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.
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.
To celebrate the upcoming release of Shaping Femininity I’ve decided the post the pattern that I made of the garment when I examined it in 2017.
A pattern for this garment has since been published by the School of Historical Dress in 2018’s Patterns of Fashion 5. The School’s pattern is much more detailed than mine. So I highly suggest that anyone who wants to make this garment check out their instructions too.
Still, I figured that since I drew this pattern as part of my study notes after examining the garment myself (first in 2015 and again in 2017), and there are no patterns in own book, I might as well share it with you all!
Although I have written c. 1620-50 on the pattern, these bodies are more suitable for the 1630s, 40s and 50s. So ideal for any English civil war re-enactors out there.
The waistcoat is by far one of the most common pieces of clothing I have come across in the records of seventeenth-century women. While women did wear gowns during this period, if we look across the social spectrum we can see that waistcoats and petticoats were by far the most common garments that were worn by women on a daily basis in seventeenth-century England.
Many museums and scholars refer to these garments as “jackets”, presumably because the word waistcoat is now commonly associated with male dress. However, this is anachronistic. During the seventeenth century these garments were never called jackets. They were recorded in female wardrobe accounts as “wastcotes”, “wastcoates”, “waistcoates”, etc. They were commonly worn over the top of the petticoat and a pair of bodies, but I have also seen them listed in conjunction with gowns too. In essence, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries a waistcoat was a type of informal front fastening jacket-bodice.
I have examined many common, middling, and aristocratic wardrobe inventories and bills in the last eight or so years since I began studying the dress of the seventeenth century, so I thought I would share some of the material I’ve come across relating to waistcoats and their changing silhouette and construction. I hope anyone who is interested in reconstructing seventeenth-century dress will find this useful. I’ve also included some handy resources for where to get patterns for these waistcoats below.
I initially wrote this as one blog post. However, I soon realised that it would be too long to do the entire century in one go. So, I decided to break it up into 3 parts: Jacobean Era, Caroline and Interregnum Era and Restoration Era. This blog post pertains to the Jacobean Era.
Jacobean Era (1603-1625)
Waistcoats were worn by all social sorts in England by at least the middle of the sixteenth century. The waistcoats of the Jacobean era changed little in design from those of the preceding Elizabethan period. They were generally fitted around the bust, waist and arms, with “skirts” that were looser over the hips. We have several surviving waistcoats from this period in British collections, all of which exemplify the different styles worn at the time. I will give an outline of the styles typically found during this period.
Jacobean Silk Waistcoats
This example from the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) is dated between 1610-20 and is believed to have belonged to a member of the Isham family from Lamport Hall in Northamptonshire. It contains narrow cuffed sleeves and shoulder wings that cover where the sleeve is attached to rest of the garment, mirroring design elements seen in men and women’s doublets. Gores have been inserted into the skirts of the waistcoat to enlarge them so that they would sit perfectly over a farthingale roll. The front of the garment ties together with the silk ribbons attached to either side. The general cut of this example is typical of other surviving waistcoats from the 1610s (see list of other examples below).
This garment would have been worn over a petticoat with an attached bodice (“petticoat-bodies”) or a pair of bodies, a stiffened torso-garment (later known as stays).
This waistcoat is made of coral-pink silk, is hand-embroidered with blue silk thread wrapped in silver and decorated with spangles. It is a rare surviving example of a waistcoat made of silk, as most surviving examples of this garment from this century are made of linen or fustian (see below). Although not many silk waistcoats have survived, they were not uncommon during the Jacobean period.
References to silk waistcoats appear regularly in the accounts of Elizabeth I and Anne of Denmark.
