Jessamy gloves are perfumed gloves, more specifically they are gloves perfumed with the scent of
jasmine. The art of perfuming gloves appears to have become popular in Italy in the 16th century, there are many legends around this crediting either René le Florentin, who perfumed gloves for Catherine de Medici, or Muzio Frangipani, a man whose existence cannot even be proved. The fashion seems to have been brought to England by Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford who, on his return from Italy in 1575, presented Queen Elizabeth with a pair of perfumed gloves, John Stow says that for many years this scent was known as the "Earl of Oxford's perfume”. (Stow & Howes, 1631) John Florio’s work, also published in the 1570s, gives translations into Italian of many phrases to use when purchasing gloves in Italy, for example; “These Gloves, are they wel perfumed,” “‘Who hath perfumed them,’ and ‘I will haue them perfumed.’ (Florio, 1578)
Many different perfumes could be used, not just jasmine, Evelyn refers to “Gloves trimm'd, and lac'd as fine as Nell's. Twelve dozen Martial, whole, and half, Of Ionquil, Tuberose, (don't laugh) Frangipan, Orange, Violett, Narcissus, Iassemin, Ambrett.” (Evelyn, 1690) Martial was Louis XIV’s personal perfumier and his gloves were purportedly sold for 30 sous a pair. By 1656 the perfuming of gloves was so common that Louis XIV granted a guild patent, Les Statuts des Maitres Gantiers Parfumeurs.
The giving of perfumed gloves as gifts at weddings, funerals and other special occasions was common in the seventeenth century. When James I visited Cambridge University in 1615, he was presented with “a fair pair of perfumed gloves with gold laces.” (Cumming, 1982) The mother of a groom to be writing about the need to give gloves as presents at the wedding wrote in 1611 that, “I could not get so many women’s Jessamy gloves as wrote for; and at the last was fained to pick upon cordinant [cordovan leather] for men and perfumed kid for women. I had them perfumed better than ordinary that they might give consent.” (Duggan, 2011)
Perfumed gloves could be purchased in England for between 2s 6d and 4s. (Robertson, 1883) The perfuming could be done, or renewed, by the use of pastes, often referred to as butters, as for example “3 Ounces of Jessimy-butter..and 6 pair of Jessimy-Gloves.” (Duffett, 1675), or by the use of powders. In 1655 James Master paid, “for a pound of jessamin pouder and a pa of white gloves 6s 6d” (Robertson, 1886). It may be that the butter and paste were used to perfume leather gloves, and the powder for fabric gloves, but that is conjecture.
Books were published with instructions on how to create and use such perfumes. In 1696 Simon Barbe’s work was translated into English and published as The French Perfumer, it included sections on how scent gloves, part of which is quoted below. (Barbe, 1696)
“The manner of Preparing and Perfuming Gloves.
Clean and Wash your Skins as you have done before; cut and sew your Gloves, then Colour them as you please; if you will Perfume them with other Perfumes, do it before you Perfume them with Flowers, as you'll find hereafter; being thus prepared, put them in a Box, lay in a Bed of Flowers and a Bed of Skins, continue so doing till you have no more Gloves nor Flowers; let them lye in the Box till the next day, for 24 Hours at most, then take them out, dry them in the Air upon a Line for an Hour; rub them after that well, open them and turn them, cover them again with fresh Flowers on the wrong side of the Skin; continue so doing on both sides four or five Days; then rub them, and prepare them again, they will be well Perfum'd. You must Perfume once or twice the Paper you beat them in, lest it should lessen the smell.
The Gloves and Skins you Perfume with precious Perfumes, as Amber, Musk, and Civet, will be well Perfum'd without any Flowers.
How to Perfume Gloves or Skins before you Perfume them with Flowers.
Grind on a Marble Stone with a Muller, a Gros (or the eighth part of an Ounce) of Civet, with two or three Drops of Essence of Orange-flowers, or other Flowers made of Ben Oyl, being well mixt together, drop to it a little of Millefleur-water, then grind alone as big as a Small nut, Gum of Adragant dissolved with Orange▪flower-water; after that mix your Civet, dropping a little of the Millefleur-water; continue so doing till it is all well mixt together, then put your Composition in the Mortar; pour more Water in it, stirring it till it is reduced to a quarter of a Pint; then lay your Perfume very even on your Gloves with a Spunge, dry them in the Air upon a Line; being dry, rub them, open them, and Perfume them with Flowers as before.
Perfumes made with Musk.
Grind upon a Marble Stone two Gros of Musk, with three Drops of Essence of Flowers, as before, and being well mixt, let them lye on the corner of the Marble; then grind half a Gros of Civet, with a few Drops of the same Essence, lay it on another corner of your Marble; then grind as big as a Nut Gum of Adragant dissolved with Millefleur-water, mixt with three or four Drops of Essence of Amber; after that mix them all together very well with the last Water, dropping it gently; and when the whole is well mixt with the Water, put it in a Mortar, pouring more Water, and stirring it with the Pestle, till it is reduced to half a Pint; then rub your Gloves and Skins, and let them dry.”
Barbe, S., 1696. The French perfumer teaching the several ways of extracting the odours of drugs and flowers and making all the compositions of perfumes for powder, wash-balls, essences, oyls, wax, pomatum, paste, Queen of Hungary's Rosa Solis, and other sweet waters .... London: Printed for Sam. Buckley.
Cumming, V., 1982. Gloves. London: Batsford.
Duffett, T., 1675. The Mock Tempest; or, the Enchanted Castle.. London: s.n.
Duggan, H., 2011. The Ephemeral History of Perfume: Scent and Sense in Early Modern England. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Evelyn, J., 1690. Mundus muliebris: or, the Ladies dressing-room unlock'd, and her toilette spread. In burlesque. Together with the Fop-Dictionary, compiled for the use of the fair sex.. London: Printed for R. Bentley.
Florio, J., 1578. Firste Fruites which yeelde familiar speech, merie prouerbes, wittie sentences, and golden sayings. Also a perfect induction to the Italian, and English tongues, as in the table appeareth. The like heretofore, neuer by any man published. london: Thomas Dawson, for Thomas Woodcocke.
Robertson, S., 1883. The expense Book of James Master 1646-1676 [Part 1, 1646-1655], transcribed by Mrs Dallison.. Archaeologia Cantiana, Volume 15, pp. 152-216.
Robertson, S., 1886. The expense Book of James Master 1646-1676 [Part 2, 1655-1657], transcribed by Mrs Dallison.. Archaeologia Cantiana, pp. 241-259.
Stow, J. & Howes, E., 1631. Annales, or, a general Chronicle of England; begun by J. Stow ... continued and augmented ... unto the end of ... 1631, by E. Howes.. London: Printed by A. M. for R. Meighen.