Category Archives: Women

Curiosities Witchcraft Women

Mother Shipton

In 1641, a pamphlet entitled Two strange PROPHECHIES was published, purporting to be the true predictions of  Mother Shipton, who, as a result, subsequently became renowned as a famed witch and prophetess. The prophecies were reprinted over the next two centuries, and by the end of the eighteenth century, Mother Shipton was a well-known figure in folklore; appearing in pantomimes and songs.  Charles Dickens kept interest in Mother Shipton alive by printing a story by Dudley Costello in which the famous witch foretold the end of the world in 1881.

To this day, in her supposed home town of Knaresborough near York, visitors can visit her ‘birthplace’, a cave near the Dropping Well. Evidence suggests that Mother Shipton is an entirely fictitious individual, the only evidence of her existence coming from the pamphlets themselves.

This is the first of her famous prophecies:

If Eighty eight be past, then thrive
Thou mayst, still thirty four, or five.
After the E is dead, a Scot
Shall governe there: and if a plot
prevent him not, sure then his sway
Continue shall till many a day.
The ninth shall dye young, and the first
perhaps shall reigne: but (oh) assurst
Shall be the time, when thou shalt see
To sixteene joyned twenty three;
For then the Eagle should have helpe
By Craft to catch the Lyons whelpe,
And hurt him sore; except the same
Be cured by the Maidens name.
In July month of the same yeere
Saturne conjoyned with Jupiter.
Perhaps false prophets shall arise,
And mohamet shall shew his prize.
And sure much alteration
Shall happen in Religion.
Beleeve this truly, if then you see,
A Spanyard a Protestant be.


© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

Cosmetics Household Women

Cloaths for the Face which take away the Wrinkles

These snippets come from a little advert from 1685 for a woman in Wine-Office-Court, Fleetstreet, at the Sign on the Acorn, who runs the equivalent of an early modern beauty salon. Her products and services shed further light on the sorts of cosmetics women in the seventeenth century might have been buying.

She hath most excellent Washes for the face, [which have] been Experienced by persons of the greatest quality, it hath these excellent qualities, as makes the Face most lovely, plump, smooth and beautiful, taking away all purities of the Skin.

She hath most excellent Pomatums [creams] of several pleasant Scents, and for several profitable uses.

She hath a most rare and easie Art in shaping the Eye-brow, and in making low Foreheads high, taking the Hair off so that it shall never come again, she hath also an Art to cause the Hair to grow thick and to colour it to what colour they please, and to continue so.

She hath a most excellent way in making of Masks and Forehead Cloaths for the Face, which take away the Wrinkles, and makes the face smooth, lovely, soft & fair, taking away all impurities of the Skin.

She hath very effectual Pastes and Balls for the smoothing of Hands, and keeping them white, with many other fine secrets very useful for the Female Sex.

Lastly she hath a most Excellent Water to clean and make the Teeth as white as Ivory in two or three times using. Likewise a speedy Remedy for the Tooth Ach, taking away the pain, though never so violent, in a moment.

She is to be spoken with from 8 in the Morning till 12 then 2 till 8 at Night.

Other adverts from the same period feature:

A curious red pomatum to plump and colour the lips, which keeps them all the winter from chapping.

A Plaister to take off Hair from any part of the body.

A Gentlewoman, who cutteth and curleth Gentlemens, Gentlewomens, and Childrens Hair.  If any Gentlemens or Childrens Hair be so Lank, she makes it Curle in a little time like a Periwig.

Princesse Powder which ‘by means of this Powder Madame de Montspan has used all her life; she has preserved the fineness and Delicateness of her Skin, so that she does not appear above eighteen or twenty years of Age, though she be fifty-five.

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

Booze Entertainment Men Music Women

The delights of the bottle

These rather charming snippets, on the delights of women and booze, come from a song entitled The Delights of the bottle, or, The town-galants declaration for women and wine being a description of a town-bred gentleman with all his intrigues, pleasure, company, humor, and conversation … : to a most admirable new tune, every where much in request (1675)

The Delights of the Bottle, & charms of good wine,
To the pow’r & the pleasures of love must resign,
Though the night in the joys of good drinking be past,
The debauches but still the next morning doth last;
But loves great debauch is more lasting and strong,
For that often lasts a man all his life long.
Love, and Wine, are the bonds that fasten us all,
The world, but for this, to confusion would fall;
Were it not for the pleasures of love and good wine,
Man-kind, for each trifle, their lives would resign;
they’d not value dull life, or wou’d live without thinking
Nor Kings rule the world, but for love & good drinking.

