Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Question from Jennifer - Henry VIII's seamstress(es)

I was told by a cousin of mine researching our Helton heritage, that one of our great grandmother's was one of his royal seamstresses. Who not only made his attire, but also was ordered to make dresses and such for his queens.
Is there a listing of his seamstresses at the time of his reign, I'd love to know if one of my ancestors served in his court and probably got to see/make some of the finest wardrobe.


Lara said...

If you can track down a copy of Maria Hayward's "Dress at the Court of Henry VIII", it may have some helpful information. Unfortunately the book is pretty expensive and my university's library doesn't have a copy so I haven't been able to actually look through the book itself.

Foose said...

I have Hayward's book, and looked through it for information. It seems that Henry's clothes and those of his queens were designed, assembled and decorated by professional male master tailors, with squads of journeymen working under them in the guild system. Even the queens' wardrobes were largely ordered from and put together by male tailors -- although confusingly called the "womans taylor" -- as well as male furriers, male cordwainers, male headdress-suppliers, etc.

The only women who worked for Henry's court in a wardrobe capacity (as mentioned in the records) appear to be the king's silkwoman, the queen's silkwoman and one female "skinner."

This doesn't mean there weren't sewing women or seamstresses around making clothes. But as with any lucrative, professional job that involved much contact with the king, it appears that the wardrobe positions -- the ones that show up in the records -- went largely to men. This might, however, have changed under Elizabeth.

Helton does show up in Letters & Papers, as the name of a manor in Dorsetshire associated with a barony.

Jennifer said...

sorry, my confusion, I e-mailed my cousin told me it was indeed a male member of the Helton family.
Maybe this new information might help.

PhD Historian said...

As usual, Foose has come up with excellent information.

Tailoring was one of the recognized "crafts" with its own guild : The Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors was founded in 1327 as the governing body over all tailors in London. It was still serving that function during the reign of Henry VIII, overseeing masters and their apprentices and controlling admission to membership in the guild. Think of it as similar in many respects to a modern "labor union."

Membership in the Company was limited to men. Indeed, women were seldom admitted to any craft guild, though they could and sometimes did inherit the business of a deceased husband.

Weaving, on the other hand, was often considered a female occupation in early modern England, and was often a cottage industry rather than an organized and centrally located enterprise.

Sericulture, or silk production, was often thought of as a female occupation as well. Part of the reason had to do with myths, superstitions, and beliefs surrounding the raising of silkworms and the working of silk thread and weaving. Sericulture in its native China was a female-dominated undertaking and the Empress or Empress Consort was its patron.

Embroidery, however, was a decidedly feminine pursuit in Tudor-era England, especially among aristocratic women.

I do not believe that women became "professional" tailors prior to the late 17th or early 18th century. I do not believe there were yet any women among the tailors even during the Elizabethan period.

Foose said...

I will re-check the book again tonight, but I did find by Googling a Website, "The Hiltons of North East England," http://www.ancestryuk.com/
HiltonofNorthEastEngland.htm, that "William Hilton was recorded as body tailor to King Henry VIII and one of his daughters as seamstress to Queen Elizabeth I." Hilton appears to be an alternate spelling of Helton, also spelt Hyltun, Hylton and Hiltun.

Meanwhile, in Letters & Papers, Grants in November 1511 record:

"William Hylton. To be, for life, the King's tailor, vice Stephen Jasper, with 12d. a day, from Mich, last, since which by the King's command he has exercised the office. Richmond, 11 Nov. 3 Hen. VIII. Del. Westm., 23 Nov. 9." (Vice means "next in importance to.")

There is also recorded in the Book of Payments for 1514:

"Hilton, King's tailor, for money paid by him beyond the sea, 7l. 18s. 6d."

Grants in 1519 include:
"John du Paris. To be the King's tailor, with 12d. a day, vice Wm. Hilton. Del. Westm., 20 Oct. 11 Hen. VIII."

Foose said...

I went back to Hayward's book and actually there are a couple of paragraphs on William Hilton in the chapter titled "The Royal Artificers."

"Hilton started his work as king's tailor on 29 September 1511, but it was not until 23 November of that year that he was officially appointed as the king's tailor, with 12d. a day ..."

"In 1519 he was listed as the king's tailor, but against his name was a marginal note 'mortuus est.'" (i.e., "He died.")

(In view of this last note, which also states that John de Paris was appointed to Hilton's post on October 20, 1519, I would say that vice in this situation means "in place of.")

Glamorous sartorial highlights of his career might include the following noted in Hayward:

-"Worsley's wardrobe book records that William Hilton made a range of hats for Henry VIII: bonnets made from 1 1/4 yards ... of velvet, night bonnets made from 3/8of a yard ... of velvet or satin and hoods made en suit with riding coats and demi-coats."

-"Worsley's wardobe book reveals that Hilton made 18 [stomachers] for the king in the 11-month period from 1 July 1517. They were all made from satin ... in a range of colours including crimson, purple, white, green, russet, black and yellow."

He's also recorded as making glaudekins (a long, full robe) for "Lord Lisle" in 1514. This may be Charles Brandon, the king's great friend; the title is attached to various courtiers throughout the reign, depending on who is married or betrothed to the current Lisle heiress.

I hope you find this interesting but I should caution you that this doesn't prove that Hilton is your ancestor -- it's just an educated guess, based on the records, some Google searches and variant spellings of Helton.

Jennifer said...

Thank you Foose!
Whilest it's my cousin who did the ancestry, who noted the spelling at the time was noted as Hilton, this is interesting information.
We do not know when the spelling changed over, we do know by the time the Helton's came to America, in the ship following the Mayflower, the spelling had been reverted to the Helton spelling we have now.
I'll be sure to pass the information onto her.

Anonymous said...

Women did sew linen undergarments, including shirts. Katherine of Aragon sewed and mended shirts for Henry (and went on doing it after he took up with Anne, who threw a fit about it). Elizabeth sewed a "cambric shirt" for her little brother-- she was only a child herself. And Anne B. and her ladies sewed shirts for the poor, as well as more genteel things. We don't think very often of Anne as charitable, but she was, in a practical way.

This was all informal and unpaid. It was what women did for their families, or for the households they served. So it wouldn't show in the accounts.

Dehbi said...

I know that this is an old thread but this post by Foose caught my eye:

"He's also recorded as making glaudekins (a long, full robe) for "Lord Lisle" in 1514. This may be Charles Brandon, the king's great friend; the title is attached to various courtiers throughout the reign, depending on who is married or betrothed to the current Lisle heiress."

Isn't it possible that the Lord Lisle referred to was Arthur Plantagenet, an uncle of Henry VIII? Arthur was an important figure at Henry's court and was also an illegitimate son of Henry's grandfather, Edward IV. More about him here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Plantagenet,_1st_Viscount_Lisle

This came to mind because a few months ago I read a book called the Lisle Letters, a fascinating contemporary account of Arthur's (and his wife's) time in Calais.

Foose said...

Holinshed records that Arthur Plantagenet was "created Viscount Lisle, in right of his wife, which was wife to Edmund Dudley beheaded" in 1523, which would not make him the same Lord Lisle of 1514.

Brandon was created Lord Lisle in 1513 on the strength of his marriage contract with the Lisle heiress Elizabeth Grey (niece of the Lady Lisle who married Arthur Plantagenet). When he married Mary Tudor, this lady went on to marry Henry Courtenay, the king's first cousin, and died childless in 1519. The Lisle inheritance went to her aunt, also confusingly called Elizabeth Grey, the widow of Edmund Dudley, and shortly to be the wife of Arthur Plantagenet, who acceded to the title of Viscount Lisle.