Mitchell Carroll.

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dress and adornment to those which have furnished an
indictment against them since fashion first held sway
over the feminine mind. All classes of society were influ-
enced by the all-important matter of style, and the women
of each grade of the social scale found their chief content-
ment in copying the manners and dress of those above
them. Earlier we found occasion to notice, in brief, the
sumptuary legislation by which it was sought to limit ex-
travagances in fashion; but the laws have yet to be framed
which can serve permanently to control woman's desires.
So that we shall, perforce, have to continue our discussion
of the evolution — or as the moralists of the Middle Ages
would have expressed it, if they had possessed the facility
of verbal coinage which is common enough with us, the
"devilution " — of woman's attire, just as though law had
never attempted its regulation.

The intricacies of the women's coiffure were many.
The practice of dyeing the hair or otherwise altering its
color is of ancient date. Among the Saxons and Normans
it seems to have been confined to the men, for during
those periods the women kept their heads so completely
covered that there was no inducement for them to resort
to such practices; but at the time of which we are now


treating the custom had some vogue among the ladies,
although it does not appear to have become general until
the reign of Elizabeth, when the ladies had reduced the
art to such a nicety that they were able to produce various
colors and, indeed, almost to change the substance of the
hair itself:

" Lees she can make, that turn a hair that's old,
Or colour'd, into a hue of gold."

A religious writer of the fifteenth century, declaiming
against the various adornments of the hair and the arts
which were employed to stimulate its growth as well as
alter its color, and against the practice of wearing false
hair, says: "to all these absurdities, they add that of sup-
plying the defects of their own hair, by partially or totally
adopting the harvest of other heads." To point a moral,
he then gravely relates an anecdote to the effect that
during the time of a public procession at Paris, which had
drawn a great multitude of people together, an ape leaped
upon the head of a certain fine lady, and seizing her veil,
tore it from her head; with it came her peruke of false
hair, so that it was discovered by the crowd that her
beautiful tresses were not her own; thus, by the very
means to which she had resorted to attract the admiration
of the beholders, she received their contempt and ridicule.

A preposterous form of headdress arose in the time of
Henry IV. and became more exaggerated throughout the
fifteenth century; this was styled the horned headdress.
It began with a heart-shaped headdress, which rose higher
on either side until, in the reign of Henry V., the points of
the heart had become veritable horns. This ungraceful
coiffure assumed all sorts of extravagant and absurd vari-
eties. It became a favorite mark for the shafts of the
satirists and the jests of the wits, to say nothing of themes


for sermons; but the fair ladies, invulnerable to all such
criticisms, were not to be deterred from indulging their pet
follies. One of the first references to the prevailing style
was that made by John de Meun in his poem called the
Codical: "If I dare say it without making them [that is,
the ladies] angry, I should dispraise their hosing, their
vesture, their girding, their head-dresses, their hoods
thrown back with their horns elevated and brought for-
ward, as if it were to wound us. I know not whether
they call them gallowses or brackets, that prop up the
horns which they think are so handsome; but of this I am
certain, that Saint Elizabeth obtained not Paradise by the
wearing of such trumpery." But this style of hair dress
was not made by the hair after all, but by the wimple,
which was raised on either side of the head and supported
by a frame or by pins. John de Meun flourished at the
beginning of the fourteenth century, and had he lived in
the fifteenth, when the horned headdress par excellence,
made up of prongs of hair protruding forward from the
forehead, was in vogue, he would have been still more
aghast. These horns were carefully constructed with the
aid of rolls of linen. Sometimes they had two long wings
on either side, and received the name of "butterflies."
The high, pointed cap which was worn was covered with
a piece of fine lawn, which hung to the ground, and the
greater part of which was tucked under the wearer's arm.
By a writer of the day we are told that the ladies of the
middle rank wore caps of cloth which consisted of several
breadths or bands twisted round the head, with two wings
on each side "like asses' ears." As one wanders through
the mazes of description of the hair dress of the period, he
is prepared to agree with the author to whom we have
just referred, that " it is no easy matter to give a proper
description in writing of the different fashions in the