For the Drabe, and the Dull, by sobriety curs’d,

That would ne’r take a glass, but for quenching his thirst
He that once in a Month takes a touch of the Smock ,
And poor Nature up-holds with a bit and a knock.
What-ever the ignorant Rabble may say,
Tho’ he breaths till a hundred, he lives but a day.
Let the Puritan preach against wenches, and drink,
He may prate out his Lungs, but I know what I think;
When the Lecture is done, he’ll a Sister entice;
Not a Letcher in Town can Out-do him at Vice;
Tho’ beneath his Religion, he stifles his joys,
And becomes a Debauch without clamour or noise.
‘Twixt the Vices of both, little difference lyes,
But that one is more open, the other precize:
Though he drinks like a chick, with his eye-balls lift up,
Yet I’ll warrant thee boy, he shall take off his cup:
His Religious debauch, does the gallants out-match,
For a Saint is his Wench, and a Psalm is; his Catch.

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

Clothing Court Women

Farthingales & Vizards – Elizabethan Women & their Dress

This post follows on from The History of the Ruff, and Elizabethan Men & Their Dress.

For women, the equivalent of the doublet was the bodice. It was sometimes known as a ‘pair of bodies’, and had curved seams which flattened the breasts. The bodice also had a wooden or bone insert in the front, which additionally pressed and flattened the breasts and stomach. It is this bodice which gives the torsos of Elizabethan women the unique inverted V shape. New advances meant metal eyelets could be incorporated, which enabled the bodice to be laced up much more tightly than had previously been the case. The bodice often revealed a whiff of cleavage, which could be brazonly sported, or hidden beneath a little smock or ‘partlet’ worn at the neck. As with the some doublets, the bodice had separate sleeves, pinned or fastened on at the shoulder.



Over the bodice women wore a skirt, under which was a farthingale. Early versions were made with hoops of willow or whale bone, sewn into an underskirt. Some women eschewed the farthingale in favour of padding round the hips, like an attachable French bolster. The flounce of a farthingale depended on how it was pinned, and in essence arranging it was like arranging a ruff; it could be altered depending on taste, seasons and fashions. The skirt worn over it could be endlessly adapted; folded and pinned in which ever manner suited the whim of the wearer. Early farthingales were quite simple affairs, but under the reign of Elizabeth the wheel farthingale became increasingly popular. Essentially a wheel shape constructed of wire or whale bone, or an underskirt in the same shape stiffened at regular intervals from waist to ankle, wheel farthingales were weildy and cumbersome. In both cases the skirt projected away from the waist at right angles and could be anything up to 120cm from side to side.



Skirts were made from a variety of fabrics, and were as elaborate as the wearer could afford.  Jewels, embroidery, ribbons, all could be stitched on, and removed to be worn on another outfit.  In chilly weather women would wear cloaks, often fur-lined with hoods. The favoured leg wear of women, as with men, was the stocking. Usually terminating under the knee, the fancier versions incorporated embroidery and were fashioned from silk, tied with garters. Poorer women, like their male counterparts, would have worn stockings of wool.



Some women, like men, did not wear knickers. The more aristocratic ladies may have sported linen drawers beneath their underskirts, but their poorer sisters were forced to endure long pant-free winters.  In bed, women wore nightcaps, and smocks made of linen.

Up until 1575, Elizabeth I had forty pairs of red velvet shoes, then she appears to have adopted shoes made from Spanish leather, presumbably for practical reasons. Most working women would have worn stout, unpretentious leather shoes but ladies at Court, following the Queen’s fashions, wore decorative shoes with heels made of wood. Most women over a certain age would cover their heads with caps and hoods, but young married women and virgins were allowed to gad about bare-headed. Nets of gold thread sprinkled with pearls and worn over the hair were very popular.



Women often wore silk or velvet masks, or vizards, when they were out and about to protect their complexions.


Extant Elizabethan Vizard (via The Portable Antiquities Scheme)


Gloves, scarves and furs were also available to those who could afford them. While a poor woman might have to make do with a plain woollen scarf, a woman of means could travel about swathed in sable or silver bear. Jewellery was fashionable with the wealthy – it was hip for both sexes to sport a single ear ring, and both women and men wore jewels on their fingers and around their necks.



For more on the extant vizard, see here
Sources as for the History of the Ruff & Elizabethan Men’s Clothing

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

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