16th century, 17th century, Bodies and Stays, Busk, Jacobean, Object Research, Research, Research Publications, Stuart

Seventeenth-Century Busks, Courtship and Sexual Desire

In 2014 my article on this subject was published by Gender & History and a subsequent blog post titled, ‘“He shall not haue so much as a buske-point from thee”: Examining notions of Gender through the lens of Material Culture’ was posted on the blog for the Journal for the History of Ideas. I figured that it was about time that I reproduced that original blog post based on my article. So here it is!

 

“He shall not haue so much as a buske-point from thee”: Busks, Busk-Points, Courtship and Sexual Desire in Early Modern Europe

 

Fig. 5
French Busk, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 30.135.34

Our everyday lives are surrounded by objects. Some are mundane tools that help us with daily tasks, others are sentimental items that carry emotions and memories, and others again are used to display achievements, wealth and social status. Importantly, many of these objects are gendered and their continued use in various different ways helps to mould and solidify Identities, sexualities and sexual practices.

In the early modern period two objects of dress that shaped and reinforced gender norms were the busk, a long piece of wood, metal, whalebone or horn that was placed into a channel in the front of the bodies or stays (corsets), and the busk-point, a small piece of ribbon that secured the busk in place. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries these accessories to female dress helped to not only shape expressions of love and sexual desire, but also shaped the acceptable gendered boundaries of those expressions.

Busks were practical objects that existed to keep the female posture erect, to emphasize the fullness of the breasts and to keep the stomach flat. These uses were derived from their function in European court dress that complimented elite ideas of femininity; most notably good breeding that was reflected in an upright posture and controlled bodily movement. However, during the seventeenth century, and increasingly over eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, lovers not only charged busks and busk-points with erotic connotations but also saw them as tokens of affection. Thus, they became part of the complex social and gendered performance of courtship and marriage.

The sheer number of surviving busks that contain inscriptions associated with love indicate that busk giving during courtship must have been a normal and commonly practised act in early modern England and France. A surviving English wooden busk in the Victoria and Albert Museum contains symbolic engravings, the date of gifting, 1675, and a Biblical reference. On the other side of the busk is an inscription referencing the Biblical Isaac’s love for his wife, which reads: “WONC A QVSHON I WAS ASKED WHICH MAD ME RETVRN THESE ANSVRS THAT ISAAC LOVFED RABEKAH HIS WIFE AND WHY MAY NOT I LOVE FRANSYS”.

wooden busk English 17th cetury v&a
English wooden Stay Busk, c.1675, Victoria and Albert Museum, London. W.56-1929

Another inscription on one seventeenth-century French busk exclaims “Until Goodbye, My Fire is Pure, Love is United”. Three engravings correspond with each line: a tear falling onto a barren field, two hearts appearing in that field and finally a house that the couple would share together in marriage with two hearts floating above it.

Inscriptions found on other surviving busks go beyond speaking on behalf of the lover, and actually speak on behalf of busks themselves, giving these inanimate objects voices of their own. Another seventeenth-century French busk, engraved with a man’s portrait declares:

“He enjoys sweet sighs, this lover
Who would very much like to take my place”

This inscription shows the busk’s anthropomorphized awareness of the prized place that it held so close to the female body. John Marston’s The scourge of villanie Three bookes of satyres (1598, p. F6r-v) expressed similar sentiments with the character Saturio wishing himself his lover’s busk so that he “might sweetly lie, and softly luske Betweene her pappes, then must he haue an eye At eyther end, that freely might discry Both hills [breasts] and dales [groin].”

Although the busk’s intimate association with the female body was exploited in both erotic literature and bawdy jokes, the busk itself also took on phallic connotations. The narrator of Alexander Pope’s Rape of the Lock (1712, p. 12) describes the Baron with an ‘altar’ built by love. On this altar “lay the Sword-knot Sylvia’s Hands had sown, With Flavia’s Busk that oft had rapp’d his own …” Here “His own [busk]” evokes his erection that Flavia’s busk had often brushed against during their love making. Therefore, in the context of gift giving the busk also acted as an extension of the male lover: it was an expression of his male sexual desire in its most powerful and virile form that was then worn privately on the female body.

Early modern masculinity was a competitive performance and in a society where social structure and stability centred on the patriarchal household, young men found courtship possibly one of the most important events of their life – one which tested their character and their masculine ability to woo and marry. In this context, the act of giving a busk was a masculine act, which asserted not only a young man’s prowess, but his ability to secure a respectable place in society with a household.

