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Chaucer Medieval English Dress

Chaucer's Medieval English Dress by Dion Clayton Calthrop

By Pauline Weston Thomas for Fashion-Era.com

 

Chaucer's Medieval English Dress by Dion Clayton Calthrop - Dress of Canterbury Pilgrims

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Wife of BathKnightThis costume history information consists of Pages 141-151 of the chapter about dress at the end of the fourteenth century and taken from English Costume by Dion Clayton Calthrop.

The 36 page section consists of a text copy of the book ENGLISH COSTUME PAINTED & DESCRIBED BY DION CLAYTON CALTHROP.  Visuals, drawings and painted fashion plates in the book have a charm of their own and are shown amid the text. The book covers both male and female dress history of over 700 years spanning the era 1066-1830.
This page is about dress at the end of the fourteenth century.

For the Introduction to this book see this introduction written by Dion Clayton Calthrop.  I have adjusted the images so they can be used for colouring worksheets where pupils add some costume/society facts.
My comments are in italics.

You have been reading English Costume History at www.fashion-era.com © from the chapter about dress at the end of the fourteenth century, from Dion Clayton Calthrop's book English Costume.

English Costume by Dion Clayton Calthrop
THE END OF THE FOURTEENTH CENTURY

Chaucer's Medieval EnglandChaucer the Writer

In the last year of the fourteenth century there were still living two men whose voices have made the century live for us. One of them - Chaucer - remains to-day the father of English poetry, the forerunner of Shakespeare; the other - Gower - less known to most of us, was the author of three long poems - 'Speculum Meditantis,' in French; 'Vox Clamantis,' in Latin; 'Confessio Amantis,' in English. Boccaccio had written his 'Decameron,' and it was this method of writing a series of poems or stories by means of connecting-links of narrative that should run through the series, that inspired the form of the 'Confessio Amantis' and the 'Canterbury Tales'; indeed, many stories in both of these works are retold out of the 'Decameron.'

Gower wrote of his age as a man giving advice, philosophically; he did not attempt character studies, but framed his poems as narratives with morals fit for application to his times.

Chaucer drew his characters clearly - so clearly that they have become as living as have Uncle Toby or Mrs. Gamp - symbolic people, embracing a type of national character.

A third writer - Langland - pictured his age from the poor man's point of view, and the three writers, together with the artist of the Loutrell Psalter, bring the age most vividly to our eyes.

Of course, in these days of hasty work, it seems hardly feasible to suggest that artists who would illustrate these times should read the works of these three men, and go to the British Museum to look at the Psalter; but any writer must do this, and can do this, considering that the works of the poets are cheap to obtain and the British Museum is free to all.

Anyone wishing to picture these times will find that Chaucer has written very carefully of the costume of his Pilgrims. They will find the pith of the costume in this book of mine; but since no book is complete in every sense, they should see for themselves how men of the day drew the costume they saw about them. It will give them a sense of the spirit of the age which so many modern drawings lack.

I give you Gower's picture of an exquisite; no words of mine could show so well the manner of the man:

'And therof thenketh he but a lite,
For all his lust is to delite
In newé thingés, proude and veine,
Als ferforth as he may atteine.
I trowe, if that he mighté make
His body newe, he woldé take
A newé form and leve his olde.
For what thing that he may behold
The which to common use is straunge,
Anone his oldé guisé chaunge
He woll, and fallé therupon
Lich unto the camelion,
Whiche upon every sondry hewe
That he beholt he moté newe
His coloun; and thus unavised
Full ofté time he stand desguised.
More jolif than the brid in Maie,
He maketh him ever fressh and gaie
And doth all his array desguise,
So that of him the newé guise
Of lusty folke all other take.'

»

Now, if I have described the costume of these times clearly - and I think I have done so - these lines should conjure up a gay fellow, with his many changes of dress. If the vision fails, then allow me to say that you are at fault, and have taken no pains with the description. Because the coloured drawing to the chapter of Richard II shows a long houppelande and a chaperon tied in a certain way, you will very possibly forget that this dandy would have also a short houppelande, differently jagged sleeves, more ruffle about the twisting of his chaperon, more curve to the points of his shoes.

