Elizabeth I Effigy Bodies Reconstruction | Part One: The Pattern & Materials

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Elizabeth I effigy bodies, 1603. Westminster Abbey, London

  1. Effigy Bodies Part One: The Pattern & Materials
  2. Effigy Bodies Part Two: Cutting & Sewing
  3. Effigy Bodies Part Three: Boning & Binding
  4. Effigy Bodies Part Four: Eyelets & Lacing
  5. Effigy Bodies Part Five: The Finished Product

The first reconstruction that I will be making is the effigy bodies of Queen Elizabeth I that are now on display in Westminster Abbey in London. These bodies were specially constructed, probably by the Queen’s tailor William Jones, upon the death of Elizabeth in 1603, for the effigy that would accompany her body to its resting place in Westminster Abbey. As Janet Arnold notes, it is therefore unlikely that the Queen ever wore these bodies, however, their size and construction was probably based on the bodies that Jones had previously made for the Queen.[1] Regardless of whether the Queen really did wear them or not, they are the second oldest pair of bodies in Europe that are known to have survived (the earliest surviving bodies were found on the corpse of Pfalzgräfin Dorothea Sabina von Neuburg, who was buried in what is now Germany in 1598), and the certainly oldest English pair that we know of.

The Pattern

The pattern I’m using for my reconstruction is one that the amazing Janet Arnold made of the bodies when she studied them in 1994, which was then published posthumously in the journal of Costume.

The effigy bodies consist of three separate parts: two front sections that lace together with twenty-nine eyelet holes and a back section. The lining consists of four parts (the back panel lining being divided into two sections).[2] There are a total of six tabs that spread over the hips, two on the back piece and two on each front section. From the pictures and the pattern provided I’m unsure as to whether the shoulder straps are part of the back section, or are attached separately. Arnold’s pattern has them as separate from the back piece, however, in the pictures and other sketches of the bodies they appear to cut into the back piece.

Elizabeth I effigy bodies

My intention is the make the bodies exactly the same size as the original pair in Westminster Abbey, which by my calculations means that Elizabeth I had a 21” waist (!!). A disclaimer at the start of the article states that “Janet’s full-scale pattern of the ‘pair of straight bodies’ has been scaled down to fit the page size of Costume.”[3] I, however, am working off a .pdf document version of this article printed on A4 paper which may be bigger than the pages of Costume. Although technically if I copy it correctly onto a 1 inch scale it shouldn’t really matter. To double check this though, I’ve also used the pattern provided in the Tudor Tailor.[4]

Elizabeth I effigy bodies pattern

The Materials

Unlike the bodies mentioned in the wardrobe accounts of Elizabeth I, the effigy bodies are rather plain. They are made from two layers of twill weave fustian cloth that was originally white, are bound by green leather that had a suede finish and were stitched with linen thread.[5]  The term ‘bodies’ during this period could refer to a number of things – from the bodices of gowns, to the undergarment that is visible on Countess Elizabeth Vernon of Southampton in her portrait below, and of course to the effigy bodies.

Elizabeth Vernon, Countess of Southampton, 1595-1600. Unknown Artist. Boughton House

Elizabeth Vernon, Countess of Southampton, 1595-1600. Unknown Artist. Boughton House

My archival research has confirmed that bodies that belonged to elites during this period were always made from materials such as silk satins and silk taffetas, sometimes even velvet, and usually lined with sarcenet, fustian, canvas or buckram.  Contrary to popular opinion, bodies were not always stiffened with material such as whalebone or bents, and rarely so until the late sixteenth century. The term ‘straight bodies’ usually referred to those that were stiffened and ‘French bodies’ usually referred to those what were boned with whalebone, as the effigy bodies are.

When considering how then I would make my reconstruction, taking into account the effigy bodies, wardrobe warrants and visual evidence such as the portrait of Elizabeth Vernon, an entry in the warrants of Elizabeth I from 1590 caught my eye. It requested:

“Item for makinge of a paire of french bodies of carnacion Taffata Lyned with fustian stiched alouer with whales bone of our greate warderobe.” [6]

Here was a wardrobe account that not only matches the only visual image of elite bodies from the period, but was made within a close enough time period to the effigy pair that they could have been the same or a very similar style.

Therefore, for my reconstruction I will use a pale pink (“carnacion”) coloured silk taffeta for both the outer fabric and the lining. Although fustian and sarcenet were the fabrics most commonly used as lining in the wardrobe accounts, they are rarely used in modern clothing and so are incredibly hard and expensive to source. There are warrants from Elizabeth’s wardrobe during the same period, such as this one: “Item for makinge of a pair of bodies… of black veluett… lined with Taffata…”, that shows that taffeta was also used as lining, although less frequently.[7] To bind the bodies I will use white faux leather which closely mimics the properties of leather and is easy to source.

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Modern plastic ‘whalebone’, pink silk taffeta, linen thread

The 1603 effigy bodies are completely boned with whalebone and the average width of this boning is 6mm, except for two 12.7mm wide pieces on either side of the front opening.[8]  As whalebone (‘baleen’) is, for good reason, not available anymore I will have to use an somehing else. A period alternative would be small bundles of bents (a thin reed), like those used in Hilary Davidson’s modern reconstruction of a sixteenth-century Spanish pair of bodies.[9] However, as the effigy bodies contained whalebone I will use a modern alternative that mimics baleen’s properties. I have chosen modern plastic dress making boning. It is similar in width to the original whalebone (5mm) and contains the same amount of flexibility as traditional whalebone.  Although silk bodies probably would have been constructed with a mixture of silk and linen thread, as costs must be considered in my reconstruction, I will use only linen thread to hand construct the bodies and to work the eyelet holes so they don’t fray (similar to the way that modern button holes are done).

 

References

[1]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, Vol. 41 (2007), p. 1.

[2] Arnold, ‘The ‘pair of straight bodies’, p. 1; Luca Costigliolo, ‘From Straight bodies to Stays’, Seventeenth Century Women’s Dress Patterns: Book Two, Susan North and Jenny Tiramani, eds. (London, V&A Publishing, 2012), p. 10.

[3] Arnold, ‘The ‘pair of straight bodies’, p. 1

[4] Ninya Mikaila and Jane Malcolm-Davies, The Tudor tailor: Reconstructing 16th-century Dress (London: Batsford, 2006)

[5] Arnold, ‘The ‘pair of straight bodies’, pp. 1, 3; Luca Costigliolo, ‘From Straight bodies to Stays’, p. 10.

[6] Elizabeth I Warrant for the Robes, 18 May 1590, ER 32 (PRO LC 5/36), fol. 133.

[7] Elizabeth I Warrant for the Robes, 28 September 1592, ER 34 (PRO LC 5/36), fol. 251.

[8] Arnold, ‘The ‘pair of straight bodies’, p. 3.

[9] Hilary Davidson and Anna Hodson, ‘Joining forces: the intersection of two replica Garments’, Textiles And Text: Re-Establishing The Links Between Archival And Object-Based Research, [postprints], eds. M. Hayward and E.Kramer, (London: Archetype, 2007), pp. 206-108.

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