In 2021 I set about reconstructing an 1650s bodice from the Museum of London (MoL), object # A7004. The pattern for this bodice is provided in Patterns of Fashion 5. While not many portraits of women in England survive from this decade (this was the time of the Interregnum government under Parliament and Oliver Cromwell), and those that do often depict sitters in deshabille (undress), there are at least 2 surviving bodices from this period in English collections that can give us some idea of what elite fashions were like in England.
In terms of silhouette and general construction, 1650s and 1660s gown bodices are very similar: highly boned with a neckline that sits off the shoulders, and with low-set cartridge pleated sleeves. This was generally true on the continent as well (especially in France and the Dutch Republic). For more on 1650s fashion and portraiture see the FIT NYC timeline here.
While bodices from the 1660s were more likely to lace down the back, it seems that those of the 1650s could lace up the front or back. Front lacing seems to have been characteristic of the early 1650s. There is another very similar velvet bodice (almost identical in terms of construction) to the MoL one that I’ve based my costume on. That bodice is from a private collection and is believed to have been worn by a young gentry woman named Mary Daugh when she married Robert Lawrence of Sevonhampton on the 8 April 1650 (PoF, p. 53-55).
Portraits from the first half of the 1650s also depict women in front-lacing bodices (with no stomachers).
The MoL bodice is made of aquamarine watered silk laid over an inner foundation of cream fustian stiffened with whalebone (baleen). Unfortunately, this bodice seems to have disappeared from the MoL online catalogue, but you can see images in the videos below.
I wanted to use my gown to double as a Halloween costume (a witch), so although many portraits show that soft pastels formed a lot of the colour palette of elite dress during the 1650s, I decided to go with a brown coloured silk. This brown is what I think was called ‘sad coloured’ (a description that always makes me chuckle), a colour that was common in descriptions of dress from the mid-late 17th century.
The skirt (petticoat) for this gown is based on the skirt of the Silver Tissue Dress c. 1660s at the Fashion Museum in bath. You can see detailed photographs of the bodice and skirt here. It is very characteristic of skirts in the second half of the 17th century: cartridge or knife pleats into a narrow waistband that ties at the back, as depicted on the fashion doll Lady Clapham.
5.5m of silk taffeta (137 cm wide bolts).
1m cotton drill (in place of fustian). If was to make again I’d use a thick linen or cotton canvas.
<1m Silk chiffon (in place of silk sarcenet) for sleeve interlining.
silk and linen threads.
8mm wide cable ties (in lieu of synthetic baleen, which I would suggest going for but I was in a pandemic lockdown so hard to source at the time).
These videos are taken from my Instagram stories where I documented the making process as I went. They are by no means exhaustive tutorials but hopefully are useful to anyone who wants to make this bodice too!
The bodice is completely hand sewn, except for the boning channels which were machine sewn (it’s my least favourite part and I avoid hand sewing them if I can!). Some of my stitching could have been neater / closer together (I was working to a deadline so was under the pump) and there are instances where I wouldn’t have used certain materials (cotton drill), made my seams wider, etc. Overall though, I’m very happy with the result. It worked perfectly as a witch costume too.
I’m delighted to let you all know that PI Dr Serena Dyer and I (Co-I Sarah Bendall) have just launched the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded 🪡 Making Historical Dress Network 🪡 today! We are so excited to be putting together a series of workshops, online talks, and a festival of remaking over the next two years!
The network aims to establish a hub for the international community of academics and practitioners who work on recreation methods in dress history, from costume makers to scholars, and from curators to YouTubers.
At the events, we’ll be encouraging discussion of best practice, terminology, how to capture and communicate tacit knowledge, and showcasing work in the field.
We will also launch a mentorship scheme, where makers and academics can learn from each other to improve both the material literacy of scholars and the academic skills of makers.
Over the coming weeks and months we will be giving more details about our events and how to get involved via our Instagram and Twitter (and eventually a website)!
A question I see pop up often, and one that continues to spark much debate in online costuming communities and between historians of dress is: Did early modern women wear anything under their skirts? If so, did they wear drawers?
Susan North’s recently published book, Sweet and Clean?, is one recent scholarly text that has tackled this question. In the book she offers ample evidence for the use of drawers by men during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. When it comes to women, she writes that ‘drawers for women, [is] a question that continues to baffle dress historians’. She offers examples of women wearing drawers in the eighteenth century to argue that it was indeed possible for women to wear such an undergarment. However, she does not provide evidence for the seventeenth century.
Most surviving evidence of drawers being worn by women comes from sixteenth-century Italy, where sources described sex workers as wearing these garments in gender-bending displays of eroticism and the subversion of social norms.
