It used to be that if you wanted to know what people wore 700 years ago you had to find the names of rare, large books and order them from interlibrary loan, or visit period funeral monuments and see what they were wearing. It was all a lot of work.
Nowadays, it is as easy as typing a few words into a search engine online. And once you start down that rabbit hole, you can, with a little thought, find yourself looking at digital scans of real books from the last thousand years and more, primary resources for what people wore.
Hence the title – with such resources available today, there is no real excuse for anyone interested in wearing decent looking clothes to get it wrong. Of course some may not have time, brainpower or whatever to carry out the research. Even so, there are now lots of books on the topic, blog posts and suchlike, showing pictures and discussing accurate costume.
So this post looks at a specific example of mens costume from the 14th century, and how manuscript illustrations can give a great deal of detail for those who actually want to get it right.
When portraying the 13/th-14th centuries in Britain, it used to be that a shirt, tunic, hood, supertunic, hose, braes and shoes were all that were needed. The precise shape and cut wasn’t really an issue, or rather, people weren’t so aware of the differences. But a good look at manuscripts can change all that. Firstly, illustrations of 13th century mens clothing.
In a circa 1265-1270 psalter BL Add MS 50000, here’s a man cutting corn with a scythe, no hat, tunic appears to be lined with orange wool:
This three wise men (on the left picture) appears to include one with a long tunic of blue and a lined overtunic whose sleeves are large and don’t come all the way down to his wrists:
Towards the end of the 13th century we have MS Bodl Rolls 3, an English text, and this picture shows the usual head covering, some sort of sleeveless surcoat, and lots of normal looking tunics, but it isn’t done in such a way that I can distinguish linings:
This French picture of Sir Lancelot talking to a hermit from the late 13th century, shows a matching set of tunic, hood and supertunic in the same colour, unless of course I am completely mistaking the way the tunic comes down to a few inches above the wrist:
This mid-13th century English initial shows a learned man wearing a garde de corps and opviously a tunic underneath it:
A mid 13th century English bestiary again shows a tunic with loose cloth hanging over the belt:
So, from the mid to late 13th century, in the civilised parts of Europe, men wear tunics. The precise shape of the neck hole varies, and it is possible to line them, but that is pretty clearly the main piece of clothing. Over it, if they are rich or educated they wear a sort of supertunic/ cape thing with big open sleeves. Otherwise they can wear a bigger version of the tunic, except that by the end of the century it mostly seems to end on the lower arm short of the wrist.
How can we be sure these are accurate representations? We can’t be completely sure, but there is a uniformity amongst difference illustrations and a similarity to the few surviving garments of the period so it seems far more likely that they are accurate than they are not. Of course the other difficulty is surely that fashions change more slowly the lower in the social level you go, which isn’t such a problem given that fashions change slowly at this time anyway, compared to the 16th century. Also the poorer you were the less likely you were to have dyed cloth at all; the 13th century cloth from Perth High street was mostly undyed, even the stuff of clothing grade.
It occured to me that you could check the priestly garments shown in many illuminations with surviving ones, that would be one check upon the accuracy. Another would be the shoes. We have quite a lot of shoes from London, leather survives rather well in waterlogged conditions. the only problem being that most illustrations aren’t detailed enough to give you a good idea. Of two I saw, one had very open shoes that didn’t match anything from London, another had boots with toggles or similar, which did match those from London.
From end of 13th century, with initials and borders from circa 1310, made in East Anglia, we have the Ormesby psalter:
In the above page we see a couple of long tunics that goes past the knees and have normal sleeves.
This one shows a man and woman, he holds a hawk in his left hand and is giving her a ring. His supertunic goes down towards his angles, and is tight around the lower arm, just above the wrist so some of the tunic can show, at least I think that is what it shows. It’s certainly a supertunic because you can see a dagger or sword sticking out a slit in it:
There’s an old man carrying a bundle of vegetables and leading a sheep and a wolf, and he has proper boots with buttons or toggles on, red hose, long blue tunic and a grey supertunic that is shorter than it; it also stops few inches before the wrist as previously:
Now, when we turn to manuscripts from the late 13-teens and 1320’s, we find a change in the supertunics. In the MS Harley 6563, f 65, from the 1320’s, there is a tailor with a fashionable supertunic, with wide sleeves that are pointed beneath the arm. His hood is lined with different coloured wool. http://maerenundlobebaeren.tumblr.com/post/50488619140/a-tailor-steals-fabric-1320-1330-ms-harley-6563
When we turn to the Luttrel psalter of circa 1320-40, we find many illustrations of everyday life, as well as fabulous grotesques. Note that this bagpiper has a lined tunic:
The archer on the right here appears to have a rather fancy supertunic, with sleeves stopping at the elbow, and a lining:
And this one shows his braes off, the garter round his hose below the knee, and a lined tunic with a nicely folded neck suggesting he is missing a brooch of some sort:
This one is particularly interesing, since it shows on the right someone playing the organ, whilst wearing a sleeveless supertunic of a type often seen on women, and on the left a man with a strange sleeved cloak similar to the kind called a Garde corps on the Larsdatter site, and not dissimilar to the cloak like garments seen on Scots in the Carliesle charter of the 1320’s:
Just to add to the potential confusion, this archer at the bottom right has a short sleeved tunic that is quite long, but there is little evidence for a tunic underneath it, except of course that his lower arms and around his neck are coloured, as if there is a dyed tunic – linen was hard to dye and as far as I am aware, was not actually dyed for shirts at all during the medieval period. Therefore we have a lined supertunic with short sleeves which appears to reach to below his knees:
Having said that, here’s some coloured braes – are they dyed linen or wool?
The shepherd on the left hand page here is sitting down, showing that his tunic is lined with cloth of a different colour to the outer, and has long sleeves all the way to the wrist, as you would expect, and his braes are white, as is expected:
And the Royal MS 2 B VII, from 1310-1320 shows men with long tunics, perhaps supertunics, which are lined with wool of another colour:
It also shows men with long sleeved tunics, clearly the normal sort, but at least one has a different coloured lining:
This one on the right seems to show a difference between long sleeved tunics and probably supertunics, the latter having sleeves down to a bit past the elbow:
From circa 1327-1335 we have Add MS 47682, the Holkham picture bible, again shows men with supertunics stopping below the elbow, with a bit of a point to them, and some lining, as well as a man with just a tunic which appears to have a lining:
So from these, I think it possible that more men started having linings in their tunics and supertunics in the 1310’s, but I would require more evidence for . In the 1320’s supertunic sleeves developed a pronounced point to them around the elbow, a development of the earlier sleeves that were tight and stopped well before the wrist.
I wonder if it would be possible to link the fabric used with changes in use? At the end of the 13th/ start of the 14th century, fulled and napped plain weave cloth was taking over from twills of various sorts, although twilled finely spun cloth called worsted stayed around for a lot longer. Fulled cloth is I think better at dealing with the weather, although I need to wear some more accurate early period clothing to check.
Certainly it indicates I need to make a new supertunic for the first Scottish wars of Independence period stuff we do.