Thursday, 20 December 2012

Christmas, his masque

Since it is Christmas I thought something seasonal was called for. In December 1616 a short piece, written by Ben Jonson and called Christmas his masque, was performed at court. The text does not appear to have been published until the second volume of Jonson’s works was produced in 1640/1. The piece is highly political. In a speech earlier in 1616 King James I had called for a proper celebration of Christmas. Marcus (1986) considers the refusal of Londoners to keep such a proper Christmas to be an “open defiance of authority.”

Christmas, his masque is unusual in that it is too short to be a full masque, the characters are not dressed in masque costume such as that designed by Inigo Jones, but would appear, from the costume described in the text, to be supposedly London apprentices and shopkeepers, the very people James had demanded celebrate Christmas. In actuality of course the piece was performed by actors.

James I - detail from a portrait by de Critz,
wearing a high crowned hat with a brooch
Christmas himself is shown very differently from the modern personification being, “attir'd in round Hose, long Stockings, a close Doublet, a high crownd Hat with a Broach, (but probably not as ornate as that worn by James I)  a long thin beard, a Truncheon, little Ruffes, white Shoes, his Scarffes, and Garters tyed crosse.” He has ten children with him, eight sons and two daughters, being personifications of seasonal attributes, and the clothing of each is described. Each child is accompanied by a servant, but while what the servants are carrying, the attributes of the personification, are described, their clothes are not.

The children are:-

Misrule, who is, “In a velvet Cap with a Sprig, a short Cloake, great yellow Ruffe like a Reveller.” Yellow starch for ruffs was very popular, but note that this is 1616, the same year as the trial of Frances Howard, Countess of Somerset who was accused of murdering her husband with the aid of a yellow starcher, Mrs. Anne Turner. Mrs Turner was hanged in her yellow ruff on the 16th November 1616, afterwards James banned yellow starch.(Ribeiro 1986)

Carol wears, “A long tawny Coat, with a red Cap”

Mince pie is a female being dressed, “Like a fine Cookes Wife, drest neat.”

Gambol, unsurprisingly is “Like a Tumbler, with a hoope and Bells; his Torch-bearer arm'd with a Cole-staffe, and a blinding cloth.”

Design by Inigo Jones for a masque costume
 representing a star
Post and Pair – this by the way is a card game- has “a paire-Royall of Aces in his Hat; his Garment all done over with Payres, and Purrs.”

 New Yeares Gift, alludes to the fact that gifts were usually given not at Christmas but at New Year. He wears “a blew Coat, serving-man like … his Hat full of Broaches, with a coller of Gingerbread.”

Mumming is “In a Masquing pied suite, with a Visor.”

Wassall is the second daughter, and is dressed “Like a neat Sempster, and Songster”

Offering wears “a short gowne, with a Porters staffe in his hand.”

Babie-cocke (cake) is the youngest and is “Drest like a Boy, in a fine long Coat, Biggin, Bib, Muckender, and a little Dagger.” So he is dressed like an unbreeched boy.  His servant carries the Christmas cake with the traditional bean and pea.

The children have been lead in byCupid, who is attir'd in a flat Cap, and a Prentises Coat, with wings at his shoulders.” Later in the masque he is described as a “Prentise in Love-lane with a Bugle-maker, that makes of your Bobs, and Bird-bolts for Ladies.” Cupid is traditionally depicted with a bow and arrow, bobs and bird-bolts are types of arrows, and a horn.  Cupid’s mother Venus also appears in the masque, described as “a deafe Tire-woman.”

Jonson, Ben, The works of Benjamin Jonson, the second volume. London: Richard Meighen, 1640.

Marcus, Leah S. The Politics of Mirth: Jonson, Herrick, Milton, Marvell, and the Defense of Old Holiday Pastimes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986.

Ribeiro, Aileen. Dress and morality. London: Batsford, 1986.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Knitted gloves

Top of a nalbinded sock date c.300-500 AD - Egyptian

When looking at early modern period gloves the tendency is to look at the wonderful surviving leather gloves decorated with embroidery in gold, silver and silk threads, but knitted gloves were also around at the time. Knitting is a late comer to the textile crafts, with true knitting starting somewhere around the 10th or 11th centuries in the Middle East.(Rutt 1987)(Turnau 1991)  Items dated earlier than this are usually, on closer inspection, nalbinding, which looks like a twisted knit stitch, see the close ups of a c.300-500AD nalbinded sock and a 16th century knitted silk glove and see if you can see the difference. One point in nalbinding favour is that, although it is difficult to do, it does not unravel as knitting does.

