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The Progress of the Nation page 14

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Henry VIII. was most extravagant in dress, and was followed with so much avidity by his subjects in his ostentation, that in the twenty-fourth year of his reign he was obliged to pass a sumptuary law to restrain them; and the style and quality of dress for every different rank was prescribed - as we may suppose, with indifferent success. No person of less degree than a knight was to wear crimson or blue velvet or embroidered apparel, broched or guarded with goldsmith's work, except sons and heirs of knights and barons, who might use crimson velvet, and tinsel in their doublets. Velvet gowns, jackets and coats, furs of martins, &c., chains, bracelets, and collars of gold, were proscribed to all but persons possessing two hundred marks

per annum; except the sons and heirs of such persons, who might wear black velvet doublets, coats of black damask, &c.

Henry's own dress was of the most gorgeous kind. He is described at a banquet at Westminster as arrayed in a suit of short garments of blue velvet and crymosine, with long sleeves all cut, and lined with cloth of gold, and the outer garments powdered with castles and sheaves of arrows - the badges of Queen Catherine - of fine ducat gold; the upper part of the hose of like fashion, the lower parts of scarlet, powdered with timbrels of fine gold. His bonnet was of damask silver, flat, "woven in the stall," and therefore wrought with gold, and rich feathers on it. When he met Anne of Cleves he had tricked himself out in a frock of velvet, embroidered all over with flatted gold of damask, mixed with a profusion of lace; the sleeves and breast all cut and lined with cloth of gold, and tied together with great buttons of diamonds, rubies, and orient pearls.

Henry ordered his subjects to cut off their long hair; beards and moustaches were now worn at pleasure.

The reigns of Edward and Mary did not vary greatly in the costume of the men, except that small round flat caps were introduced, and are still retained by the boys of Christ Hospital, which Edward founded. The whole dress of these boys is that of the apprentices of London of that period - blue coats and yellow stockings being, besides, very common to the citizens then. The jackets of our firemen and watermen are also of that period, the badge being made of metal and placed on the arm instead of being embroidered on the back or breast as before. The square-toed shoes were banished by proclamation in the reign of Queen Mary.

The costume of the ladies of the reign of Henry VIII. is extremely familiar, from the numerous portraits of his six wives, engravings of which are in "Lodge's Portraits." With the exception of the bonnet or coif, which, though worn by Catherine of Arragon, came to be called the Anne Boleyn cap, the dress of the ladies of this reign bears a striking resemblance to that of the ladies of our own day, though differing, of course, in material. You find the gown fitting close to the bust, of the natural length of waist, and cut square at the chest, where it is edged with narrow lace. The sleeves, tight at the shoulder, widened to the elbow, where they hung deep, showing an under-sleeve of fine lawn or lace extending to the wrist, and terminated by lace ruffles. On the neck was generally worn a pearl necklace, with a jewelled cross. The skirts were full, the train long, according to rank. Seven yards of purple cloth of damask gold were allowed for a kirtle for Queen Catherine, in a wardrobe account of the eighth year of Henry's reign. The sleeves of the ladies, like those of the gentlemen, could be changed at pleasure, being separate, and attached at will. They were extremely rich; and we find in one lady's inventory three pair of purple satin sleeves, one of linen paned with gold over the arms, quilted with black silk, and wrought with flounces between the panes and at the hands; one pair of purple gold tissue damask wire, each sleeve tied with aglets of gold; one pair of crimson satin, four buttons of gold on each sleeve, and in every button nine pearls.

The coif was of various materials, from simple linen to rich velvet and cloth of gold; either with the round front, as in Mary and Elizabeth as princesses, in Catherine Parr and Catherine Howard, or dipping in front, which came to be called the Queen of Scots bonnet; but most frequently the five-cornered one. This last was indeed the hood of the time of Henry VII., in which we have a portrait of his queen, Elizabeth of York; the lappets of the hood depending on the bosom, embroidered and edged with pearls; the scarf behind hanging on the shoulders. In Catherine of Arragon, the front, embroidered and jewelled, had become shorter, touching the neck only; but the scarf behind still spread on the shoulder. In Anne Boleyn the coif had reached its extreme of elegance; the frontlet, consisting of the five-pointed frame, is still shorter, only covering the ears, and is faced with a double row of pearls. Her hair is scarcely seen, being concealed by an under-coif, which shows as a band in a slanting direction over the forehead. The back consists of a green velvet hood, with broad scarf lappets, of which one is turned up over the back of the head, and the other hangs gracefully on the right shoulder.

