Saturday, May 31, 2014

Costume Spotlight | The Devil's Whore: Seventeenth-century Masks and Gender Debates

For a few years now I have loved a mini-series called 'The Devil's Whore' that was released in 2008. As the seventeenth century is my favourite historical period, especially in England, and the main period of my own academic research, it's refreshing to not only see a production that deals with the period (this century is severely under represented), but one that does it well.

Essentially, the mini series details the life and times of the fictional Angelica Fanshawe throughout the period of the English Civil War (late 1630s- early 1650s). Through this fictional aristocratic character (Andrea Riseborough) we are brought into contact with Oliver Cromwell (Dominic West), Edward Sexby (John Simm) and Thomas Rainsborough (Michael Fassbender), to name just a few. Recently a new series was released which claims to be it's sequel, called 'New Worlds' (although not nearly as well written, researched or as entertaining as 'The Devil's Whore', and very loosely tied to it).

Although some of the characters are a tad under developed and some scenes lacking in background (I read that this was because it was originally commissioned as a 10 part series that was later cut down to four), this series is beautifully filmed and really brings to life the grittiness of war ravaged seventeenth-century England, thanks in part to the production design and costumes.

The costumes are beautiful and what I love most about this production are the bits of detail that have been added - most of which a viewer would not pick up on unless they knew the period in England quite well.

For example, in the first episode when Angelica is being prepared for her marriage to her cousin Harry Fanshawe, and a man is being whipped in the square outside Whitehall palace, we see a masked woman.

This character in the mini series seems to be a direct reference to a famous etching of 1643 called Winter by Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-1677).

Wenceslaus Hollar, Winter, an etching, 1643. British Museum, London

 Masks were, believe it or not, worn frequently in the streets of England during the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Full faced masks were used primarily to shade the wearer's face from the sun's rays, as the wearers were usually aristocratic women whose pale skin reflected their position in life. Some of these masks have survived and were made from black velvet and silk/leather, such as this one found in the wall of a sixteenth-century building in England. Other masks, such as the one depicted above, and in the film, were used by women to disguise themselves. Samuel Pepys, in a diary entry from 18th February 1667, describes such a woman at a playhouse he attended: 
"And one of the ladies would, and did sit with her mask on, all the play, and, being exceeding witty as ever I heard woman, did talk most pleasantly with him; but was, I believe, a virtuous woman, and of quality. He would fain know who she was, but she would not tell; yet did give him many pleasant hints of her knowledge of him, by that means setting his brains at work to find, out who she was, and did give him leave to use all means to find out who she was, but pulling off her mask. He was mighty witty, and she also making sport with him very inoffensively, that a more pleasant 'rencontre' I never heard." 
In the film the girl who is depicted as wearing the mask grabs come pamphlet's of Freeborn John Lilburne, who opposed the powerful rule of Charles I in England. Possibly she was a well-to-do wife or daughter of a cavalier and didn't want to be recognised?

Scenes in the film that depict Angelica Fanshawe in men's clothing, whilst crucial to the story line, were probably also allusions by the screen writers to the gender pamphlet debates of the period.


The anxiety that had surrounded boys playing female parts by dressing as women in Elizabethan playhouses spilled over into the streets of seventeenth-century London in what could be termed a ‘gender crisis’ which was debated through popular media.  Pamphlets from the time reveal fears over its construction on the street by cross-dressing women and men.  In the last years of King James I’s reign (this it, the 1620s) women were accused of dressing and behaving like men and the King even took upon himself to call together his clergymen and to have them “inveigh vehemently against the insolencies of our women, and theyre wearing of brode brimmed hats… [and] pointed dublets…” Popular Jacobean plays such as The Roaring Girl (1607-10) written by Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker also reflected these debates.

Front piece to 'The Roaring Girl' by Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker, 1621

The screen writers of ‘The Devil’s Whore’ were probably more than aware of pamphlets like Hic Mulier (‘The Manlike Woman’), which stated that women had “cast off the ornaments of your sexes” such as “the modest attire of the comely Hood, Cowl, Coif, handsome Dress or Kerchief…  [and]concealing straight gown” and in exchange had taken on a “monstrousness” by wearing “Ruffianly broad-brimmed Hat and wanton Feather… lascivious civil embracement of a French doublet being all unbuttoned to entice…”, and weaved these debates into the story line that concerns Angelica and Joliffe.

Engraving from 'Hic Mulier', 1620, depicting women dressed as men receiving men's haircuts from a barber

Whilst the women's fashions in this film are beautiful, and for the most part, historically accurate, the men are the true peacocks of this mini-series. I love the men's fashions during this period, they were so much more earthy and forgive me, 'masculine', than those of the later eighteenth century.