Early modern English ballads depict men and women fighting over what could be drawers or breeches, or, more literally, fighting over who wore the pants in the relationship. The wearing of drawers by women in the context of this type of moralising literature made their husband into a cuckhold, thus undermining his authority and threatening early modern ideas of masculinity.
However, moralising literature often tells us more about anxieties early moderns held, rather than the reality of what was actually happening, especially when it comes to dress practices. In this blogpost then I want to set the record straight that, yes, women could and did wear drawers in the seventeenth century.
The earliest example from the seventeenth century is a pair of drawers on the effigy of Queen Elizabeth I in Westminster Abbey. Funerary records show that these were specially constructed in 1603, as a warrant relating to funeral expenses noted,
‘And to John Colte for the Image representing her late Majestie with a paire of straight bodies a paire of drawers…’
Janet Arnold examined these drawers and noted they were likely made of fustian and gathered into a waistband that had worked eyelet holes similar to those on breeches. Whether this is a garment that Elizabeth wore (Arnold does not mention if they appear in her accounts) or if they were made to pad out the hips and legs of the effigy (they are stuffed with what appears to be hemp) is unknown.
By the 1630s, Queen Henrietta Maria’s accounts contain multiple references to drawers made from linen and wool.
In May 1631 her French tailor George Gelin billed the wardrobe for:
‘18 pare of Holland drawers for her majesty binded with ribbon for the making of them’.
On 17th August 1639, Henrietta Maria’s other tailor James Bardon
‘delivered into the office of her Majesty’s wardrobe two pair of woolen drawers for the mend & bordering of them’.
While it is possible that the queen’s drawers were the result of French influence on her wardrobe (she was after all a French princess), there is also evidence that non-royalty wore these undergarments around the same time too.
In 1642, the probate inventory of the widow Elizabeth Burges of St. Nicholas Parish in Bristol recorded
‘one payer of cotten drawers at s. j [1 shilling]’
Here cotton likely referred to a woollen fabric rather than cotton-fibre textiles. Whether these drawers belonged to Elizabeth, or another family member such as her husband is unclear.
In the 1660s Samuel Pepys made ambiguous references to the morality of his wife Elisabeth’s drawers as he was frequently concerned about whether she wore them when visiting her male dance teacher (who Pepys often suspected she was having an affair with).
He recorded in his diary on the 15 May 1663 that
‘But it is a deadly folly and plague that I bring upon myself to be so jealous and by giving myself such an occasion more than my wife desired of giving her another month’s dancing. Which however shall be ended as soon as I can possibly. But I am ashamed to think what a course I did take by lying to see whether my wife did wear drawers to-day as she used to do, — and other things to raise my suspicion of her, but I found no true cause of doing it’.
On 4 June of that same year, Pepys again wrote that
‘I whiled away the morning up and down while they got themselves ready, and I did so watch to see my wife put on drawers, which poor soul she did, and yet I could not get off my suspicions, she having a mind to go into Fenchurch Street before she went out for good and all with me, which I must needs construe to be to meet Pembleton, when she afterwards told me it was to buy a fan that she had not a mind that I should know of, and I believe it is so’.
Rather than wearing drawers indicating a lack of morals or a proclivity to promiscuity (as it did with Italian courtesans) it appears that Pepys was more concerned with whether his wife might allow her dance teacher easy access to her nether regions by not wearing this garment.
In 1688, the linen draper supplied Queen Catherine of Braganza’s wardrobe with
‘fine frieze holland for drawers for her majesty’.
Although a bill does not survive, presumably it was Catherine’s seamstresses who made these linen drawers up, along with other goods from the linen supplied.
Both men and women could wear drawers during the seventeenth century, and tailors and seamstresses made these garments for both genders. It appears that, like North has suggested for the eighteenth century, women likely wore them for warmth or riding. Or as Pepys’ diary entries suggest, even modesty. Or perhaps the comment by Pepys about his wife being a ‘pour soul’ for putting on drawers was because it was summer and the weight of all her skirts would already have been hot. Timing of the queens’ bills suggests that woolen drawers were more common in winter and linen in summer, although a much larger sample would need to be taken to determine this.
Much more research is needed the make firm statements about the history of women’s drawers in the early modern period. As Pat Poppy helpfully points out in her comment below, most of these references relate to Francophile women living in England: Henrietta Maria was a French princess and Elisabeth Pepys’ father was French (her mother was not). Catherine of Braganza’s wardrobe, as my forthcoming book will show, was also heavily influenced by French fashions. So was this a French thing?
I will continue to update this post as I come across references. But what is certain is that drawers were certainly owned and worn by some women in seventeenth century England. How widespread the practice was remains to be determined.
 Susan North, Sweet and Clean?: Bodies and Clothes in Early Modern England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020), 126-30.