Yet the inscriptions on surviving busks and literary sources that describe them often to do not account for the female experience of courtship and marriage. Although women usually took on the submissive role in gift giving, being the recipient of love tokens such as busks did not render them completely passive. Courtship encouraged female responses as it created a discursive space in which women were free to express themselves. Women could choose to accept or reject a potential suitor’s gift, giving her significant agency in the process of courtship. Within the gift-giving framework choosing to place a masculine sexual token so close to her body also led to a very intimate female gesture.

A woman’s desire for a male suitor could also take on much more active expressions as various sources describe women giving men their busk-points. When the character Jane in Thomas Dekker’s The Shoemaker’s Holiday (1600) discovers that the husband she thought dead is still alive, she abandons her new beau who tells her that “he [her old husband] shall not haue so much as a buske-point from thee”, alluding to women’s habit of giving busk-points as signs of affection and promise. John Marston’s The Malcontent (1603) describes a similar situation when the Maquerelle warns her ladies “look to your busk-points, if not chastely, yet charily: be sure the door be bolted.” In effect she is warning these girls to keep their doors shut and not give their busk-points away to lovers as keepsakes.

To some, the expression of female sexual desire by such means seems oddly out of place in a society where strict cultural and social practices policed women’s agency. Indeed, discussions of busks and busk-points provoked a rich dialogue concerning femininity and gender in early modern England. Throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, bodies (corsets) elongated the torso, until the part of the bodie that contained the busk reached to the lady’s “Honor” (Randle Holme, The Academy of Armory and Blazon…., p. 94) In other words, the lowest part of the busk which contained the ‘busk-point’ sat over a woman’s sexual organs where chastity determined her honour. The politics involved in female honour and busk-points are expressed in the previously discussed scene from The Malcontent: busk-points functioned as both gifts and sexual tokens and this is highlighted by the Maquerelle’s pleas for the girls to look to them ‘chastely’.

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To read a tutorial on how I made my own busk click here!

As a result of the intimate position of the busk and busk-point on the female body these objects were frequently discussed in relation to women’s sexuality and their sexual honour. Some moralising commentaries blamed busks for concealing illegitimate pregnancies and causing abortions. Others associated busks with prostitutes, and rendered them a key part of the profession’s contraceptive arsenal. Yet much popular literature and the inscriptions on the busks themselves rarely depict those women who wore them as ‘whores’. Instead these conflicting ideas of the busk and busk-points found in sources from this period in fact mirror the contradictory ideas and fears that early moderns held about women’s sexuality. When used in a sexual context outside of marriage these objects were controversial as they were perceived as aiding unmarried women’s unacceptable forward expressions of sexual desire. However, receiving busks and giving away busk-points in the context of courtship and marriage was an acceptable way for a woman to express her desire precisely because it occurred in a context that society and social norms could regulate, and this desire would eventually be consummated within the acceptable confines of marriage.

Busks and busk-points are just two examples of the ways in which the examination of material culture can help the historian to tap into historical ideas of femininity and masculinity, and the ways in which notions of gender were imbued in, circulated and expressed through the use of objects in everyday life in early modern Europe. Although controversial at times, busk and busk-points were items of clothing that aided widely accepted expressions of male and female sexual desire through the acts of giving, receiving and wearing. Ultimately, discussions of these objects and their varied meanings highlight not only the ways in which sexuality occupied a precarious space in early modern England, but how material culture such as clothing was an essential part of regulating gender norms.

 

Interested in reading more? You can read my original article in Gender & History here. I will also be talking much more about busks in my forthcoming book, Shaping Femininity
Manuscript / Archival Research, Object Research, Research Publications

The best places to obtain Early Modern Images for use in Publications

RP-P-OB-11.583.editMost people do not realise (until they must go through the process) that sourcing rights and permissions for images to use in publications can be a tedious and very expensive process.

I am currently sourcing images for my book and other projects, and I recently had an email from my colleague asking where to get free or discounted images for use in publications. I decided to compile a list of the institutions and agencies who I have used to get images and my thoughts on them.

Before you read my list you must check out Hilary Davidson’s (aka FourRedShoes) blog – Free Academic Images– to search by continent for any institution that I may have missed and their terms and conditions.

I also need to point out that you must check with some of these institutions whether they consider your publisher to be non-commercial or commercial. Some will allow free image use for works published by a University Press or non-for-profit, while other well-respected academic publishers are considered “commercial” and may incur a fee.

Also note that as I’m an early modernist, this list mainly pertains to that field and to artworks that are very much out of copyright.