You may see the image of Gower for yourself in St. Mary Overies Church, now called St. Saviour's, on the Southwark side of London Bridge. He is dressed in his sober black, his head resting upon his three books.

In 1397 Gower retired from active life, and resigned his Rectory of Great Braxted, Essex; he was seventy years of age, and at that age he married Agnes Groundolf in a chapel of his own under the rooms where he lived in the Priory of St. Mary Overies.

In 1400 his friend Chaucer died and Gower went blind. He died in 1408.

Chaucer's Canterbury Pilgrims - Dress

Chaucer, whose eyes saw England in her greatness after the Battle of Crecy in 1346, and in her pitiful state at the downfall of Richard II, saw such a pageant of clothes pass before him that, in describing those wonderful national types, his Canterbury Pilgrims, he marks each one with some hint of array that we may know what manner of habit was proper to them. Here, then, is a list of the clothes he pictured them as wearing:An Older KnightA Young Squire

THE KNIGHT

The Knight wears a fustian doublet, all rust-stained by his coat of mail. It is interesting to note how old-fashioned is the character of this 'verray parfit gentil knight,' for he belongs more rightly to the chivalrous time of the first half of Edward III.'s reign rather than to the less gentle time of Richard.

THE SQUIRE

His locks were curled, 'as they were leyed in presse.' His short gown with wide sleeves was covered with embroidery of red and white flowers.

THE YEOMAN

The Yeoman is in a coat and hood of green. He has a sheaf of peacock arrows in his belt; across his shoulder is a green baldrick to carry a horn. There is a figure of St. Christopher in silver hanging on his breast.

THE PRIORESS

The Prioress is in a handsome cloak; she wears coral beads gauded with green, and a brooch of gold -
'On which was first write a-crowned A, And after' 'Amor vincit omnia.'

THE MONK

The monk wears his gown, but has his sleeves trimmed with gray squirrel. To fasten his hood he has a curious gold pin, wrought at the greater end with a love-knot.

THE FRIAR

The Friar has his cape stuck full of knives and pins 'for to yeven faire wyves.'

THE MERCHANT

The merchant is in a motley of colours - parti-coloured. His beard is forked; upon his head is a Flaunderish beaver hat. His boots are elegantly clasped.

THE CLERK

The clerk wears a threadbare tunic.

THE MAN OF LAW - Right

The man of law is in a coat of parti-colours, his belt of silk with small metal bars on it.

THE FRANKELEYN OR COUNTRY GENTLEMAN

The Frankelyeyn or country gentleman has a white silk purse and a two-edged dagger, or akelace, at his girdle.

'Then come the HABERDASHER, the CARPENTER, the WEAVER, the DYER, and the TAPESTRY WORKER, all in the livery of their companies. They all carry pouches, girdles, and knives, mounted in silver.'

THE SHIPMAN

The shipman is in a gown of falding (a coarse cloth), reaching to his knees. A dagger is under his arm, on a lace hanging round his neck.The Wife of Bath

THE DOCTOR

The doctor wears a gown of red and blue (pers was a blue cloth) lined with taffeta and sendal.

THE WIFE OF BATH - Left

Her wimples of fine linen -

'I dorste swere they weyeden ten pound
That on a Sonday were upon hir heed.'

Her hose was of fine scarlet red; her shoes were moist and new. Her hat was as broad as a buckler, and she wore a foot-mantle about her hips.

THE PLOUGHMAN

The ploughman wears a tabard, a loose smock without sleeves.

THE REVE OR STEWARD

The reve or steward wears a long surcoat of blue cloth (pers).

THE SOMNOURThe 14th Century Pardoner

The somneur (an officer who summoned persons before the ecclesiastical courts) wears on his head a garland - 'as greet as it were for an ale-stake.'

