Monday 11 September 2023

One gentleman's 1645-6 list of his linens


On the March 25th 1645 John Willoughby (1571-1658) of Leyhill, in the county of Devon made “a particular note of all my linen.” Two months later he added "More sent unto me first of June 1645.” There were more additions to the list on the 20th November 1645 and the 26th January 1645/6. John Willoughby was travelling at the time he made his note, from Devon, into Somerset and then to Wales, so this is probably not all his linen, just what he took with him. He wrote that he came into Wales on 14th August 1645, and noted that he then sent home some linen, and had had two bands “stolen away” at Weston Bampfydle, a village in south Somerset where one of his three daughters lived. (1)

Willoughby, who was in his seventies, did not take part in the Civil War. He has been described as a moderate royalist, but he was well enough regarded by Parliamentarians for Fairfax, in November 1645, to tell his troops not to plunder Leyhill. This did not stop Willoughby from writing at one point that, “My house is, and hath been, full of soldiers this fortnight, such uncivil drinkers and thirsty souls, that a barrel of beer trembles at the sight of them, and the whole house nothing but a rendezvous of tobacco and spitting.”

The linens listed:-


The list has three shirts and then a further two new shirts are added. Because of the amount of neck and wristwear that he owns these are unlikely to be like the shirt that belonged to Colonel Henry Slingsby (1602-1658), which he supposedly wore to his execution, and which has integrated collar and cuffs. They are more likely to be similar to the 1659 example in the Livrustkammaren, which was being worn by Admiral Claes Bielkenstierna when he was shot. An examination of, and pattern for, this shirt is in Pattens of Fashion 4. (2 pp. 26 & 74-5) (figure 1)

1. Admiral Claes Bielkenstierna's shirt, 1659. Livrustkammaren


 Neckwear and wristwear

In the first list Willoughby has seven bands, described as three with lace and four plain, these are accompanied by seven falls. Falls in this case may indicate cuffs, as later listings have the falls as pairs. The June additions include “3 bands and 3 pairs of falls, 2 of them plain and one of them with lace.” The November additions have “2 falling bands and 2 pairs of falls with lace and one plain,” and a further three pairs of falls and three new bands. In January there are three new bands and falls, two with lace and one plain. This means over a period of ten months he receives no less than fifteen bands, with a similar number of pairs of cuffs. He also has three neckcloths. Quite how much lace might be on the seven laced bands that he has is difficult to ascertain. An example in the Victoria and Albert Museum, dating to 1630-40, has a very deep lace edging. The plain bands are likely to resemble the band in the 1645 portrait of Sir Edward Nicholas (1593-1669). (figure 2)

2. Sir Edward Nicholas by William Dobson. 1645. National Portrait Gallery.

Linen caps

Willoughby has five caps, and a further “2 other linen caps within my satin caps and red cloth cap.” The portrait of Sir Edward Nicholas shows him wearing a cap of this type, though in black, so possibly satin and requiring a linen liner. The Victoria and Albert Museum has a plain linen liner, with earflaps, while the Museum of London has a linen liner with a trim of needle-made lace. The V&A example has been examined by Susan North, and a pattern has been produced. (3 pp. 158-61)

3. Linen cap liner, 1600-1640. Museum of London.



Six handkerchiefs plus one other “wrought handkerchief which MW sent me.” are in the list.  In November he adds one old handkerchief. The wrought handkerchief, wrought means embroidered, might be similar to an example in the Burrell Collection in Glasgow, which has no lace, but does have an embroidered blackwork border. The pattern for the embroidery is available on the museum website.

4. Handkerchief. First half 17th century. Burrell Collection, Glasgow.


Linen leg and foot wear

Willoughby has three pairs of boot hose tops, three pairs of socks and one bootlace. Boot hose tops are quite common, you could have a plain linen hose leg, easily washable, and then a separate embellished top. A pair of boothose belonging to king Gustav Adolphus, which he wore at the 1632 Battle of Lutzen, are in the Livrustkammaren, they are in one piece rather than separated, but they illustrate well how the tops could be embellished. The socks are to protect the foot of a stocking from wear from a shoe, they are the seventeenth century equivalent to trainer socks, and are unseen within a shoe. 

5. Gustav Adolphus's 1632 boothose. Livrustkammaren.



 1. Gray, Todd. Devon Household Accounts 1627-59. Part 1. Exeter : Devon and Cornwall Record Society, new series, vol. 38, 1995.

2. Arnold, Janet. Patterns of Fashion 4. London : Macmillan, 2008.

3. Braun, Melanie et al. 17th Century Men's Dress Patterns 1600-1630. London : Thames & Hudson in association with the Victoria and Albert Museum, 2016.