 The National Archives UK (TNA), E 351/3145, fol. 25, transcribed and cited in Janet Arnold, ‘The “pair of straight bodies” and “a pair of drawers” dating from 1603 which Clothe the Effigy of Queen Elizabeth I in Westminster Abbey’, Costume, 41 (2007), 9.
I’m excited to finally share that I’ve signed a contract with Bloomsbury Visual Arts (an imprint of Bloomsbury Academic) for my next book,
The Women Who Clothed the Stuart Queens: Gender and Work in the Royal Wardrobe and the Fashion Marketplace
The book examines the lives and changing work of the women who made, sold, managed and cared for the clothing of five Stuart queens between 1603–1714: Anna of Denmark, Henrietta Maria, Catherine of Braganza, Queen Mary II and Queen Anne.
Using a wide range of written, visual and material sources, including extensive royal household accounts, this book explores the clothing and fashion cultures of the Stuart period through the lens of the work performed by women (and men!) who worked in the shops of London and the private chambers of the royal household, sitting at the intersection of the fashion marketplace and the royal courts.
In doing so, it recovers the material knowledge and skills of women who clothed these queens. This includes makers and sellers such as seamstresses, silkwomen, tirewomen, mantua-makers and milliners, as well as elite women such as the mistress of the robes and mistress of the sweet coffers, and servants such as laundresses and wardrobe attendants, who worked to manage and care for clothing in Office of the Robes, a sub-department of the Queens’ household.
The book demonstrates that women of all sorts were closely involved in the creation of Stuart magnificence in the fashion marketplace and royal courts of seventeenth-century England and their work was often facilitated by private informal female networks that spanned elite and non-elite structures. This ‘upstairs-downstairs’ history also focuses on under represented periods of fashion history, particularly the period 1680-1715.
I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into writing the rest of the book and looking forward to taking you all on this journey and talking more about my research in both blog and Instagram posts.
Quilted petticoats in England and America are usually attributed to and discussed in the context of the eighteenth century. This is likely due to the fact that all the earliest surviving quilted petticoats (to my knowledge) date from this period.
I am currently writing a book about the women who made, sold, managed and cared for the clothing of England’s Stuart queens during the period 1603-1714. As I have been transcribing their wardrobe accounts I have come across several references to quilted petticoats.
But firstly, what is a petticoat? The term ‘petticoat’ began to appear in English in the sixteenth century when it was used interchangeably with the preexisting term ‘kirtle’. At this time, and until the mid-seventeenth century, petticoat usually referred to a skirt that had an attached, sleeveless bodice (known as “petticoat bodies”). A petticoat with an attached front lacing bodice is visible in the painting below.
By the second half of the seventeenth century, “petticoat” generally began to refer only to the skirt. Petticoats could be under or outer wear. Women often wore many layers of petticoats at this time made from various different materials. This brings me to quilted petticoats in the seventeenth century.
Evidence from the Queens’ Accounts
Did quilted petticoats exist in the seventeenth century?
Yes! They did.
Quilted petticoats begin to appear in the royal accounts after the reign of Henrietta Maria. Unfortunately, the first twenty years of accounts belonging to Catherine of Braganza have not survived. However, those during the 1680s do.
In the Christmas quarter of 1685-6, several “Quilted coats[s]” were made or altered for dowager Queen Catherine of Braganza. At thsi time, the queen’s tailor and dressmakers also provided “new Eaching & Ribanding” for “a Quilted coat” and widened the “Wasts of 3 Quilted Coats.”
During the early 1700s, Queen Anne was provided with several types of quilted petticoats. These included garments described as “white Quilted under peticoats.” The fabrics that these quilted under petticoats were made from are not mentioned, but if can be assumed that they were some sort of linen, as silks were usually specified in these accounts.
In later periods, quilted petticoats were primarily worn for warmth and this was no different in the late seventeenth century. Even when quilting wasn’t mentioned, wadding of silk, “ferret” and of an unspecified nature (likely wool or cotton) were also frequently listed in Queen Anne’s accounts. For example:
It is likely that the quilted petticoats belonging to Catherine of Braganza and Queen Anne resembled the quilted petticoat belonging to a doll known as Lady Clapham (fig ). The doll portrays fashionable clothing worn by wealthy women during the 1690s and is believed to have belonged to the Cockerell family who had a family home in Clapham, London. This petticoat shows the same sorts of decorative needlework that we see on later eighteenth century examples.
But quilted petticoats were not just common among queens and other elites in England.
In 1688, Thomas Barlow and Oliver Morris of St. Giles’s in the Fields were Indicted for entring the Dwelling-house of John Appleby” and stealing “one Silk Flowred Gown, value 40 s. one Quilted Petticoat, value 10 s. one Crape Petticoat, value 8 s. a pair of Sattin Stayes, value 10 s. and other goods of Ann Thomas.” All these items appear to have been part of an ensemble, the gown was likely a new fashionable mantua gown.