dresses of the ladies"; and so we shall submit the case
in terms of still another writer's description; Philip Stubbs
says: " Then followeth the trimming and tricking of their
heads, in laying out their hair to the show; which, of force,
must be curled, frizzled, and crisped, laid out in wreaths
and borders, and from one ear to another; and, lest it
should fall down, it is underpropped with forkes, wires,
and I cannot tell what; then, on the edges of their bol-
stered hair, for it standeth crested round about their fron-
tiers, and hanging over their faces, like pendices or vailes,
with glass windows on every side, there is laide great
wreathes of gold and silver, curiously wrought, and cun-
ningly applied toe the temples of their heads; and, for
feare of lacking anything to set forth their pride withal, at
their hair thus wreathed and crested, are hanged bugles, I
dare not say babies, ouches, ringes of gold, silver, glasses,
and such other gew-gawes, which I, being unskillful in
woman's tearmes, cannot easily recompt." He then dis-
cusses the "capital ornaments" upon the "toppes of these
stately turrets," which he informs us consisted of a French
hood, hat, cap, kerchief, and such like. He laments the
fact that to such excesses did the fashions go, and so
widely were the women influenced by them, "that every
artificer's wife almost will not stike to goe in her hat
of velvet every day; every merchant's wife, and meane
gentlewoman, in their French hoods; and every poor cot-
tager's daughter's daughter in her taffeta hat, or else wool
at least, well lined with silk, velvet, or taffeta." He adds
that they had other ornaments for the head, "made net-
wise," and which he says he believes were termed
"cawles," the object of this tinsel being to have the head
with its ornaments glisten and shine like a mass of gold.
He then dismisses with a word the "forked cappes" and
"such like apish toyes of infinite variety."


Face painting, which came in direct derivation from the
tattooing of the ancient Britons, is a practice that at
the time of which we are writing was very prevalent in
England. It came under as vigorous arraignment by the
writers of the fifteenth century as did the ridiculous forms
of hair dress. The cosmetics in use were of many sorts,
and were usually injurious to the skin of the user.

The dress of the women also fell under censure and
satire, although that of the men was even more strongly
reprobated by contemporary writers. It does not do to
accept too readily the strictures passed upon the dress of
any age v/ithout considering the source of the criticism.
Throughout the Middle Ages, the clergy found dress a con-
venient topic for their moralizing, and there is no doubt
that the strictures were often excessive, although the
activity with which the matter was discussed indicates
the importance in which it then was held and also makes
it an important subject for our investigation as a deter-
mining element in the study of the manners and customs
of the period as they relate to woman and reveal her to us.

The great variety of fabrics, many of them imported,
which were in use enabled women to make a wide choice
in the selection of material for their clothing, while it also
afforded the women of the lower orders an opportunity for
almost as varied a display as was made by those in higher
ranks. In the reign of Henry IV., who revived the sumpt-
uary legislation of the kingdom with regard to dress,
Thomas Occliff, the poet, in rebuking the extravagances
of the times, speaks of those who walked about in gowns
of scarlet twelve yards wide, with sleeves reaching to the
ground and lined with fur, of value beyond twenty pounds,
and who, if they had been required to pay for what they
wore, would not have been able to buy enough fur to line
a hood; and he adds that the tailors must soon shape their


garments in the open field for lack of room to cut them in
their houses. He mourns chiefly the extravagance of dress
on the part of the wealthy, because "a nobleman cannot
adopt a new guise, or fashion, but that a knave will follow
his example."