Of the dress of the ladies of the citizen class we have a curious account in the bride of John of Winchcomb, the famous clothier, called "Jack of Newbury." "She was habited in a gown of sheep's russet, and a kirtle of fine worsted, her head attired with a billiment of gold, and her hair, as yellow as gold, hanging down behind her, which was curiously combed and plaited. She was led to church by two boys with bride laces and rosemary tied about their silken sleeves. When she in after years came out of her widow's weeds, she appeared in a fair train gown stuck full of silver pins, having a white cap on her head, with cuts of curious needlework under the same, and an apron before her as white as driven snow."

With Elizabeth came in a totally new fashion, not only of women's but of men's costumes. The large trunk hose made their appearance; the long-waisted doublet, the short cloak or mantle, with its standing collar, the ruff, the hat, the band and feather, the roses in their shoes, are all of this period. To such a degree did the fashion of puffed and stuffed breeches obtain, which had begun to swell in the prior reigns, that about the thirty-third of Elizabeth, over the seats in the Parliament House, were certain holes, some two inches square, in the walls, in which were placed posts to uphold scaffolds round about the house for those to sit upon who wore great breeches stuffed with hair, like woolsacks.

As to ruffs, Stubbs, in his "Anatomie of Abuses," tells us that, sooner than go without them, men would mortgage their lands, or risk their lives at Tyburn; and he adds, " They have now newly (1595) found out a more monstrous kind of ruff, of twelve, yea, sixteen lengths apiece, set three or four times double, thence called three steps and a half to the gallows." The French or Venetian hose, he tells us, cost often £100 a pair, probably from being cloth of gold and set with jewels. To these were added boot-hose of the finest cloth, also splendidly embroidered with birds, beasts, and antiques. The doublets, he says, grew longer and longer in the waist, stuffed and quilted with four, five, or six pounds of bombast, the exterior being of silk, satin, taffeta, gold or silver stuff, slashed, jagged, covered, pinched, and laced with all kinds of costly devices. Over these their coats and jerkins, some with collars, some without, some close to the body, some loose, called mandilions; some buttoned down the breast, some under the arm, some down the back, &c. They had cloaks also, white, red, tawny, yellow, green, violet, &c., of cloth, silk, or taffeta, and of French, Spanish, or Dutch fashion, ornamented with costly lace of gold, silver, or silk. These cloaks, he says, were as costly inside as out. Their slippers or "pantoufles" were of all colours, and yet, he says, they were difficult to keep on, and went flap-flap up and down in the dirt, casting the mire up to their knees. Their hats, ho says, were sharp at the crown, peaking up like the shaft of a steeple a quarter of a yard above the crown of their heads, some more, some less; others flat and broad on the crown; some with round crowns and bands of all colours; and these hats or caps were of velvet, taffeta, or sarcenet, ornamented with great bunches of feathers; and finally we hear of leaver hats, costing from twenty to forty shillings apiece, brought from beyond seas.

But if such was the dress of gentlemen to please the strange taste of the maiden queen, that of this famous queen herself, as evidenced by her numerous portraits, has nothing like it in all the annals of fashion. In an early portrait of Elizabeth we have her dressed in a costume very little different to that of a man. Over her gown or doublet she wore a coat with the enormous shoulder-points standing up six inches, and with a close upright collar completely enveloping her neck, and surmounted by a ruff; her coat cut and slashed all over, and on her head a round hat, pulled down to a peak in front, and thickly jewelled. Stubbs, alluding to this particular fashion, says, "The women have doublets and jerkins as the men have, buttoned up to the breast, and made with wings, welts, and pinions on the shoulder points, as men's apparel in all. respects.... Yet they blush not to wear it."

But it was about the middle of her reign that Elizabeth introduced that astounding style of dress in which she figures in most of her portraits, and in which the body was imprisoned in whalebone to the hips; the partlet or habit-shirt, which had for some time been in use, and covered the whole bosom to the chin, was removed, and an enormous ruff, rising gradually from the front of the shoulders to nearly the height of the head behind, encircled the wearer like the enormous wings of some nondescript butterfly. In fact, there was ruff beyond ruff; first, a crimped one round the neck like a collar; and then a round one standing up from the shoulders behind the head; and, finally, the enormous circular fans towering high and wide. The head of the queen is seen covered with one of her eighty sets of false hair, and hoisted above that a jaunty hat, jewelled and plumed.

