Sunday, 22 April 2012

Clothing for Grand Funerals


Before I went off on holiday my blog on Black had lead to a discussion that ended up with Dave Evans talking about the Lant Roll. For those who do not know the Lant Roll was a series of drawings by Thomas Lant, the Winsor herald of arms. The drawings were of over 200 figures who took part in the funeral of Sir Philip Sidney in 1587.

The giving of clothing for the funeral, as mourning wear, has a long history. Many think now of mourning wear in Victorian terms as something worn by the immediate family for a specific period of time, but in the Early Modern Period it had a far wider meaning. The act of giving clothing went down the social scale of those with some money, as Jane Malcolm Davis and Ninya Mikhaila discussed in the paper they gave at the 2010 Costume Society Conference, “To ten poor women a gown.”  

The period from about 1550 to 1650 was the height of the truly grand funeral. Having too many die close together could bankrupt you.  When the 3rd Earl of Rutland died in 1587 he was succeeded by his brother, who was informed, “your debt to the woollen draper for the funeral black of my late Lord is £898 8s 6d” (probably a quarter of a million in current terms). When he himself died three months later his son was only twelve and the executors were advised that, “Blackes should be provided for the widow, her sons and daughters and also for the gentlemen and yeomen that are ordinarily in the house, but there should be no charge for the retainers.”

What was provided for men was a mourning gown, or later a cloak, and a hood, not really normal clothing. Most ECW people will know the story of Hutchinson at Ireton’s funeral. Cromwell did not send him an invitation to the funeral, or provide mourning, so Hutchinson turned up in his “scarlet cloak, very richly laced.” The amount of fabric provided depended on one’s rank. At Prince Henry’s funeral in 1612 the ambassadors were allowed nine yards of black. The allowances for mourning at state funerals were laid down, ranging from 16 yards for a duke down to 5 yards for a knight. The scale of the provision could be tremendous; in 1624 the Duke of Richmond’s funeral had “one thousand men in mourning.”

By the middle of the seventeenth century these great funerals were disappearing. Cromwell’s funeral in 1658 cost £60,000, and the army were present not in black, but in “new red coats and black buttons with their ensigns wrapt in cypress.” At the funeral of the Earl of Essex in 1646 (illustration of part of the funeral procession from the Thomason tracts) there were a few mourning gowns and hoods, but mostly the mourners were wearing cloaks and hoods. After the restoration in 1660, apart from state funerals, the nobility no longer went in for the grand funeral. So John Gibbon, one of the heralds, wrote that in eleven years he had attended only five such funerals.

Much of the above information has come from Phillis Cunnington and Catherine Lucas’s excellent and so far unsurpassed work Costume for Births, Marriages and Deaths. (London: Black, 1972)

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