After the middle of the fifteenth century, the ladies
ceased to wear the long trains which they had formerly
affected, and substituted excessively wide borders of fut
or velvet. By the end of the century, the dress of the two
sexes was so nearly alike that it was difficult to distinguish
between them. The men wore skirts over their lower
clothing, their doublets were laced in front like a woman's
stays, and their gowns were open in the front to the girdle
and again from the girdle to the ground, where they trailed
slightly. At first, the ladies imitated the men, who wore
greatly padded trunks, by extending their garments from
the hips with foxes' tails and "bum rolls," as they were
called; but as they could not hope to keep pace with the
vast protuberance of the men's trunks, they introduced
the farthingales, which enabled them to appear as large
as they pleased.

Such were the manners and styles of the period with
which the Middle Ages closed and the modern era began.
They were not markedly different from those of the later
Middle Ages generally, but that was because fundamental
changes in society do not find their first expression in
matters which are superficial. The great revolution which
had been going on in the basic forms of society, through
peaceful processes as well as social upheavals and the
prowess of arms, had its reflux more in the morals than in
the manners of the age. Nevertheless, one cannot pursue
the theme of custom and manners throughout the medie-
val period without being conscious of a progress or develop-
ment significant of more than mere caprice. This, in fact.


was the case. Any philosophic treatment of English
society during the Middle Ages would have to take cogni-
zance of manners and customs as indices of the growth of
political, constitutional, and religious principles; and in
this growth would appear the consistently developing
status of woman.

While it is difficult to fix upon any one fact as com-
prehending the condition of women in English society at
the close of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the
new era, there is one which challenges attention. In
reaping the harvest of the narrow and bigoted times
through which she passed, woman found herself possessed
of one sort of fruitage, namely, public rights. The essen-
tial equality of the woman and the man, which first
appeared in the castle, had become a general fact of Eng-
lish society. Feudalism and its vassalage of the female
sex had disappeared, and the women of the industrial
classes, whatever their economic condition, became sov-
ereigns of themselves. The women of the towns, largely
through the instrumentality of the guilds, had established
precedents which marked the path of their progress as
"persons" before the law. Associated industry drew
them out of their homes, or at least out of the limited
sphere of home life, and placed in their hands the loom
and the spindle of the world's industry. "The candle"
of the goodwife "that went not out by night" no longer
burned for the provident industry of household needs, but
became a veritable torch to illumine the paths of England's
commerce and to add to that glory of civilization which
constitutes her commercial greatness.

Out of the whole body of womankind, the Church had
chosen to select a class of women who were dedicated
to its service and who taught by their acts the respon-
sibility of the prosperous toward their needy brethren;


while this does not appear to have been a benefit to
women generally, but simply a training in charity for the
classes who were consecrated to that object, nevertheless
the influence of these chosen women upon their sex, in
awakening their keener sensibilities toward poverty and
distress, aided in placing upon the brow of woman the
queenly crown of compassion which has made her so
largely a ministering force in modern society.

The elegance and refinement of the women of the
manors, as well as the stability and resourcefulness of
the wives of the wealthy burghers, already gave indication
of the development of the splendid type of modern English
society known as the country gentry and the no less
admirable class of the English tradespeople. Indeed, the
evolution of the middle class as a conservative force is one
of the greatest factors to be considered in medieval study.
"Blue blood," once regarded as a peculiar strain of vital
fluid by which, through some mysterious means, the
upper stratum of society was marked off from the lower,
came to be detected in the veins of those whose only
pedigree was poverty and whose only claim upon the con-
sideration and respect of their fellows was real worth of
character. An aristocracy which could be repleted from
the plebeian ranks of the middle classes of society, upon
whose members titles were bestowed, not because of their
readiness to respond to the needs of the privy purse of a
monarch, but because they had assumed leading and im-
portant positions in relation to England's honor and power,
was an aristocracy that did not become archaic or degen-
erate. The equality of opportunity, which is the pride
and promise of modern society, had its beginnings in those
early days when the gate of emergence from lower class
conditions was so seldom opened for anyone to pass out to
where the ascent of Parnassus might quicken his ambition.


