The Holy Ghost

There have been a number of embroidered crowns appearing on this page but this is an actual object.  It is one of two embroidered headpieces possibly used in the yearly ceremony confirming the election of the warden of the Broderers’ Company in the 16th century.  There doesn’t seem to be any reference to it in the company records until the early 20th century but it appears to have been in their possession since it was created in the late 1500s.  

The ground fabric is silk velvet, possibly originally scarlet, and it is trimmed with a fringe of green silk and gold file.  The botanical motifs are embroidered separately on fine linen with a variety of metal threads and polychrome silks.  The examination and recreation of the garland was the subject of an article in Medieval Clothing and Textiles Journal #16.  For today, I’d like to focus on two of the badges that remain in place, but are sadly in very poor condition.  

London guilds were often affiliated with a religious brotherhood in the late medieval period. For example, the Merchant Tailors supported the Fraternity of St John the Baptist and the Goldsmiths’ religious affiliation was to St Dunstan.  The Worshipful Company of Broderers was associated with the Fellowship of the Holy Ghost in the early 1500’s.  The first recorded mention is in the company ordinances approved in 1528.  The ascending Dove represents the Holy Spirit and it appears on the crest of the Broderers’ official coat of arms granted by Mary I and Philip in 1558. 

Each badge is embroidered differently and the materials and techniques are unique.  They are both of a similar size; the circle containing the dove is just over 2 centimeters in diameter.  Note the triangular shaped pieces of metal representing rays and how they are treated differently in each badge.   On the left, a stitch of gold file is carefully placed from the bottom to the point and silk is sewn across each ray shading from yellow at the base to red at the tip.  The blue silk separating the rays has been stitched horizontally on the left and in a circle on the right.  The rays on the right are the same triangular shape but they are only stitched across with pale yellow silk.  A coiled wire has been stretched and sewn in between each ray on the stitched blue ground on both badges.  

Although both birds are quite damaged, a close inspection reveals they are embroidered differently.  Fine round wire is coiled and flattened for the halo and on the wings of the dove on the left and is also stitched upright outside the lizerine.  Wire does not appear to be used on the dove on the left, the halo is couched gold file. On both doves, the upper edge of the wing is couched silver file but the direction changes with the feathers on the right. The body of the dove on the right is stitched with rows of vertical silver plate which are over stitched horizontally with silver file. On the left, the body is too damaged to identify definitively, but the silver plate appears to be sewn horizontally across the bird’s head indicating perhaps that it would continue to the body.  The blue background stitching behind the doves reflects the same direction as in the blue behind the rays. The feathers of the wings on both birds are silver plate over sewn with white silk.

This has been a comparison of two areas of only about 3 centimeters square.  It is only a small indication of the astounding creativity and skill of the 16th century embroiderer.

A Mystery Solved

During my study visit to the BM, I had the opportunity to examine the two small panels c 1540 featuring the Tudor knots of a previous blog post.  Having attempted to recreate the knot border, I was eager to see the underside of the embroidery.  Unfortunately, they had both been securely attached to a mount and the reverse was inaccessible.  Luckily, I was able to examine two black and white photographs which had been taken prior to the conservation measures. 

British Museum 1895,0810.37.a./b

While I am not permitted to reproduce the black and white images here, I did compare them to the experiments and with new, more detailed photography, I can now provide some details that reveal a little more information about how they may have been constructed.

Above are the two experiments with their corresponding undersides.  On the left is the tied knot experiment and the cut purl knot experiment is on the right.  In comparison with the black and white conservation image, there are not enough stitches on the original to have placed all the cut purls individually as in the experiment on the right and there are more than required to simply attach the tied knots with the two cut purls in between each knot.  A further examination of the front of the panel was required.

An overall survey of all the visible stitches indicates that the knots were made first, then secured to the satin ground with well placed stitches. There are a series of stitches that were placed within the knot area, some falling between the stitches and some on the edges that are visible above left). There are consistently two stitches appearing on both sides of each knot.  Often there is a stitch across each pair of threads that join the knots in addition to the two purls between each knot. To confirm this theory, there is an area of damage that clearly indicates a continuous metal thread (above right).