In order to enable this monstrous expanse of ruff to support itself, it was necessary to resort to starch, and, as Stubbs tells us, also to a machinery of wires "erected for the purpose, and whipped all over with gold thread, silver, or silk." This was called a "supportasse, or underpropper." The queen sent to Holland for women skilled, in the art of starching; and one Mistress Dingham Vander Plasse came over and became famous in the mystery of tormenting pride with starch. "The devil," says Stubbs, "hath learned them to wash and dress their ruffs, which, being dry, will then stand inflexible about their necks."

From the bosom, now partly left bare, descended an interminable stomacher, and then the farthingale spread out its enormous breadth like the modern crinoline. In nothing did Elizabeth so much betray the absence of a fine and healthy taste as in her dress; a modern historian justly observing that in her full attire she resembled, with all her ruffs, her lace, her jewels, her embroidery, her rings, and bedizenments, more an Indian idol than an English queen. Stockings of worsted, yarn, and silk had now become common; and Mistress Montague presented Her Majesty, in the third year of her reign, with a pair of silk stockings, knit in this country; thereupon she would never wear any else. A fashion of both ladies and gentlemen of this time was to wear small looking glasses hanging at their sides or inserted in the fan of ostrich feathers.


The history of the coinage from Henry VII. to the reign of Elizabeth is one of depreciation and adulteration, as it had been in the preceding century. Not till Elizabeth did it begin to return to a sound and honest standard.

Henry VII. made several variations in the money of the realm. He preserved the standard of Edward IV. and Richard III., coining 450 pennies from the pound of silver, or thirty-seven nominal shillings and sixpences. He introduced shillings as actual money, being before only nominal, and used in accounts. These shillings, struck in 1504 - called at first large groats, and then testons, from the French "teste," or "tete," a head - bore the profile of the king instead of the fall face; a thing unknown since the reign of Stephen, but ever after followed, except by Henry VIII. and Edward VI., who, however, used the profile in their groats. Henry coined also a novel coin - the sovereign, or "double rose noble," worth twenty shillings, and the "rose dial," or half-sovereign. These gold coins are now very rare. On the reverse of his coins he for the first time placed the arms.

The gold coins of Henry VIII. were sovereigns, half-sovereigns, or rials, half and quarter rials, angels, angelets Or half-angels, and quarter-angels, George nobles – so called from bearing on the reverse St. George and the dragon - crowns, and half-crowns. His silver coins were shillings, groats, half-groats, and pennies. Amongst these appeared groats and half-groats coined by Wolsey at York, in accordance with a privilege exercised by the Church long before. In his impeachment it was made a capital charge that he had placed the cardinal's hat on the groats under the king's arms. The groats also bore on each side the arms his initials, "T. W.," and the half-groats "W. A." - Wolsey Archiepiscopus.

We have already stated the scandalous manner in which Henry adulterated the coin, and not only so, but depreciated the value of the silver coins, by coining a much larger number of pennies out of a pound of the base alloy. Before his time the mixed mint pound had consisted of eleven ounces two pennyweights of silver, and eighteen pennyweights of alloy; but Henry, in 1543, altered it to ten ounces of silver and two ounces of alloy. Two years later he added as much alloy as there was silver; and not content with that, in 1546, or one year after, he left only four ounces of silver in the pound, or eight ounces of alloy to the four ounces of silver! But this even did not satisfy him: he next proceeded to coin his base metal into a larger amount than the good metal had ever produced before. Instead of 37s. 6d., or 450 pennies, into which it had been coined ever since the reign of Edward IV., he made it yield 540 pennies, or 45s., in 1527, and in 1543 he extended it to 48s., or 576 pennies. He thus, instead of 450 pennies out of a pound containing eleven ounces two pennyweights of silver, coined 576 pennies out of only four ounces of silver! Such were the lawless robberies which "Bluff Harry" committed on his subjects. 'Any one of the smallest debasements by a subject would have sent him to the gallows. He certainly was one of the most wholesale issuers of bad money that ever lived.

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Pictures for The Progress of the Nation page 14

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