Category Archives: Court

Clothing Court Elizabeth

A Brief History Of The Ruff

The ruff, so synonymous with Elizabethan England, has always exerted a certain fascination over me, and here I embark on a quick foxtrot through its history.

The earliest ruffs were shirt frills which overlapped the collar of the doublet, and thus stood to attention. However by 1570, as the doublet collar grew higher up the neck, the ruff developed into something larger, more complicated and eventually detachable. Ruffs came in many shapes and sizes but the one which often comes to mind is the cartwheel ruff.

 

 

Ruffs had hundreds of pleats, and were anything from 5 to 22cm wide, comprising of up to five and a half metres of fabric. Given that anyone wearing five metres of pleated fabric around their neck is going to feel somewhat uncomfortable, ruffs were often constructed from very fine soft materials such as lawn or cambric. The higher up the social ladder a person was, the more elaborate and flashy their ruff would be. Some Elizabethan fashion victims even wore two or three at the same, tiered, ‘three falling one upon another, for that’s the new edition now.’

But ruffs were not restricted to the aristocracy. They were worn by almost everyone. The working classes, restricted by cost, had to put up with inferior, and one assumes more uncomfortable ruffs, since, although smaller, they were made of a coarser fabric.

Setting a ruff involved sending it off to be ‘set’ by a professional laundress. Following specific instructions, she could ‘set’ the ruff with big wide curves, or smaller curves, depending on the mood of the owner. In addition to all the frills, one’s ruff could also be decorated with lace, jewels, or embroidery if one had the means.

A description by the witty pamphleteer Philip Stubbs of Elizabeth I’s ruff on one state occasion, lends some eye-popping detail to the extent to which the ruff might be ornamented: ‘It was profusely laced, plaited, and apparently divergent from a centre on the back of her neck; it was very broad, extending on each side of her face, with the extremities reposing on her bosom, from which rose two wings of lawn, edged with jewels, stiffened with wire, and reaching to the top of her hair, which was moulded into the shape of a cushion, and richly covered with gems.’

 

 

Stubbs helpfully describes the additional support of an underpropper called a suppertasse [a wire support attached to the clothes which the ruff could be pinned to], and comments that the ruff’s plaits were adjusted by ‘poking-sticks made of iron, steel, or silver, that, when used, were heated in the fire’. These poking sticks were used to pleat the ruff and came in a variety of shapes and sizes. Originally made of wood or bone, by 1573, as Stubbs points out, the ruff makers had realised that heated sticks worked much more efficiently.

To keep ruffs upright, starch was often used. The ruff was washed and allowed to dry then liberally plastered with starch before being set by the laundress: ‘One arch or piller, wherewith the devil’s kingdome of great ruffes is underpropped, is a certain kind of liquid matter which they call starch, wherein the devill hath learned them to wash and die their ruffes, which, being drie, will stand stiff and inflexible about their neckes. And this starch they make of divers substances — of all collours and hues, as white, redde, blewe, purple, and the like.’

 

Although we always imagine the ruff to have been white, as Stubbs asserts, they did in fact come in a wide variety of colours.

Perhaps fortunately for history, the ruff fell out favour during the reign of James I, and was replaced instead by the more conventional lacy collar.

Sources: Susan Vincent, Liza Picard, Nathan Drake, Philip Stubbs, NPG

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

Court Elizabeth Monarchy

A man raised up by ourself

This snippet is a letter written by Elizabeth I to Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester.  A long-time favourite of the Queen, in 1586 he accepted the title of Governor-General of the Netherlands, inciting Elizabeth’s considerable wrath:

To my lord of Leicester from the queen, by Sir Thomas Heneage

How contemptuously we conceive ourselves to have been used by you, you shall by this bearer understand: whom we have expressly sent unto you to charge you withal. We could never have imagined (had we not seen it fall out in experience) that a man raised up by ourself and extraordinarily favoured by us, above any other subject of this land, would have in so contemptible a sort broken our commandment in a cause that so greatly toucheth us in honour. Whereof although you have showed yourself to make but little account in so most undutiful a sort, you may not therefore think that we have so little care of the reparation thereof as we mind to pass so great a wrong in silence unredressed. And therefore our express pleasure and commandment is that, all delays and excuses laid apart, you do presently upon the duty of your allegiance obey and fulfill whatsoever the bearer hereof shall direct you to do in our name. Whereof fail you not, as you will answer the contrary at your uttermost peril.’

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

Biography Booze Court Death Poetry Vice

The wildest & most fantastical odd man

This snippet follows on from A Ramble in St James’ Park, and is an overview of the life of the second earl of Rochester.

John Wilmot, second earl of Rochester (1647–1680), poet and courtier, was born on 10 April 1647 the only surviving son of Henry Wilmot, first earl of Rochester, a royalist army officer, and his second wife, Anne.  The family moved to Paris when Henry Wilmot went into exile, settling in the Louvre at the court of Henrietta Maria, Charles I’s queen.

In 1660 Rochester was admitted to Wadham College, Oxford.  He was ‘a very hopefull Youth, very virtuous and good natur’d (as he was always) and willing & ready to follow good Advice’. Oxford was a hard drinking university and Rochester had the misfortune to be patronised by Robert Whitehall, known as that ‘useless member’ of Merton College, who, as a result of ‘following the trade of drinking as he was wont, procured himself a red face.’ Whitehall undertook to instruct the boy, ‘on whom he absolutely doted’, in the art of poetry.

Rochester was created MA filius nobilis on 9 September 1661, and on 21st November 1661 he set out on his travels with a governor, Dr Andrew Balfour, a physician and herbalist presumably chosen by the king, and two servants, with all expenses paid by the crown. The group toured Europe, resting at Venice, Padua, and Paris.