This is a very intriguing piece of early Tudor metal thread embroidery.  Green coloured silk thread has been used sparingly to add colour to the rose leaves (above left).  The use of “couching” stitches to secure a long length of metal thread in place can be seen in several areas of this design (yellow arrow, above right).  These coiled metal threads have a thread through the core that keeps the coil from pulling out.  When necessary, only the thread is couched and the metal can be bent into another direction.  On the larger coils the couching thread disappears between the coils (blue arrow).  The use of cut purls to cover padding is also used (red arrow). In the image on the right, the appliqued cloth of gold in the crown is clear. These two tiny panels of embroidery will provide a further series of experiments at some point in the future.  The first thing to figure out is how the thread gets into those very narrow and sometimes very long coils…

Next week: A royal binding from a future queen.

The Broderer’s Apprentice

Derbyshire record office D258/34/86

During the 16th century, skilled craftsmen in London belonged to professional organizations known as companies or guilds which were run according to rules laid out at various times by the wardens of the guild, the ordinances of the City of London, and by acts of parliament.  The guild to which the embroiderer belonged was known as the Fellowship of the Arte and Mistery of the Broderer.  A professional embroiderer apprenticed for at least seven years and might also work as a journeyman for perhaps five more under the guidance of a master before he could be admitted to the “Freedom” of the City of London and identify himself as a Citizen and Broderer. 

To become apprenticed or “bound” to a master in any London guild, the apprentice or his family would pay a fee to the wardens of the guild at the beginning and sometimes also at the end of their terms. An apprentice usually began his years of indenture around the age of sixteen with a bond made between his family and the master with whom he would live for a period of years specified in the written document.  An apprenticeship indenture was a legal document and, regardless of the company it was made with, was registered either within the City of London Guildhall prior to 1562 and after that. 

An apprenticeship indenture for a London embroiderer during the Tudor period has not been yet been discovered.  The one pictured here is dated 1604, one year after the death of Elizabeth I.  It indicates the master is Alexander Found and the apprentice is John Bowne, the son of a farmer from Mattock in Derbyshire.

The wording of the apprenticeship indenture was fairly generic and a similar document could be used for many of the skilled trades.  It outlined the behavioural responsibilities to which the apprentice would conform: “He shall not inordinately waste nor lend.  He shall not … contract matrimony.  He shall not play at dice, cards, nor at any other unlawful games.  The taverns nor alehouses he shall not frequent… He shall not depart nor long absent himself without leave, but in all things as a good and faithful apprentice and shall well truly and honestly bear and behave himself unto and towards his said master and all his during the said term.”  In return the master would “well and sufficiently teach and entrust him with reasonable chastisement and shall and will find and allow unto him meat and drink, linen, woolen, bed, hose and shoes … during the said term”.

More specific apprenticeship rules were laid out in the official ordinances of each guild and changed with the passing of each new set of by laws.  The 1528 ordinances, for example, included the apprentice’s oath to be sworn upon his presentation to the wardens at the beginning of his term.

Ye shall swear that ye shall be good and true to our sovereign lord the King and to his heirs kings of England. And well and truly ye shall serve your master for the terms of your apprenticehood, and in all lawful and honest causes ye shall be obedient, as well to him as to the wardens of this company, and them that be and hereafter shall be, of the clothing. Ye shall have them in due reverence.  The lawful secrets of the said fellowship ye shall keep and give no one information nor instruction thereof to none person but of the said fellowship.  In all these things ye shall well and truly behave and surely keep the said oath to your power so help you God and his saints as by that book.

