Romantic Love and Material Culture Workshop

A couple of months ago I was fortunate enough to participate in a one day workshop supported by the ARC History of Emotions called ‘Romantic Rituals: Making Love in Europe, c. 1600 to the Present‘. By coincidence there were actually four of us who were focusing on the material culture of romantic love from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries – from valentines gifts to mourning jewellery.

I of course spoke about busks and romantic love from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries!


My busk reconstruction (left), based on an original seventeenth-century French busk (right) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The organisers of the workshop, Sally Holloway and Katie Barclay, have written a fantastic summary of the workshop proceedings. If you’re interested you can read it below!


Dame Filmer Bodies, c. 1630-1650 Reconstruction | Part Three: The Stomacher


  1. Filmer Bodies Part One: The Pattern & Materials
  2. Filmer Bodies Part Two: The Busk
  3. Filmer Bodies Part Three: The Stomacher
  4. Filmer Bodies Part Four: Constructing & Finishing
  5. Filmer Bodies Part Five: Finished Product & Afterthoughts

Unlike my earlier effigy bodies reconstruction, the Dame Filmer bodies (along with many other mid-seventeenth-century examples) has one extra component: a stomacher.


The term ‘stomacher’ can refer to various parts of early modern female dress. The first use of the term refers simply to a V-shaped piece of cloth, usually decorated with embroidery, lace, metallic thread or even jewels, that was worn with open front gowns, waistcoats or bodices (concealing the kirtle, petticoat, bodies or stays underneath) from the sixteenth to late eighteenth centuries.

“Portrait of a Lady, probably Elizabeth Southwell née Howard,” c. 1600. Weiss Gallery, London

“Portrait of a Lady, probably Elizabeth Southwell née Howard,” c. 1600. Weiss Gallery, London

Stomacher, English, c. 1730-1750. Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Stomacher, English, c. 1730-1750. Victoria and Albert Museum, London

In regards to undergarments, the stomacher was a detachable, V-shaped boned forepart that sat underneath the front laces of the bodies and stays. In the mid-seventeenth century when boned bodices were common, the stomacher could also be boned. Stomachers could also include a busk.


Wenceslaus Hollar, Svmmer, c. 1640s

Boned Stomacher with busk channel, 18th century, Museum of London, London

Inside of boned Stomacher with busk channel, 18th century, Museum of London, London

To construct the stomacher from the Dame Filmer bodies I first cut out the stomacher pieces (with no seam allowance): one lining piece from linen and one outer fabric piece from yellow silk taffeta. I then proceeded to sew the boning channels. The boning in this stomacher takes a ‘T’ shape with some horizontal boning at the top.


According to description given of the bodies on the Manchester Gallery online catalogue, the stomacher contains a “central bone and one bone each side.”[1] Examining photographs that I took of the bodies when I was in Manchester last year it seems that the centre front bone is the widest, with the bones on either side being a tad smaller.

As previously mentioned, the width of the boning channels in the original are very very small and unfortunately no modern whalebone substitute is able to be cut that thin. So my boning channels are 6mm wide. The two boning channels on either side of the centre front are 13mm wide and contain 12mm wide plastic boning.


The original stomacher is also decorated with a metallic metal braid in a ‘T’ shape. I managed to pick up this very similar gold and silver metallic braid from my local sewing store, so after the boning was inserted I stitched it onto the middle of the centre-front boning channel.


Next I started to bind the raw edges of the stomacher with a cream grosgrain ribbon. To attach the ribbon I used a half back stitch to stitch the binding to the right side of the bodies, leaving a couple of millimetres between the edge of the taffeta and the edge of the ribbon. Then I folded the ribbon over the raw edge and then felled using a whip stitch onto the wrong side (so the side with the linen). I left the bottom of the stomacher unbound in preparation for the busk to be inserted.


From what I could see of the inside of the stomacher when I viewed the bodies on display in Manchester, it appeared that the centre bone might be what was known as a busk, a long, flat piece of wood, metal or bone that was placed down the front the early modern bodies.[2]  Although busks could be taken in and out of bodies and bodices at will, some were also sewn into the garment itself.

The busk in the original stomacher is most likely made from whalebone (baleen), however, as this material is not available I decided to use wood. For more information about how I made the busk, see my previous post. After the busk was complete I inserted it into the stomacher.


The bottom of the original stomacher has also been double bound – meaning that it was first bound with a thicker strip of the same silk used for the outer fabric, and then bound again with ribbon. This was done in order to prevent the boning from creating a hole and poking through the bottom of the stomacher when worn.[3]


Double binding on Filmer bodies

To make this binding I took a rectangular piece of the silk taffeta and folded one of outside edges in that that there would be no raw edges when it was sewn onto the stomacher, and ironed it flat.


Then I simply attached it to the stomacher in a manner similar to the ribbon binding: I placed the raw edge of the binding near the raw edge of the stomacher, backstitched it down and then folded the silk over both raw edges and then felled the pressed side of the silk binding using a whip stitch onto the wrong side. Afterwards I then added the ribbon binding over the top.

And that was it – the stomacher was complete!


[1] Manchester Galleries – catalogue object description:

[2] Sarah Anne Bendall, ‘To Write a Distick Upon it: Busks and the Language of Courtship and Sexual Desire in Sixteenth and Seventeenth-Century England’, Journal of Gender and History, Vol. 26, No. 2 (2014), p. 199

[3] 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.

Dame Filmer Bodies, c. 1630-1650 Reconstruction | Part Two: The Busk


  1. Filmer Bodies Part One: The Pattern & Materials
  2. Filmer Bodies Part Two: The Busk
  3. Filmer Bodies Part Three: The Stomacher
  4. Filmer Bodies Part Four: Constructing & Finishing
  5. Filmer Bodies Part Five: Finished Product & Afterthoughts

The busk is one peculiar element of early modern dress that continues to fascinate me the more that I research it. Understandably, most people have never heard of a ‘busk’ before and considering the term for it in English (derived from the French ‘busc’) is very similar to other words already in our common vocabulary, like “busking”, it can often be quite confusing when casually dropped into conversation.


Eighteenth and Nineteenth-century Busks. Victoria and Albert Museum, London


Yet from the mid-sixteenth century until the early nineteenth century, the busk was a commonly known part of female dress: an independent, interchangeable part of the bodies and stays (corsets). It consisted of a long piece of a stiffened substance that was placed into a stitched channel between layers of fabric in the front of the bodies or stays and secured into place at the bottom by a small piece of ribbon called the ‘busk-point’.

Fig. 6

‘Pair of Bodies’ worn by Pfalzgräfin Dorothea Sabin von Neuberg, c. 1598. Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, Munich. Note centre front busk channel and eyelets at the bottom for the busk point

In contrast, modern and later nineteenth-century busks are incorporated in the centre-front of the corset opening.


Corset, British, 1883. Victoria and Albert Museum, London Note new style of steel busk that could be separated to open the corset.

According to Randle Holme’s book, The Academy of Armory and Blazon (1688), the busk existed to keep the posture erect, to ‘keep in the fullness of the breasts’ and to keep the belly flat.[1]

However, the busk didn’t just serve a utilitarian purpose in female dress.

