Sunday, September 6, 2015

Queen Elizabeth I - 1574 decrees who can wear what in her England



1575 Queen Elizabeth I 1533-1603 The Schloss Ambras Portrait

Elizabeth's fiscal restraint cleared the regime of debt by 1574.  Perhaps it was this & her decision to up her public image that prompted her, in the summer of 1574, to decide to issue sumptuary laws for all the subjects of England. These laws certainly coincided with the Queen's adoption of a more glamorous public image. She was not the 1st monarch to issue such mandates, these sorts of laws had been enacted in many centuries & countries. Elizabeth I intended these laws to restrict the sumptuousness of dress in order to curb extravagance, protect fortunes, & make clear the necessary & appropriate distinctions between levels of society.

Elizabeth I decided that money spent on frivolous display would be better spent on the state of more important things, such as horses, critical to a society always in peril from its neighbors. Her other concern was that letting anyone wear just anything must lead inexorably to moral decline. If you couldn't tell a milkmaid from a countess at a glance, the very fabric of a heirarchical society might unravel.  And her position & authority might be in question.


c 1575 Queen Elizabeth I 1533-1603 The Pelican Portrait, att to Nicholas Hilliard.

Enforcing Statutes of Apparel
[Greenwich, 15 June 1574, 16 Elizabeth I]


c 1574 Queen Elizabeth I 1533-1603 Unknown Artist

"The excess of apparel and the superfluity of unnecessary foreign wares thereto belonging now of late years is grown by sufferance to such an extremity that the manifest decay of the whole realm generally is like to follow (by bringing into the realm such superfluities of silks, cloths of gold, silver, and other most vain devices of so great cost for the quantity thereof as of necessity the moneys and treasure of the realm is and must be yearly conveyed out of the same to answer the said excess) but also particularly the wasting and undoing of a great number of young gentlemen, otherwise serviceable, and others seeking by show of apparel to be esteemed as gentlemen, who, allured by the vain show of those things, do not only consume themselves, their goods, and lands which their parents left unto them, but also run into such debts and shifts as they cannot live out of danger of laws without attempting unlawful acts, whereby they are not any ways serviceable to their country as otherwise they might be:

"Which great abuses, tending both to so manifest a decay of the wealth of the realm and to the ruin of a multitude of serviceable young men and gentlemen and of many good families, the Queen's majesty hath of her own princely wisdom so considered as she hath of late with great charged to her council commanded the same to be presently and speedily remedied both in her own court and in all other places of her realm, according to the sundry good laws heretofore provided.


c 1575 Queen Elizabeth I 1533-1603 attributed to Nicholas Hilliard

"For reformation whereof, although her highness might take great advantage and profit by execution of the said laws and statutes, yet of her princely clemency her majesty is content at this time to give warning to her loving subjects to reform themselves, and not to extend forthwith the rigor of her laws for the offences heretofore past, so as they shall now reform themselves according to such orders as at this present, jointly with this proclamation, are set forth, whereby the statute of the 24th year of her majesty's most noble father King Henry VIII and the statute made in the second year of her late dear sister Queen Mary are in some part moderated according to this time.

"Wherefore her majesty willeth and straightly commandeth all manner of persons in all places within 12 days after the publication of this present proclamation to reform their apparel according to the tenor of certain articles and clauses taken out of the said statutes and with some moderations annexed to this proclamation, upon pain of her highness's indignation, and punishment for their contempts, and such other pains as in the said several statutes be expressed.


c 1575 Queen Elizabeth I 1533-1603 The Phoenix Portrait, att to Nicholas Hilliard.

"For the execution of which orders her majesty first giveth special charge to all such as do bear office within her most honorable house to look unto it, each person in his degree and office, that the said articles and orders be duly observed, and the contrary reformed in her majesty's court by all them who are under their office, thereby to give example to the rest of the realm; and further generally to all noblemen, of what estate or degree soever they be, and all and every person of her privy council, to all archbishops and bishops, and to the rest of the clergy according to their degrees, that they do see the same speedily and duly executed in their private households and families; and to all mayors and other head officers of cities, towns, and corporations, to the chancellors of the universities, to governors of colleges, to the ancients and benchers in every the Inns of Court and Chancery, and generally to all that hath any superiority or government over and upon any multitude, and each man in his own household for their children and servants, that they likewise do cause the said orders to be kept by all lawful means that they can.