 

FREE ACADEMIC IMAGES*

* under certain conditions, check terms of use:

  1. Rijksmuseum– the very best in my opinion. Easy to use. You can download from the image/object entry page or contact their helpful image service to get 300 dpi files via transfer, can publish in anything for any reason. They have a lot of English print material.
  2. Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) – also great and easy to download off the website. Can publish in anything for any reason. NOTE: Not all images are 300 dpi, so you may need to convert them in photoshop.
  3. Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) – Easy to use, download off the image/object entry page.
  4. National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) – Easy to use, download off the image/object entry page.
  5. National Gallery of Art, Washington DC – Easy to use, download off the image/object entry page.
  6. Wellcome collection – Easy to use, download off the image/object entry page.
  7. Getty Museum – Easy to use, download off the image/object entry page.
  8. The Royal Collection Trust UK– free for most academic publications, permission needs to be granted via contacting their permissions team.
  9. The Folger Shakespeare Library – free for online blogs and websites with a share-a-like licence. For publications with UPs and most academic journals fees are waived, “commercial” publishers incur a fee. Obtaining publication-quality versions of the images incurs a small processing fee.
  10. Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A)– free for publications with UPs and most academic journals, check first. Need to pay more to obtain digital rights of more than 4 years.
  11. Cleveland: Cleveland Museum of Art– Easy to use, download off the image/object entry page.
  12. Kunstmuseum Basel – Easy to use, download off the image/object entry page.
  13. The Clark– Easy to use, download off the image/object entry page.
  14. National Portrait Gallery, London (NPG) – free for most scholarly article publications under a certain run, not free for monographs. Service is easy to use, create an account and add the image to your trolley.
  15. Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge – staff are very helpful, they waived the fee for me because I was a postgrad student.
  16. The Walters Art Museum – Easy to use, download off the image/object entry page.
  17. Art Institute of Chicago– Easy to use, download off the image/object entry page.

 

Others that I’m less familiar with but colleagues have used with ease:
  1. Newberry Library – no permission fees, prompt and reasonably-priced photography service (thanks Paul Salzman for this recommendation)
  2. J. Paul Getty Museum
  3. The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore
  4. Science History Institute, Philadelphia
  5. Harvard Art Museum
  6. Beinecke at Yale

  7. Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto

  8. Birmingham AL Museum of Art
  9. Glasgow Special Collections – may waive the fees for reproduction of some images on a case by case basis (thanks to Jan Machielsen for the recommendation)
  10. Nationalmuseum, Stockholm
  11. Nivaagaard Samling, Denmark
  12. National Gallery of Denmark – (thanks to Erika Gaffney for these Scandinavian recommendations)
  13. Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas – free for books with a print run under 2000 copies and journals with a print run under 10k copies (so basically all academic journals). Service fees for new photography and high res files are reasonable, and you can publish your own image too. (Thanks to Aaron T. Pratt for the suggestion).
Other helpful resources:

 

PAID IMAGE SERVICES:

  1. Alamy– Good selection of varying quality, make sure the images are 300 dpi and the artwork is out of copyright. Make sure to ask for bulk discounts and to get a quote tailored to your publication for maximum savings (ie. small print journals are sometimes covered by their self-publishing licence).
  2. Bridgeman Images – Professional service and great quality. Can be expensive, always ask for a bulk discount!
  3. Photo RMN du Grand Palais – Search the database for images from French collections. Easy to use, create an account and add the image to trolley. Payment is a little annoying (no online payment service), but staff are very helpful.
  4. V&A Image service– Use if your publication is not covered by the free image use policy. Staff are helpful, make sure to ask for a bulk discount!
Providers that I have not used but have been recommended to me:
  1. Getty Images
  2. Scala Archives
Other helpful resources:

 

I will continue to update this list as I encounter different services. Feel free to comment below with your own suggestions too!

16th century, 17th century, Bodies and Stays, Elizabethan, Farthingales, Jacobean, Research Publications, Stuart

Shaping Femininity – Forthcoming monograph with Bloomsbury

I have recently signed my contract so I am so delighted to announce that my first book based on much of the research that this blog showcases will be published by Bloomsbury Academic/Visual Arts.