Collections of busks at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York helpfully reveal the social functions that busks played in early modern society. Busks were often elaborately decorated with common love motifs: hearts, cupids and foliate scrolls. Some even bore portraits and lovers’ words, or poetry, making them highly personalised and emotional accessories encoded with various significant meanings.[2]  From the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, and with decreasing frequency over nineteenth century, lovers saw the busk as a love token of affection, usually given by a man to a woman during the act of courting, thus entering into the complex social performance of courtship and marriage. [3] The busk’s association with the female body, its closeness to the breasts at one end and to the groin at the other meant that this object was inherently sexualised and participated in the construction of early modern sexuality and sexual practices. If anyone is interested about reading more about the busk in the sexual culture of seventeenth-century England, I have an article about it here.

Fig. 5

Man’s portrait on French metal busk, 17th century [detail]. Costume Institute, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Surviving busks in museum collections are made from a variety of materials such as wood, metal, ivory and horn. Many surviving seventeenth-century busks from France are made of metal or ivory, whilst many from England are wooden. However, due to the sporadic nature of surviving material objects such as busks from the seventeenth century, it is hard to know for sure what materials were the most popular in both countries by looking at surviving examples alone. Other sources such as the wardrobe accounts of Queen Elizabeth I reveal that whalebone (baleen) was also a common material used, for example a warrant dated 28 September 1586 requested an ‘item for making Buskes of Whalesbone and wyer coverid with sarceonet quilted’.[4]

English wooden Stay Busk, c. 1675, Victoria and Albert Museum, London

English wooden Stay Busk, c. 1675, Victoria and Albert Museum, London


As part of the Filmer reconstruction I decided to construct a busk that would be placed into the separate stomacher of the bodies. Surviving busks vary in size depending on the style of fashion that was popular at the time of construction. For example, eighteenth-century busks tend to be short and wide whereas busks from the 1660s are quite long and narrow, as bodices during this period were extremely long-waisted.

Long-waisted Boned Bodice. English, 1660-1669. Victoria & Albert Museum, London

The size of my busk depended on the stitched channel at the centre front of the Filmer bodies’ stomacher, which in this case happened to be about 1.5cm wide and 34cm long.


Baleen and ivory is hard to source as it is banned in may countries (for obvious ethical  reasons).  Other historically accurate options would be metal or horn, but again these materials are hard to source (if you don’t live near an Ox farm) and use if you are not familiar with metalwork. Therefore wood is the only historically accurate material that I could use.

I’m no carpenter, so I wanted to find some pre-cut wood that I wouldn’t have to mess around with too much. At my local hardware store I found a coverstrap made from Tasmanian Oak that measured 2cm wide and was 4mm thick. Perfect!


Turning the coverstrap into a busk was quite simple and quick. Firstly, I had to cut the two metre coverstrap to size. I did this with a hacksaw in my father’s workshop. Then I had to reduce the width from 2cm to 1.5cm.


I marked the dimensions on the wood and then I used a very coarse (probably the roughest you can get) type of sandpaper to sand the width of the busk down. 


Halfway there…

Once reduced to the desired width, I used the sandpaper to round off the perpendicular edges on one side. I also rounded off the busk at the top and bottom. I then took another bit of very fine sandpaper and smoothed away the rough edges until I was left with this:

As this busk was going to be sewn into the actual stomacher of the bodies, and therefore wouldn’t be able to be taken in and out of the garment like many busks were, I didn’t need to varnish it and I definitely didn’t need to decorate it.

However, as I will probably make another busk replica to use as a prop in presentations, I decided to use this as a test run (so to speak) for busk decoration. All I did was quickly sketch a folate design onto the busk in pencil, taking inspiration from these two French seventeenth-century ivory busks.


Then I went over the design in a black ball point pen.


And that’s it! While this worked well enough, for my next busk I think I will either burn a design into the busk or draw on it with a felt tipped pen, so that the ink really seeps into the wood. Then I will varnish it.


Sarah Anne Bendall, ‘To Write a Distick upon It: Busks and the Language of Courtship and Sexual Desire in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century England’, in Gender & History, Vol.26 No.2 August 2014, pp. 199–222.


[1] Randle Holme, ‘The Academy of Armory and Blazon (Book III) (1688)’, cited in Patterns of Fashion, Vol. 1, Englishwomen’s Dresses and their Construction c. 1660-1860 (London: Macmillan, 1972), p. 3.

[2] Observed from a sample of surviving seventeenth and eighteenth century busks taken from Metropolitan Museum of Art and Victoria and Albert Museum collections. There are no surviving busks from the sixteenth century.

[3] Scrimshaw busks were popular in the nineteenth century at the height of whaling practices and are featured in various museum collections. See: ‘Corset and Whalebone Scrimshaw Busk and Summary, accession no. TR*388604’, On the Water Collection, Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Keeneth E. Behring Center (2012) <;.

[4] 1586: Wardrobe Warrant for September 28th, ER 28, MS Egerton 2806, fol 216 v, cited in Drea Leed, ‘Wardrobe Warrant for September 28th, ER 28’, Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Uploaded  (2011) <;

Dame Filmer Bodies, c. 1630-1650 Reconstruction | Part One: The Pattern & Materials

Filmer bodies

Bodies and Stomacher of Dame Elizabeth Filmer (front), c. 1630-1650. Gallery of Costume, Platt Hall, Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester.

  1. Filmer Bodies Part One: The Pattern & Materials
  2. Filmer Bodies Part Two: The Busk
  3. Filmer Bodies Part Three: The Stomacher
  4. Filmer Bodies Part Four: Constructing & Finishing
  5. Filmer Bodies Part Five: Finished Product & Afterthoughts

The second ‘bodies’ reconstruction that I’m undertaking for my PhD research is of the Dame Filmer Bodies at the Gallery of Costume, Platt Hall, Manchester Art Gallery.[1] The exact dating of these bodies is disputed. The museum has dated them according to their provenance: they are believed to have belonged to Dame Elizabeth Filmer, and they have a letter ‘E’ near the shoulder of the garment. Dame Elizabeth Filmer died in August 1638 and so a reasonable date range for these bodies of 1620-1640 has been given by the Museum.

Yet in Luca Costigliolo’s examination of the garment he states that the “long-waisted style” of the bodies is more characteristic of the 1650s, than of the higher waisted styles of the 1630s and 1640s, and subsequently has given the date range 1638-1650.[2] I’m more inclined to side with Costigliolo, but regardless these are an amazing and rare example of foundational undergarments from the first half of the seventeenth century.


Bodies and Stomacher of Dame Elizabeth Filmer (back), c. 1630-1650. Gallery of Costume, Platt Hall, Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester.

The Pattern

At the moment there is no available pattern for these bodies, although I’m hoping that there will be one in the upcoming Patterns of Fashion 5. When I was in the UK last year, I did not have a chance to examine these bodies in detail as they were on display. I did, however, get to look at them closely from different angles through the display glass and there is quite a lot of detailed curatorial/conservation notes on the garment on the Gallery of Costume website.

So how did I draft a pattern?

There are two pictures of these bodies lying flat, one in Norah Waugh’s The Cut of Women’s Clothes, 1600-1930, and the other in Jenny Tiramani and Susan North’s Seventeenth-Century Women’s Dress Patterns: Book Two. On the Gallery of Costume website there are also some measurements for the bodies. So by scaling up the pictures that I have with the measurements given, I was able to draft my own pattern for these bodies. Of course the nature of bodies, being boned, means that they may not have been laying completely flat in those pictures, however, after making a mock up I feel fairly confident that my pattern is accurate in shape and size to the original.


