Thursday, 8 March 2012

Definitions of Early Modern Colours

Everyone knows, or at least has a good idea of what is meant by, colours like black, scarlet, blue, grass green, but some of the names given to colours in the Early Modern period are less obvious, isabella, carnation and aurora for example. This blog gives definitions for some of those colours that are not obvious and were listed in clothing accounts or inventories for Henry VIII, 1547(Hayward, 2007), Elizabeth I, 1601 (Arnold, 1988), the 3rd Earl of Dorset, 1617 (MacTaggart, 1980), Charles I, 1633-5 (Strong, 1980).



Ash – greyish pink (Lawson, 2007)

Aurora - a yellow with light red tones. This is a colour where the meaning has changed over time. The OED has no reference earlier than 1791, by which time it is moving far more into orange. (Lowengard, 2006)

Bezoar - probably a soft beige (Arnold, 1988)

Brazil - red. The dye was originally from an East Indian tree and well predates the discovery of South America, being referred to as early as Chaucer (OED).

Carnation – “a kind of colour resembling raw flesh” (Phillips, 1663)

Colour de roi - “Was in old time purple; but now is the bright tawnie” (Cotgrave, 1611)

Hair – Markham (1631 (1986)) describes dying a bright hair colour using alum, lye and chimney soot. Cooper (1815) says soot is of use in dying “drabs, olives and browns”

Isabella - greyish yellow; light buff (OED)

Lusty gallant –light red (Slive, 1961)

Maidensblush – pink (OED)

Minume – dark brownish grey or dun colour (Phillips, 1663)

Murrey – a deep maroon (Slive, 1961)

Parricito - in margin described as greenish (Strong, 1980)

Plunket – lead coloured or greyish blue (OED)

Popinjay – blue green (Hayward, 2007)

Russet – both a cloth and a colour. “If you will mingle a litle portion of white with a good quantitie of redde, you may make thereof a Russet, or a sadde Browne, at your discretion.” (1573)

Stammell – scarlet (Slive, 1961)

Tawny -brown with a preponderance of yellow or orange (OED)

Turkey – “is a blue, but others will have it red.” (Peacham, 1634)

Watchet – light greenish blue. There are references from “of a watcheth or pale blewe colour” (1578) to “of a watchet or greenish colour” (1635) (OED)



1573. A very proper treatise, wherein is briefly sett forthe the art of limming. London : s.n., 1573.

Arnold, Janet. 1988. Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Unlock'd. Leeds : Maney, 1988.

Cooper, Thomas. 1815. A practical treatise on dyeing . Philadelphia : Dobson, 1815.

Cotgrave, Randle. 1611. A Dictionarie of the French and English tongues . London : Islip, 1611.

Hayward, Maria. 2007. Dress at the Court of King Henry VIII. Leeds : Maney, 2007.

Lawson, Jane. 2007. Rainbow for a reign: colours of a queen's wardrobe. Costume. 2007, Vol. 41.

Lowengard, Sarah. 2006. The Creation of Color in Eighteenth-Century Europe. s.l. : Columbia University Press, 2006.

MacTaggart, Peter and Ann. 1980. The Rich Wearing Apparel of Richard, 3rd Earl of Dorset. Costume. 1980, Vol. 14.

Markham, Gervase. 1631 (1986). The English housewife. Montreal : McGill-Queens U.P., 1631 (1986).

OED - Oxford English Dictionary Third edition, March 2002; online version December 2011. http://www.oed.com/

Peacham, Henry. 1634. The compleat gentleman. London : s.n., 1634.

Phillips, Edward. 1663. The new world of English words: or A general dictionary . London : Brooks, 1663.

Slive, Seymour. 1961. Henry Hexham's "Of colours": a note on a seventeenth century list of colours. Burlington Magazine. 1961, Vol. 103, 702.

Strong, Roy. 1980. Charles I's clothes for the years 1633-35. Costume. 1980, Vol. 14.

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