Influential Historical Figures with Surprising Tattoos (Part 1)

By Stephanie Bajzik

While at one time tattoos were generally a stigma associated with bikers, sailors and rock stars, in the last decade or so they have emerged as a common form of self-expression virtually equivalent to a fashionable accessory or a bumper sticker on one’s vehicle. Despite the popularity of this art form and its emergence into mainstream social significance, it has not always been so well received. In fact, the origin of tattoos reaches back to tribal rites of passage, symbols of dangerous dalliances and even branding for scandalous deviances.

With this dramatic rise in ink on a global scale, it has never before been so conventional. Given that the increasingly rising medium was once so taboo, most would be surprised to know the influential figures throughout history who proudly donned their art on their sleeve so to speak. So let’s enlighten ourselves on the odd history of tattoos on the rich and famous of history with this two part guide.

King Harold II (1020 – 1066)

Most widely known from our European history textbooks as the very last Anglo-Saxon King of England, King Harold II was killed during the renowned Battle of Hastings. In this case, it was somewhat of a blessing that he had tattoos as he was both shot through the eye with an arrow and mutilated following his death. His trademark ink featured over his heart reading “Edith and England” was the only manner in which his wife was able to identify him. It seems Harold was a true romantic of his time.

Andrew Jackson (1767 – 1845)

Since the 7th United States president led a crusade against the Native American people aimed to kill and relocate them, it comes as a great shock to most that Andrew Jackson had a large tomahawk tatted on his body. What makes the tattoo all the more strange is its placement on the president’s inner thigh. We can only guess that maybe he was being ironic.

James K. Polk (1794 – 1849)

Chinese characters are such a commonplace and ordinary choice for tattoos these days. The vast majority of those who have stepped foot into a tattoo shop have seen the numerous choices for various words in the stencil books such as “hope” and “faith.” In addition, we’ve all heard the stories of Chinese character tattoos gone wrong by being translated incorrectly making for an embarrassing ink fail. While James Polk is most known for snatching territory in the name of our country, he also sported one of these symbols. Loosely translated, his ink read “eager” which may tell us a little more about the president than we really wish to learn.

John Wilkes Booth (1838 – 1865)

At the tender age of 26, the mildly familiar actor turned infamous assassin shot the most influential president in U.S. history. Considering himself to be “God’s instrument,” John Wilkes Booth’s remains were later positively identified by his very own initials which were tatted on one of his hands. Apparently, the young man was just as in love with himself as one would imagine the stereotypical actor to be.