Testing the mock up

The Filmer bodies consist of four separate parts: two front sections and two back sections. These bodies lace together at the front with nineteen pairs of eyelet holes, but unlike the effigy bodies, they have a separate stomacher over which the lacing sits. The stomacher in these bodies is fully boned, and I can’t be sure, but there does appear to be a busk made from a thicker piece of whalebone or wood in the centre of the stomacher as well. The shoulder straps fasten the same way as the Effigy Bodies at the front, but these straps sit more on the edge of the shoulders keeping in fashion with the off-the-shoulder fashions of the late 1620s onward. There are six tabs at the bottom of the bodies that spread over the hips, and between the first and second tab on either side of the front, a gore made from silk and linen has been added.


The Materials

These bodies are made from a crimson silk satin with a linen twill lining, and are bound with a pale blue silk ribbon. The bodies are stitched all over in blue silk thread, stiffened with whalebone and are trimmed with a metal thread braid.[3]

For my reconstruction, I decided to use a linen for the lining and yellow gold silk taffeta for the outside. Queen Henrietta Maria’s wardrobe accounts from the same period contain entries for both silk taffeta and silk satin bodies, and one of the bodies in these entries was yellow. Many portraits of the Queen from the period also depict her in yellow silks, so I tried to find a shade of yellow similar to those gowns she was depicted in.


Anthony Van Dyck, Henrietta Maria ca. 1632 – 1635. National Portrait Gallery, London.

The widths of the whalebone channels in this style are incredibly tiny and much smaller than the both the effigy bodies and another bodie that is contemporary to this. For both my effigy reconstruction and this one, I chose to use a modern plastic dressmaking boning and plastic cable ties, as both of these mimic baleen’s properties. Unfortunately, there is no way that I would be able to cut these down to the same width as the original, so each boning channel will be 6mm wide to accommodate this 5mm boning. These are the same channel widths as found on the 1603 effigy bodies, so although not completely accurate for this particular reconstruction they are accurate for the period.

The original bodies are decorated with a metal braid trim, and I was lucky enough to find this very similar metallic gold and silver braid at my local sewing supplies store.




[1] In the museum catalogue these are called ‘stays’, however, I prefer to use the term bodies as this is what they were called at the time they were made and worn. The term stays does not come into being until the late seventeenth century.

[2] 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] Manchester Galleries – catalogue object description:

Effigy Bodies: did they really belong to Elizabeth I? | Speculating about the appearance of Gloriana through Dress Reconstruction


After blogging about the process of reconstructing the earliest pair of surviving English bodies that were found on the 1603 effigy of Queen Elizabeth I at Westminster Abbey, one of the most frequent questions that I received was: do you think these bodies actually belong to the Queen?

My answer: no… and yes, maybe.

Funerary records from the time list that an effigy “representing her late Majestie with a paire of straight bodies…” was ordered from a man called John Colte, and these ‘straight bodies’ were probably made by the Queen’s tailor William Jones. Although the Queen never wore these bodies, considering their hasty construction between Elizabeth’s death and her funerary procession, it is probable that their design and construction was based on styles of bodies (and thus measurements) that Jones had previously made for the Queen.[1] Yet, as some people have pointed out, they could also have been made purely for the effigy – as the two were ordered together. To me though, it would seem easier to make a garment from pre-existing measurements and patterns, and simply construct the effigy to fit the garments, rather than the other way around. Certainly, an effigy would probably be much faster to construct than the garments that sat over it.

Surprisingly, the process of trying my reconstruction of these bodies on a model seemed to confirm contemporary accounts about Elizabeth I’s appearance, which leads me to believe that they were made according to previous patterns that her tailor had made, and possibly previous measurements.


The average height of women during the Tudor era was approximately 158cm and my model was an AU size 6 (UK 6 / US 2) and 156cm (5’2”) tall, so just a tad shorter than the average height during this period.[2] When my model was laced into the bodies they nearly fit her around the torso, with only an inch gap between the centre front openings. However, the underarms cut into her, the shoulder straps were far too big and the back jutted up past shoulder height. This indicates that I need a taller model to accurately fit these bodies.


Shoulder straps come up way past the shoulderline


Gaping at the back due to straps being too big


Pulling the shoulder straps down at the front to fit model

In 1557 the Venetian ambassador, Giovanni Michiel, described Elizabeth who was then 23 years old as “tall and well formed.”[3] Later Francis Bacon stated that she was “tall of stature” and John Hayward described that she “was slender and straight…”[4] The findings from my experiment of placing the bodies on a slender but petite model seems then to confirm that these bodies were tailored for a woman who was not only slender but also tall and long in the torso, just as Elizabeth is described as being.

by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, oil on canvas, circa 1592

Ditchley Portrait by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, oil on canvas, circa 1592

Okay, so the bodies were designed to fit a taller woman (or effigy), but what about the size of the bodies. Surely, they are far too small for someone (besides a child) to have actually worn them?? As I mentioned previously, the bodies did fit my model around her torso, with only a small gap at the front (when laced very tightly). However, as the portrait of the Countess of Southampton indicates, they were probably designed to be worn with the centre front pieces touching side by side, which means my model was just a tad too big for them.

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

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

Although Elizabeth was described as being tall for the time, the tiny size of her waist was not unique, rather, it seems she was quite average. My reconstruction of the effigy bodies measures 53.4cm (21”) in the waist and 73.6cm (29”) in the bust, placing the wearer as an AU size 4 (UK 4 / US 0) or smaller. Some commentators (and my supervisor) have commented that maybe this was because the Queen was quite sick in the last few months of her life. Whilst this is true, Janet Arnold records that another pair of bodies dated earlier to 1598 from Germany, known as the von Neuburg bodies, had an even smaller waist measurement of 50.8cm (20”) and bust of 71.1cm (28”).[5]  A much later bodice, which would have been worn to court, from the 1660s at the Museum of London has an even smaller 48cm (19”) waist measurement![6] Numerous other seventeenth-century bodies and bodices in other collections all show similar measurements, which means that the size of the effigy bodies is not an anomaly. It is possible that maybe a couple of inches was taken off the centre front panels of the pattern to fit the effigy better. Unfortunately, this effigy was redressed in the eighteenth century so we do not have the original outer garments that over the top of these to compare for size. Presumably those garments would have been chosen from the vast wardrobe that Elizabeth owned.

image2 (4)

So did these bodies belong to Elizabeth I?
No they didn’t, as we have certain proof that were commissioned after she died for her effigy. However, I am inclined to believe that they were made from previous patterns for the style of bodies that would have been worn by the Queen and the measurements were possibly taken from previous garments made for the Queen’s… although we will never know for sure.


* If you’d like to see a much more thorough and detailed use of historical reconstruction to learn about past historical figures, dress historian Hilary Davidson has written an excellent piece Reconstructing Jane Austen’s Silk Pelisse, 1812-1814 in the Journal of Costume.



[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] Ninya Mikaila and Jane Malcolm-Davies, The Tudor tailor: Reconstructing 16th-century Dress (London: Batsford, 2006), p. 9.