The Broderers’ Company approved three sets of ordinances during the 16th century and a close examination of them may provide an insight to the how the unfolding political, social and religious events might have affected them. For example, by 1582, the oath was no longer mentioned but three new rules had been added. The apprentice was now required to give a silver spoon of the value of 10 shillings to the Company rather than providing a meal for the Warden and Assistants on the day of his freedom. This reflects the necessity or desire of the Company to acquire long term wealth as silver plate could be added to the Company’s inventory of assets as moveable goods.

A Hidden Gem

Last week, I forgot to mention that when we were finished looking at the embroidered bindings on the Douce Bible, ( I asked to have a glance inside at the illuminated title page. It is vibrantly coloured with cherubs, Elizabeth’s cipher, crowned Tudor rose and fleur-de-lis but it paled beside the discovery of more embroidery… Attached to the inside of the front cover was a red silk book mark.  It was about 4 inches wide and embroidered with file twist, spangles and purl.  Because it was attached, it was impossible to see the reverse.  The design is laid out with a single length of file twist and all the metal threads including the purl and spangles are stitched down with red silk to match the tabby woven silk.  One corner is trimmed with a fine lace in file thread.   The embroidery is much less complex than the binding but it may have been made to accompany the bible at the same time as the embroidered bindings.  Unfortunately, by then I was well into the second hour of my two hour visit and it was time to move on to the next embroidered treasure. More study to be done in the future…

Tudor Rose Leaves Revisited

This week, just before Christmas, we return to the Douce Bible, an enormous edition of the Geneva Bible printed in 1583 by Christopher Day and presented to Elizabeth I on New Year’s Day in 1584.  I had the rare honour to examine the embroidery in detail on a very special research trip to the Bodleian Library.  I was able to confirm the exact size, study the embroidery and take a peak inside.  The bible is beautifully illustrated throughout with vibrantly coloured diagrams and initial letters decorated with gold leaf.  It measures approximately 41cm high by 29cm wide by 12cm deep and weighs an incredible 6 kilograms (over 13lbs).

For the most part, the embroidery is worked directly on the crimson velvet but the metal thread and areas of padding add texture and dimension.  The framework of the design is a uniform vine pattern featuring roses and leaves which are outlined for the most part in filé twist with a large Tudor rose in the centre.  There are smaller roses, half roses, roses from the underside and rose buds in various stages of opening and they are all uniquely stitched. The central motif (below) of the large Tudor rose has two rounds of five petals. The outer edges of both sets of petals are raised and covered with check purl.  The insides of the petals have an open zig-zag plate over the velvet ground.  Then rows of slightly stretched coiled wire are stitched across each petal over the plate.  Between the coils, long straight stitches in pale pink or white silk angle toward the centre of the flower.  The five small leaves between the five outer petals have a main vein of lizerine and the sides of the leaves are filled with rows of stretched lizerine.  Adding a bit of colour are over-stitches in pale green silk.  Unfortunately, whatever was stitched on or over the padding in the centre of the rose has disappeared but there are some remnants of metal thread resembling lizerine.  It may be that the lizerine was stitched in a spiral from the outside of the circle and getting smaller towards the centre.  The centre of the padding is missing so the velvet below is visible and my creative imagination places a large pearl in the void. 

There are several intriguing aspects of the embroidery on this artifact but it would take too long to describe them all in today’s installment so I will come back to them on occasion in the future – the smaller roses (completely different from the larger ones), the placement of the pearls, the design on the spine, the lace and so much more.  For now, back to the leaves…

A while back, I posted an experiment in which I tried to recreate the rose leaves that are very delicately stitched in silk and metal.  There was a question of exact size and I opted to use the smaller scale on the newly commissioned images.  I learned a lot trying to reconstruct the leaves at that size and it helped enormously when I recreated the experiment at the much larger and correct scale.  Here are the results of yesterday’s experimentation…

After having used multiple strands of a filament silk for the under-stitching on the initial experiment, I decided to switch to a less uniform thread in an attempt to more successfully cover the velvet.  I had some yellow on hand but I also needed green so it had to be dyed.  While I waited for it to dry, I painted the enlarged pattern on my scarlet velvet and filled the appropriate areas with the surface satin stitch in yellow.  Long stitches provided a guide for the placement of the plate.  The width of the plate required was somewhere in between the full size No. 6 broadplate and the 11’s plate so I carefully trimmed the No. 6 plate to the correct width with scissors and stitched it down over the satin stitch.

