Exhibitions Research

Reader Services Curious Find – Hands of Celebrities

Hands of celebrities book cover

This Curious Find is a volume containing a number of studies of hands reprinted from The Palmist, the Journal of the Chirological Society. The book was designed to fulfil requirements of studies of the science of Chirology, and so depicts examples of celebrated hands. It is “intended as studies of character and of talent…of the celebrated persons contained in it.”

The author, Katharine St. Hill begins with an introduction, – “In defence of palmistry”, imploring readers to “take up the cudgels of dense on behalf of that science. There exists an amount of ignorance, superstition and prejudice against the science, we are met on every side with difficulty of a manifold nature, the chief of which is the irretrievable frankness of those who, without even a moment of consideration, make up their minds that the whole thing is absolutely humbug and generally give to expressions of a similar character that do much to their physical vigour than to their mental equipment”.


St. Hill goes on to depict the characteristics found in these examples of celebrated palms,: “the long, powerful fingered hands of the genius, as can be found on investigation, the ductile hands of art and music, the stunted thumbs of the idiot.”

Hand of Celebrity & former Prime Minister William Gladstone

Regarding the study of Queen Elizabeth 1st’s palm, St. Hill goes on to say: “I was in despair of finding an interesting study for the Palmist among the rustic inhabitants or uninteresting travellers with whom I was doomed to foregather.”

St. Hill’s study of Queen Elizabeth’s hand was worked out from the drawings she had made from the numerous portraits collected in a Tudor exhibition. She suggests that Queen Elizabeth was celebrated for the beauty of her hands and was ”naturally excessively vain of them.” In these portraits “the thick gold embroidered and tasselled glove is always laid aside to show the bare hand in all its comeliness”. After all she notes, “it is only palmists who look deeper than mere others.”

Hand of Queen Elizabeth 1

Of course, St. Hill is keen to stress that her appraisal of Queen Elizabeth’s palm is based on supposition rather than fact, – “Let it be clearly understood at once that the drawing is not altogether imaginary….. the originals always showed the back of her hand, never, unfortunately, palm upwards. The lines of course are absolutely imaginary and may be worked out by the student for their own amusement.”

This lack of evidence for Queen Elizabeth’s lines did not stop St. Hill from surmising much about her character however, as she states, “the outline of her hand, it is very small, the queen was not a tall woman, or largely made, but she had large views. The lines are perfectly imaginary except the life-line, which is clearly seen in two of her portraits. The jealous heart-line….her ambition and her griefs, – if only there had been a palmist in those days, bold enough in spite of laws of witchcraft, to have recorded, by her hands, the Queen’s romance.”

The author goes on to conclude that Elizabeth’s hand “varies in the pictures, and yet what a ruling hand it was! That, I suppose, of the strongest and most domineering woman who ever sat upon a throne.”

Hands of celebrities : or, Studies in palmistry

Katharine St. Hill

Available at John Rylands Library Special Collections (R36593 )

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