Famous left-handers – mistakes
There are lots of famous left-hander lists on various websites around the world that contain errors – right-handers listed as being left-handed. Interestingly, a lot of the lists have been copied from our own original list and contain errors that we have since corrected!
There have also been a lot of books published about famous left-handers, with detailed profiles and a lot of assumptions but often very little proof that the people were actually left-handed.
Once we go back a few decades the picture is complicated by the fact that most natural left-handers were forced to write right-handed, so photos of people writing are not always that they are NOT left-handed.
Going back before the time of photographs, we rely on paintings and other images, which again can be distorted. Right handed artists would naturally draw images of people assuming they were right-handed as well, e.g. holding swords or other weapons. Pictures of Joan of Arc show her as left-handed but that may have been a distortion to link her with the “devil’s side” as a witch rather than her natural handedness.
Even now, a lot of left-handed sports people actually play their main sport right-handed because that is the way they were taught, or that was the only equipment available to them. The same goes for musicians, with a lot of lefthanders playing guitar right-handed. And some right-handers have even learned to play left-handed as they thought it gave them an advantage, such as tennis champion Rafael Nadal
There is a very good website that looks more closely at the evidence for left-handedness and famous people here:
Our friend and author of Right Hand, Left Hand, Prof. Chris McManus, did a research paper on the handedness of Alexander The Great which illustrates well how an initial mistake can propagate far and wide until it becomes an accepted fact, despite a distinct lack of evidence!
Here are some people we know about that are sometimes listed as being left-handed but definitely are not:
- Alexander The Great
- Marilyn Monroe
Einstein appears in many lists and books as left-handed but the evidence for that seems very thin, based only on a post-mortem examination of his brain that showed equal symmetry between the two sides. There are many pictures of Einstein writing (on paper and blackboards) and playing violin right-handed and this specialist website on his life states definituively that he was right-handed:
Benjamin Britten, English composer born 22 Nov 1913
This is the email we received as evidence of his right-handedness…
A few months ago we were contacted by someone who is looking to write a book on left handed people in history. He wants to add a section to this book about Benjamin Britten, who he is convinced was left handed. He named your website as a source for this assertion as he saw Britten listed in your Famous Left-Handers section. I am afraid Britten was definitely right handed. There was a short period of time where he had to use his left hand to write after he sustained an injury to his right arm but other than that always wrote with his right hand.
I would appreciate it if you could please remove Benjamin Britten’s name from this list. Thank you for your time.
Cataloguer, Britten Thematic Catalogue Project, The Britten-Pears Foundation