Later, in 1692, Elizabeth Morgan (alias Jones) and Sarah Chandlor were tried for stealing a quilted petticoat from Faith Butler in London too. By 1697, quilted petticoats were also referenced in The provok’d wife a comedy by John Vanbrugh.
These garments therefore appear to have been a relatively common sight by the end of the seventeenth century in places such as London.
In the sixteenth century headwear mattered. Not only was headwear practical and sheltered the wearer from the elements such as the sun, rain or wind, but these garments also participated in a complex social system of etiquette that defined displays of status, power and masculinity. The most common style of hat worn by men during the first half of the sixteenth century was referred to in multiple languages as a bonnet (see image of Francis I, above). Bonnets were generally characterised by a large continuous brim that folded up, and for elite men they were commonly made of dark silk velvet. Caps on the other hand referred to softer, less structured headwear made from knitted wool or silk, with a small brim or no brim at all. One of the most common types of caps was a flap cap that has a flat crown “combined with a very narrow, flat brim” (see image of Charles V, below).
Renaissance understandings of the head mirrored those of antiquity where the classical body “emphasized the head as the seat of reason” and during the Renaissance amateur political theorists “made much of the fact that the head governed the body.” Husbands were also portrayed through bodily analogies as “the head of his wife’s body.” This is because the male body, being the more perfect body was also believed to be “endowed with greater reason” and therefore more adept for leadership. In these contexts head was synonymous with leadership and power, particularly male power. Headwear was therefore a very important part of male dress as it helped to focus these ideas of social and political power, and as “extensions of the body and particularly of the head” these garments “were jammed with overlapping meanings, connoting authority, rationality, and even charismatic spiritual power.” Nowhere was this more obvious than through the use of crowns that signified a monarch’s authority as the head of state, or through the use of religious headwear, such as the beret of the Venetian doge, which “concentrated the essence of both their institutional authority and their charismatic holiness.” Consequently, headwear, from crowns to religious berets, and even military helmets, usually signified male power and authority in a wide range of situations during the sixteenth century, and communities that could read and interpret these visual signals were constructed.
As Penelope J. Corfield has explored in her work on hat honour, everyday items such as hats were highly visible, effective and a “very personal means of communication” during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This was no different in sixteenth-century Europe, as a very structured system of etiquette and courtesy had begun to emerge. Importantly, men’s headwear, unlike women’s which was generally immobile in the form of hoods and elaborate headdresses, lent itself to “expression through movement… Aggression, defiance, salutation, respect, submission, entreaty, and emotion were readily conveyed” through gestures such as adorning, touching, taking off or carrying at hat. Refusing to take off headwear could send a very clear signal such as resisting authority, giving even a “powerless individual some scope for bold personal expression.” Not taking off one’s hat to a figure of authority was such a grave offence that men who could not show their heads applied for licences to exempt them from these social conventions. In May 1523 John Conway of Flintshire in England was granted a licence to “wear his bonnet at all times and in all places, on account of disease in the head.” Thus what a man did, or did not do, with his headwear in social situations mattered in sixteenth-century Europe. It is therefore unsurprising that ambassador accounts from the period constantly noted down in correspondence what men were doing with their headwear in various diplomatic situations.
While the sumptuous fabrics and jewels used to make the headwear of male elites proclaimed their social status, the doffing of headwear to one’s superior – whether that be a son to a father, a young man to an elder or a subject to a king – also demonstrated status and acknowledged deference. Diplomatic situations called for specific types of male hat etiquette. Ambassadors did not have to bear their heads in front of foreign monarchs, as they symbolically represented their King. This was demonstrated in 1536 when the Imperial Ambassador Eustace Chapuys wrote to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V to report on his time in England. He reported that Tuesday after Easter he had been invited to meet Henry VIII at Greenwich palace where “the King came out and gave me a very kind reception, holding for some time his bonnet in his hand, and not allowing me to be uncovered longer than himself; and after asking how I was, and telling me that I was very welcome, he inquired of the good health of your Majesty and showed himself very glad to hear good news.” In this scene, Henry’s insistence that Chapuys not be uncovered any longer than he was a sign of esteem for Charles V, as he treated Chapuys as he would have done the Emperor. Later in 1539 the English ambassadors Thomas Wriothesley and Edward Carne also reported to Henry VIII that when they had met Mary of Hungary to discuss the matter of Henry’s possible marriage to her niece Christina of Denmark. In their correspondence they wrote that they “Were yesterday towards night sent for to speak with the Queen” where they found her in her council chamber with her chief secretaries. There she “made us sit down and put on our caps, and addressed us, reminding us how, when there arose a difficulty in the late negotiations, we agreed to refer to the King and she to the Emperor…” The gendered dynamics in this scene are particularly telling of the powerplays that could take place during the observance of male headwear etiquette. The English ambassadors had removed their caps as was the custom when meeting women. However, as Mary was both a Queen and governor of the Low Countries acting on behalf of her brother the Holy Roman Emperor, custom dictated that they did not need to do so. Mary’s instance that they put their caps back sent a clear message: the Queen viewed Henry VIII as her equal, and so his ambassadors should remain covered after their initial gesture of respect, as they would have done if she were the Emperor.