[3] ‘Venice: May 1557, 11-15’, in Calendar of State Papers Relating To English Affairs in the Archives of Venice, Volume 6, 1555-1558, ed. Rawdon Brown (London, 1877), pp. 1041-1095. British History Online [accessed 10 July 2016].

[4] Francis Bacon, The felicity of Queen Elizabeth: and her times, with other things; by the Right Honorable Francis Ld Bacon Viscount St Alban. (LONDON: Printed by T. Newcomb, for George Latham at the Bishops Head in St. Pauls Church-yard, 1651), p. 18; John Hayward, Annals of the First Four Years of the Reign of Queen Elizabeth, Volume 7, John Bruce, ed. (London: Camden Society, 1840), p. 7.

[5] Janet Arnold, Patterns of Fashion 3: The Cut and Construction of Clothes for Men and Women, c. 1560-1620 (London: MacMillan, 1985), p. 127.

[6] Measurement courtesy of Tim Long, Curator at the Museum of London:

Elizabeth I Effigy Bodies Reconstruction | Part Five: The Finished Product & Afterthoughts

  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

Without further ado, I present my reconstruction of Elizabeth I’s bodies, side by side with the original effigy bodies in Westminster Abbey:

image2 (4)

image1 (4)

My reconstruction (L) and the original effigy bodies (R). My reconstruction does not have the underarm sweat guards that the original has.


Some close ups of the bodies when mounted on an inflatable mannequin:

image1 (2)

“… a paire of French bodies of carnacion Taffata…” – Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe accounts, 1590.

image2 (1)

image2 (2)

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Detail of waist tabs and how they flare out when placed over hips


Detail of shoulder strap attaching to front of bodies


The completed bodies, when on an inflatable mannequin that is small enough to fit them, measure:

Bust: 71.5cm / 28″
Waist: 55cm / 21.5″

Or roughly the equivalent of a AU/UK size 4 / US size 0 / Euro size 32… or in other words: TINY!



There are many things I would change if I were to make these again, many of which I’ve mentioned in my previous blog posts, but I’ll outline the most important here. Firstly, I would have used a linen as a lining for the bodies, as besides the fustian used in the original, this is what was most commonly used in other seventeenth century examples. Anne of Demark’s wardrobe records show that she preferred her bodies to be lined with taffeta, which is why my option to use it is historically justifiable. However, with that said I haven’t noticed any disadvantage in terms of fabric strength or durability (so far) to using taffeta. Yet, lining the bodies, which sit so close to the human body which perspires, with a fabric like linen would be the better choice for a garment intended for daily use.

I would also have sewn the bodies entirely in silk thread, and used a back stitch for all the boning channels, not a running stitch (as the original have) and then a half-back stitch as I ended up doing for the last panel.


Side back seam. Boning channels completed in linen thread with a running stitch


Some of the readers of this blog have asked why I chose to use plastic whalebone instead of more period accurate materials like bents or cane. For my location and my budget, bents (a type of reed) were far too hard to source. Cane can be quite large and round or thick, and would not have been small enough to replicate the 6mm wide boning channels of the original. When recreating a later pair of American seventeenth-century stays for Pilgrim Hall in Plymouth, Massachusetts, stay maker Hallie Larkin noted that “These stays would have been extremely difficult to make without the artificial whalebone, wood products cut to 4mm would have a tendency to break or bend especially in the long channels at center front and back.” The thick nature of most available cane means that they also would have taken up much more fabric in the boning channels and therefore shrunk the bodies, more than the 1-2mm deep x 5mm wide plastic boning did. Plastic boning not only replicates the size and shape of the original cut baleen in bodies and stays, but it is flexible, molds to the body after time (as baleen did) and is just generally easier to work with.



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Side front view, with 13mm (1/2″) boning channel visible

Other lovely readers have also informed me of other ways to create the eyelet holes when I don’t have a bodkin. These include using different sized knitting needles to create a hole between the threads without breaking them, or to use a tailor’s awl. I hope to trial both these methods in my reconstruction of the Filmer Bodies c. 1630-50.


Overall I’m extremely happy with how the bodies turned out, considering this was my first time sewing a ‘corset’ of this style and doing it completely by hand. My next step is to find a model with body measurements small enough to fit into the bodies and test ideas of fit and movement.






Elizabeth I Effigy Bodies Reconstruction | Part Four: Eyelets & Lacings


  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 final step of making these bodies was to create the seventy or so eyelet holes that lace the centre front together and attach the skirts (or farthingale) to the bodies.

In the early modern period eyelet holes were created by making a hole in between the fibres of the material with a tool called the bodkin. As Randle Holme explained in the 1680s “The Bodkin, is a blade or round Pin of Iron fixed in Halve, it is not very sharp at the end: by its help, is Eye lid holes, and all other holes (which are not very large) made.”[1] Surviving bodkins in museums are often highly decorated with engravings, or contain their owners’ initials, and are often made from expensive materials such as silver, indicating that they must have been a particularly special or sentimental token of the tailoring or bodie making profession

Silver Bodkin, c. 1620-40, British. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

This long and narrow, but blunt, tool was pushed into the fabric creating a gap between the warp and weft threads, creating a small hole. The genius in using this particular tool is that by not breaking the threads of the fabric, the resulting eyelet holes “were able to withstand a considerable amount of strain without deforming or ripping.”[2]  As well as creating the holes, bodkins were also used to thread the lacing through the eyelets, as this example from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York contains a hole through which to thread the lacing, similar to a sewing needle.

Silver Bodkin, c. 1620-40, British. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Contains the intials MP – possibly those of the craftsman that it belong to?

However, I don’t have a bodkin nor anything that really resembles one so I had to improvise. I decided to use ordinary nail scissors to push a hole between the threads of the fabric. Although this was not quite as clean as the results that a bodkin would achieve, and I did break some threads, it surprisingly worked really well. After the hole was made I whipped stitched around it until all the raw edges were concealed, as explained below:


Although the original has 29 pairs of eyelet holes that run down the centre front of the bodies, somehow I miscalculated my measurements, so my reconstruction only has 28 pairs of eyelet holes. Oops!


Nearly there! Eyelet holes on centre front opening

After finishing the centre front I moved onto the eyelet holes that are about the waist tabs, two above each split. These eyelet holes were originally intended to have anchored the farthingale or skirts to the torso, showing the ways in which bodies and farthingales by the early seventeenth century began to accommodate each other in dress.[3]




Eyelet holes above splits in tabs


The original effigy bodies in Westminster abbey fastened with leather points that were threaded through one eyelet hole in each shoulder strap and then through another in the top of the bodies.[4] The original holes were not worked, however, this was probably due to the rushed nature of making the bodies for the Queen’s effigy and so I decided to work mine with silk thread as I had done for the others. I then threaded through some left over grosgrain ribbon that I had used to bind the outside raw edges of the bodies and tied these in a bow.


After the eyelet holes were complete and the shoulder straps secured, all I had left to do was to lace the bodies together. Bodies during this period were straight laced, meaning that one lace was threaded through all the eyelet holes in a spiralled motion.[5] This differs from the way that Victorian era and modern corsets are laced, which involved having two strands of ribbon that criss-crossed over each other.

On one side of the bodies, at the top of the centre front, tie the ribbon or laces to one of the eyelet holes.

