28 July, 2019

Clothes and Hairstyles of Edward II's Era

Men of Edward II's era wore their hair long, at least to chin level and often to the shoulders, parted in the middle and falling either side of the face. A lot of men seem to have been clean-shaven or to have worn a moustache without a beard, though depictions of Edward II himself as an adult always show him with a full bushy beard, and a carved stone face in the great hall of Caerphilly Castle which may represent Hugh Despenser the Younger seems to show him with a goatee-style beard (though it's become very worn over the centuries, so I might not be totally correct on that point). It certainly shows Hugh, assuming it really is he, with long flowing hair. The effigy in Tewkesbury Abbey of Hugh's eldest son and Edward II's eldest great-nephew Hugh or 'Huchon', who died in 1349, shows him clean-shaven, though other effigies of the fourteenth century, such as Hugh Despenser the Younger's nephew Hugh Hastings (d. 1347), depict men with moustaches. The effigy of Edward II's grandson Edward of Woodstock, prince of Wales (1330-76) shows him with the typical drooping moustache of the period. Edward III's effigy shows him with a long beard, and his queen Philippa of Hainault (c. 1314-69) on her own effigy wears an elaborate reticulated head-dress (where the hair was encased on either side of the head in bags made of gold or silver thread), a tight-fitting cote hardie (see below) laced up the front, and a narrow, very long hip belt.

Women, or at least noblewomen, wore their hair very long and pinned in bunches over their ears, kind of like Princess Leia. Both men and women covered their heads, men with a coif, hat or hood, and women with a coif, hood, veil or more elaborate head-dress. You can see illustrations here and here from the Luttrell Psalter, which dates to late in Edward II's reign or in the first few years of his son's, showing how women of the era dressed and how they covered their hair. The seal of Edward II's niece Eleanor (de Clare) Despenser, however, seems to show her with long flowing hair, partially hidden under a veil, though it's hard to tell.

Below are the effigies in Tewkesbury Abbey of Eleanor de Clare and Hugh Despenser the Younger's son and heir Huchon and his wife Elizabeth Montacute (d. 1359), sister of the earl of Salisbury and the countess of March. Huchon, in common with most or all contemporary effigies of noblemen, is wearing a helmet, chainmail and a jupon, I presume it is (I know almost nothing about armour so there's not a great deal else I can say), while Elizabeth is shown with a square head-dress that was surely the height of fashion in the middle of the fourteenth century.

Here are the effigies of Thomas, Lord Berkeley (d. 1361), Edward II's custodian in 1327, and his second wife Katherine Clivedon (d. 1385), which show Thomas with a moustache and Katherine with a square head-dress very similar to the one worn by Elizabeth Montacute some decades earlier.

Below are two photos of the gorgeous and amazing effigy, in Much Marcle, Herefordshire, of Blanche, Lady Grandisson (d. 1347), Thomas Berkeley's sister-in-law, one of the eight daughters of Roger Mortimer (d. 1330), first earl of March, and Joan Geneville (d. 1356). You can see that Blanche's hair is gathered at the sides of her head, covered with a veil and then with another head-dress or coif that comes to a peak at the front, and that her neck, chin and forehead are covered with a wimple. Blanche's sister Katherine, countess of Warwick (d. 1369) wears a rounded head-dress on her effigy; you can see the folds of her gown and the stitching on the bodice and the tight sleeves. Trying to visualise what Blanche must have looked like, only the part of her face between her eyes and mouth would have been visible; the rest was covered with cloth.

Here is a gorgeous illustration from the Luttrell Psalter of Sir Geoffrey Luttrell (d. 1345) on his horse, which is draped in material bearing his coat of arms, with his wife Agnes Sutton and their daughter-in-law Beatrice Scrope. It gloriously illustrates women's fashions of the era: a sideless gown worn over an undergown of a contrasting colour, sleeves and gown trimmed with fur, the sleeves of the overgown shorter than those of the undergown. Notice how the ladies both wear a transparent veil which falls right down their backs.

Edward II bought eighteen ells of 'bright blue English cloth', at twenty pence an ell (an ell: forty-five inches), to make cotes hardies od les chapons, 'cotes hardies with the hoods', for the wives of five of his chamber servants in early 1326. A cote hardie was a close-fitting garment with long sleeves worn by both men and women and buttoned or laced up the front. Legs were covered with hose, a kind of leggings, and in June 1326 during a hot summer, Edward purchased linen to make hose for his archers. He also often purchased black, grey or white russet cloth to make tunics (cotes is the Anglo-Norman word used) for his low-ranking household staff. Russet was a cheap, coarse cloth, and cost between twelve and fourteen pence per ell. By way of contrast, when the king bought rick silk fabrics such as camoca for his great-nephew Hugh 'Huchon' Despenser, who, being the eldest great-grandchild of Edward I and the grandson of two earls, was of high noble birth, the fabrics cost between forty-eight pence and 120 pence per ell. In 1324, Edward bought six pieces of otter-skin, at four pence per piece, to make a jerkin for one of his squires.