Even before Rochester arrived back at court, the king had chosen a bride for him. He was ‘encouraged by the king to make his [addresses] to Mrs. Mallet, who was the great beauty and fortune of the North.’  Elizabeth’s grandfather had brought her to court in 1664 to find her a husband. On 28th May 1665, Pepys recounted the following story:

of my Lord of Rochester’s running away on Friday night last with Mrs. Mallet … who had supped at White-hall and was going home to her lodgings with her grandfather, my Lord Ha[w]l[e]y, by coach, and was at Charing-cross seized on by both horse and foot-men and forcibly taken from him, and put into a coach with six horses and two women provided to receive her, and carried away. Upon immediate pursuit, my Lord Rochester (for whom the King had spoke to the lady often, but with no success) was taken at Uxbridge; but the lady is not yet heard of, and the King mighty angry and the Lord sent to the Tower.

In June 1665, Rochester addressed a petition to the king from the Tower: ‘Sheweth that noe misfortune on earth could bee so sensible to your Petitioner as the losse of your Majesties favour.’ Charles responded on 19th June by ordering Rochester to be discharged from the Tower. Released from prison, and having spent some time abroad, serving in the Anglo-Dutch wars, Rochester returned to court in 1667, and on 29th January, he and Elizabeth were married. In the same year he took his seat in the House of Lords.

In 1668, pregnant with their daughter, Lady Rochester retired to Adderbury, the Wilmot estate in Oxfordshire, where Anne Wilmot (named for Rochester’s mother), was born on 30th April 1669. For twelve years, from 1667 to 1679, Rochester’s life followed a familiar pattern: London during sessions of parliament and Adderbury during recesses; ‘He was wont to say that when he came to Brentford [on the London road] the devill entred into him and never left him till he came into the country again.’

Rochester’s life at court revolved around wine and women. According to Anthony Hamilton’s Memoirs of the comte de Grammont, Rochester seduced Sarah Cooke, who became ‘the prettiest, but also the worst actress in the realm.’  She was followed by others, including the actress Elizabeth Barry. Later reports stated that Rochester took over Barry’s training as an actress and ‘taught her not only the proper cadence or sounding of the voice, but to seize also the passions, and adapt her whole behaviour to the situations of the character.’ In April 1677, Barry, pregnant with Rochester’s child, left ‘this gaudy, gilded stage’.  His daughter, Elizabeth Clerke, was born in December 1677, but Barry was ‘no more monogamous than Rochester,’ and their relationship was very stormy. According to one of Rochester’s letters, Elizabeth ‘made it … absolutely necessary’ for Rochester to remove his daughter temporarily from her care.  In his will he left the child £40 a year.

‘For five years together’, Rochester himself said, ‘he was continually Drunk … [and] not … perfectly Master of himself … [which] led him to … do many wild and unaccountable things.’ He presented himself to Barry as ‘the wildest and most fantastical odd man alive,’ and in June 1675, he ‘in a frolick after a rant did … beat downe the dyill [glass chronometer] which stood in the middle of the Privie Gardens, which was esteemed the rarest in Europe’.  “What … doest thou stand here to fuck time?” he apparently ranted.

Rochester’s writings were admired and infamous. A Satyr Against Mankind (1675), one of the few poems he published (in a broadside in 1679) is a scathing denunciation of rationalism and optimism, but the majority of his poetry was not published under his name until after his death. Because most of his poems circulated only in manuscript form during his lifetime, it is likely that much of his writing does not survive.  Rochester was also interested in the theatre. In addition to an interest in the actresses, he wrote an adaptation of Fletcher’s Valentinian (published in 1685), a scene for Sir Robert Howard’s The Conquest of China, a prologue to Elkanah Settle’s The Empress of Morocco (1673), and epilogues to Sir Francis Fane’s Love in the Dark (1675), Charles Davenant’s Circe, A Tragedy (1677). The best-known dramatic work attributed to Rochester, Sodom, or the Quintessence of Debauchery, has never been successfully proven to be written by him;

In the summer of 1679, Rochester learned that Jane Roberts, a former mistress, had died of syphilis. The year before, she had undergone mercury therapy, a particularly unpleasant therapy to cure the pox; ‘what shee has endured would make a damd soule fall a laughing att his lesser paines’.

Rochester himself succumbed to syphilis in 1679.  He renounced his former life of sin, and ordered ‘all his profane and lewd Writings … and all his obscene and filthy Pictures, to be burned.’ Towards the end, Rochester was ‘delirious’ his friend William Fanshaw observed, ‘for to my knowledge he believed neither in God nor Jesus Christ.’ His mother reported to her sister-in-law that ‘one night … he was disordered in his head’ and talked ‘ribble rabble’ and that on another occasion ‘his head was a little disordered.’ At last there was nothing left but ‘Skin and Bone’. Rochester died at High Lodge about 2 a.m. on 26 July 1680 ‘without … so much as a groan.’ He was buried on 9th August 1680.

Source: Frank H. Ellis, DNB. 
© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved
Court Entertainment

Egges dancing upon a Staffe

This little snippet is an advertisement from 1634 detailing forthcoming entertainments at Court.

This present day shall bee showne rare dancing on the Ropes, Acted by his Majesties servants, Wherein an Irish Boy of eight yeares old doth vault on the high rope the like was never seene: And one Mayd of fifteene yeares of age, and another Girle of foure yeares of age, doe dance on the low Rope.  And the said Girle of foure yeares of age doth turne on the Stage, and put in fourescore threds into the eye of a Needle.  And other rare Acrobatics of body, as vaulting and tumbling on the Stage, and Egges dancing upon a Staffe, with other rare varietyes of Dancing, the like hath not beene seen in the realme of England.  And the merry conceites of Jacke Pudding.

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

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