beard the Pirate,” this Barbary pirate and later Ottoman admiral was feared and admired for the sway he held over the Mediterranean.
Despite being characterized as a white-wig-wearing figure, Washington did actually have red hair. He tended to display a calm and self-controlled demeanor, although he did elegantly lose his temper at the Battle of Monmouth in 1778.
The famed British Prime Minister was nicknamed “copper knob” while attending school at Harrow due to his red hair. Churchill’s talent for eloquent and impassioned speeches and his ability to rally members of the public to a common cause proved indispensable to Great Britain during World War II.
Richard the Lionheart
The archetypal medieval warrior-king and enthusiastic crusader, Richard I of England is alleged to have had red hair in addition to being very tall. He spent most of his lifetime fighting.
Famous Civil Rights leader Malcolm X was nicknamed “Detroit Red” due to his red hair, which derived from his Scottish ancestry. He is alleged to have disliked the color of his hair.
Author and humorist Samuel L. Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, made his red hair the subject of his jokes. “While the rest of the species is descended from apes, redheads are descended from cats,” he is alleged to have quipped.
Vincent Van Gogh
One of the world’s most famous artists known for his vibrant paintings, Van Gogh sported equally vibrant red hair, which took on a particularly fiery hue in his beard.
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