1500 Stitches: diverse arts of Margaret Wolseley

English Noblewoman's Dress in 1500

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Documenting Dress during the Reign of Elizabeth of York, 1486 to 1503

Objective: to collect information about the clothing, especially the bonnets, typically worn by noblewomen during the reign of Elizabeth of York, Henry VII's queen and mother to Henry VIII.

Possible Information Sources: Monumental Effigies

The most current image of my work: a map of brasses and effigies of women from 1485-1550 plus a few earlier and later ones.

My most significant objective while in England is to document the monumental effigies found in so many churches, and whose sometimes exceptionally carved three-dimensional forms yield excellent clues about how to reconstruct the garments. My effigy project is inspired by the undertakings of Jane Malcom-Davies at www.tudoreffigies.co.uk. She has shared advice and photographing guidelines with me, and I hope that eventually I will be able to contribute photographs to her website.

One of the first steps to photographing monuments is to figure out where they are. I started with a list of all the church monuments recorded in the Pevsner Architectural Guides to the Buildings of England dated between 1475 and 1550. I started a decade prior to Elizabeth of York's coronation because monuments are not always erected immediately after death, and when monuments are created they most often depict the deceased in current fashion. Pevsner guides almost always give the date of the monument as that of the death of the man depicted, or gives approximate dates based on costume and monument style. I also wanted to be sure to collect information about what the fashionable headgear was before the gabled hood, because I hope to understand how the apparently different styles could have evolved from one to the other.

The end date of my search range, 1550, is just three years after the death of Henry VIII. My previous efforts to find monumental brasses with images of gable headdresses lead me to believe that I would find gables no earlier than 1500, and find them common well into the 1540s, although the style would change gradually from the long frontpiece that lays upon the chest to a shorter bonnet stopping at the jawline. Although the French Hood would appear in portraiture within Henry VIII's lifetime, I found it less common on brasses until after his death, and thus far have seen a similar pattern in effigies.

To determine which churches were most worth visiting, I searched for online photos of the effigies, saving my findings on Pinterest. I have a board of 15th Century effigy photographs and another of 16th Century effigy photographs.

Although it would seem at first arbitrary to continue using the turn of the century to divide my resources, I have found that the year 1500 marks a significant change in the costumes represented: before this time, very few women wear gable headdresses, and afterward, they are the primary form of bonnet.

With my husband's help I created maps showing the locations of the monuments: one map of the 15th Century effigies, and another map of the 16th Century effigies. These maps show every monumental effigy of a woman (that I know of) for which the monument likely dates between 1475 and 1550.

Using the photographs I saved on Pinterest, I then classified effigies as either must-see (excellently preserved detail or a particular feature I want to view in person), excellent quality, average quality, poor quality, and so worn that useful costume details cannot be seen. I made a map of monuments spanning the entire time range, color coded to as to my impressions of quality.

Map of brasses and effigies of women from 1485-1550 plus a few earlier and later ones.

More information about, and photographs of, English funerary art is on the Church Monuments Society website.