In June 1610 it was recorded that a “waskett [waistcoat] of white taffetie bound with a white galloone and Lyned with Carnation plushe” was delivered to Queen Anne of Denmark. [a]
The 1624/5 probate will of Dame Honor Proctor of Yorkshire recorded that she owned “one waistcoat of white taffitie” and “one wrought waistcoat with silk…” [b]
Most surviving examples of Jacobean waistcoats are embroidered. This particular style appears to have been somewhat unique to England – I have never come across an example of similar embroidered waistcoats in the French court or the Dutch Republic (although I am happy to be proven wrong!). Late Elizabethan and Jacobean English embroidery commonly depicted motifs of strawberries, rosehips, carnations, thistles, honeysuckle, pansies, foxgloves, sweet peas, vine and oak leaves and acorns. Animals like snails, butterflies and birds were also common. Such motifs were often framed by embroidered scroll work.
Unlike the garment above, the majority of embroidered waistcoats that survive are made from linen and embroidered in silk thread. One of the earliest surviving examples belonged to Margaret Layton, the daughter of a wealthy London merchant who married Francis Layton, a Master Yeomen of the Jewel House at the Tower of London.
As with the previous example of approximately the same age, this waistcoat has narrow cuffed sleeves and shoulder wings. It is fitted over the bust and waist and was originally fastened using silk ribbons. Main differences in design lie in the narrower skirts and it also has a back neck collar. It is made of linen, lined with silk taffeta and embroidered with coloured silk threads, silver/silver-gilt threads and embellished with spangles. According to the V&A catalogue the embroidering techniques utilised include “embroidered in detached buttonhole, stem, plaited braid, chain, couching and dot stitches, with knots and speckling…”
What makes this example amazing is that Margaret herself was painted wearing the garment c. 1620 by the famous artist Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger.
Another waistcoat embroidered with floral motifs is also in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (MET). This waistcoat also contains floral and vegetal motifs and is a similar cut, although it does not have shoulder wings like those other examples.
By the early 1620s the design of waistcoats mirrored the fashionable gowns of the period: the waistline was high and the length short, which created the illusion of a short torso. Take for example the image above of an Unknown Woman c. 1620. The woman wears a beautifully embroidered waistcoat (likely over a separate pair of bodies) and a red petticoat embroidered with gold. In this instance, the portrait portrays this woman in casual undress as her hair is unbound.
The final Jacobean waistcoat I want to took at in this blog post shows the evolution in cut and design that occurred during the 1620s. The linen waistcoat is embroidered in silk thread and trimmed with bobbin lace made from white and black linen threads. Like those before it, the decorative motifs consist of scrolling stems and floral motifs such as roses, pomegranates, pansies, pea-pods, acorns and oak leaves, as well as birds and butterflies. While these natural motifs carry on design elements from previous decades, the cut of this 1620s version is quite different.
The waistline is quite high and designed to site over a farthingale roll or “bum roll” as they were increasingly called. The shoulders still contain “wings” but the sleeves are open at the front, which would have revealed the linen smock underneath. This is similar to sleeves seen on gowns from the decade, as depicted in a portrait of Elizabeth Leicester. The waistcoat would have been worn with the centre front piece pinned edge to edge.
Embroidered Waistcoat, 1620-25, English. Victoria and Albert Museum, London. T.4-1935
Embroidered Waistcoat, 1620-25, English. Victoria and Albert Museum, London. T.4-1935
By the end of the decade waistcoats embroidered with coloured silks were still common. The 1629 probate inventory of Arthur Coke a Gentleman from Bramfield in Suffolk contains a list of his late wife’s clothing that included “2 wastcoats wrought with coloured silk & gold” and a “wastcoate wrought with black.” [c]
Non-Elite Women and Waistcoats
Many of the surviving examples of Jacobean waistcoats belonged to women of the aristocracy and gentry. Yet waistcoats were one of the must basic, and fundamental, garments in a common or middling sorts woman’s wardrobe. In 1605 the probate inventory of Agnes Adams, a Spinster from Towersey in Oxfordshire listed her clothing as consisting of a “gowne”, two “red petticoats”, one “russett peticoat”, one “fustian petticoat”, one “fustian waistcoat”, one “wollen waistcoat”, “three kerchiefs”, four smocks, as well as shoes and a hat. [d]
Over a decade later in 1617, the probate inventory of Elizabeth Bateman, a Widow from Shirehampton, contained “on[e] wastcot” alongside red petticoats and “Frise” gowns. In 1618 the goods of Ann Large, who was a servant to a shoemaker named Robert Flower in Bristol, were recorded as containing various types of petticoats and waistcoats that were worn together, such as a “a stammel wascote and a ride [red] pettecote” valued as 8 shillings. [e]
There are few images of common women from the Jacobean period, but we can surmise that their waistcoats likely followed the same silhouette and cut of their social superiors as it had changed very little from the preceding Elizabethan period. They may have resembled the waistcoat worn by a female servant in Spain as depicted by Diego Velázquez in a 1618 allegorical painting.
