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Friday, September 25, 2009

Head Coverings of Medieval English Noblewomen

When we watch movies set in “medieval times,” the fashions we see can be authentic or a muddle of the medieval period, which spanned more than 400 years.

Many costume research sources delineate periods of fashion development by decades or centuries. I prefer to use each king’s reign (John Peacock’s approach in Costume 1066-1990s). Eighteen kings ruled England from 1066-1485. Two never married (William II and the boy king Edward V). The other kings and their 21 medieval queens, many from foreign lands, influenced national fashion just as presidents and their wives do now. Other influences included the Crusades and improved technology, which enabled the introduction of new fabrics and designs. Sumptuary laws decreeing which classes could wear which fabrics Following is a brief summary of some of the major changes in medieval English headdresses.

Women almost always wore headdresses because it was considered unseemly for them to show their hair. In William the Conqueror’s time, women simply wore a piece of plain cloth (often linen) draped over their heads, held by a narrow band. Some women wore their hair in two long braids around the turn of the 12th century, some with no veils. By Stephen’s reign, headbands were coming into vogue. These were worn with a veil.

As time passed, women also added a barbette, a strip of white fabric that went under the chin. Others wore wimples, similar to the white cloths some nuns still wear around their faces. Some form of the wimple or barbette with a circlet or hat continued through Edward II. A crispinette, or hair net, became a popular hair accessory of the time.

By Edward III, hair was braided and worn over the ears, not unlike Star Wars’ Princess Leia, except that often a crispinette covered the round braids, and was often worn with a hat or band (called a fillet). Padded roll headdresses emerged in the reign of Richard II, and were often jeweled or embroidered and were often worn with a short veil by Henry IV and the late 14th century.

By Henry V and into the beginning of Henry VI (1422-1461), rolls were worn over other headdresses or crispinettes, some with veils, some not. Transparent veils came into vogue during the latter part of Henry VI. Tall, conical headdresses called hennins (popular in the court of Burgandy, which influenced fashion) with veils appeared during the early years Edward IV but were replaced by fairly boring hats and caps with folded back brims by the end of his reign.


Ruth Kaufman owns approximately 200 books about medieval and early Renaissance England and has written 5 medievals. Visit her at www.ruthjkaufman.com or www.ruthtalks.com.

6 comments:

Melisende said...

Thanks for your article, Ruth, introducing us to the medieval world of the "veil". And yet the veil has not solely been confined to the medieval afterall - Muslim women keeping the tradition of covering the hair alive to this day.

LisaM said...

Very interesting! I'm finding so much about head coverings - all through time and in every place. Thank you for sharing this information.

M said...

Wonderful bit of information - but one added note. I believe women wore head coverings for the same reason the Amish and Mennonites still do today and catholic women wore coverings in church. In the Bible (1 Cor. 11:3-16) it claims (Please, don't think I'm taking a stand, just idefiying): 6 For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head. 7 For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.. . Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.

Intersting stuff

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