Figure 9

Shaping Femininity is the first large-scale study of the materiality, production, consumption, and meanings of foundation garments for women in sixteenth and seventeenth-century England. The desirable body during this period was achieved by using two types of foundation garments: bodies (corsetry) and farthingales (skirt-shaping structures). It was this structured female silhouette, first seen in sixteenth-century fashionable dress, that existed in various extremes in Western Europe and beyond until the early twentieth century. By utilising a wide array of archival and early printed materials, visual sources and material objects, as well as historical reconstruction, Shaping Femininity reorients discussions about female foundation garments by exploring the nuances of these items of material culture in the context of their own times. It argues that these objects of material culture shaped understandings of the female body and of ideas of beauty, social status, health, sexuality, and modesty in early modern England, and thus, enduring western notions of femininity.

2010EB2907_2500

I’m very excited to be publishing with Bloomsbury and to bring audiences an accessible academic book. At the moment it is early stages, but make sure to keep an eye on this space for more details about release date, etc.

16th century, 17th century, Farthingales, French Farthingale Roll Reconstruction, French Wheel Farthingale Reconstruction, Jacobean, Manuscript / Archival Research, Object Research, Research Publications

The Case of the “French Vardinggale”: A Methodological Approach to Reconstructing and Understanding Ephemeral Garments | New Research Article

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Reconstruction of French Wheel Farthingale, c. 1610s

I’m delighted to announce that my new article was published on Friday! It’s about the experimental reconstructions I did as part of my PhD – some of which are documented here on this very blog. It talks about why historians should engage in experimental reconstruction, and what we can and can’t learn about artisanal knowledge and practices, as well as embodied experiences.

It is part of a bigger special issue in the journal Fashion Theory on the “Making Turn” edited by Professor Peter McNeil (UTS) and Dr Melissa Bellanta (ACU), with editor-in-chief Dr Valerie Steele (FIT NY).

So far, only my article is available on early view. However, if you are interested in historical reconstruction as a research practice, please make sure to check back to the journal over the next few weeks as my colleagues’ papers will also appear. I will link them in this blogpost as they are released:

Now that the article is out I’ll be doing a more layman’s blogpost series about how I made the French wheel farthingale. But if you’d like to read the article please click on the link below to get institutional access. If you don’t have access but would still be interested to read it please get in touch and I will see what I can do!

 

Abstract:

This article showcases experimental dress reconstruction as a valuable research tool for the historian. It presents a case study detailing how two underskirts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, French Farthingale Rolls and French Wheel Farthingales, were reconstructed using historical techniques and experimental methodologies. The first section outlines my methodological approach to reconstructing these ephemeral garments, exploiting archival and printed records, visual sources, and knowledge of seventeenth-century sewing techniques. The second section focuses on the experience of reconstruction and shows how this process allows the historian to form tacit knowledge. This section also raises questions and provides answers about artisanal design practices such as reflective rationality, embodied experiences, and tacit skills that cannot be accessed in other ways. Finally, this article shows how reconstruction can inform understandings of the embodied experiences of dressing and wearing. Dressing the female body in the reconstructed underskirts discussed in this article made it possible to observe the garments’ practical realities and challenge polemical historical sources concerning fashionable sixteenth- and seventeenth-century European dress.

Keywords: reconstruction, dress, farthingales, experimental dress methodology, embodied knowledge

 

Publication Details:

https://doi.org/10.1080/1362704X.2019.1603862

 

Click here to read the Article in Fashion Theory

16th century, 17th century, Elizabethan, Farthingales, French Farthingale Roll Reconstruction, French Wheel Farthingale Reconstruction, Jacobean, Object Research, Research Publications

The Farthingale, Gender and the Consumption of Space in Elizabethan and Jacobean England | New Research Article

Abstract:

Farthingales were large stiffened structures placed beneath a woman’s skirts in order to push them out and enlarge the lower half of the body. During the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods in England criticisms of these garments increasingly focused on their spatial ramifications, decrying their monstrous size and inconvenience. Nonetheless farthingales served important social and cultural functions for women in early modern England, shaping and defining status and wealth in both court and urban spaces. Using surviving textual and visual sources, as well as engaging with the process of historical dress reconstruction, this article argues that spatial anxieties relating to farthingales were less about the actual size of this garment and more related to older fears concerning the ability of farthingales to create intimate personal spaces around the female body, mask the appropriation of social status, and physically displace men. In turn, these anxieties led to the establishment of a common and enduring trope regarding the monstrous size of these garments as women in farthingales were perceived to be challenging their social and gendered place in the world.

Publication Details:

https://doi.org/10.1111/rest.12537

 

Click here to view Read-Only Version

* Please note that the read only link only works on desktops and laptops.

This read-only version has been shared in accordance with Wiley’s article sharing policy