As probate records show, waistcoats that belonged to these women were likely made of sturdy woollen or wool-mixed fabrics such as fustian or stammel. It is often hard to know from probate entries such as these whether the waistcoats that belonged to common women were embroidered or otherwise decorated, as inventories are often notoriously vague.
However, it is not impossible that that non-elite women’s waistcoats had elaborate embroidery. As Margaret Spufford and Susan Mee have shown, decorating coifs with cutwork or crewel was inexpensive and not uncommon in non-elite wardrobes. Decorative trims like fringe were also widely used by labourers and husbandmen, often purchased from petty chapman who roamed the countryside.
Blackwork was an extremely common embroidery technique during the sixteenth century and was used on waistcoats (as demonstrated by the c. 1620s example above). In 1621 Eadye White, the daughter of a merchant, left her “best blackwork waistcoate” to her aunt after her death.
Embroidery on non-elite women’s waistcoats may also have been done in coloured woollen thread instead of silk. A woman’s linen waistcoat c. 1610-20 in the Museum of London (MoL) has been embroidered with black wool in a pattern of barberries.
Adam Martindale, a Lancashire teacher and Presbyterian preacher born to yeoman parents recalled his sister leaving home after the plague of 1625 in his biography. In this description, he reflected on the changing habits of single women in the era:
“Freeholder’s daughters were then confined to their felts, petticoats and waistcoats, cross handkerchiefs about their necks, and white cross-cloths upon their heads, with coifs under them wrought with black silk or worsted. ‘Tis tue the finest sort of them wore gold or silver lace upon their waistcoats, good silk laces (and store of them) about their petticoats, and hone laces or works about their linens.” 
Waistcoats were therefore a garment that could be embroidered, trimmed and decked out according the tastes and means of the wearer and they were the most basic form of female outer dress – apart from the petticoat – during the early seventeenth century.
 Ninya Mikhaila and Jane Malcolm-Davies, The Tudor Tailor: Reconstructing sixteenth-century dress (London: Batsford, 2006), 21.
 Susan North and Jenny Tiramani eds., Seventeenth-Century Women’s Dress Patterns: Book One, (London: V&A Publishing, 2011), p. 48.
 Margaret Spufford and Susan Mee, The Clothing of the Common Sort: 1570-1700 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), pp. 258-9.
 Adam Martindale, The Life of Adam Martindale: By Himself, ed. Richard Parkinson (Manchester: Chetham Society, 1845; BiblioBazaar, 2008), pp. 6-7.
[a] Cambridge University Library: Dd 1.26: Inventory of Queen Anne of Denmark’s wardrobe, 1607-1611.
[b] John Richard Walbran, James Raine and J.T. Fowler, Memorials of the Abbey of St. Mary of Fountains, vol. II, part 1 (Ripon: 1863).
[c] Francis W Steer, ‘The Inventory of Arthur Coke, of Bramfield, 1629’, Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology, 25 (1952), pp. 264-287
[e]Clifton and Westbury Probate Inventories, 1609-1761, edited by John S Moore (Avon Local History Association, 1981); Bristol Probate Inventories. Pt. 1: 1542-1650. Vol 54, edited by Edwin & Stella George, with the assistance of Peter Fleming (Bristol Records Society, 2002).
Embroidered Silk Waistcoat – Susan North and Jenny Tiramani eds., Seventeenth-Century Women’s Dress Patterns: Book One, (London: V&A Publishing, 2011), pp. 42-47.
