Medieval Madness and a Courtly Image

Not that long ago I wrote a paper on Women and the Medieval Tournament.  While the paper focused on women’s roles at tournament it invariably encountered fashion.  Ladies would wear their best to the events.  Of course, you would too.  And so, in doing research for this paper, I read the wardrobe accounts of the Edward III of England and his Queen Phillipa of Hainault in Fashion in the Age of the Black Prince by Stella Mary Newton (ISBN# 085115767x).  The descriptions of her gowns got me thinking…what should I make for this summer?

For those of you who don’t know me personally I have a hobby/obsession: Living History.  It usually takes the form of Medieval living history, about 1350 in England or France and the Low Countries.  So when I say, what should I make this summer, I mean what should I make to wear at living history events?  In other words, what should I make to wear to the tournaments?

Here is the description of one of Queen Phillipa’s gowns (in the aforementioned book, page 21-22): “The queen’s guyt, which is more recognizable in its later spelling as ‘ghita’, is described as having been made of scarlet cloth of red colour, a gift of the king, powdered with a design made up of squares of enamel, worked with hold thread and in the middle of each enamel square, a quatrefoil of pearls with ring at its center.”  This was worn at the tournament at Dunstable c. 1342-3 and had matching ones for her two daughters (theirs were made of black scarlet with the same enamel plaques but without pearls). There were 164 enamel plaques purchased on silver.  We don’t know how many pearls, nor what color but they were in two sizes; large and small.

The one weakness of this books (really its only weakness) is there little definition of what either a ghita is or what type of cloth scarlet was.  What we do know about the cloth was that it is likely that was made especially for the royal court.  The term scarlet is not the color but the name of the cloth.   Both the above dress in the colors red and black were the most expensive dyes.  It must have been a fine cloth for it to be used for this tournament.

According to other scholarship a ghita is a surcote with or without sleeves.  So this could have been a side-less surcote as they were often lined in fur.  Scarlet cloth was a woolen cloth that some believe has a little stretch to it due to the spinning process.

Ultimately it is not the fabric or the shape of the gown that got me interested.  I think that I would like to make a cotehardie in either blue or red wool or silk (lightweight wool is preferred) powdered with silver or gold plaques like this picture.  They will be turned onto their point for a diamond effect and have 4 pearls sewn into each, perhaps with a seed bead in the middle depending on the size of the pearls.  Because the plates are very expensive I will have them alternating with a beaded design without the plates, perhaps in a nice rose quarts or blue stone in a diamond pattern and a pearl in the center.

I imagine that I will need about 200 plates and I will simply have to make it work.  I think that I would like the gown to be in red with gold plates and gold thread around a neck (couched down) with pearls and semi-precious stones.  Should it have a train?  Should it be two layers (blue under gown) with hanging sleeves so that you can see the tight blue sleeves with the buttons from elbow to wrist?  Yes I think.

Yet in the world of living history I do not profess to be a Queen and this would be a queenly gown in expense and style.  This is my main hesitation, not the work.  Yet for the challenge of making it I think that I will go ahead with this particular Medieval Madness.  I will have to post several times as the gown progresses.  For now I will gather the materials and then cut and sew the gown.  Sewing will have to wait until mid May after graduation/end of the semester.  Then once cut and fit the beading will begin and go on forever.  I’ll start with the neckline and sleeves first so that if I never get to the rest I will still have a useable gown.  This would all need to be finished before August.  I’ll post pictures as I go.

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