If remaining uncovered was a sign of deference to a superior, taking off a hat on and off was a gesture of respect. At the Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520 as it was reported that Henry VIII and Francis I “embraced each other two or three times on horseback, bonnet in hand; then dismounting embraced again.” French accounts of this event were also observant of what each monarch did with his hat as they noted that they “embraced, bonnets in hand, and made a grand gesture of love.” Similar scenes were also common with the Holy Roman Emperor and his diplomatic affairs. When Charles V met with his brother-in-law Francis I in 1539, the “Emperor doffed his hat and the King his cap, and they embraced three or four tim~es and went forward to the stair of the lodging…” On these occasions, the removal of a bonnet not only indicated respect for one another, but also for the status of each monarch. They were equals, both renaissance princes. Thus, it was important that they both took off their hats and placed them back on at the same time. The customs dictating the use of sixteenth-century male headwear therefore gave men a conspicuous non-verbal everyday language that could convey emotion, intent, respect and reverence.
This research was supported by an Australian Research Council Discovery grant
(DP180102412) held at The University of Western Australia.
 Ruth Matilda Anderson, Hispanic costume, 1480-1530 (New York: Hispanic Society of America, 1979): 35-37; Maria Hayward, “‘The Sign of Some Degree’?: The Financial, Social and Sartorial Significance of Male Headwear at the Courts of Henry VIII and Edward VI”, Costume 36, no.1 (2002): 6.
 Maria Hayward, Rich apparel: Clothing and the Law in Henry VIII’s England (Farnham and Burlington: Ashgate, 2009), 122; Anderson, Hispanic costume, 35; Hayward, “The Financial, Social and Sartorial Significance of Male Headwear”, 2.
 Carolyn Springer, Armour and Masculinity in the Italian Renaissance (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010), 32; Sharon T. Strocchia, Death and Ritual in Renaissance Florence (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), 41.
 Alexandra Shepard, Meanings of manhood in early modern England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 76.
 Ulinka Rublack, Dressing Up: Cultural Identity in Renaissance Europe (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 20.
 Strocchia, Death and Ritual in Renaissance Florence, 41.
Penelope J. Corfield, “Dress for Deference and Dissent: Hats and the Decline of Hat Honour”, Costume 23, no. 1 (1989): 64.
 Corfield, “Dress for Deference and Dissent’, 68.
 Corfield, “Dress for Deference and Dissent’, 64.
 “Henry VIII: May 1523, 16-31”, in J.S. Brewer, ed., Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 3, 1519-1523 (London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1867), 1273-1287.
 Corfield, “Dress for Deference and Dissent’, 71.
 “Henry VIII: April 1536, 21-25”, in James Gairdner, ed., Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 10, January-June 1536 (London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1887), 287-310.
 “Letters and Papers: February 1539, 21-25,” in Gairdner and Brodie, 1894, 129-43.
 “Henry VIII: June 1520”, in J.S. Brewer, ed, Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 3, 1519-1523 (London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1867), 299-319
Théodore Godefroy, Le Cérémonial françois… (A Paris, chez Sébastien Cramoisy, imprimeur ordinaire du Roy, & de la Reyne régente et Gabriel Cramoisy, 1649), 738.
 “Letters and Papers: December 1539, 11-15”, in James Gairdner and R H Brodie, eds., Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 14 Part 2, August-December 1539 (London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1895), 243-255.
The first half of the sixteenth century was a period dominated by repeated conflicts in Europe. The immense amounts of practical and ceremonial arms and armour that these conflicts required fuelled this so-called golden age of armour production seen in key centres of production such as Milan, Augsburg, and Tyrol. During these times of occupation, particularly during the Italian Wars, armourers like the Negroli family of Milan were commissioned to make many garments for princes such as Charles V, and so these items represent elite ideals of power and glory. Although some scholars have claimed that ‘much of the decoration on arms and armour is simply ornamental’, power dynamics and paradoxes between the genders during the Renaissance were exploited in the decorative processes of etching and embossing to personify key ideas such as bravery, perils, fortune, virtue, and victory, in either male or female forms.[i] These representations were deliberately fashioned to make explicit proclamations about power by noblemen on the battlefield and beyond in sixteenth-century Europe. Two concepts that armour during this century embodied in these wats were those of fortune and virtue.