Long after feudalism had ceased, however, it was diffi-
cult to disabuse the minds of people of the idea that the
blood which flowed in the veins of a gentleman was differ-
ent from that of a peasant or a burgher. It is curious to
note one of the legendary explanations of the division of
blood as given by Alexander Barclay, a poet of the reign
of Henry VII. According to his story, while Adam was
occupied with his agricultural labors, Eve sat at home
with her children about her, when she suddenly became
aware of the approach of the Creator, and ashamed of the
number of her children, she hurriedly concealed those
which were less favored in appearance. Some she placed
under hay, some under straw and chaff, some in the
chimney, and some in a tub of draff; but such as were
fair and comely she kept with her. The Lord told her
that He had come to see her children, that He might pro-
mote them in their different degrees. When she presented
them, according to age, one was ordained to be a king,
another a duke, and so on through the list of high dignities.
The maternal solicitude of Eve made her unwilling that
the concealed children should miss all the honors, and she
brought them forth from their hiding places. Their rough
and unkempt appearance, which was due to the nature of
their places of concealment, added to their unprepossess^
ing personalities, disgusted the Lord with them. "None,"
He said, "can make a vessel of silver out of an earthen
pitcher, or goodly silk out of a goat's fleece, or a bright
sword out of a cow's tail; neither will I, though I can, make
a noble gentleman out of a vile villain. You shall all be
ploughmen and tillers of the ground, to keep oxen and
hogs, to dig and delve, and hedge and dike, and in this
wise shall ye live in endless servitude. Even the towns-
men shall laugh you to scorn; yet some of you shall be
allowed to dwell in cities, and shall be admitted to such


occupations as those of makers of puddings, butcliers,
cobblers, tinkers, costard-mongers, hostlers, or daubers."
This, so the story informs us, was the beginning of servile
labor; and such a view of caste was no more displeasing
to the peasantry, who knew nothing better, than it was to
the baron, whose pride it pampered.

A poem of the latter part of the fifteenth century gives
the wishes appropriate to the men and women of the dif-
ferent ranks of French society. Those of the women are
most characteristic. Thus, the queen wishes to love God
and the king, and to live in peace; the duchess, to have
all the enjoyments and pleasures of wealth; the countess,
to have a husband who is loyal and brave; the knight's
lady, to hunt the stag in the green woods; the lady of
gentle blood also loves hunting, and wishes for a husband
valiant in war; the chamber maiden takes pleasure in
walking in the fair fields by the riversides; while the
burgher's wife loves, above all things, a soft bed at night,
with a good pillow and clean white sheets. This state-
ment of the characteristic desires of the various classes of
French women holds good as well for the English women
of that period.

The court of Burgundy, which, during the fifteenth cen-
tury, was notable for its pomp and magnificence and its
ostentatious display of wealth, was regarded as furnishing
the models of high courtesy and gentle breeding; and it
was the centre of literature and art. Circumstances had
brought the court of England into intimate connection with
it, so that England was more affected by Burgundy than
by any other part of Europe. The social character in Eng-
land and France, which, to some extent, had followed
parellel lines since the Norman conquest, now began to
diverge widely. The breakdown of feudalism in England,
where it had never been so fully developed as in France,

21 8 WOMAN

was not contemporaneous with French conditions in this
respect. Consequently, in the latter country, the chasm
between the lower and the upper strata of society grew
ever wider, the lower classes becoming more and more
miserable, and the upper more immoral. In England, as
we have seen, serfdom disappeared, or existed in name
only, and the relation between the country gentry and the
peasants became increasingly intimate and kindly. The
growth of commerce had spread wealth among the middle
classes and had added much to their social comfort.
Although social manners were still very coarse, the influ-
ence of religious reformers, such as the Lollards, was being
felt in an improvement in the moral tone of the middle and
lower classes of society. Moreover, the discussion of great
social questions had become general among the people.
Even in the middle of the fourteenth century, the cele-
brated poem of Piers Plowman took up such discussions,
and one of the tenets of the Lollards was the natural
equality of man. In England, conditions were ripe for the
advent of a new era, and in the fulness of time there came
forth the spirit of new learning, of new industry, of explo-
ration, of investigation, and of religious freedom, to lead
the English people into the inheritance for which they had
been prepared by those centuries over a part of which
hung such a pall as to secure for them the title of the
Dark Ages.