1. On one side of the bodies, at the top of the centre front, tie the ribbon or laces to one of the eyelet holes.

2. Insert ribbon/lace through opposite eyelet threaded towards the body

2. Insert ribbon/lace through opposite eyelet threaded over towards the body

3. Pull the ribbon to the other side and thread through the eyelet hole, from the body towards yourself.

3. Pull the ribbon to the other side and thread through the eyelet hole, from the body towards the front.

4. Continue doing this in an over and under fashion all the way down to the bottom

4. Continue doing this in an over and under fashion all the way down to the bottom


Tie bottom of lace into a loop, and then another loop. Tuck underneath, between bodies and smock


At the moment the bodies are laced together with satin ribbon, however, I hope to source aiglets in the future to create period correct ‘points’. Points were laces of leather or ribbon tipped with a metal tip (aiglet) that threaded through eyelet holes in garments and tied to attached them together.

A point consisting of five strand braid of cream and silk threads tipped with an aiglet, c. 1550-1650. Museum of London, London.

Modern reproduction points from the Tudor Tailor

It was not only used to lace bodies, but in male clothing they were used mainly to attach the breeches and sleeves to the doublet, whilst in female clothing they commonly attached skirts or detachable sleeves to the bodice. The plastic tip at the end of a modern shoe lace is derived from the metal aiglet, and serves a similar function – to allow for easier threading.


I’ll be unveiling the finished bodies and my afterthoughts on the construction process in my next blog post so stay tuned!



[1] Randle Holme, The academy of armory, or, A storehouse of armory and blazon containing the several variety of created beings, and how born in coats of arms, both foreign and domestick. With the termes of Art used in each Science. (Printed at Chester by the Author, 1688), p. 290.

[2] Luca Costigliolo & Jenny Tiramani, ‘The Tools and Techniques of the Tailor and Seamstress’, Seventeenth Century Women’s Dress Patterns: Book One, Susan North and Jenny Tiamani, eds. (London, V&A Publishing, 2011)p. 11.

[3] 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.

[4] 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), pp. 2, 7.

[5] Luca Costigliolo, ‘Pink Watered-silk stays’, Seventeenth Century Women’s Dress Patterns: Book Two, Susan North and Jenny Tiramani, eds. (London, V&A Publishing, 2012),  p. 97.

Elizabeth I Effigy Bodies Reconstruction | Part Three: Boning & Binding


  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

After the boning channels had been sewn in, as outlined in my previous post, the three sections of the bodies were then whip stitched together from the wrong side as Janet Arnold has noted was done in the original.[1] For this I used linen thread, not silk, as it is much stronger and would be able to take the strain of movement much better.



The unboned bodies after the pieces were whip stitched together at the side seams

Once the three separate pieces that make up the bodies were sewn together I then added the boning. There is a gap between the binding and the boning channels of “between ¼ inch (6 mm) at the centre back to 1 inch (25.4 mm) under the arms, and ½ inch (12.7 mm) at the front” in the original effigy bodies.[2] Not only would this have been more comfortable for the wearer, particularly under the arms, but according to an experimental investigation into the ‘Holbein look” of the early sixteenth century, Jane Malcolm-Davies, Caroline Johnson and Ninya Mikhaila noted that on both the Von Neuburg and Effigy bodies it was found that leaving this small area around the neckline unboned achieved the “sprayed-on look” of the period, and stopped the bodice gaping at the front.[3]


Gaps between the boning channels and raw edges of neckline and back clearly visible


Like the baleen, called whalebone during the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, originally used in bodies, I was able to cut and shape the modern plastic boning in order to fit into the differently shaped boning channels.


Plastic whalebone substitute was able to be easily cut to fit tapered boning channels


Baleen that had be cut and shaped to fit into a pair of stays c. 1750 from the Powerhouse Museum Sydney. Photo by author. Stays, sateen/linen/metal, England, c.1750. Powerhouse Museum, Sydney – A8211-33


Traditionally, after the baleen, a substance made of keratin that is part of the filter-feed system of baleen whales, was extracted from the whale it went through a process in order for it to be used in clothing.


Baleen found washed up on a beach. Source

This involved heating or boiling the pieces of baleen until they were soft and pliable, then they were cut into thin slices of the desired width using a special knife as is shown in this eighteenth-century French engraving.[4]

fanons de baleine

Fanons de Baleine, Encyclopedie Mathodique ou Par Ordre de Matiers, 1783, engraving. British Museum

For an extremely interesting post on cutting and using baleen, check out Abby’s blog post here.

In order to stop the sharp cut edges of the boning from punching a hole in the silk taffeta as I inserted them, I used a cigarette lighter to slightly melt these sharp edges. After the boning was inserted into the channels, I then sewed a line of half back stitching in silk thread above the top of the boning channels to secure the boning inside.


Half back stitiching around top of boning channels


In other examples of seventeenth-century bodies, extra binding has been added around the bottom of the boning channels, underneath the binding ribbon, in order to stop the boning perforating the binding and poking through.[5]


Binding reinforced with strips of matching silk satin on Dame Filmer’s Bodies, c. 1630-1650. Gallery of Costume, Manchester. Photo by author.

The effigy bodies, however, do not have this extra protective binding. According to Luca Costigiolo this is probably because these bodies were quickly made for the Queen’s funeral effigy and were never intended to be worn and therefore wear and tear of everyday life.[6] I decided to stay true to the original and not add this extra protection to my reconstruction, as, besides the movement experiments I intend to perform, these bodies will also not see normal wear.

For the binding I used nearly 5 metres of 16mm-wide grosgrain ribbon. To attach the binding first I used a half back stitch to stitch the binding to the right side of the bodies, leaving a couple of millimetres between the edge of the taffeta and the edge of the ribbon.


Binding half back stitched, right sides facing

Then I folded the ribbon over the raw edge and then felled using a whip stitch onto the wrong side.


Silk ribbon binding felled using a whip stitch. As you can see the silk taffeta by this point was starting to fray quite a lot and the edges were definitely in need of binding

These whip stitches did not have to be super close to each other, as other surviving examples from the period show that there was at least a gap of a few millimetres, sometimes even 5mm, between each stitch.


Inside of bodies, with whip stitches of felled binding visible around the waist tabs


Lessons Learnt:

Adding boning shrinks the bodies, so my reconstruction is actually a tiny bit smaller than the original. I lost about ½” on the waistline because of this. As the measurements and therefore pattern for these bodies was taken from a completed surviving garment, the original measurements used by William Jones, the Queen’s tailor, would have been slightly larger. This is something that all tailors would have had to have taken into account when constructing bodies or other fully boned bodices for their clients, and is something that I will definitely keep in mind for the next pair of bodies I intend to make.


Centre back waist measurement BEFORE boning was added


Centre back waist measurement AFTER boning added. Nearly a 1/4″ was lost.


If you’ve read my first post about the materials I intended to use for this project, you will recall that I was originally going to use leather or faux leather to bind the bodies, as was done in the original. However, when I started the construction process I realised that the fabric I had chosen for the lining and outer fabric, silk taffeta, was far too lightweight for faux leather binding. Even if I could have sourced light kid leather, I still think that it would have been a bit too heavy for the fabric used. Instead, I opted to use a grosgrain ribbon, as was used in later seventeenth century bodies, such as the Filmer bodies (c.1630-1650) in the Manchester Galleries and the Pink Silk Stays (c. 1660-1680) in the Victoria and Albert Museum. The only surviving bodies contemporary to this pair, the Von Neuburg bodies (c. 1598) from modern day Germany were also bound with silk ribbon.[7]


Silk ribbon binding is visible on the bodies of Dorothea Sabina von Neuburg c. 1598. Bayerisches nationalmuseum, Munich.


