Sunday, 12 May 2013


Portrait of Lord Arundel or Portrait of a Child with a Rattle, 1611
- attributed to Paul van Somer (1576/1578–1622)
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Back in August 2011, I wrote a post on this site about Tudor dress, and most particularly about my own experience of wearing an outfit made by renowned costume experts Jane Malcolm-Davies and Ninya Mikhaila. I was – and am – a great admirer of their book The Tudor Tailor: Reconstructing Sixteenth-Century Dress, which is a fantastic resource for writers, reconstruction enthusiasts or indeed for anyone interested in the sartorial side of this fascinating period.

For the last few years I have been concentrating my research on the childhoods and teenage years of various members of the Tudor royal family. You can imagine, then, my absolute joy when I discovered this spring that Jane and Ninya, along with their colleague Jane Huggett, have produced a new book called The Tudor Child: Clothing and Culture 1485 to 1625. For me, this book is a dream come true. And I wanted to blog about it today because I think it’s also a fantastic achievement.

Exactly as with The Tudor Tailor, The Tudor Child contains thorough, carefully researched text, plus beautiful reproductions of relevant paintings, effigies, stained glass and surviving original garments (rare, but there are some – and they are absolutely fascinating).

The authors provide detailed analysis of how children’s clothing demonstrated their rank as well as their level of maturity. Although inevitably there are more written and pictorial sources for ‘elite’ clothing, they have taken care to use every bit of information they can about clothing right across the social scale, including the labouring classes, the poor, and children who were reliant on charity. They have studied period childcare manuals, too, to gain an insight into contemporary attitudes to children, their development, their education and their play.

Children’s Games (1560)
by Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530–1569)
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Marvellous nuggets of historical information abound, as you might imagine. Here, for example, is a passage about the colour red:

Infants may have worn red bearing cloths [a large cloth used as an outer wrapping] for superstitious reasons. From ancient times, red, as the colour of blood, was considered a protection against evil. Red was thought to bring healthy properties too. Andrew Boorde advised men to wear nightcaps of scarlet cloth in bed, petticoats (waistcoats) of the same in winter, and of stammel or scarlet linsey-woolsey in the summer. One childcare manual reported that some people placed a piece of scarlet (red cloth) on a newborn’s head.
[The Tudor Child – Chapter 2: Infants, Babies and Toddlers, pp.17-18]

I was very interested to learn, too, that the word bib was not recorded before 1580 – and that in the medieval period a bib was known by the wonderfully vivid term slavering clout. Similarly, tailclout and pissclout were satisfyingly straightforward terms for nappies. And I am also particularly fond of the muckinder, a large hanky or small towel that would be attached to the girdle round a toddler’s waist (it served as an alternative to an apron).

As for what nappies were made of, here is evidence from Elizabeth I’s reign:

In 1573, Anne Bacon wrote to her stepmother asking for some old linen “to make cloutes for myself & the childe. Your Ladyship knoweth how good old linen is [for] such uses, yea better than new.” Used linen was suitable because it was softened and became more absorbent with repeated washing. The linen clout may have been doubled and lined with a layer of soft rags or with an absorbent material, such as sphagnum moss, and was usually fastened with pins.
[The Tudor Child – Chapter 2, p.15.]

To a modern eye, boys of this period often seem indistinguishable from girls up to the age of about seven or so, because they had not yet been ‘breeched’, and instead of hose wore skirts (see, for example, the painting at the beginning of this post). However, The Tudor Child explains how gender was often indicated in other ways – by the style of hat worn, for example, or by the shape and fit of the collar, or shoulder rolls or wings.

If you click here you will see a (rather glorious) painting of a family group in which the boys are clearly distinguished from the girls, even though all the children are in skirts. Notice, also, that the youngest girl has her gloves on strings: as I did when I was little, and my daughters too... some things don't change!

In addition to its wealth of historical information, the book contains patterns for a whole variety of outfits, for those skilled enough to make their own replica costumes. Even for someone like me whose sewing skills are not up to the job, the step-by-step photos and drawings add so much to my understanding of how these garments actually worked. And it is, I think, key to the authors' command of their subject that they've had years of experience of making these clothes themselves, using the original techniques. 

Finally, there's an added bonus: the photos are absolutely charming!

I can't recommend this book highly enough. Many congratulations to the authors, the illustrator, and all involved.

(And for anyone interested in seeing more paintings of mothers and children from the 16th & 17th centuries, there's a rather nice little collection here.)

The Tudor Child, The Tudor Tailor, and other books by the same team are available to buy from The Tudor Tailor website here.
H.M. Castor's novel VIII - a new look at the life of Henry VIII for teenage and adult readers - is published by Templar in the UK, by Penguin in Australia, and will be published by Simon and Schuster in the US this summer. 

H.M. Castor's website is here.


Sue Bursztynski said...

I see for the most part the boys are shown with hands on hips. It suggests, to me at least, that this was a convention because even then people might have got girls and boys mixed up in art. ;-)

catdownunder said...

Fascinating stuff! I always wonder at how uncomfortable some of that clothing must have been - but no worse than Victorian corsets I suppose!

Joan Lennon said...

This is really interesting stuff - thanks for posting!

Catherine Johnson said...

Lovely post!

Mark Burgess said...

Good stuff, Harriet. Interesting about the colour red. If E Nesbit is to be believed, still used for petticoats at the beginning of the 20th Century - and life-saving!

Also can't wait for the first installment of Sisters of the Half Blood!

Stroppy Author said...

Lovely! Red flannel petticoats were definitely still a thing for my granny (born 1898).

Jax Blunt said...

I can't speak with regards to the men's clothing but the women's is actually very comfortable if well fitted. (I am a reenactor at kentwell Hall as the authors of these books were. )

Carol McGrath said...

I wish some one would produce such a superb book for the medieval period. I found the colour red here interesting and of course the clouts.

Leslie Wilson said...

What a lovely blog! I must read the book.
When my daughter did her dissertation on Quaker dress, she discovered that red was seen as 'plain dress' (so much for Quaker grey) because people wore it so much, especially ordinary people. It just made me realise how different from us the past was. I did like the picture of the boys and girls, and the clear gender differentiation was very interesting to see.

H.M. Castor said...

Thank you all so much for commenting. Very interesting about Quaker 'plain dress', Leslie. And Jax, that's reassuring to hear. Carol - I agree. Stroppy Author - that's fascinating; so recent! And many thanks Sue, catdownunder, Joan, Catherine & Mark, too!