12 February 2012

14th Century upperclass: clothing musings

So, this is mostly the products of my current musing on the basis for the wedding clothes. Namely, trying to get things more specific. We're aiming for the 14th Century ... but then things get a little more complicated. We're rather used to peasant clothing which has the handy attribute of being pretty unchangeable for centuries at a time. Now we're attempting upper class (and trying for high authenticity standards, so we can wear these clothes again and again) things become rather more difficult.

Himself is reasonably easy, wanting for something rather like the effigy in St. Stephen's Church, Bristol, purported to be Edmund Blanket, clothier and wool merchant:

Edmund Blanket (Bristol), c. 1371.
This is rather fortunate, considering that the later fashions, with their wasp waists and padded chests, are rather out of the league of my sewing/pattern-making abilities.

(Left) Three male weepers from the effigy of Thomas Beauchamp & Katharine Mortimer (Warwick), c. 1369; (Rightmost) Servant from the effigy of Gunter XXV & Elisabeth of Honstein (Germany), c. 1381.

However, this does then initiate a small problem. Namely, that of the female counterpart to Edmund Blanket's clothing. The simple and obvious answer would be: well, what is Ms. Blanket wearing? ...therein lies the problem. Margaret Blanket is, for lack of a better word, dull:

Margaret Blanket (Bristol), c. 1371.
Beyond the pleated veil, there is absolutely nothing interesting there to speak of. Yes, she is very worn, but the details that are visible are: plain dress with square fitchets (pocket slits) and boat-type neckline; cloak, with simple horizontal band to hold itself on; veil with square pleated (?) front and loose, draping sides; possibly face-framing plaits. No buttons, no tippets, no visible underlayers - nothing!

This is rather different to the outfit I happen to like: that seen on the lost brass of Sir Miles Stapleton and his wife Joan:

Brass of Sir Miles Stapelton and his wife Joan Ingham (Norfolk), c. 1365. Now lost.

So, what do we have here? Well, an overdress with tippets, fitchets, a buttoned front, a band (?) around the bottom and a boat-shaped neck. Also visible are the underdress sleeves, with buttons from just above the elbow and 'mitten cuffs' extending over the hands. Finally, she has face-framing plaits, a fillet and a fine veil covering half her head. Much more interesting stuff going on there!

However, the next question is: quite how unlikely/incorrect would it be to place a woman in Joan Stapelton's outfit with a man in Edmund Blanket's. If the effigy dates are correct, then it's a matter of being some 6 years out of date. But therein lies the problem: how are these effigies dated? Provenance is one way, heraldry another - but another way is by the dress and armour. So, we find ourselves stuck in a circular logic whereby the clothing dates the effigy, and then the effigy date is used (at least by amateurs) to date the clothing.

However, looking elsewhere, we can see that Katherine Mortimer has elements of both Margaret Blanket's and Joan Stapleton's outfits:

Effigy of Katherine Mortimer (Warwick), c. 1369.
Katherine Mortimer has the cloak and dress of Margaret Blanket. She also has a similar veil (though not identical - Katherine's has pleats on the bottom edge too). However, like Joan Ingham, she has buttoned sleeves (though Katherine's appear to be on her outermost dress, not on an underdress whose sleeves show). Despite this, all similarities end when you look across and compare the armour of Katherine and Joan's husbands.

Yet further digging shows that the wife and daughter of Sir Geoffrey Luttrell wear remarkably similar outfits to Joan Ingham:
Luttrell Psalter, c.1320-1340: Geoffrey Luttrell is handed his arms by his wife and daughter.
Their sideless overdresses are different to Joan's tippetted, short-sleeved overdress. However, the cut of their underdresses (boat-shaped neckline, tight sleeves, narrow torso with flat bust) is very similar. Their hair and veiling is almost identical (save that Joan's plaits appear to be further forwards, more jutting and stick-like and without the bit (plait tassel?) behind).

Finally, another brass I like, that of Robert, Lettice and Margaret Braunche:

Brass of Robert Braunche and his wives Lettice and Margaret (Norfolk), c. 1364.
Firstly: look at that brocade! I'm no where near brave (nor rich!) enough to wear such stuff, but it's inspirational all the same. Anyway, we have yet another variation: a visible underdress (but no buttons on the sleeves); a looser overdress without fitchets but with tippets (that are shorter than Joan Ingham's). Himself vetoed Robert Braunche's outfit ("the tunic's too long"); however, the tiny figures on the bottom include men in shorter tunice more similar to Edmund Blanchet's.

So, we have come full circle again. What can I conclude from this rather random selection of images? Well:

  1. It is very hard to date fashion changes by effigies/brasses as it is unclear how the effigy/brass was dated (and they may have been made in advance before someone died or have been made decades after their death; equally, they may have been "touched up" over the years (particularly by those pesky Victorians); finally, they may have been dated by the costume you are trying to date!).
  2. There are other difficulties with using effigies/brasses in isolation from the history. Namely, the issue of location and class. It's probably reasonable to assume little overall variation in upper class clothing across England (Bristol, Warwick, Norfolk, Lincolnshire). It's quite another thing to assume that Thomas Beauchamp (one of the richest men in the land) would be dressed identically to Edmund Blanket (a rich merchant, but a merchant still). Unfortunately, this is likely a subtlety that we will never be able to fully understand from the information that is left.
  3. It is probably not too terribly wrong to for a man to wear Edmund Blanket's outfit and a women to wear Joan Ingham's and to claim to be concurrent (after all, the scene on the bottom of Robert Braunche's brass, purportedly one year earlier than Joan Ingham, shows men in outfits very similar to Edmund Blanket's).
  4. Women's fashion appears to change far more slowly than men's. There are elements in the Luttrell ladies (hairstyle/veiling) that nearly match Joan Ingham, 20+ years later; the general silhouette remains similar from the Luttrell ladies right through to Margaret Blanket).
And that, I fear, is far-and-away enough rambling for tonight. So, I bid you all adieu.

(Effigies of Edmund Blanket, Margaret Blanket, Thomas Beauchamp's weepers, Gunter XXV's servant and Katherine Mortimer are from The Medieval Combat Society. Brass of Sir Miles Stapleton and Joan Ingham is from here. Image of Geoffrey Luttrell is from here. Brass of Robert Braunche and his wives is from Effigies & Brasses.)

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