A tunic which Edward bought for one of his chamber pages in 1326 was said to be 'in the style of Gascony', but what this meant, and how the style differed from English fashions, was not explained. Likewise, when Edward as prince of Wales bought silk and other fabrics to make tunics for people acting in the plays he was putting on in May 1306, the tunics were said to be 'in the Gascon fashion'. In late 1325, the king bought exceedingly expensive black and vermilion medley cloth - black and vermilion were both very costly dyes, and medley was a kind of dyed in the wool cloth - to make elbow-length cloaks for nine of his carpenters. This was a colour combination Edward II obviously liked, as in 1322 he bought courtepies (short jackets or doublets) for his chamber squires in the same colours. Mi-parti, i.e. cloth divided vertically in two colours, was popular in Edward's reign, and striped cloth was also popular. The servants who worked in the royal household or in noble households received their clothes twice a year, at Christmas and Pentecost, and were colour co-ordinated; in 1314, for example, Thomas, earl of Lancaster gave his knights yellow cloth, his clerks red medley, and his squires striped cloth. In late 1325, Edward had aketons (padded jerkins often worn under armour) and coat-armour made for his great-nephew Huchon Despenser, then probably seventeen, which were in the Despenser colours, red, yellow and black. Edward also paid to have matching caparisons made for Huchon's horses.

Sumptuary laws, the regulations that dictated what different strata of society were allowed to wear, were not yet officially in force in Edward II's reign, but unofficially they were, and it would have been immediately obvious what rank a person held from the material, style and decoration of their clothes. Edward II forced his cousin Thomas, earl of Lancaster to wear the striped cloth which the squires of Thomas's household wore before having Thomas executed in March 1322, which was intended as a deliberate humiliation of a man of royal birth. At Edward III's coronation in early 1327, commentators pointed out that Roger Mortimer, later the first earl of March, dressed his sons so that they looked like earls. This was also not explained, but evidently there was a certain way in which earls dressed, and various extant wills from later in the century make it apparent that those of comital rank wore coronets. The will of Edward II's grandson Lionel of Antwerp, duke of Clarence, in 1368 talks of the gold circlet that was placed on his head during the ceremony in 1361 when he was made a duke.

There aren't a huge number of references to the clothes worn by Edward II himself, though in 1315/16 he spent £627 on cloth for himself and his household, and in April 1316 bought two tunics for himself which were made of scarlet (expensive woollen cloth, not the colour) and bought sixteen ells of green medley for two further tunics and two tabards. Both the king and other royals wore miniver, fur of the Baltic squirrel, in winter, which was massively expensive. From Edward II's accounts, it's apparent that he often wore hats and caps, though again, rather frustratingly, the shape and style of the hats is not clear. In 1326, for example, the king wore one hat made of black velvet, lined with miniver fur and 'powdered with diverse animals', several of vermilion velvet, one decorated with bells, another of white velvet lined with miniver fur, and a second of white velvet lined with green velvet and decorated with gold trefoils. The king also sometimes wore crowns: he bought two of gold studded with rubies, pearls and emeralds in 1326 and another of silver, and also bought a gold chaplet. Finally, there is a reference to a retiring-robe Edward owned, which was red with saffron stripes and embroidered with bears. Cuuuuuuute.

Further Reading

Ian Mortimer's Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England contains a chapter on clothing of the fourteenth century, and there are books about medieval clothes on Amazon.


sami parkkonen said...


The church nobility was one group who had trouble following the dress codes. They liked very much gold and valuable stones and fine clothes which were supposedly preserved for the royals or high born nobles but I guess church who had it's own law could get away with some of the excess.

I find it fascinating that some noble women tried to go around the rules by making complex and fantastic coiffures which were then covered partially with veils or such. Such might be the case you mention in the text.

As for the armor, the effigies are one of the best sources for anyone interested in them as these were done with remarkable detail and care. One thing historians have found out from these is how delicate and well fitting the armor actually was, thus proving that the old image of cumbersome knights waddling around under huge weight and ill fitting plates of steel is false. The medieval armor was like a suit, thus a suit of armor, made for the knight so well that he had to be able to get up on his horse, jump down and fight almost as well as in the nude. The idea was to get the maximum protection with maximum mobility.

Granted, the poorer soldiers wore what they could get, the foot men and archers in a royal companies better but the knights on their destriers aka war horses had extremely expensive armor and enjoyed mobility far more than previously was believed.

The Tudor Lady said...

Thank you for this post! There's a fine illustration from 1315 showing Isabella with her father & brothers. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/92/Philip_iv_and_family.jpg
I've treated myself to a book about the fashion in the time of the Black Prince - slightly later but still very interesting!

Anerje said...

Really enjoyed this post. It's frustrating that artwork from this time is either crudely drawn or doesn't exist. Thankfully we have effigies, but they often show idealised versions. If only Vogue from 1308 existed - and I just know who'd be on the cover - with a tunic in the Gascony style:)

The Tudor Lady said...

Kathryn, is this Isabella on the cover of "The Household Book of Queen Isabella of England"? https://www.uap.ualberta.ca/book-images/9780888640017.jpg

John R said...

Unrelated but just want to comment that this blog, and your book on Edward II, are excellent!

Kathryn Warner said...

Tudor Lady, yes, I believe that's a fairly contemporary depiction of Isabella, though can't remember offhand where it is!

Thank you, John! :-)

The Tudor Lady said...

Thank you! I think she's a weeper from John of Eltham's tomb but I might be wrong. The sculpture is stunning, such attention to detail. There are lots of pictures online of people said to represent Edward & Isabella but I'm not sure if they're correct. For example there's this Queen Isabella corbel head at Beverley Minster - how do we know it's her? There also this (http://midgleywebpages.com/ed2_winch.jpg) head allegedly of Edward - where is it from? He kind of looks like Edward though, very reminiscent of his effigy (what a good looking man!)