Blog Cabinet of Curiosities

Cabinet of Curio-stories – An Elizabethan Hair Pin

Silver bodkins for your hair,

bobs that maidens love to wear

The Pedlar’s Song, from ‘The Triumphant Widow’ 1677

opnamedatum: 2005-10-26
Portrait of Mertijntje of Ceters (1609-24), anonymous, 1623

I love looking at what people have found under our feet by metal detecting or digging in their garden. The past is buried so close to the surface! Here’s an Elizabethan pin found by Don Sherratt of Taynton Metal Detecting Club in a field on the outskirts of Newent in 2006. The pin is very small but decorated with coils of gold wire and raised heads – such exquisite workmanship! The loop was probably for the attachment of a chain to help prevent such a valuable item from being lost. It could have been used to pin a dress, or more likely, the hair.
Tudor Hair pin

During the Elizabethan period gold hair decorations were very fashionable with wealthy women, as you can see from these portraits . These ornate gold and silver pins were worn in the hair, often with dangling pearls, or droplets made of gold wire. Sometimes the decorated finial would protrude over the centre of the forehead, and sometimes the decoration would be set off-centre wound into the hair. Hair was sometimes padded out with horsehair or false hair to give the required bulk. Several Tudor hair pins have been found by metal detectorists during recent years, and most have the pin deliberately bent. You can imagine the lady twisting the pin into the hair to encourage it to stay put, but on this occasion the twisting obviously didn’t work as it was there for someone to find, all these years later.

BAL99924 Portrait of an Elizabethan Lady with a Parrot (oil on canvas) by English School, (16th century) oil on canvas Private Collection English, out of copyright
Portrait of an Elizabethan Lady with a Parrot (oil on canvas) by Anon. English School, (16th century)

You might also like: Tudor Jewellery on Pinterest

Cabinet of Curio-Stories – An Apostle Spoon

Sugar – Favourite Nip of the Tudors

Blog Cabinet of Curiosities Seventeenth Century Life

Cabinet of Curio-stories – Shoes from the Mary Rose

Mary Rose A-row-of-leather-shoes-The Mary Rose, warship of  King Henry VIII, lay undiscovered beneath the waves for almost 300 years until one day, a fisherman’s line got tangled in the wreckage and her whereabouts became known. That was in 1836, but the salvage wasn’t attempted until the 1980’s when about 60 million people around the world switched on their TVs to watch the salvaged hull rise to the surface.

The ship is now on permanent display at the Mary Rose Museum. Approximately 19,000 artifacts were discovered in the wreckage, ­including domestic items such as leather shoes and a velvet hat, alongside militaria such as weapons and the paraphernalia of war.

Very little is known about the clothing worn by everyday people in Tudor times, because most paintings depict royalty or rich people in court dress. The Mary Rose gives us a unique insight into what the average man wore in 1545. Preserved in the silt all that time, leather shoes survived well, as did garments made from wool or silk. Linen degrades in the damp, so few undergarments have been found as these would have been made from linen.

There is a collection of over 500 shoes. Doesn’t it make you shiver to look at them? Weirdly, my husband has a pair of leather loafers almost identical to these, and just as old-looking! More than  a hundred and thirty longbows and several thousand arrows were among the finds, so I guess these shoes may have belonged to English archers.

More about the Mary Rose on Wikipedia – (actually a rather well-compiled article)

Lovely unusual words for Tudor and Stuart footwear:

Buskins –  calf length boots, often open at the toe or worn as overboots. The word buskin, first recorded in English in 1503 means “half boot”, and is of unknown origin, perhaps from Old French brousequin

Gamaches – high boots

Chopines – sometimes called Chapineys, were slip-on over-shoes made of wood and covered with leather

Galoches – or Galage, was a protective overshoe – we get the more modern word ‘galoshes’ from this. It originally meant clog, in french.

Pantofles – soft slippers for indoors

Pinsons – or pincnets, delicate indoor shoes (see below)



The Mary Rose Museum

The BBC website

The Guardian

The Elizabethan Era

In my Cabinet of Curio-stories you might also like: An Apostle Spoon , Henry VIII & Anne Boleyn Entwined


#LuckySeven – lines from my new novel

I was tagged by Barbara Kyle in a game where you have to reveal the seventh line of the seventh chapter of the book you are working on. So here’s mine – from my current work in progress which is based around Pepys’s Diary.  According to the Diary, John Unthank was Elizabeth Pepys’ tailor, and he had a large shop at Charing Cross which served as a meeting place for ladies to gossip.

‘Despite her protestations that she did not need new clothes, a carriage was called, and they put up their hoods and set off to Unthank’s. Unthank’s Tailors was a small cramped shop that smelt of wool and velvet and the sweat of Mr Unthank’s underarms. Once out of her wet cloak, Deb fidgeted and held her breath as the tailor lifted his arms to measure brusquely around her chest and waist.

She showed no enthusiasm when a bolt of lilac twill was thrown onto the table. Elisabeth exclaimed over its shade and texture, and asked its price, but Deb was silent. To think, a letter about her mother was waiting for her at this very minute and she had to be here fussing over cloth and trimmings.’

Perhaps they were about to have something like this made? This dress, influenced by fashions from France, dates from approx. 1695. I would like to tag authors Gabrielle Kimm, Carol Cram, Carol McGrath, Judith Starkston, Debra Brown, Judith Arnopp and Philippa Keyworth.


cameoo asked: have you found any 17th century fashion? all the nice pieces i can find are 18th century and foward and im looking to see what the time period around the Salem withc trials were like. brsis mentioned this to me yesterday and it slipped my mind (sorry!) Janet Arnold’s The Cut and Construction of Clothes for Men and Women, C.1560-1620 and the C.1660-1860 is the best source for extant examples from these periods. I’ve never actually looked into Puritan fashion, I’m more of a Cavalier! Around this period I’m still hanging out across the pond at the French court and chillin with Charles II! The Stuart’s are in Power and they brought with them the loveliest style of dress.  The above dress is from 1695-1700 and is called the Valdemar Slot Gown. The fabric is moss green silk brocade with real gold threads, and the museum that owns it claims that it is amongst the eldest whole surviving civile female outfits in Europe. This is the closest I could find to 1692 (Salem Witch Trials) but I’ll keep looking around for you!