During the medieval period Fortuna was potrayed an assistant to God and she stood for the decrepitude of worldly things and expressed a hidden, unknowable order that made men and women powerless to chance without faith. However, by the fifteenth century humanists and political theorists who believed that men could take back control began to conceptualise Fortuna as possessing innate feminine weaknesses. Like women, Fortuna was now a fundamentally unknowable, destructive and unpredictable power, but one that could also be influenced or yield to those who fought with force.[ii] To counteract the unpredictability of Fortuna and take back control over destiny, authors began to articulate the concept of virtù, something that was masculine, rational and ultimately victorious.[iii] Although early humanists stressed that virtus (a morally good force) was an intrinsic value for all rulers as it brought glory and greatness, for Niccolò Machiavelli the concept of virtù was not necessarily concerned with ethics.[iv] Rather it was more dynamic and stood for political and military achievements that were the foundation of flourishing states.[v]
Machiavelli penned his widely circulated work of political philosophy The Prince (1532) in reaction to what he perceived to be the weaknesses of rulers during the Italian Wars. He concluded the work by stating that due to the ‘enormous upheavals that have been observed and are being observed everyday’ it was imperative that men fought to control the whims of Fortuna with ‘ordinata virtù’ (well-ordered virtue) because ‘fortune is a woman, and if you want to keep her under it is necessary to beat her and force her down’.[vi] Machiavelli here echoed the fifteenth-century humanist Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini (Pius II) who after Alfonso V of Aragon’s victory in Naples in the early 1440s imagined the king entering the city and grabbing ‘Fortuna by the scruff of the neck’.[vii] Fortuna’s antithesis Virtù was therefore intrinsically linked to forceful state building and warfare.
These concepts and their gendered power dynamics were increasingly emphasized in political theory, literature, and art during the turmoil of the Italian Wars. The importance of personifying Fortuna as feminine so that she may be overcome by masculine virtù is best exemplified in a portrait medal of French king Francis I from 1537. One side of the portrait medal depicts the king in profile wearing a laurel wreath and holding a staff with a fleur de lis, proclaiming him ‘Francis King of the French’. The reverse side of the medallion shows the king in armour on horseback, arm raised with sword in hand, trampling the naked female figure of Fortuna. The inscription reads ‘He has vanquished fortune through virtue’.[viii] The portrayal of Francis on horseback defeating fortune through virtue is a statement of the King’s tact as a military leader.
As Machiavelli wrote in The Prince, which had been published only five years earlier, it was a prince who had come to power via virtue (here meaning skill and temperament), rather than fortune, who could maintain his principality, as ‘he who relies less upon Fortune has maintained his position best’.[ix] This gendered juxtaposition was therefore a very clear claim about Francis’s masculinity – he was a courageous and brave prince, who won battles for his Kingdom through his reliance on his masculine traits of virtue such as military skill, rather than relying on the feminine whims of fortune.
Similarly, when the concept of fortune was depicted on armour it was always personified as female to remind the wearer of the potential dangers of relying too much on this feminine force. Take for example a shield in the Royal Armoury in Madrid made in 1543 in Augsburg for Prince Phillip (later Phillip II of Spain) by the armorer Mattheus Frauenpreiss.[x] This round shield portrays the semi-nude figure of a woman (Fortuna) holding an oar while attempting to row the vessel. Around her are the words ‘FIDES’ (faith) on a shield, ‘CARO’ (humanity) on the boat, ‘FORTEGA’ (fortitude) on the oar, and ‘GRACIA DEI’ (by the Grace of God) on a box below her knee. There are two possible interpretations of this shield. La Rocca has argued that fortune is depicted as trying to reverse the direction of humanity with the aid of a steering oar and guided by the shield and compass.[xi] This representation of Fortuna appears to take its cues from the medieval understandings as an assistant to God – with faith fortune can be a guiding force.
However, as with all visual culture, the meaning of this scene is multivalent and it could also warn of the risks of letting Fortuna have too much control over the ship of humanity, as she is facing towards the stern and so does not have control over its movement. The top of the mast also contains a small fool’s cap making this vessel a ‘metaphorical ship of fools’ that is being steered by the unpredictable force that is Fortuna.[xii] The fools here are perhaps those who place their trust in fortune to lead them, rather than those other items on the vessel like the shield of faith. In either case, as La Rocca has proposed, the ‘overall meaning of the shield’s symbolism seems to be intended as a commentary on the misdirection of human folly’.[xiii] The feminine force of Fortuna was considered to play a key role in guiding human fate and potential folly during conflict. It is possible that this shield was gifted to the young Prince Phillip on his wedding day as a salient reminder to the importance of his union to Maria Manuela of Portugal and his role as prince during these troubled times.[xiv]
This acknowledgement of the place of Fortuna in deciding human destiny accounts for other examples of armour and arms that contain her image. A ceremonial breastplate of worked gilded iron gifted to the future Philip III of Spain by Carlo Emmanuelle, Duke of Savoy, now in the Royal Armoury in Madrid, contains the image of Fortuna is framed by winged genii, Justice, Temperance, and other figures, as well as the word ‘SPANIA’.[xv] The piece was made in Italy in the second half of the sixteenth century by an unknown armourer.
