Dressing the Queen: dress of Ann Boleyn and her ladies

2012

 

There was a packed meeting on 17th April when Molly Housego presented "Dressing the Queen" - an enthralling account of the clothing worn by Ann Boleyn and her ladies.  The mainly female audience was delighted with the splendour of the costume, but relieved that they were not burdened with such cumbersome apparel.  We had wondered why it took Molly over forty minutes to dress, but we understood why as the many layers were revealed, but only with the help of volunteer "ladies in waiting".

 

I've always liked Ann Boleyn, and I was pleased to hear that she does not deserve her reputation as a hussy.  Born at Blickling Hall (but in a building that precedes the present one) she was an educated lady, and a staunch Catholic - just as Henry VIII was at the time.  She came back from France some time in the 1520s. A "different sort of a girl"- witty, clever and amusing, her dark hair and eyes making her stand out amongst the largely blond and blue-eyed ladies of the Court.  She dressed in the French style, wearing the French hood and square neckline that we see in her portraits.

 

Of course she attracted Henry's attention, even though it was eleven years between first meeting and her coronation in 1533.  Henry's annual clothing budget was £40,000 (what on earth would that be now?) and it is evident that heavy sums were also spent on Ann's clothing.  Just imagine, six yards of silk for a kirtle (a sort of under-dress), ten yards for the dress, and another ten for the lining!

 

Now, I'm a mere male, more interested in money, how rarely even the richest bathed and the fact that these huge elaborate dresses were never washed. Even more bizarre, that they were hung in the garderobe because urine kept the moths away!  "Garderobe" basically means the hole in the thick wall which was the nearest the Tudors came to an en-suite toilet. The secret lay in wearing underclothes that were washed and kept away from deodorant free bodies by elaborate structures comprised of steel hoops. 

 

The bell-shaped undergarment that held Anne's dress away and which swayed so elegantly as she walked was called a farthingale - apparently a kind of crinoline.  I jotted down a great deal more during this intriguing talk and could go on for ages - but I won't.  Maybe one of the ladies will decide to add more - after all it was one of our ladies who took these photographs of Molly - who herself looked and moved like the queen she portrayed.

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