Van Dyck, 1638 

Men's suit, 1630s, Victoria and Albert Museum

Abraham Bosse 'Valet de chambre' French 1630s

Charles I, 1631

I'd be interested to know how many of these costumes were made specifically for this production, as a lot are usually sourced from costume houses for series such as this.

Anyway, if this hasn't convinced you to watch 'The Devil's Whore' then I'll leave you with a scene from the mini-series!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Artefact Focus: 18th century shoes from the Joseph Box Collection at the Powerhouse Museum

I realised I haven't posted anything on my blog for over a month! I've been super busy with my PhD, but to make up for my absence I thought I'd post some photos of eighteenth-century shoes that are in the Powerhouse Museum's Joseph Box collection. Click the artefact description underneath the pictures to be taken to the museum catalogue.

Embroidered linen tie shoes, England, 1675-1725, Powerhouse Museum - H4448-55 
First we have this pair of shoes dated to the late 17th or early 18th century and were first exhibited in the Bethnal Green Museum Shoe Exhibition held in London, England in 1897. 


In curatorial notes from the Powerhouse Museum it is stated that these are: "a women's pair of straight tie shoes of white rand construction with fingertip pointed toes and covered Louis heels. Shoes consist of linen uppers embroidered with pink blue and yellow floral motifs featuring medium high tongue and small open sides with short un-pierced latchets to tie over the tongue. Side seams and edges are all bound with heel covered in matching fabric. Shoes lined in white kid with leather insole arrow shaped and turned over to form toe puff. Leather sole stitched in the channel."

Pair of embroidered linen laced shoes, 1685 - 1735, Powerhouse Museum - H4448-7
Secondly, and similar in appearance to the previous shoes, these are also a pair of women's straight laced shoes of rand construction with visible stitching and upcurved blunt pointed over a needlepoint toe, and with a covered Louis heel. The uppers of these shoes consist of embroidered linen, lined with silk and leather, featuring a high cut vamp with square tongue, under latchets tying in centre front, oblique side seams, centre back seam and leather soles. The edges are bound in pink silk.

Interestingly, although these are believed to have been made in England between 1705-1715, when footwear specialist June Swann was invited to view them at the Powerhouse Museum she noted that: "Although shoes were made "straight" and would normally have been swapped daily to equalise wear, each shoe has been pieced at the bunion joint where wear would be greatest, if worn continually on the same foot. There is no evidence the piecing was done after the present soles were attached. This suggests that the uppers were either made into shoes on a previous occasion (probably not before the late 17th century when women's toe shapes change to a point) or, less likely, that the uppers were pieced during the making of this pair. I suggest testing whether there is enough material in an early 17th century coif, which seems unlikely; they are probably made from a bodice. There is a smaller piece of piecing in the quarters. I am sure that, having been saved for almost 100 years, any embroidery not used in the making of a pair of shoes, would have continued to be saved, and would be available, say, a year or so later to piece and re-make this pair"

So it seems that the uppers on these shoes were possibly made from an older bodice or jacket? When I first saw them I noted in my mind that the embroidery motifs certainly do not resemble those of the eighteenth century. For example, if we take those given in the V&A's Seventeenth Century Women's Dress Patterns, which are taken from Randle Holme's The Academy of Armoury, as well as extant examples from their collection, it seems likely that the fabric used for the shoe uppers was from an older 17th century garment.


The shoe uppers that are decorated with a pattern of silver scrolls and silk flowers embroidered in the centres closely resemble extant 17th century garments such as these below:

Jacket - 1590-1630 - V&A - 919-1873

Jacket - England - 1600-1625 - V&A - 1359-1900
As an historian of the early modern period there are few surviving extant clothing examples, not only due to the age and fragility of these items, but also because many were remade into other items in later centuries (the nineteenth century was notoriously bad for this!). But that's not always a bad thing, as it can lead to garments with an interesting history likes these shoes.

Silk brocade buckle shoe, 1740 - 1749, Powerhouse Museum - H4448-85/1
Lastly, here is a pair of silk brocade buckle shoes dated to the 1740s. According to the Powerhouse Museum files these are "Women's straight buckle shoes of white rand construction with visible stitching, needlepoint toe and covered louis heel, white stitched. Shoe consists of petrel blue, ivory and pink silk brocade upper featuring rounded tongue, slightly pointed straps to buckle over tongue and short dog leg side seams at waist. Edges bound in olive silk with upper lined in linen and white kid and the insole of brown leather continuing into a toe puff. Heel is covered in matching silk brocade. Brown leather sole is flesh out and stitched in the channel."

The show also has some maker's markings. The sole is stamped with 1 + 2 rings: "U.CK", and the maker's inscription is on the liniing, "6 over 2 wharehouse".