Arms from this period also depict Fortuna. A print with a design for a dagger sheath by Hans Holbein the Younger and Hans Lützelburger dating from 1520-1526 shows a woman (Fortuna) in armour standing on a shell with drapery flowing around her.[xvi] In both these examples the symbolic meaning could be two-fold. Authors like Machiavelli stressed that human actions could only be controlled to an extent by virtù, with the rest remaining the domain of Fortuna.[xvii] Therefore, by personifying fortune as Fortuna on armour and arms this practice served to not only remind the wearer of her dangerous influence and acknowledge the part she played in his fate, but in turn, it would also have had the effect of prompting him to remember her antithesis stressed by humanist authors – his own masculine virtù that could overcome her feminine threat.
In contrast to Fortuna, virtù was rendered in anthropomorphic forms that transformed the wearer into the vision of masculinity that this concept represented. This is most recognisable in all’antica-style helmets produced by the Milanese armourer Filippo Negroli for Francesco Maria della Rovere the Duke of Urbino, Charles V, and the Gonzagas of Mantua.[xviii] These helmets are sophisticated examples of how embossed armours could literally fashion their wearer into their desired human form. The earliest helmet of this style was forged in 1532 for the Duke of Urbino. It is a burgonet of blackened steel embossed in high relief that forms a head with curly hair and ear lobes, wearing a diadem of twisted palms.[xix] The purpose of this burgonet was to create the likeness of a Roman youth on the wearer, covering his own physical traits and replacing them with those of youth rendered in steel. However, the helmet soon caught the eye of a much more important and powerful patron, Charles V.
A letter sent from the Duke of Mantua to the Duke of Urbino described the Emperor’s interest in Francesco’s recent commission and urged him to send it to the Emperor for inspection. Charles V was so impressed with Urbino’s anthropomorphic helmet that he commissioned his own. It was presented to him on his official visit to Milan in 1533.[xx] The Emperor’s helmet, however, was quite different in form and meaning than that of Urbino’s. It was a full helmet made in two parts of steel and gold. The burgonet was embossed and chiselled by Negroli to create the head of a classical warrior with gold curly hair and earlobes, wearing a laurel wreath. The detachable buffe (lower face defence) contains an additional full beard, lips, and mouth. It is possible that there was also another missing piece of the helmet that created a mask and concealed the face.[xxi]
While both anthropomorphic helmets created classical masculine heads, the differences in the ways that these helmets were gendered male had great implications for expressions of virtù by these Renaissance rulers. While the Duke of Urbino’s helmet and armour depicts a Roman youth at the cusp of manhood and is without personal insignia, the Emperor’s helmet represented a grown Roman man with a full beard. It contains many details that link it explicitly to Charles V such as a collar of the gold fleece with Burgundian fire steels and flaming flints and Charles’s device of PLVS VLTRA with the columns of Hercules.[xxii]
Anthropomorphic helmets and Cuirasses (joined breastplates and backplates) were also embossed to create well-muscled torsos that alluded to men of the ancient world allowed their wearers to literally embody the qualities of virtus and virtù during the conflicts of the sixteenth century.[xxiii] As Carolyn Springer has noted in her discussion of classically-inspired armour, these cuirasses constructed an idealised vision of the ‘elite male body through the process of prosthetic addition’ and they were a form of exclusively male masquerade that enabled the wearer to disguise his own imperfections to achieve the ‘highest model of proportion and physical beauty’ and to represent himself ‘in a heroic and aggrandized mode’.[xxiv] These helmets and torso pieces concealed the wearer’s true form behind a metal façade, allowing him to literally become a classical Roman Emperor who epitomised these values. As Francesco Petrarca advised Niccolò Acciaiuoli in a letter written in the late fifteenth century, to fight back against Fortuna he must become a conqueror and have the ‘moral qualities of a Caesar’, or in other words ‘a man of true manliness’ like those Caesars of the past would overcome Fortuna and attain public glory.[xxv]
Although Charles V commissioned this piece, there is no evidence to indicate that the Emperor dictated its mature appearance.[xxvi] Rather it appears that this was a shrewd political move on behalf of Negroli and Urbino to portray Charles V as he imagined himself to be. Portrait medals struck between 1520 and 1540 celebrated the Holy Roman Emperor as a modern Caesar as they depict him with a laurel wreath on his head and clad in Roman-style armour surrounded by the text ‘IMP. CAES CAROLVS V AVG’, in direct imitation of roman coins.[xxvii] Therefore, the form that this helmet took, whether dictated by Charles himself or others, allowed the Emperor to take that final step in literally embodying his title of a virtuous Caesar.