The plate was overstitched with a single strand of yellow silk and a single strand of #3 passing was stitched in between each row of plate.  The outline of these leaves is unusual in that flattened coiled wire is used instead of zig-zag file as on all but six of the over 40 leaves.  Small straight stitches in yellow silk represent the serrated edges of the leaves. The small thorn like features were stitched in #9 wire check and #2 twist was stitched in place to represent the stems.

Stitching on velvet is a challenge I will have to overcome as it was a very popular ground for Tudor embroidery.   Here are some things that still need to be addressed:

Managing the pile of the velvet – the leaves appear to be a little narrower than those on the original which may be attributed to stitching on velvet and not taking into account the pile.  Perhaps stitching just outside the painted line instead of on the line or stem stitching an outline before placing the satin stitch would help to keep the correct shape.

Shaping the wire – flattening the coiled wire to the correct spacing and stitching it down without damaging it is difficult.  It could be that the wire I am using is just a bit softer and easier to disturb.

Attention to detail – more attention should be paid to the placement of the stitches representing the serrated edges of the leaves in order to achieve the correct angle and the precise length.

Consistency of the silk – the stitches placed over the plate are not as fine as on the original and there are too many.  Subdividing the silk and tightening the twist may help.

Next year: A Broderer’s Apprentice

John Parr Coat of Arms

Coats of arms, once only available to royalty and the nobility, were increasingly common amongst the merchant and artisan classes. To obtain one, it was important to first illustrate your familial history, possibly your current standing and perhaps pay a fee.  John Parr, Royal Embroiderer to Queen Elizabeth I could provide all three.

In 1597, a coat of arms was granted to him by William Dethick Garter King of Arms.  The wording on a draft of the grant indicated Parr would be worthy of the honour. Dethick wrote: “wherefore I have made search in the books and registers of my office and by the sundry rewards monuments and antiquities have found and collected those ancient coats of arms appropriate and belonging to John Parr now of London great and principal embroiderer to the Queens most excellent majesty whose virtuous civil and worshipful demeanour together with his advancement in her majesties service at this time not to be forgotten.” College of Heralds Vincent Old Grants 2 p.426.

A watercolour illustration can be found on a manuscript in the British Library (Cotton Titus B.VIII f294).   It is a shield containing six coats of arms, surmounted by a maiden’s head crest.  The quartered arms include a black boar with a thistle in its mouth, a griffin holding a helmet, and a falcon with a sprig of pea in its beak.  The shield in the upper left is recognizable as the original Parr family crest with the addition of six scallop shells in the black border.

Parr’s arms were one of 23 granted by Dethick and challenged by York Herald Ralph Brooke as unworthy, arguing that Parr’s “father was a peddlar by occupation and unable to prove his surname to be Parr.”  What makes this story a little more compelling is that amongst the other arms challenged by Brooke are the arms Dethick granted to Shakespeare’s father.  The outcome of the challenge is not recorded but it was thought to be in Dethick’s favour. For more documentation and commentary on the dispute from the perspective of the Shakespeare family, the Folger Shakespeare Library has several pages.

That John Parr used a coat of arms is confirmed in his will of 1605.  He bequeathed a standing cup of silver gilt to the Broderers’ Company and it was to be engraved with his name and his coat of arms.  The cup remains in the possession of the Broderers’ Company as the Parr Cup but I have never been able to ascertain whether it is engraved as requested.  There is also a facsimile of the cup in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

A second Tudor Binding

The second embroidered binding comes from the first half of the 16th century. It is Katherine Parr’s copy of Petrarch printed in Italy in 1544 (below left). The book measures approximately 21 cm high and 14 cm wide.  The embroidery is on a ground of dark purple velvet which has been affixed to a leather binding and features Katherine’s coat of arms. The shield is very similar to that on the Garter stall-plate of her brother Sir William Parr (below right).  This brass plaque was made in 1552 on his installation as a Knight of the Garter and was fixed to the back of the choir stalls in St. George’s Chapel in Windsor.  (The badge of the Garter was on Elizabeth’s New Testament of the previous blog).  Sir William was indicted for treason a little later and the plaque was purposely broken in two.