4. Wool, silk, linen stays 1670-80.2

Late seventeenth-century example of a green silk grosgrain ribbon used to bind the edges of these stays. Photo by author. Wool, Silk and Linen Stays, c. 1670-1680. Museum of London.


In surviving bodies from this period the ribbon binding was felled with thread the same colour as the ribbon, so it blends in with the ribbon and the finishing appearance is quite neat. Due to the limits of my funding, I couldn’t go out and buy silk thread to match the ribbon, and so it isn’t the same colour. This does leave the inside of the bodies looking much less neat than those originals from the century. Analysis of surviving bodies from the seventeenth century also reveals that the binding was sewn on with single ply silk thread. However, I opted to double my thread as the modern silk threads readily available to me are not as thick as the single ply thread used nearly four hundred years ago.


The single-ply whip stitching of the silk grosgrain ribbon binding on this pair of stays c.1660-1680 is nearly invisible, as the thread matches the colour of the ribbon. Photo taken by author at the Victoria and Albert Cloth workers Centre.


I’ve also learned the merits of binding raw edges in this period. Whereas in modern sewing we would turn the seam under and sew or hem it, it makes sense that on the outer edges of garments during this period they didn’t do this – as fabric was incredibly valuable, costing more than the labour to construct the garment in most cases, and so waste was minimised as much as possible. It also gives a much neater finish to the garment.

After the bodies were boned and bound, I then moved on to creating the eyelet holes and other finishes touches, which will be outlined in my next blog post.



[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. 4.

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

[3] Jane Malcolm-Davies, Caroline Johnson and Ninya Mikhaila, ‘And her black satin gown must be new-bodied’: The Twenty-First-Century Body in Pursuit of the Holbein Look’, Costume, vol. 42 (2008), p. 26.

[4] Lynn Sorge, ‘Eighteenth-Century Stays: Their Origins and Creators’, Costume, Vol. 32, No. 1 (1998), p. 19.

[5] 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.

[6] Luca Costigliolo, ‘From Straight bodies to Stays’, p. 10.

[7] Janet Arnold, Patterns of Fashion 3: The Cut and Construction of Clothes for Men and Women C. 1560-1620 (London : Macmillan ; New York : Drama Book, 1985), p. 46.


Elizabeth I Effigy Bodies Reconstruction | Part Two: Cutting & Sewing



  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

After researching the materials that I needed and scaling up the pattern provided by Janet Arnold when she examined the garment in 1994 I then had to cut my pattern pieces. This was done easily and quickly on the grain of the fabric.


Pattern pieces (consisting of baking/parchment paper) pinned to fabric, ready to be cut


Once I had my pieces cut I had to work out how to put them together. In Janet Arnold’s analysis of the bodies she noted that the side seams of each sections of the bodies, before they were attached to each other, “were overhanded together from W.S. (wrong side), then pulled very tightly…”[1] In order to be able to do this, when scaling up the pattern I had to allow some extra seam allowance on each piece, as you can see in this photo below:


Extra seam allowance can be seen on pattern piece to the far right

With this extra seam allowance, I then I follow Arnold’s instructions and overhanded the pieces together, right sides facing each other (so inside out), from the wrong side, and then pulled them right sides out:


Pattern pieces right sides together, seam allowances folded over.


Over handing seam, pattern piece right sides together.


Pattern pieces spread out with overhanded seam visible.

12695308_10156472944875392_1445154397_o (1)

Pattern pieces right sides facing outwards. This is how the seam looks from the right side.

The lining of the back panel was originally done in two parts, possibly to save fabric, so I did this too, allowing extra seam allowance so they could be sewing together via the method outlined above, before being sewn to the outer fabric of the back piece:


Centre back lining seam from visible from wrong side of back panel.


It was a this point that I realised that my shot silk taffeta was fraying quite a lot in some areas particularly at the centre front. In order to stop this whilst I handled the pieces to sew in the boning channel I added a very non-historical material, sticky tape, in order to stop it. I carefully removed this later when I bound them.


Historically, in order to achieve the neat straight boning channels seen in surviving bodies from the seventeenth century, the lines of stitching were evenly mapped onto the right side of the fabric with black ink and then this was stitched over. The traditional method of using backstitches would have then covered most of this visible ink.[2] However, the effigy bodies are different in that the boning channels are running stitched, which is far less sturdy a stitch than the backstitching seen in every other historical example from this century. Luca Costigliolo has noted that this was possibly because these bodies “were made quickly for the Queen’s effigy and were never intended for normal wear.”[3]  As my intention was to faithfully recreate most elements of the effigy bodies, I decided to also use running stitches and so did not attempt the ink mapping technique as I knew that the ink outline would be quite visible through the running stitches.

Instead I decided to utilise another early modern technique: pricking. This technique was most employed in embroidery. When a design was bought or drawn, the outline was transferred onto the fabric by laying the paper with the design on top and pricking the paper and fabric underneath with a needle. Then chalk powder inside a cloth bag was “pounced” (dabbed) over the holes, forcing this coloured chalk through the holes and transferring the design.[4]  The Folger Shakespeare library contains a botanical print that had been used to do this as pin pricks are visible on the paper:


Front of plate 20, Crispijn van de Passe, Hortus floridus, 1615. Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington DC


Back of plate 20,  Crispijn van de Passe, Hortus floridus, 1615. Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington DC


As my silk taffeta was a shot silk, when I pricked the fabric, the darker ‘shot’ thread that runs through the fabric became more visible, so pouncing was not needed. For the most part this mark in the fabric is only temporary, so in order to map out my initial boning channels all I had to do was lay down my pattern on top of the pieces and prick the outline of the centre front boning channels through.

Once the outline of the first few had been done, particularly the 13mm (1/2”) wide boning channel at the front, I didn’t need a stencil anymore as each subsequent lines of stitching simply needed to be 6mm (1/4”) parallel to the last. To do this I used a ruler to measure 6mm then made a mark on the fabric with the needle point, then I joined all the points together by running my needle down the fabric, temporarily leaving a line in the shot taffeta that I was able to follow:


Mark in fabric made from running point of needle over shot silk taffeta.


Finished front panel, running stitches in linen thread.


Lessons Learnt

Initially I found the process of achieving the tiny running stitches of the original quite hard. At first my stitches were quite big and wide, so I changed to a smaller needle and this improved. Still it is no match for the original, nor for the minute even stitches that I have observed on other seventeenth and eighteenth century garments.


Tiny stitches on a pair of silk stays c. 1660-1680 that I examined at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Hilary Davidson also noted this in her reconstruction of Jane Austen’s Silk Pelisse, noting that because the stitching in the original was not exceptional it “was easy to reproduce the stitching to the same scale, unlike many Regency gowns displaying stitches of an even fineness it takes hundreds of hours of practice for the modern sewer to achieve, especially in muslin.”[5] Pictures of my stitching at the start compared to those at the end do show how much they did improve over the hours I spent doing the reconstruction, however, they do not at all compare to a master tailor or even seamstress who had been hand stitching day in and day out from a young age.