THE PARDONER

The pardoner has long yellow hair falling about his shoulders; his hood is turned back, and he wears a tall cap, on which is sewn a Vernicle. This is the handkerchief of St. Veronica on which there was an impression of our Lord's face.

This completes the list of Pilgrims, but it will be useful to give a few more descriptions of dress as described by Chaucer.

The Miller's Tale

The Carpenter's wife in the Miller's Tale is described:

'Fair was this yonge wyf, and ther-with-al
As any wesele hir body gent (slim) and small.
A ceynt (belt) she werede barred al of silk,
A barneclooth (apron) eek as whyt as morne milk
Upon hir lendes (loins), ful of many a gore.
Whyt was hir smok and brouded al before
And eek behinde, on hir coler aboute,
Of col-blak silk, within and eek withoute.
The tapes of his whyte voluper (a cap)
Were of the same suyte - of hir coler;
Hir filet broad of silk, and set ful hye.

And by hir girdel heeng a purs of lether
Tasseld with silk and perked with latoun (a compound of copper and zinc).

A brooch she bare upon hir lowe coler,
As broad as is the bos of a buckler.
Her shoes were laced on hir legges hye.'

The Parson's Tale

Here also, from the Parson's Tale, is a sermon against the vain clothing of his time, that will serve to show how you may best paint this age, and to what excess of imagination you may run. I have reduced the wording into more modern English:

'As to the first sin, that is in superfluitee of clothing, which that maketh it so dere, to the harm of the people; not only the cost of embroidering, the elaborate endenting or barring, ornamenting with waved lines, paling, winding, or bending, and semblable waste of cloth in vanity; but there is also costly furring in their gowns, so muche pounching of chisels to make holes, so much dagging of shears; forthwith the superfluity in the length of the foresaid gowns, trailing in the dung and the mire, on horse and eek on foot, as well of man as of woman, that all this trailing is verily as in effect wasted, consumed, threadbare, and rotten with dung, rather than it is given to the poor; to great damage of the aforesaid poor folk.

'Upon the other side, to speak of the horrible disordinate scantiness of clothing, as be this cutted sloppes or hainselins (short jackets), that through their shortness do not cover the shameful members of man, to wicked intent.'

After this, the good Parson, rising to a magnificent torrent of wrathful words, makes use of such homely expressions that should move the hearts of his hearers - words which, in our day, are not seemly to our artificial and refined palates.

Love Knots On Clothes

Further, Chaucer remarks upon the devices of love-knots upon clothes, which he calls 'amorettes'; on trimmed clothes, as being 'apyked'; on nearly all the fads and fashions of his time.

It is to Chaucer, and such pictures as he presents, that our minds turn when we think vaguely of the Middle Ages, and it is worth our careful study, if we wish to appreciate the times to the full, to read, no matter the hard spelling, the 'Vision of Piers the Plowman,' by Langland.

I have drawn a few of the Pilgrims, in order to show that they may be reconstructed by reading the chapters on the fourteenth century.

English Costume by Dion Clayton Calthrop
THE END OF THE FOURTEENTH CENTURY

KnightThis costume history information consists of Pages 141-151 of the chapter about dress at the end of the fourteenth century and taken from English Costume by Dion Clayton Calthrop.

The 36 page section consists of a text copy of the book ENGLISH COSTUME PAINTED & DESCRIBED BY DION CLAYTON CALTHROP.  Visuals, drawings and painted fashion plates in the book have a charm of their own and are shown amid the text. The book covers both male and female dress history of over 700 years spanning the era 1066-1830.
This page is about dress at the end of the fourteenth century.

For the Introduction to this book see this introduction written by Dion Clayton Calthrop.  I have adjusted the images so they can be used for colouring worksheets where pupils add some costume/society facts.
My comments are in italics.

You have been reading English Costume History at www.fashion-era.com © from the chapter about dress at the end of the fourteenth century, from Dion Clayton Calthrop's book English Costume.

Page Added 7 August 2010. Ref:-P796.

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