This blog post was adapted from an early version of my new research article ‘Female Personifications and Masculine Forms: Gender, Armour and Allegory in the Habsburg-Valois Conflicts of sixteenth-Century Europe’ in which I explore the use of female personifications on sixteenth-century armour made for men between 1525 and 1550. It argues that foreign invading forces and their allies exploited or inverted traditional gender binaries associated with the classical and humanist iconography of the Italian Renaissance, particularly its female allegorical forms, to visually signify power relationships between combatants during the Italian Wars. Rather than simply embodying masculinity, elaborate ceremonial armours with images of women are revealing of both ideals of masculinity and femininity during times of war. These portrayals were part of wider conversations about gender and power, about the strength and weaknesses of women, and, ultimately, women’s inferior status to men, which were utilised in allegorical forms to make claims to authority on these elite forms of male dress.
This research was supported by an Australian Research Council Discovery grant (DP180102412) held at The University of Western Australia
[i] Donald J. LaRocca, Gods of war: Sacred imagery and the decoration of arms and armor (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2013), 3.
[ii] Arndt Brendecke and Peter Vogt, ‘The Late Fortuna and the Rise of Modernity’ in The End of Fortuna and the Rise of Modernity, (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2017), 2; Corretti, Cellini’s Perseus and Medusa, 68.
[iii] Brendecke and Vogt, ‘The Late Fortuna and the Rise of Modernity,’ 1-5.
[iv] Quentin Skinner, Visions of Politics: Volume 2, Renaissance Virtues (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 123.
[v] Friedrich Meinecke, Machiavellism: The Doctrine of Raison d’Etat and Its Place in Modern History, trans. Douglas Scott (New York: Praeger, 1965), 31; Skinner, Visions of Politics, 144, 154-6.
[vi] Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince, trans. and ed. Peter Bondanella (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 84-87.
[vii] Brendecke and Vogt, ‘The Late Fortuna and the Rise of Modernity,’ 4.
[viii]Medallion of Francis I – Bust & Allegory, c. 1537, cast iron, Vienna: Kunsthistorisches Museum, 7272b.
[x] Donald J. LaRocca, ‘Monsters, Heroes, and Fools: A Survey of Embossed Armor in Germany and Austria, ca. 1475 – ca. 1575,’ A farewell to arms, studies on the history of arms and armour, eds. Gert Groenendijk, Piet de Gryse, Dirk Staat, Heleen Bronder (Legermuseum, 2004), 42.
[xi] LaRocca, ‘Monsters, Heroes, and Fools,’ 42; Carolyn Springer, Armour and Masculinity in the Italian Renaissance (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010), 128.
[xv] Albert F. Calvert, Spanish Arms and Amour: Being a Historical and Descriptive Account of the Royal Armoury of Madrid (London: John Lane, The Bodley Head, 1907), 131.
[xvi] Hans Holbein the Younger (artist) and Hans Lützelburger (block cutter), Design for a Dagger Sheath, c. 1520-6, print, London: The British Museum, 1895,0122.841-842.
[xvii] Brendecke and Vogt, ‘The Late Fortuna and the Rise of Modernity,’ 5.
[xviii] Silvio Leydi, ‘A History of the Negroli Family,’ in Heroic Armor of the Italian Renaissance: Filippo Negroli and his Contemporaries, eds. Stuart W. Pyhrr and José-A. Godoy (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1998), 41; Stuart W. Pyhrr and José-A. Godoy, eds. Heroic Armor of the Italian Renaissance: Filippo Negroli and his Contemporaries (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1998), 119.
[xix] Pyhrr and Godoy, Heroic Armor of the Italian Renaissance, 116.
[xx] Springer, Armour and Masculinity, 105; Leydi, ‘A History of the Negroli Family,’ 41.
[xxi] Álvaro Soler del Campo, The art of power: Royal armor and portraits from Imperial Spain (Sociedad Estatal para la Acción Cultural Exterior, 2009), 48.
[xxii] Pyhrr and Godoy, Heroic Armor of the Italian Renaissance, 125-130.
[xxiii] Pyhrr and Godoy, Heroic Armor of the Italian Renaissance, 14-15.
[xxiv] Springer, Armour and Masculinity, 11, 25, 30.
[xxv] Peter Stacey, Roman Monarchy and the Renaissance Prince (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 143; Skinner, Visions of Politics, 123, 125.