Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Question from Kathy - Superstitions about clothing and jewelry from the dead

With the expense of clothing and jewelry in the Tudor times, I am guessing that many articles of clothing and jewelry were passed on after death. But I also wonder if there were people had superstitions about taking on clothing or jewelry of someone that had passed away. Also, how would (say clothing) have been given out. When Catherine of Aragon, Ann Boleyn, Jane Seymour, etc. died, did their children, their servants, receive their clothing or was it just broken down for the next Queen's clothing? Thank you!


PhD Historian said...

I am not aware of any superstitions about articles of clothing or jewelry inherited or received from a deceased person. And because jewelry, in particular, was so easily converted to ready-cash, most recipients were probably quite happy when someone left them jewels.

But at the level of the local farmer’s or tradesman’s family, there was probably little jewelry involved, and clothing was limited to basic utilitarian items of relatively low cost (no precious silks or velvets, etc). Most such items were almost certainly “handed down” quite easily out of pure financial necessity. As one moves up the socio-economic scale, luxury items would become increasingly more common, however. In most of the many, many wills that I have read from the Tudor period, jewels are usually given explicit mention, whether bequeathed in bulk to one individual or parted out by the piece to multiple heirs. The executors of the will would have been responsible for transferring the actual items to their intended heirs. Clothing is less often mentioned, though it is not uncommon to see both men and women leaving one “best gown” to a specific heir. When mentioned in wills otherwise, clothing was most commonly bequeathed in bulk to an individual heir, usually an offspring or sibling of the same gender as the deceased.

Large wardrobes were, however, limited to persons of only the very highest status. Even the average nobleman would not have had the equivalent of the modern walk-in closet or wardrobe, with long racks of dozens of outfits. One had to be very rich indeed in order to afford numerous outfits of the quality seen in portraits from the period. And it is very important to remember that what we see today in portraits represents the sitter’s best, *not* what they wore every day. Unfortunately, television and films have consistently given the impression that everyone in the Tudor period dressed “to the nines” every day, which is simply not true.

Royal clothing (you mentioned three of Henry VIII’s consorts) was essentially unique in that it could be comprised of many dozens of different outfits. The clothing of kings and queens, princes and princesses, was all part of a household department known as the Royal Wardrobe, which was staffed by numerous personnel (a handful of the very wealthiest nobility also had a “Wardrobe” department in their household establishment). The Wardrobe, or more properly the use of its contents, was “inherited” (so to speak) largely intact by the next person to hold the office. How the items were used ... whether kept intact or the materials recycled to some new fashion ... was at the discretion of whomever was entitled to use the items.

But Katherine of Aragon lost access to the Royal Wardrobe and most of her queenly clothing when Henry divorced her. She dressed far more plainly for the remainder of her life. Jane Seymour had access to Anne Boleyn’s wardrobe after the latter’s death; Elizabeth did not inherit Anne’s clothing, nor her jewelry (technically, all was subject to seizure by the Crown since Anne was executed for treason). Instead, Anne’s clothing simply remained with the Wardrobe. And when Jane died so unexpectedly, the jewels and clothing she used as Queen likewise simply remained in the Royal Wardrobe until Henry’s next wife came along. Her newborn son Edward did not inherit any of it from her. So in essence, most of the clothing and jewelry worn by Tudor royalty should be considered Crown property rather than the personal property of the individuals who were allowed to use the items. A Tudor king might give a newly-purchased jewel or gown to his consort or child, but those items immediately came under the jurisdiction of the Royal Wardrobe, which was charged with the safekeeping of the item. The item usually remained Wardrobe and Crown property, unless it was given away by a person with the authority to do so. For example, Queen Elizabeth I is known to have given away dozens of surplus gowns and other clothing from her unusually massive Wardrobe, though she was an exception in the Tudor period.

Unknown said...

Are there any articles of clothing from the Tudor period remaining? Thanks

Lara said...

Hi Lisa,

There have been a few previous threads about surviving items that you can find by doing a search in the sidebar on "surviving" and they will come up.

Anonymous said...

When royal people died they often gave away books or tokens of affection to the family and friends before death