"And to the intent the same might be better kept generally throughout all the realm, her majesty giveth also special charge to all justices of the peace to inquire of the defaults and breaking of those orders in their quarter sessions, and to see them redressed in all open assemblies by all wise, godly, and lawful means; and also to all Justices of Assizes in their circuits to cause inquiry and due presentment to be made at their next assizes how these orders be kept; and so orderly, twice a year at every assize after each other circuits done, to certify in writing to her highness's Privy Council under their hands, with as convenient speed as they may, what hath been found and done as well by the justices of the peace in their quarter sessions, of whom they shall take their certificate for each quarter session, as also at the assizes, for the observing of the said orders and reformation of the abuses.

"A brief content of certain clauses of the statute of King Henry VIII and Queen Mary, with some moderation thereof, to be observed according to her majesty's proclamation above mentioned."


c 1575 Queen Elizabeth I 1533-1603 The Darnley Portrait, by an unknown artist.

For women's apparel: None shall wear in her apparel:


c 1575 Queen Elizabeth I 1533-1603 attributed to Nicholas Hilliard

"Any cloth of gold, tissue, nor fur of sables: except duchesses, marquises, and countesses in their gowns, kirtles, partlets, and sleeves; cloth of gold, silver, tinseled satin, silk, or cloth mixed or embroidered with gold or silver or pearl, saving silk mixed with gold or silver in linings of cowls, partlets, and sleeves: except all degrees above viscountesses, and viscountesses, baronesses, and other personages of like degrees in their kirtles and sleeves.

"Velvet (crimson, carnation); furs (black genets, lucerns); embroidery or passment lace of gold or silver: except all degrees above mentioned, the wives of knights of the Garter and of the Privy Council, the ladies and gentlewomen of the privy chamber and bedchamber, and maids of honor.

"None shall wear any velvet in gowns, furs of leopards, embroidery of silk: except the degrees and persons above mentioned, the wives of barons' sons, or of knights.

"Cowls, sleeves, partlets, and linings, trimmed with spangles or pearls of gold, silver, or pearl; cowls of gold or silver, or of silk mixed with gold or silver: except the degrees and persons above mentioned; and trimmed with pearl, none under the degree of baroness or like degrees.

"Enameled chains, buttons, aglets, and borders: except the degrees before mentioned.

"Satin, damask, or tufted taffeta in gowns, kirtles, or velvet in kirtles; fur whereof the kind groweth not within the Queen's dominions, except foins, grey genets, bodge, and wolf: except the degrees and persons above mentioned, or the wives of those that may dispend £100 by the year and so valued in the subsidy book.

"Gowns of silk grosgrain, doubled sarcenet, camlet, or taffeta, or kirtles of satin or damask: except the degrees and persons above mentioned, and the wives of the sons and heirs of knights, and the daughters of knights, and of such as may dispend 300 marks by the year so valued ut supra, and the wives of those that may dispend £40 by the year.

"Gentlewomen attendant upon duchesses, marquises, countesses may wear, in their liveries given them by their mistresses, as the wives of those that may dispend £100 by the year and are so valued ut supra.

"None shall wear any velvet, tufted taffeta, satin, or any gold or silver in their petticoats: except wives of barons, knights of the order, or councilors' ladies, and gentlewomen of the privy chamber and bed chamber, and the maids of honor.

"Damask, taffeta, or other silk in their petticoats: except knights' daughters and such as be matched with them in the former article, who shall not wear a guard of any silk upon their petticoats.

"Velvet, tufted taffeta, satin, nor any gold or silver in any cloak or safeguard: except the wives of barons, knights of the order, or councilor's ladies and gentlewomen of the privy chamber and bedchamber, and maids of honor, and the degrees above them.

"Damask, taffeta, or other silk in any cloak or safeguard: except knights' wives, and the degrees and persons above mentioned.

"No persons under the degrees above specified shall wear any guard or welt of silk upon any petticoat, cloak, or safeguard."


c 1575 Queen Elizabeth I 1533-1603


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