Comparison of running stitching sizes at start (top) and finish (bottom)


After completing the boning channels in the first centre front piece I realised that linen thread, although used in the original effigy pair, was much too heavy for these bodies that are made completely from silk taffeta. For those experienced with using these expensive fabrics and historical threads this is probably common sense. However, I had to learn the hard way. As the point of this reconstruction was not only to test ideas of movement and restriction, but also to learn about production methods, I decided to do one of my panels, the second front panel, entirely in silk thread instead. In all the extant seventeenth century bodies that use silk as an outer fabric, silk thread is used to stitch the boning channels. I also decided to use backstitches instead of running stitches, again to see what difference it would make to the garment.

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Difference between running stitch in linen thread (left) and back stitch in silk thread (right)


Immediately after switching threads, I realised that the silk was MUCH easier to sew with and back stitching, as anticipated, was much more secure. I also realise that I probably should have lined these bodies with a more sturdy fabric such as linen, as was done in the rest of the seventeenth century and throughout the eighteenth. Surviving wardrobe accounts from the period do list lightweight fabrics being used to line bodies, sarcenet (a fine soft silk) was a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I. Taffeta was also widely used as Elizabeth’s wardrobe during the same period list: “Item for makinge of a pair of bodies… of black veluett… lined with Taffata…”[6] An inventory taken in 1608 of Anne of Denmark’s wardrobe described: “One payre of Ashcouler cloh of siluer bodies, bound with siluer lace lyned wth carnacon taffeta”[7]   Although these examples do confirm that taffeta was used as a lining fabric at the start of the seventeenth century, it never seems to have been used both as the outer fabric and the lining. There always seems to have been a mix of heavy and light fabrics – such as in the example above where a heavier velvet was used for the outer fabric and taffeta was used for the lining. In many other examples from Elizabeth I wardrobe accounts when taffeta was used for the outer fabric, fustian was used for the lining. When two lighter fabrics were used, such as in the example from Anne of Denmark’s accounts, it is quite possible that these bodies were either more lightly boned or not boned at all.

It will be interesting to see how my finished effigy bodies made entirely of silk taffeta will compare to the next c. 1630s-1650s bodies reconstruction that I intend to make (with my own pattern taken from Dame Filmer’s bodies from the Manchester Galleries) which were made with silk and linen, and that I will make with silk taffeta and linen.

Filmer bodies

Dame Filmer Bodies, c. 1630-1650. Gallery of Costume, Manchester

These are just a few ways in which this reconstruction process is helping me to understand the archival record a bit more  as bodies was quite a generic term and could be used to refer to a corset-like garment or a close fitting kirtle bodice. Once I’ve finished my reconstructions and move to the experimental stage of testing size and movement, it will be interesting to see if these different materials make a difference.

Until then, my experience with boning and binding the bodies will be outlined in my next blog post, so stay tuned!



[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. 6.

[2] 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] 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.

[4] Melanie Braun, ‘Preparation of the Embroidery’, Seventeenth Century Women’s Dress Patterns: Book Two, Susan North and Jenny Tiramani, eds. (London, V&A Publishing, 2012), p. 56.

[5] Hilary Davidson, Reconstructing Jane Austen’s Silk Pelisse, 1812–1814, in Costume, Vol. 49, No. 2 (2015), p. 210

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

[7] Cambridge (1607), fol.1, 4.

Anne Clifford’s Private Purse from Brougham Castle’s Household Expenses, 1675


Being a history research graduate has a lot of perks – we get to discuss subjects that some might think of as frivolous, we get to pursue our academic interests in an environment where you are supported rather than laughed at (“you’re doing a thesis on corsets, how will that help you get a job?” I had someone ask me once), and well, there are those student discounts.

However, if I had to say what I thought the biggest perk of being a historian was, it’s the documents and the artefacts that we get to view, read and handle. Documents that very few others could ever dream of getting their hands on. It is a little known fact that the University of Sydney has quite an extensive collection of manuscripts and printed works from the medieval and early modern periods in our Rare Books Library. We have the oldest surviving printed European Torah in our collection, we have medieval music books and we also have one of the largest collections of early modern books on demonology, witchcraft and Grimoires.

In this collection we also, randomly, have a household accounts book that dates to the year 1675 and I had the pleasure of studying it in a coursework subject as part of my honours year. This however is no ordinary accounts book. It was an accounts book that belonged to a very well well known English Countess of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras, Lady Anne Clifford, Countess of Dorset, Pembroke and Montgomery.

Anne CLifford Signature

If you are interested in late Elizabethan and seventeenth century English history, and in particular women’s history during this period, you may have heard of Anne before, in fact, she has been written about many times. This is mainly due to the fact that many of the diaries and letters she wrote during her life have survived, allowing us to take a glimpse into the sometimes very private life of an English noblewoman during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in England.

This accounts book is also significant as it provides a glimpse into the running of a seventeenth century English estate. It covers the span one year, gives details for household expenses, wages paid and Anne’s private purse.

Lady Anne Clifford

Anne Clifford was born at Skipton Castle in Yorkshire on 30th January, 1590. She was the only surviving child of George Clifford, 3rd Early of Cumberland and Lady Margaret Russell who was the daughter of Francis Russell, 2nd Earl of Bedford. As a child she was tutored by the poet Samuel Daniel and she was a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I. When she was 15 her father died and left all their estates to his brother, Francis Clifford, 4th Earl of Cumberland. From that moment on and for most of her life she was involved in a struggle to regain her family’s properties which she deemed to be her rightful inheritance. It wasn’t until her Francis Clifford only son Henry died without an heir in 1643 that she managed to secure the estate. By that time she was 53 and had been married twice. First to Richard Sackville, 3rd Earl of Dorset in 1609, two whom she had five children (all three of her sons died). After her first husband’s death in 1624 she later went on to marry Philip Herbert, Earl of Pembroke and Montgomery in 1630.

Via English Heritage

Brougham Castle in located in near the city of Penrith in Cumbria. It was founded in the 13th century by the Norman Robert de Vieuxpont on the site of a Roman fort and at this time it entertained Edward I(Longshanks). Brougham castle’s usefulness diminished after medieval times and by the time it came into the hands of Anne Clifford’s father, George, it was in quite a state of disrepair.

After his death in 1605, and all his estates had been willed to his brother Francis, Anne’s mother Margaret managed to hold onto Brougham castle and started repair work to it. Therefore, Anne spent most of her childhood here. However in 1617 the King granted that Francis was the rightful owner. During the time that it was in Francis’ hands, it entertained James I at an estimated cost of £1,200. It also entertained Charles I in 1629.

The castle again fell into a state of neglect until Anne Clifford finally inherited her estates, however she did not live in it for another six years as the English Civil War was raging and the castle was garrisoned by Cavalier forces. By 1650, after the Civil war had ended, Anne began repairs on the castle. Repairs were mostly complete by 1653, but continued for several years afterwards, the work costing an estimated £40,000.   During her time in the castle in which she made it her country retreat, Lady Anne not only restored much of the castle’s structure, but also the way of life associated with living in a castle, something which is evident from this accounts book which details wages paid, etc.

