Thursday, July 29, 2010

Sumptuary Laws of the Fifteenth Century

"Forasmuche as the greate and costly array and apparrell used wythin this realme, contrary to good statutes therof made, hath be the occasion of grete impovershing to divers of the Kings subjects and provoked many of them to robbe and to doo extortion and other unlawful dedes to maynteyne therby ther costeley arrey: In exchewyng wheof, Be it ordeyned by the authority of this present Parliament that no persone of whate state, condition, or degre that he be, use in his apparel eny cloth of golde of purpoure [purple] coloure or sylke of purpoure coloure, but onely the Kyng, the Quwene, the Kyng's Moder, the Kyng's Chylder, the Kyng's Brethers and Susters, upon payne to forfett the seid apparel, .. . and for using the same to forfaite 20 pounds. "

Under this preamble was published the list of "no-nos" and "exceptions" laid out in the above. At the discretion of the regent however he could, and did, grant special dispensations to wear articles of clothing forbidden by law, to whomever he pleased.

During the reign of Henry IV (1366 -1413) the male attire became much quieter than in previous times. Fantastic styles still existed and were recorded by contemporary writers. Parliament tried to curb fashion excess by legislation but this had little effect. The lower classes were condemned for imitating the fashions and extravagances of the rich and diatribes of ecclesiastics and contemporary satirists were especially directed against garments of the slashed (torn or rented) variety. Slashed outer clothing revealed finery beneath which was often banned from wear. Because the sumptuous garment was an undergarment it did not transgress the law.

Much later broad toes shoes or Bears Paw were made of soft leather uppers which were slashed to reveal finery beneath such as colourful silk stockings. The broad toed shoes were popular with men. Parliament proposed two new sumptuary laws in 1402 and 1406, but neither met with the king's full approval.

During the reign of Henry V (1387 -1422) no more sumptuary laws were enacted. Henry V preferred wearing buskins to the long toed poulaines.

The reign of Henry VI (1421 – 1471 ) was a time of lavish excesses. In 1444 there was wage control legislation for husbandry servants. Clothing was part of wages and they were restricted to wear certain attire. During this time England was still at war with France and the Wars of the Roses started. Shoes were worn long often longer than the entire length of the foot.

Throughout the reign of Henry VI, wooden overshoes (pattens) were worn by gentlemen when walking out in bad weather. Towards the end of his reign foot fashion changed to include dark hose and boots.

The War of the Roses started in 1455 and ended in 1485. In 1461 the Yorkshire faction gained the upper hand and its leader, Edward IV (1442- 1483) became king. Little had been done to curb dress excesses since the reign of Henry IV. Despite the continuing civil war, Edward was determined and passed several laws. The first was enacted in 1463-1464. The act attempted to regulate the wearing of long toed shoes.

By the time of Edward's reign the long toed shoe fashion was strongly established and hence difficult to dislodge. The style had long been the subject of scorn from satirists. In the new act no-one lower than the rank of a lord should wear and shoes or boots with pikes more than two inches long.

Shoemakers were forbidden to make shoes or boots with points longer than the prescribed length. The responsibility for punishment of offences was given to Justice of the Peace or local magistrates. All fines were to go towards the expenses of the king's household. The act related to the lesser and poorer nobility and to the classes below them. The law relating to shoe length seemed to be hard to enforce, judging from the number of regulations issued with regard to the matter within the space of two or three years (Baldwin, 1926 p.108). One year after the passage of the statute of 1463-64 it was ordained:

"that no person cordwainer or cobbler within the city of London or within three mile of any part of the same city, be he within franchise or without , do to be made after the feast of Easter (sic 1464)....and shoe, galoches, or huseas (sic bushkin), with any pike or poleyn that shall pass the length of two inches , which shall be judged by the wardens or governors of the same mystery. "

The act was later repealed by Henry VIII. Shoe makers were however, forbidden to sell any of their wares on Sundays or on certain other days, and the penalty for doing so, as well as for making shoes with pikes more than two inches, was to be a fine of 20 shillings. The following year it was proclaimed throughout England that the beaks or pikes of shoes or boots should not exceed two inches, upon pain of cursing by the clergy and forfeiting 20 shillings, one noble to the king, another to the cordwainers of London and a third to the chamber of London. Despite this the fashion for long toed shoes continued. The act of 1462-63 had not been effective in checking fashion extravagances. Later acts in 1477 and 1483 were passed which reinforced many of the aspects of the 1462-63 acts. They also included granting the right of appeal. The most significant aspect about the later acts was the exact penalties for each offence was identified. However, there is no evidence to support these laws were ever enforced.

From the time of the reign of Richard II 's time." (1367 – 1400) males wore shoes with pointed toes (peaks, pikes or poulaines). The shoes were worn up to 24’ longer than the foot and prevented normal walking. Aristocratic gentlemen would tie the toe of their poulaines to their knees using chains of silver or gold. Those who could not afford precious metals used silk laces. From contemporary paintings ladies also wore sized down long toed shoes.

By statute shoes split at the sides with a peak before and behind, and long and pointed toes were forbidden (Baldwin, 1926, p98). Late in Richard II’s reign, broad toed shoes became popular. Some men wore designs sewn on one leg of their tights. Poor men wore shapeless shoes and woollen tights. Country women dressed in foot shaped shoes with wooden pattens strapped onto them for outdoor wear.

By the mid fifteenth century Edward IV (1442 – 1483) wore red Spanish boots turned over at the top.

Henry VII (1485-1509) crushed the baronage and tentatively began to construct the middle classes. A decline in agriculture resulted in people moving to urban areas and development of manufacture. Henry believed gold and silver reserves should stay in England and English manufacturers should be protected from foreign competition. These economic ideas often underpinned the Tudor sumptuary laws.

Exquisite taste in clothes did not stop with the gentry and the clergy wore luxurious and ostentatious garments. Despite this, there were few sumptuary laws from the period of Henry VII. The long toed shoes which had attracted the attention of the legislators in the reign of Edward IV were still worn though they were fast going out of style. During the reign of Henry VIII shoes became very broad at the toes and slashing on the uppers was common

Baldwin F E 1926 Sumptuary Legislation and Personal Regulation in England Johns Hopkins Press.

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