One difference is the supporter on the left of the shield on Katherine’s arms is a fire-breathing goat-like creature but on Sir Williams it is a hart/deer/stag.  The only other difference is the addition of a quartering on the upper left.  On Katherine’s shield (below left), the two original quarterings have been condensed to make way for six pink (red originally?) roses on a gold ground pierced with a pennant featuring three white roses on a pink ground.  I haven’t been able to identify the imagery but my imagination sees Henry’s three children being represented as the white roses and each of his wives as the pink ones, Katherine was his sixth and last. The panel measures only about 3 cm high by 1.5cm wide.  Remnants of black silk outlining all the elements remain.

The front and back covers are identical and there is an incredible array of techniques, materials and colours worked on this binding – too many to describe them all here. The detail of the crown (above right) shows the cloth of gold as the ground.  The top of the crown is made separately from the lower, inside part and the rim is trimmed with file twist in z twist and s twist couched side by side resembling a braid.  The raw edge of the upper part of the crown is visible where the black silk trim has deteriorated. The gemstones alternate red and green satin stitch, and they are shaded and outlined with purls.

The bodies of the supporters are appliqued white cloth of gold and blue satin.  They are both sporting chained coronets around their necks (in heraldry “gorged”).  The chain is composed of three plies of twist, the lower two couched together with black silk and the third also couched with black separating the pair below creating a very credible looking chain terminating in a large ring of check purl. The body of the goat is very colourfully stitched in blue, yellow and pink (although it was probably red originally). The wyvern (easily identified, even by me) is appliqued blue satin.  The scales are represented by filé and purl, and the feathers by rows of filé twist.

Although Katherine is traditionally said to have stitched this binding, the variety of materials and creative techniques suggest that it may have been created by a professional embroiderer. 

Next week: Another Parr’s arms…

A Tudor binding or two

The production of printed books in England was in its infancy at this time and they were often imported from the continent. Books were quite valuable and literacy was not common in the general population.  As luxury items, they were often given as gifts or they were cherished possessions deserving of special treatment such as embroidered covers.  Bindings were often personalized, displaying the cipher or arms of the recipient or owner.  I’ve chosen two to provide an insight into different techniques and materials the embroiderer could use to create a unique and individual treasure.

The first is a very diminutive book – only 11 cm tall and 7 cm wide.  It is a copy of the New Testament in Greek published in Geneva in 1576.  Not surprisingly this little treasure was owned by Queen Elizabeth I.  It has been rebound with a leather cover but the original embroidered binding was conserved and attached to the front and back boards. (The tooled edge of the new leather binding is visible on the header image.)

This is the image of the front of the book from the British Library’s Database of Bookbindings taken some time ago  The shelfmark is c17a14. 
The back cover, badly stained, showing the identical embroidery. You can find also find the book on the Library’s Main Catalogue using the same shelfmark, c17a14 (no image).

The embroidery on the front and back is identical and the ground fabric is white silk satin woven with double wires of silver or silver gilt running vertically.  Both sides are embroidered alike with a central motif of the badge of the Order of the Garter.  The garter is framed in a cartouche of large, couched wire check thread with a vine of double and single roses, buds and leaves.  All the metal threads appear silver, however they may be silver gilt:  in the very detailed photographs, the metal has a gold cast but that could be a result of the lighting available in the reading room.

