Sunday, 26 February 2012

Hat honour and deference

The wearing of something on the head, be it a hat or a cap, was common at all times. Hat honour, the question of when, and where, and in what circumstances you take off your hat, was of particular importance to men. The classic article on this subject, now more than twenty years old, is by Corfield (1989). Corfield describes the case of an oatmeal maker brought before the Court of High Commission in 1630 for preaching. His political beliefs are summed up in his use of his hat. He kept his hat on before the High Commission and was asked why he did not take it off. He explained that he would never take his hat off to Bishops. It was pointed out that the gentlemen were Privy Councillors, to which he replied, “Then as you are Privy Councillors, I put off my hat; but as ye are rags of the beast, lo! –I put it on again.”



The refusal to doff one’s hat before secular or ecclesiastical authority was a sign of radicalism. The early Quaker George Fox wrote in the 1650s that “When the Lord sent me forth in the world, he forbade me to put off my hat to any, high or low.” (Fox, 1975) In 1638 a rector, Stanley Gower, and his patron, Sir Robert Harley, were accused of refusing to permit parishioners to remove their hats during the sermon and lessons. (CSPD), women on the other hand were expected to remain covered. St Paul’s instructions in Corthinians 1, 11 were that “Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head”. Paul Cramer has stated, on the ECWS Living History page on Facebook that he had found a reference to elderly or infirm gentlemen being allowed to wear a night cap or coif during church services, presumably it was considered that being without something on your head would be detrimental to your health. Following on from that statement Pepys (22nd September 1664) declared that he had, “Got a strange cold in my head by flinging off my hat at dinner.”



In secular terms one took one’s hat off before someone of a higher status. In the painting by Houckgeest of King Charles I dining at Whitehall, the only person in the painting wearing a hat is the king himself. In Charles II’s reign Pepys (27th April 1663) comments that “the Duke of Monmouth dancing with her (the Queen) with his hat in his hand, the King came in and kissed him, and made him put on his hat, which every body took notice of.” This form of deference also occurs between master and servant, so Randle Holmes in the Academy of Armoury (1688) states, “Nay it is a hard thing to distinguish a master from his man, but only that he (the servant) goes after, and stands with his head uncovered before him (the master).” The same form of deference occurs within the family, it is not only the son as a child who goes bareheaded in front of his father, but as John Aubrey comments, “Gentlemen of 30 or 40 years old, fitt for any employment in the commonwealth, were to stand like great mutes and fools bare headed before their parents” In the Print from the Rozburgh ballads (right) only the father wears a hat.

Corfield, Penelope. 1989. Dress for deference and dissent: hats and the decline of hat honour. Costume. 1989, Vol. 23.

CSPD. Calendar of State Papers Domestic 1637-8, p249.

Fox, George. 1975. The journal of George Fox, edited by J. L. Nickalls. . London : Religious Society of Friends, 1975.

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