After her death the castle passed to the Earls of Thanet, when it again fell into a state of disrepair. In 1691 Brougham was partially demolished and finally in 1714, any materials that could be used at the castle were sold off.

A triptych portrait of the Clifford family. Lady Anne is depicted on the left panel, aged 15, and on the right, aged 56 includes her brothers, Francis and Sir Robert. As well as her father George Clifford and mother Margaret Russell; Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal, Cumbria, UK


The Manuscript

The manuscript is plainly bound in vellum. There once was a ribbon attached to tie the covers together and there also used to be red gilding on the pages of the book but this has deteriorated.

For its age the book is surprisingly in good condition even though the bind has deteriorated in some places, and some of the pages are falling out . In the past someone in their wisdom had the idea of sticking newspaper between some of pages. As a result this became stuck to the original manuscript in places.

Damage to Spine

There are two main sets of handwriting in the manuscript. Anne’s in the margins is in scrawly italic script, which looks quite out of place compared to the stylised late seventeenth handwriting of the other person who’s handwriting I could identify: Edward Hazell, Anne’s Steward.

Sir Edward Hasell, born 27/11/1642 in Hildersham, Cambridgeshire. Upon the death of his parents, Edward went to live with his uncle Bishop Rainbow in Cumbria. He was appointed steward (chief secretary) of Lady Anne Clifford in 1668, a position which he maintained until her death in 1676. Upon her death, he was left a large bequest, and using this be purchased Dalemain House in Cumberlandshire in 1680. From there on be became M.P. for the county, and high Sheriff in 1682. He was knighted by William III in 1682 and is listed as helping Wiliam III with his war against France. He died 12/9/1717.

Other pieces of handwriting in the book are those of the servants and people employed at the castle. As they were paid and this was recorded, they were asked to provide their ‘mark’ as proof of payment. Some people’s marks consisted of their signature, for the others who could not write it is simply noted ” ___ ___’s mark’. Surprisingly most of the servants in the household could sign their name, indicating that they must have been literate to some degree.


Anne’s handwriting far left, Thomas Strickland’s neat stewards writing centre, the servants signatures under each section can be seen clearly

The book is split into two halves, each starting from the different covers. The first section, which I will not discuss in this post, contains the household expenditures of Brougham castle in the year 1675,  whilst the other contains Anne’s personal expenses.


The Private Purse of Lady Anne Clifford

By the time this private purse was written Lady Anne Clifford was well into her eighties. As a result, her personal expenditure on items like clothing or luxury goods is minimal. However, the contents of this section are still very useful in telling us how Anne spent her last year before she died. To get an idea of how much Anne was spending in the equivalent modern currency, I used to website Measuring Worth to find out. As there is no one way to exactly measure the worth of things in the past, as different people and contexts produced a variety of prices for similar items, the Measuring Worth website gives two main indications: RPI, or a Commodity which indicates the present worth of buying an item in terms of spending, and GDP, which calculates how affordable something was based on the average wage or average earnings at the time.

Many of the entries are about money given to people who had provided a service for the Countess. For example she paid the “chaplan for preaching a good sermon”, and gave payment to men who had fetched things for her. However, there are many personal entries that reveal more about the Countess’ personal life. For example, one of the most interesting entries in the section is one that states, “Paid George Goodgion for clipping off all the haires of my head in my chamber at this Brougham castle which I had not done since the 24th September last…” This entry is recorded on the 20th day of October, so not only can we gather how often the countess had a haircut, but who gave it to her and how much she paid him (6 shillings or £38.20 in today’s currency). On a different occasion she also paid George “ffour shillings” for bringing her “a pound of Virginia tobacco”. So we can also gather that she smoked and that this pound of tobacco cost around £25.50 in today’s currency.

For the historian of material culture the best thing about this private purse is that it allows us to see the value of things in the past. For example, two ” ffushion sheets” purchased from the tailor Emannell Jackson for the Countess’ bed cost 2 shillings / £12.70 today. Whilst two pairs of sleeves (I assume for a gown) cost the Countess 4 shillings and 6 pence / £28.60 today, and 14 yards of bone lace cost 5 shillings and 9 pence / £36.60 today.

In this section another large order is placed, this time for all the materials needed to make a complete gown. In this order was “8 yards and a half of cloth serge for a gorone for mee :1:11:2:… ” and “fustian, buckram, canvis gallooz, ferrit ribbon and other thing trimming of it 0:13:6:”. Not only do we have a complete list of everything that was used to make the gown, we also have separate prices for the fabric and the trims! All up these materials are listed as costing 2 pounds, 4 shillings, 8 pence / £284 today. The serge fabric (a lightweight twill fabric with a worsted warp and woollen weft) was £198 for 8 yards, so £24.75 per yard. [1]

Scarlet cloth ordered by Lady Clifford

Scarlet cloth ordered by Lady Clifford

In October 1675 the Countess paid “3 yards of scarlet cloath hee bought for mee at Kendall at 1:10:p yard: :4:10:0: and for the bayes that it came in :1:6: In all ffour Pounds Eleauen Shillings and Six pence”. In today’s currency this 3 yards of scarlet cloth would be the equivalent of £573 (if we use the RPI on Money Worth). I assume that in this entry the scarlet cloth is referring to the expensive woolen broadcloth fabric (usually coloured red with the expensive kermes dyes) that was common in the medieval and Tudor periods. [2]

It is only by looking at these sorts of figures that you can begin to understand why only the aristocratic classes could afford such exquisite clothing in the past, if three yards of this fabric cost £573 imagine how much a whole tailored dress was, especially since 8 yards of the plain serge fabric mentioned above cost the same as only one metre of this scarlet fabric.

Roughly speaking if a gown used 8 yards of fabric, just the fabric alone for one dress using this scarlet cloth would cost a whopping £1530 in today’s currency (8 x 1 pound:10 shillings per yard, with 20 shillings to a pound = £12 / 8 yards of fabric)!!! That’s over $3000 US/AU for one dress!

However it appears that this fabric wasn’t for personal use as in the margins we learn that the Countess did not intend to keep this cloth as she has remarked “payed for 3 yards of scarlet clothe to give away”. By the end of her life it appears that the countess must have been very charitable as many of the items listed were intended as gifts. One entry states that she “Payed the 13th day to George Goodgion for 30 bookes of devotion hee bought me at Penrith for severall sortes, and different rates which I intend to give away to my servants…” She also gave Robert Bartion (who she has referred to in the margins as ‘Doctor Barton’?) 5 shillings “to buy him a pair of gloves”. This is the equivalent to £31.80 today.

Anne Clifford died in Brougham castle in the same room as her father was born in, on the 22nd March 1676, at the age of 86 – only one year after this accounts book is dated. As a result this accounts book must be one of the last ones ever completed for Brougham castle when it was under Anne’s ownership. What I’ve talked about in this post is just skimming the surface of the amazing information that this manuscript contains, and provides a fascinating glimpse into the everyday life of not only a famous figure in English history, but into the everyday lives of those ordinary people who worked in her estates.



[1] Ninya Mikaila and Jane Malcolm-Davies, The Tudor tailor: Reconstructing 16th-century Dress (London: Batsford, 2006), p. 37.

[2] Mikaila and Malcolm-Davies, The Tudor tailor, p. 36..