In 2018 I spent two months in the UK going through records relating to tailors, body-makers, and farthingale-makers at the Bodleian Library in Oxford and the Drapers’ and Clothworker’ Companies in London. While doing my archival research at the Drapers’ Company hall, I mentioned to the archivist Penny that the unusual name of a prolific body-maker, Theophilus Riley, kept popping up in many of my sources. Considering that many of the other makers of bodies (boned-torso garments – the precursors of stays and corsets) were named John, Robert, Henry, Samuel, etc., the name Theophilus was bound to stick out to me.
Penny acknowledged the strange name, noting that she felt like she had read it before but could not recall where. This was until one day she came into the small study room where I was sitting, surrounded by numerous 300-year old hand-bound volumes of company records, and told me that she had remembered where she had heard the name before. A draper called Theophilus Riley had bequeathed a large sum of money and property to the Company in the seventeenth century and, astonishingly, this endowment was still aiding many of the Company’s charitable activities today.
Although Riley was acknowledged as a draper (a dealer in cloth, usually woollen) in the Company’s financial records, and technically he could call himself a draper as he was a member of the Drapers’ Company (by the seventeenth century many members of London’s livery companies did not practice the same profession as their namesake), his actual profession was body-making and a body-selling. Essentially, he was one of the first corset-makers in London.
This made me more determined to find out more about this interesting man’s life. Luckily for me, such an unusual name meant that I was able to track down many records relating to the life of Theophilus Riley – and let’s just say that he was one very interesting fellow!
The Life and Times of Theophilus Riley
Theophilus Riley was apprenticed under John Smith between 1608 and 1616. Like many members of these livery companies, his origins are obscure as information about his father is missing from apprenticeship records. Upon completion of his apprenticeship Riley quickly set up his own shop in Bow Lane and took on his first apprentice in 1617. Given his political leanings in later life, which I will talk about below, it is possible that he came from a wealthy merchant family in London and this would explain his ability to set up a profitable workshop so soon after finishing his apprenticeship.
The 1630s and early 1640s were prosperous for Riley. During the 1630s he took out two leases on properties near Cheapside – London’s shopping street – which were owned by the Drapers’ Company. From 1642-1655 he was a Liveryman in the Drapers Company, a position that also gave him power within the city of London as Liverymen played a key part in electing the city’s sheriffs, mayors, and members of parliament.
Riley’s successful career took place during one of the most troubled times in England’s history. In January of 1642, King Charles I had tried to arrest five leading members of parliament. He feared that they were determined to seize political control and to impeach his French-Catholic wife, Queen Henrietta Maria. When this failed, Charles left London and headed north where he had a strong support base. By August, the king had raised the royal standard at Nottingham, signaling that he considered himself to be at war. In October of 1642, he led his army into battle at Edgehill, the first battle of the wars.
The king’s departure from London in 1642 left the city under the control of his enemies in parliament. At the start of the civil wars Charles’s forces controlled roughly the Midlands, Wales, the West Country and northern England and he established a new court at Oxford. Parliament controlled London, the south-east and East Anglia, as well as the English navy. London was therefore a parliament stronghold and many citizens of the city joined the parliamentarian cause, including Theophilus Riley.
Records reveal that between 1642-3, Riley was a parliamentarian in the Common Council. That same year he was appointed as an ‘assessor for parliamentary subscription and assessments’ and he sat on several important committees such as those that regulated the London Militia and examined ‘malignant, scandalous and seditious ministers.’ By 1643 Riley had become the ‘scoutmaster of the Citie of London’, the chief of the intelligence department of the Parliamentary Army. This meteoric political rise during the tumultuous period of the English Civil Wars as a man who was proclaimed to be ‘of a known & approved Integritie’ and in ‘great esteem with the then Parlament and Citie of London’ soon came to an end though.
