Thursday, February 05, 2009

Question from Joan - Time outdoors for female nobility

Did female nobility of the Tudor period spend much time outdoors? If they were outside did the employ parasols? In their portraits their skin is very fair-certainly no hint of a tan. I'm guessing pale skin was considered a desirable beauty trait.

Would vitamin D deficiency have been a common problem for these women? Even if they were spending some time outside very little skin was exposed-just hands and face and even that might have been limited by the use of gloves or hats.


Anonymous said...

I know that the nobility spent time outdoors hunting and watching various sporting events such as jousting. Also they spent time walking in gardens.

I have very fair ivory skin and red hair, so this is an area that is of great interest to me. I did some reading on it, and the experts say that you really only need a few minutes a day of sunshine to get vitamin D, especially for fair-skinned people. So I doubt that many of them had a vitamin D deficiency.

Bearded Lady said...

I know that the ladies of the 16th century French court wore sun masks. They look kind of spooky looking too. You can find an example of one in the 'habits de France'

But I wonder if Tudor ladies wore them too?

I also doubt that vitamin D deficiencies were a problem. The nobility ate cod which as you probably already know, cod liver oil has tons of Vitamin D and you only need small amounts of exposure to the sun to absorb it.

Vitamin C deficiencies were a bigger problem.

Anonymous said...

Back then Fair skin was the thing to have.
Fair skin was also a sign of wealth I believe, meaning that you did not have to work outdoor where your skin could darken, whereas, women of nobility could stay inside without worry.

kb said...

Elizabethan female elites spent a great deal of time outdoors 'at sport'. Hunting, hawking and riding were pursuits enjoyed by Elizabeth and her ladies followed suit. There is a description of two of the Knollys women, Lettice and her younger sister Anne, requiring the game keepers to determine who could claim the most bucks after hunting in Leicester's deer park. Lettice claimed 7 although the gamekeepers awarded some of them jointly with her sister.

Parasols - So I've done a bit of trolling through some costume books and generally I can't recall seeing Elizabethan parasols. But I did find the following information:

From "The Pictorial Encyclopedia of Fashion" (1968), p. 474 'After a long lapse during the Middle Ages, the sunshade reappeared in 16th century Italy, at first as a giant folding umbrella intended for several people at once. Marie de Medici brought the fashion with her to France, where sunshades were made of waxed material and had horn handles."

And then from "The Book of Costume", Davenport, vol. 1, (1948), p. 443 "Masks for outdoor wear came into use for both sexes during Elizabeth's time. Long masks were kept in place by a button, fixed on the back and held in the teeth." All this sounds terribly uncomfortable and I imagine the use of masks outside of carnivals was for walking not hunting.

The other thing to remember is that exposure to sun in England is a different proposition than exposure in Italy. The sun is far less intense and a bit coquettish about showing itself all day long.

Bearded Lady said...

KB - very interesting about the masks held in place by teeth. That would explain why they look like something straight out of silence of the lambs.

kb said...

I'm not convinced this was a widely adopted fashion. I've spent a fair amount of time trolling through costume books and I can only remember 1 drawing that included a sun-shade mask on a Tudor woman. However, the costume books I own are not the latest so there's possibly more evidence in more current work on the subject.

Anonymous said...

Thank you everyone, especially kb- very interesting information.