Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Prince Albert's Prince Albert

From the Archives:

Yes, we're back to piercing again.

This is sort of a tangent off of my Victorian Breast Piercing Research - it's male piercing. If you don't know what a Prince Albert piercing is ... try Wikipedia.

You will find many websites - and even books - declaring that this type of body piercing was so named because Prince Albert (married to Queen Victoria) wore one. You will find them saying that these circular piercings were also known as "dressing rings" and that they were used to secure oneself to the left or the right leg.

Dude. Seriously?

I mean, think about it, what would it be tied to? Your thigh? And it would have to be a slip-knot because, really, just think if the string got caught on something.... [rrriipp] That's painful just contemplating it.

And we haven't even addressed the fact that, in the real world, if you need to be tied down to your thigh, then perhaps you're having one of those episodes the Cialis commercials warn about and you should be proceeding to a hospital at once.

The British Victorian period may have been more risqué, but in the US, you couldn't actually say the word leg because it was too inflammatory - you had to say limb. Cereal was invented because, the belief was, giving a man steak and eggs for breakfast was just asking for him to be aroused all day. The same for Graham crackers - non-arousing steak substitute.

In that climate, how could a gentleman possibly face his needs-to-be-protected lady wife with a piercing amidst his unmentionables and expect remain considered a gentleman?

Another thing: according to The Piercing Bible by Elayne Angel (p. 156), the healing time for a Prince Albert is "4 to 8 weeks or longer". Now, in a time when infection could not be reliably controlled, who is going to pierce themselves anywhere - let alone somewhere that delicate?

Are you beginning to smell a hoax?

In her book, Angel confirms my suspicions that Prince Albert did not have a Prince Albert, as does Matthew Sweet in Inventing the Victorians.

So why do so many people think he did? Where did this "dressing ring" thing get started?

According to Angel, these stories were made up by a man who called himself Doug Malloy (real name Richard Simonton). He is considered the father of modern piercing culture in the US.

He also made bags of money franchising Muzak. Not three words you'd expect to find in the same sentence are they, "body piercing" and "Muzak"? Go figure.

(Muzak, by the way, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Feb 10 2009).

I can hear you asking, why? Not why the Muzak bankruptcy, but why would someone make something like that up?

Apparently, the answer is: Because it makes a great story.

If you are promoting a new fad, it helps with promotion to have that fad possess a fun historical background. It gives it roots. Validity.

And stories are the bedrock of culture. It doesn't matter how unrealistic a tale is, as long as it makes a great story. Think of all the urban legends you've heard.

This seems to be why the Prince Albert story has legs - why it has spread so far for so long.

We humans love to tell each other a good story.


  1. I'm happy to shed some light on that common misconception about the Prince Albert. Many other myths related to body piercing are also dispelled in my book, The Piercing Bible--The Definitive Guide to Safe Body Piercing (Random House/Crossing Press, May 2009).

    Elayne Angel

  2. WOW - thanks for coming to my blog!!
    Yes, I definitely recommend The Piercing Bible to y'all if you want the straight scoop on piercing. :)