Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The Height of (Medieval) Fashion

A recent article in The Times about hats struck me forcibly. They say fashion goes in cycles but, really, are we seeing a return to 500 year old styles? Well, just compare these hats:

Qatari-designed headwear, The Times 7.9.13
with this wonderful effigy we discovered recently in Ashbourne parish church in Derbyshire.

Dorothy Cockayne

Who could not conclude that the Qatari designers at their London fashion show might have been influenced by the distinctive head piece and ruffs of Dorothy Cockayne, wife of Thomas Cockayne, d. 1592 and daughter of Sir Humphrey Ferrers of Tamworth?
The Boothby Chapel at St. Oswald's in Ashbourne is crammed full of family tombs, monuments and alabaster effigies. Sir John Cockayne, d. 1477 displays a collar with regalia, signifying membership of an order of chivalry in the House of Lancaster, and his wife, Margaret, is shown wearing her best hat with netted hair. Interestingly, the style was used in the BBC TV series set in the same period The White Queen (2013).

Sir John Cockayne

Margaret Cockayne (nee Longford)
St. Oswald's is given 4 stars by Simon Jenkins (he gives only 100 churches four or five stars) and prompts him to assert that "Ashbourne church is one of the finest works of art in the country and should rank alongside the magnificent historic mansions" (England's Thousand Best Churches).
Just down the road from Ashbourne is Norbury, which Jenkins also selects for his book. Like Ashbourne, there are many aspects to its magnificence but one of them, again, is its fashionable monuments to the local powerful family. In this case it is the Fitzherberts, still going strong at Tissington Hall, Derbyshire and in another line as the Barons Stafford of Swynnerton Hall, Staffordshire. The family held the manor of Norbury from 1125 to 1987.
The monuments to Ralph Fitzherbert, d. 1483 and his wife are beautifully carved from local alabaster. Their garments were obviously dear to them: witness her elegant dress and tightly-fitting choker necklace and his exquisite collar. Jenkins states that this was a Yorkist emblem, depicting alternating suns and roses. The pendant has a depiction of the white boar of Richard III , the only memorial in the country where one survives ( Ralph was evidently proud, too, of his hairstyle. 

Ralph Fitzherbert and his wife
Ralph's decorative tunic, collar and pendant
At the foot of the effigy a tiny bedesman prays for Sir Ralph's soul, resting on a lion.

Bedesman with a rosary
To conclude this theme here are two delightful alabaster effigies showing fashionable dress in churches we visited some time ago. In St. Luke's, Tixover in Rutland the effigy of the wife of Roger Dale, d. 1623 shows her in some style: 
Wife of Roger Dale, Tixover, with ruff, embroidered dress and hands removed by Parliamentary soldiers during the Civil War
Finally, with extravagent ruff, simple head covering and neatly brushed hair, a smiling family "weeper" adorns the tomb of Kenelm Digby, d. 1590 in St. Andrew's, Stoke Dry in Rutland. The fashionable couture of 2013 would not have raised an eyebrow in the sixteenth century!

A daughter of Kenelm Digby


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