Friday 14 January 2022

Slippers in the seventeenth century

Back in 2013 I did a blogpost on Pantofles and the origins of slippers and mules. That was mainly on the history of the terms. Since then I have done a lot of trawling through probate inventories, so this post is on slippers that appear in the records.

The royal family certainly owned slippers, on one occasion Charles I paid £28 19s 2¾d for slippers. (1) Slippers that appear in accounts range in price from 2s 6d to 6s so that money could have purchased more as a hundred pairs of slippers. Satin is mentioned as a fabric for the construction of the uppers of a surviving pair of slippers that, with a matching nightcap and similar coloured waistcoat, are in the BurrellCollection, and are believed to have a connection to Charles II when he was Prince of Wales. The uppers of these slippers are of pink silk satin embroidered in silk, silver and silver-gilt threads. 

detail image
Pink slippers in the Burrell Collection. CC BY NC 4.0

Members of the aristocracy also owned slippers. The 1617 wardrobe inventory of Richard Sackville, 3rd Earl of Dorset, lists “one paire of slippers of tawney tufftaffetie laced with six gold laces” (2) Tuftaffeta is a silk based fabric, being described by the OED as “A kind of taffeta with a pile or nap arranged in tufts.” The six gold laces are what today we would more likely refer to as braids, laid onto the taffeta ground. The slippers may have been similar to a pair belonging to Sir Francis Verney (d.1615), which are on display at Claydon House. The only good image I have found of Verney’s slipper, which shows the braids on silk, is on Cindy Vallar’s site. Below is a detail from a shoe in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which shows a similar use of metallic lace on silk.
Detail from a late 17th century shoe in LACMA

In the 1620s the accounts of Lord Howard of Naworth Castle have slippers being purchased for 3s. (3), while in the 1640s the London household accounts of Henry, Earl of Bath have slippers being purchased for him for 6s , and for his wife at 2s 6d. (4) Members of the gentry also purchased slippers, over the period 1648 to 1675 James Master, gentleman, purchased nine pairs of slippers ranging in price from 2s 6d to 4s. (5) The 1621 will of Nicholas Garney, a Suffolk gentleman, shows that he owned a pair of slippers. (6) Below the level of gentry only a few who aspired to being gentry owned slippers. In 1620 George Tipping, a rector, had a pair of black slippers, these may have been very plain, like these pale pink watered silk examples in the Victoria and Albert Museum. (7) In the 1670s two members of Litchfield Cathedral owned slippers, in 1676 Thomas Smith, sacrist of the Cathedral, and in 1671 Lisle Stotesbury, who is described as a gentleman, but was probably a musician at the Cathedral, he lived in a chamber in the Cathedral Close and owned three guitars and four lutes. (8)

Pair of Shoes top image
Pale pink watered silk slippers in the Victoria & Albert Museum


Slippers do not appear to have been owned below the gentry or professional person level. They are not mentioned at all in Spufford and Mee (9), and I have found none in the inventories the less wealthy tradesmen, yeomen and below. I have found no slippers in the considerable number of inventories of shoemakers, though in 1634 John Shipway of Bristol had in his stock “seaven paire of pantables.” (10) Pantables, may well be a type of slipper, Randle Holme writes of “a Slipper, or Pantable”, and the word pantoufle is still in use in modern French to indicate a slipper.        
1. Strong, Roy. Charles I's clothes for the years 1633-1635. Costume. 1980, Vol. 14, pp. 73-89.

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

3. Ornsby, G. ed. Selections from the Household Books of the Lord William Howard of Naworth Castle. Publications of the Surtees Society. 1878, Vol. 68.

4. Gray, Todd. Devon Household Accounts 1627-59. Part 2 . Exeter : Devon and Cornwall Record Society, new series, vol. 39, 1996.

5. Robertson, S. The expense Book of James Master 1646-1676 [Part 1, 1646-1655], transcribed by Mrs Dallison. Archaeologia Cantiana. 1883, Vol. 15, 152-216, pp. 152-216.

6. Allen, M. E. ed. Wills in the Archdeaconry of Suffolk 1620-1624. Woodbridge : Suffolk Records Society, 1988.

7. Groves, J. Ed. Ashton and Sale wills: wills and probate inventories from two Cheshire townships, part 1, 1600-1650 . Sale : Northern Writers Advisory Services, 1999.

8. Vaisey, D. G. ed. Probate inventories of Litchfield and district 1568-1680,. Historical Collections for a History of Staffordshire, Fourth Series. 1969, Vol. 5.

9. Spufford, Margaret and Mee, Susan. The Clothing of the Common Sort 1570-1700. Oxford : OUP, 2017.

10. George, E. and S. eds. Bristol probate inventories, Part 1: 1542-1650. Bristol Records Society publication. 2002, Vol. 54.

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