From December 1643 to January 1644 Riley was implicated as a royalist spy in Brooke’s Plot. This was a plot that aimed to divide the City of London by severing the ties between parliament and the influential merchants who funded their war effort, and to broker a peace treaty between the City and the king. This was done with the aim of preventing the Scottish army from taking part in the civil war and to bring about an end to the conflict. Riley’s role as scoutmaster had brought him in contact with royalists Sir Basil Brook and Colonel Read, as well as Thomas Violet, a goldsmith who had been jailed for refusing to pay taxes that funded the parliamentarian war effort. For his part, it appears that Riley had become weary of the war and resented the religious and economic demands of the Scots. Riley, whose code name during the plot was ‘The Man in the Moone’, perhaps taken from a popular tavern called The Half Moon that was close to his shop in Cheapside, oversaw securing releases for the prisoners so that they could travel to the royal court in Oxford. Eventually the plot was discovered, and the conspirators found themselves in the Tower. Riley was released within the year and his estates were not ‘sequestred or taken away’, unlike those of his fellow plotters.
After this scandal it seems that Riley retired as a parliamentarian but remained active in the Drapers’ Company. He is recorded as being of the Livery and Assistants between 1642-64, and he took his last body-making apprentice in 1646. When he died in 1656/7 part of his other property in Bow Lane was left to his wife Elizabeth and their daughter Mary Swift and her children, and the other part to the Masters, Wardens, and Assistants of the Drapers’ Company to hold in trust for his grandchildren until 1686. As well as these properties near Cheapside and Bow Lane, his will also reveals that Riley leased or owned a number of other properties both within and outside the confines of the City walls. The will also left a £600 endowment that stipulated the creation of a trust for apprenticing children of the poor of the Drapers’ Company, which is still active today.
 J. Rushworth, Mr Rushworth’s Historical Collections from January 1642 to April 1646: abridg’d and improved, Volume 5 (London: 1708), p. 160-2.
 A. Percy, A Cunning plot to divide and destroy, the Parliament and the city of London… (London: 1643), pp. 1-12; John Rushworth, Mr Rushworth’s Historical Collections from January 1642 to April 1646, Volume 5 (London: 1708); p. 162; A. Tubb, Thomas Violet, a Sly and Dangerous Fellow: Silver and Spying in Civil War London (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2017), pp. 44-46.
Very excited to announce that my book Shaping Femininity has a cover image and pre-order links! See below for details!
About Shaping Femininity
In sixteenth and seventeenth-century England, the female silhouette underwent a dramatic change. This very structured form, created using garments called bodies and farthingales, existed in various extremes in Western Europe and beyond, in the form of stays, corsets, hoop petticoats and crinolines, right up until the twentieth century. With a nuanced approach that incorporates a stunning array of visual and written sources and drawing on transdisciplinary methodologies, Shaping Femininity explores the relationship between material culture and femininity by examining the lives of a wide range of women, from queens to courtiers, farmer’s wives and servants, uncovering their lost voices and experiences. It reorients discussions about female foundation garments in English and wider European history, arguing that these objects of material culture began to shape and define changing notions of the feminine bodily ideal, social status, sexuality and modesty in the early modern period, influencing enduring Western notions of femininity.
Beautifully illustrated in full colour throughout, Shaping Femininity is the first large-scale exploration of the materiality, production, consumption and meanings of women’s foundation garments in sixteenth and seventeenth-century England. It offers a fascinating insight into dress and fashion in the early modern period, and offers much of value to all those interested in the history of early modern women and gender, material culture and consumption, and the history of the body, as well as curators and reconstructors.
Table of Contents
Notes to the Reader
Introduction: Investigating the structured female body
1. The foundations of the body: foundation garments and the early modern female silhouette
2. The artificial body: courtiers, gentlewomen and disputed visions of femininity, 1560-1650
3. The socially mobile body: consumption of foundation garments by middling and common women, 1560 – 1650
4. The body makers: making and buying foundation garments in early modern England
5. The everyday body: assumptions, tropes and the lived experience
6. The sexual body: eroticism, reproduction and control
7. The respectable body: rising consumption and the changing sensibilities of late seventeenth-and early eighteenth-century England
Conclusion: legacies and misconceptions
List of Illustrations