Friday, March 18, 2016

Queen Elizabeth I - 1558-1603 The grand wardrobe - Hand-me-downs?

Marcus Gheeraerts the younger (Flemish artist, 1561-1635) Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I

A Point of View: Dazzling in an age of auserity
By Lisa Jardine
BBC News Magazine 30 December 2011

"...In 1558, when the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I succeeded her Catholic sister Mary to the throne of England, royal finances were in a parlous state. Although Elizabeth's fiscal restraint cleared the regime of debt by 1574, the costs of warfare in the later decades of the reign obliterated the surplus, and England had a debt of £350,000 at Elizabeth's death in 1603.

"Against this economic background, Elizabeth used ostentation and opulence in her dress as a political tool to increase national confidence in the solvency of her regime. We know how systematic and thought-through such a strategy was, because some of the account books keeping track of the outlay of precious gems and sumptuous fabrics on important public occasions have come down to us.

"One of these little books, kept by Elizabeth's senior lady-in-waiting in charge of her 'Wardrobe of Robes,' contains a daily inventory of outfits worn by her, and is engagingly entitled 'Lost from her Majesty's back.'

"It details meticulously the pearls and gems individually stitched on to the queen's articles of clothing for state occasions, then painstakingly removed and checked back in to her jewellery collection afterwards. If a gem became detached in the course of the outing it had to be accounted for as a 'loss' in the book, and the ladies of the royal household were held responsible for recovering it.

"What this tells us is that the extraordinary outfit Queen Elizabeth wears in a classic portrait like the 1588 Armada portrait - painted to celebrate the defeat of the Spanish fleet - is no artistic exaggeration.

1588 Queen Elizabeth I 1533-1603 The Armada Portrait Attributed to George Gower

"At each intersection of patterning in her silk sleeves and kirtle a pearl or a flower-shaped jewel with diamond petals has been lovingly attached, while shoulders and gown-edge are decorated with pink silk bows, each with a jewelled flower at its centre. The effect is dazzling - a clever way of making a female monarch appear as powerful in victory as her male counterpart would have been, dressed in full armour and ready for battle.

"I said that Elizabeth herself lacked the means to support such display of financial extravagance. A significant way in which the queen consolidated the sense of economic security conveyed by sheer ostentation, was by means of a carefully constructed policy of gift-exchange with senior (and more personally wealthy) members of her court.

"On New Year's Day each year it was customary for the English of all walks of life to exchange personal gifts. Elizabeth and her advisers organised expensive gift-giving of elaborate pieces of jewellery and exquisite articles of clothing, seeing to it that the gifts offered to her at the new year were, from year to year, increasingly extravagant, and increasingly matched to particular requirements for Elizabeth's court dress, communicated to the gift-giver well in advance.

"If the gift succeeded - if the queen liked it and wore it - it had fulfilled its function of winning the queen's favour and confirming the giver's devotion and loyalty.

"In exchange, each individual presenting a luxury item would receive a piece of engraved silver plate (typically in the form of cups, bowls and spoons), which because it came from the queen herself, had a 'value' far beyond its intrinsic worth.

"On the whole, male members of the aristocracy gave gems, while their female counterparts gave elaborately decorated clothing. The more powerful and senior the nobleman, the more intricate and ostentatious his gift.

"All these gifts were negotiated with, and presented to Lady Howard, keeper of the queen's wardrobe, whose sartorial guidance and approval was sought both before and after the New Year's Day present-giving...

"In 1581 Sir Christopher Hatton, then Vice-Chamberlain, gave: 'A jewell of gold, being an amulet, with a buckle and pendant of gold, garnished and furnished with diamonds and rubies, six pieces of gold enamelled, fully furnished with small rubies. Betwixt every of the same pieces, 13 pendants of gold garnished with small rubies and small diamonds. And more - 144 buttons of gold, peascod fashion, half part enamelled green.'

"A year earlier the Countess of Lincoln gave: 'A doublet with double sleeves, ash colour, upon tinsel laid with passmane lace of gold and silver, lined with yellow sarcenet.'

"And from the Countess of Warwick, 'a fore part and a pair of sleeves of white satin, embroidered with branches and trees of damask gold, two guards of black velvet, upon the fore part embroidered with gold, silver, and silk, set with seed pearl, and lined with tawny sarcenet..."