<5f)apter X
STfte miomm of tfte 5Eutior iPerioli


AS the year has its seasons, marked by alternations of
active growth and recuperation for new development, so
likewise has history. If the Middle Ages were a time of
comparative dearth as viewed in the light of the modern
era, certainly there was ample vitality hidden in the quiet
forms and the mechanical fixity of the period. The season
of vernal glory for England, which opened with the reign
of Henry VIII. and found its climax in that of Elizabeth,
was glorious because the beauty and brilliancy which char-
acterized it were due to the splendid utilities which were
passed on to it from the Middle Ages. Art, literature, and
the pleasant pastimes of leisure — the affluence of prosper-
ity — are the efflorescence of a people's history, though the
absence of these graces and privileges of life may not
mean a dearth in any profound sense, for it may be that
their absence but indicates a lack of favoring conditions
for the root stock to put forth foliage and flower. The
simple form of social life which obtained during the Middle
Ages, as contrasted with the brilliancy of intellect and the
breadth of view of the modern era, does not denote any
important difference in the character of the great mass of
the English people, any more than it can be said of the
fallow land not under cultivation that it has less produc-
tivity than the fields which by the waving grain give
evidence of their fertile worth.



The easy acceptance in modern times of the benefits of
inventions which greatly broaden the scope of living and
add immeasurably to its comfort shows how readily people
adjust themselves to advances in the conditions of life.
So that which we look upon as an era was not so consid-
ered by the people who witnessed the stimulus which we
regard as the beginning of all modern intellectual and
social life. For this reason, we need not expect to dis-
cover in the women of the early modern period any radi-
cal difference from their sisters of preceding generations;
but we shall find that, with the change of environment
and the coming of a better state of life in general, woman-
kind was gradually and insensibly affected in ways of
permanent improvement. The opening up of new ave-
nues of human interest and the enlargement of old ones
increased the sphere of woman's life and influence; yet
had it not been for the status she had achieved already,
she would no more have entered prominently into the
blessings and privileges of the new era than did the women
of Greece generally benefit by the Golden Age of Pericles.

It is interesting to note that at the beginning of the
modern era population was increasing so slowly as to be
practically stationary, and, indeed, for generations past
there had been no appreciable increase. Even after the
favorable conditions of the reign of Henry VIII. became
general, population made comparatively slow progress.
Families were not so numerous, or the number of their
members so great, as compared with to-day. It was an
exception for a laborer to maintain his family in a cottage
to themselves. Farm work was commonly done under the
superintendence of country esquires, and the laborers lived
in the paternal cottage and remained single, marrying only
when by their providence they had managed to save
Enough to enable them to enter upon some other career.


The competition of other countries, notably France, with
the industries of England proved disastrous to many forms
of England's industrial activities; and to the introduction
into the kingdom of a number of wares and merchandise
of foreign make was attributed the great number of idle
people throughout the realm. To counteract this condi-
tion, Henry issued statutes for the encouragement of manu-
facturing. One of these aimed to stimulate the linen
industry. In order that the men and women living in
idleness, which was styled "that most abominable sin,"
might have profitable employment, it was ordained and
enacted that every person should sow one-quarter of an
acre in flax or hemp for every sixty acres he might have
under cultivation. The immediate purpose of the act was
to keep the wives and children of the poor at work in their
own houses, but it also indicated that the condition of
manufactures in England was not such as to encourage an
enlarging population.

The condition of the laboring classes during the reign of
Henry VIII. was not such as to excite general dissatisfac-
tion; indeed, there are evidences of a general state of

Online LibraryMitchell CarrollWoman: in all ages and in all countries → online text (page 15 of 30)