Close up of 16th century knitted silk glove
The earliest surviving knitted gloves in Europe are fragmentary, from burials, and the earliest date probably from the late 13th century.(Cardon 1997)(Lyffland 2005) (Rowe 1969). Moving into the 16th century we have survivals of silk knitted bishops’ gloves such as those belonging to New College, Oxford, and associated with William Warham (c. 1450–1532). Bishop Nicholaus Shimer’s gloves of c.1510 also survive. The V&A museum have two possibly Spanish gloves from this century both knitted in red silk with patterns in yellow silk, and some silver. One has a design incorporating crosses, hearts and croziers, and is knitted at 23 stitches and 20 rows to the inch. (Carbonell 2007) Carbonell’s article is available online here. The other pair in the V&A has the IHS in a medallion on the back of the hand. There are several similar liturgical gloves in the collection of the Worshipful Company of Glovers of London.
Silk knitted gloves were also worn by the gentry, the best known example is probably the Sture glove which belonged to Sten Svantesson Sture, who died aged 25 in 1565, and whose clothes were placed in Uppsala Cathedral, Sweden. The glove is beige and has patterns and lines of red, green, yellow and brown, there are three rings in gold around the bottom of the fingers and the name Frevchen Sophia knitted into the palm. It was attached to his hat band, so it was presumably being worn as a favour.  The Glovers’ Collection has a two pair of ladies elbow length Italian knitted gloves from the second half of the 17th century. One is in pink with bands of florets in silver and gold around the arm, and tendrils extending up the fingers. The other is purple and has stylised animals and flowers.

Knitting in the round
The evidence for working class gloves is less extensive, as the wool from which they were made does not survive as well. The Museum of London has a 16th century child’s woollen mitten, found at Finsbury, in a beige/light brown colour with a simple brown/black pattern around the wrist. From the end of the seventeenth century we have a pair of gloves found in a burial at Gunnister in the Shetland Islands. The original publication of the finds by Henshall (1951-2)  can be found here, but recently the Shetland Museum has undertaken a reconstruction of the complete set of clothes and their leaflet on this can be found here. The gloves are worked in two ply wool at 17 stitches to the inch, and like all the gloves discussed so far are worked in the round. The cuff has a pattern of bands produced by using garter stitch (one round plain knit, one round purl), stocking stitch (all plain knit) and all purl rounds. The backs of the hands have three arrows worked in purl on the stocking stitch. Patterns have been created by various people for reconstructing these gloves just google -Gunnister gloves pattern - and you will find several. If you are an experienced knitted you may be able to work it out from the description in Henshall. The excavations at Copenhagen have also produced a selection of knitted gloves dating from the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Lise Warburg (1989) decribes some of these gloves in detail. The “dandy’s” gloves, found in a moat that was filled in before 1668, is the one with five rows of fringe knitted into the border, and is 18 inches long, elbow length. There are also women’s gloves; one dating to the 1620s has a tight wrist section, but a wide cuff, while another slightly later in date has a cuff covered in sewn on fringe, and Warburg has a pattern created by Ingid Plum based on this glove.

Carbonell, Silvia. “Guantes episcopales con mensaje :Episcopal gloves with a message.” Datatextil, December 2007.
Cardon, Dominique. “French liturgical gloves (unpublished paper).” Unravelling the Evidence: Joint meeting of the Early Knitting History Group, and the Medieval Dress and Textile Society , 1997.

Henshall, A. and Maxwell, S. “Clothing and other articles from a late 17th century grave at Gunnister, Shetland.” Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 1951-2.

Lyffland, Anneke. “A study of a 13th century votic knit fragment.” 2005.
Rowe, Margaret. “Fragments from the tomb of an unknown bishop of Sant Denis, Paris.” Bulletin of the Needle and Bobbin Club, 1969: 27-33.

Rutt, R. A history of handknitting. London: Batsford, 1987.
Turnau, Irena. History of Knitting Before Mass Production . Warsaw: Akcent, 1991.

Warburg, Lise. Knitted gloves from 17th century Copenhagen. Danish Handcraft Guild, 1989.