Much of the red, green and blue colour that can bee seen is provided by a colour wash of paint or dye directly applied to the fabric.  A very close examination reveals what looks to be a design line drawn onto the ground as a guide for the colour placement and embroidery.  However, this may also simply be a residue left behind by the metal threads that have disappeared.  The six little lions in the red quarters are exquisitely stitched with gold filé and the tiny fleur-de-lis are composed with small chips of silver purl.  The centres of the roses are also purl and the outline is lizerine.  The letters of the motto, HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE, are worked in the same lizerine, and the outline of the actual garter is a larger diameter lizerine.  Outside the lizerine on the garter is a split stitch in what was probably a yellow silk but now appears to brown.  There is green silk highlighting the leaves, and the roses are similarly picked out in a pinkish brown silk. A single seed pearl decorates the crown on the front cover now, but there are still five remaining on the crown on the back, along with a single seed pearl on the buckle of the garter. 

Queen Elizabeth I was well respected for her fluency in several languages including Greek. Perhaps this little gem was given to her as New Year’s gift from an admirer, a courtier seeking favour or a token of esteem from a European ambassador.

Next week: An earlier Tudor binding…

A Visit to the British Museum

Challe and I had the great privilege to visit the Britain, Europe and Prehistory Study Room at the British Museum to examine two of their embroidered treasures.  The two small panels will be discussed further in a future post revealing a little more about the method of stitching the knots featured a couple of weeks ago.  For today, the continuing study of the Burse provides an insight into the fascinating and complex work of the professional Tudor embroiderer and every time it is examined, it reveals a few more details of its construction.

Many years ago, on a previous visit, I noticed that it was possible to turn the burse to photograph the reverse, but there wasn’t enough time left in the appointment to arrange to have the whole object be turned over by members of staff.  Instead, the four corners were carefully lifted so I see what kind of backing it had and whether the original stitching was visible.  The conservators had cut away portions of the modern (19th century) backing which had been added when the burse was repaired and framed for an 300th anniversary exhibition of Armada artifacts in 1888.  I was subsequently given permission to return to take the photographs of the underside but was unfortunately unable to make a date during that trip to do so.  The burse has since been conserved again, and this time it has been permanently mounted on a solid backing.  It is also unfortunate that it appears the conservators did not photograph the back before it was concealed.  So here are the only images I am aware of that show a bit of the original stitching on the reverse.

The embroidery is intricate and meticulously executed.  On this visit, with the very generous and skilled help of the two staff members on duty, the burse was placed under a microscope exposing some details not available to the naked eye.  The microscope was not equipped to take images so we attempted to take some with our phones.  Challe took some incredible images through the lens of the microscope but we haven’t reviewed them yet – a treat for a future post.  My phone didn’t work very well but you get an idea of the detail we could see. 

Detail of the cloth of gold in the crown

Detail showing the irregularity of the metal purl

Another matter for consideration is the comparison of the BM burse to the V&A burse.  Here are some photos that reveal a preliminary look at the development of design, material and technique.

Next week: an embroidered Tudor book binding or two…

Five days in London

A wonderfully exhausting week! 

Monday morning off to the Worshipful Company of Saddlers to examine their Hearse Cloth. 
Afternoon to the Guildhall Library to learn a little more about how they were used by searching City Livery Company histories.
Tuesday morning it was the Vintners’ Company hearse cloth featuring the story of their patron saint St Martin of Tours.
After lunch a quick visit to the banks of the Thames for a little mudlarking…
…and then on to to the British Library to see the special exhibition Elizabeth and Mary:  Royal Cousins, Rival Queens.
All day Wednesday was spent back at the British Library examining six 16th century embroidered book bindings.
Thursday a day spent a little off topic travelling down the Thames to Greenwich via the river boat for a spectacular look at London from the and from the Royal Observatory.
It just so happens that all three Armada Portraits are on exhibit at the moment.  You can always find Tudor embroidery – painted representations count too!
Friday back to the City and the Merchant Taylors’ two hearse cloths.
An enormous thanks to Challe, fellow Tudor enthusiast, for her company, her exceptional knowledge and her superb photography skills.  More to come!

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