This year the East Kingdom Ministry of Arts and Science put together a Laurel’s Challenge. Different Laurels from across the kingdom challenged artisans to complete different challenges, and there was one challenge made just for me: Documentable Wacky Hats. To read more about the making of my hat click here. To read about the history of this hat and my research, keep on reading.
This headdress has fascinated me since the first time I saw it on the cover of a book. It was so large, so magnificent and so wacky. The issue with it is there are far more modern illustrations of it than historical ones. In fact, my research suggests that the only real period depictions of this headdress are found in a small variety of funeral effigies from ca. 1415 to 1420 in England. There are very few historical references that site it, and even fewer that discuss the funeral effigies themselves. None the less, the headdress can be found on the following tombs:
- Princess Beatrice of Portugal, Countess of Arundel. Tomb at Arundel Chapel, Sussex C. 1415-1418. Her husband, Thomas Fitzalan, passed away in 1415 and the effigies date to shortly thereafter. Her headdress is 22” wide and worn with an extra wide crown.
- Lady Agnes Salmon (Lady in waiting to Beatrice of Portugal). Brass Effigy at Arundel Chapel, Sussex. She passed away in 1418. This headdress is not as extravagant as her countess’s, but still quite large.[
- Lady Eleanor Culpepper. Brass Effigy at the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Lingfield England. She died November 1420. Her headdress is quite rounded, while Beatrice’s was very boxy.
- Katherine (Clifton) Green. Tomb at St. Peters Churchyard in Lowick Northamptonshire, England. Her headdress looks almost quilted and does not have a crown on top but instead a round pillow like circlet.
- Dame Millicent Meryng. Brass Effigy, Church of St. John Baptist, East Markham, England. Died in 1419. Notably, she is wearing a round cape and a houppelande in this monument, a fashion forward gown for the time. It also appears that she may be wearing multiple veils.[vi]
- Lady Joyce Thorpe. Alabaster sculptures, Ashwelthorpe Church. after 1418. This headdress has a ruffled veil and a fabric circlet instead of a coronet
- Lady Elizabeth Mortimer, Baroness of Camoys. Brass funeral effigy after 1417 at Saint George’s Church at Trotton in Sussex. This is a square boxy headdress close to Beatrice or Katherine’s.
Each of these headdresses is slightly different and speaks to the variety of headdresses that were worn in various courts in various areas. Even the decoration with ribbons and pearls is varied. All of the veils appear to be silk and include very small pleats on the edges. I believe that most of them are oval in the back, but were likely (based on my experience) shaped in the front to suit the headdress itself.
All of these funeral sculptures were sculpted between about 1415-1420. Beatrice was still alive when her sculpture was completed as she went on to remarry after the Count of Arundel’s death.
I have not found any manuscript illuminations that show this hat. However, this might just be the luck of preservation. One manuscript at the Morgan Library of Troilius and Criseyde dates from 1403-1413 and includes a deteriorated picture of a woman’s headdress, but it is too difficult to tell it if it is close to Beatrice’s. It is certainly not as large and reminds me more of similar headdresses found in France.
Evolution of Fashion
This headdress is thought of a transitional style, likely evolving from a variety of different headdresses popular in the fourteenth century that included covered ear buns. We know these headdresses as Crespinettes, Templettes or Cauls. Over time, hair buns moved from covering the ears, to up on the temples and transformed into the fabric covered helmet like headdresses we often see in the 1400s. Beatrice’s headdress is that transitional moment between hair buns covering the ears and helmets supporting a veil. Other headdresses like Escoffins, Hennins, and double Henins, which were popular in the France and Burgundy, quickly replaced this headdress as fashionable wear.
Princess Beatrice’s reticulated headdress was short lived and worn by only a few high noble women in the early decades of the 15th century, but it lives through funerary sculptures to provide us with one of the wackiest hats of the middle ages.
Why was it so short lived?
After making this hat, I know unequivocally this headdress was short lived because it is difficult to wear. The curtain rod that extends 22 inches, holding the veil, is difficult to manage through doorways. With such a long wind-swept veil, it would easily become a fire hazard. And most of all, it is so easy to get cockeyed. A lady like Princess Beatrice of Portugal would have required several ladies to keep the headdress in good order at all times. Thus, the headdress was probably only worn to the fanciest occasions.
One also has to wonder, if Beatrice herself requested the sculptor add additional elegance and size to the headdress on her funeral monument. After all, her lady in waiting, Agnes Salmon was married to the Chamberlain of the Chapel and passed away in the same year as Beatrice’s Husband. It is perhaps questionable, with the absence of other depictions, whether such a headdress was ever worn at all. Indeed, the sculpture was commissioned and created while she was still living and was certainly out of style long before Beatrice was laid to rest in the chapel.
For my headdress, I decided to focus on the style worn by Princess Beatrice, for the sheer wackiness of the veil.
The headdress is formed by a headband to which two side cauls or templets is attached. Then, a curved wire rod is attached to form a supportive structure for the veil. The side cauls are decorated with ribbons, beads and pearls. For my reconstruction I constructed this headdress out of buckram and millinery wire and covered it in embellished silk. Because none of these headdresses, or anything like them survive, it is difficult to know what materials they were originally made out of. Felted wool has been a long-time stable hat material, but other materials such as hair canvas covered in silk could have been used instead of buckram. Italian hats from this period were often made using basket weaving techniques. It is also possible it was made with a metal or wire frame. Indeed, when looking at the enlarged coronet of Princess Beatrice, Georgine de Courtais writes that it was likely supported by a metal frame. She notes molding and shaping of the coronet to fit headdresses became popular during this period.
To read more about the construction of my headdress please read the blog I wrote on the process.
Researching a headdress is fine and good, but you can’t know what they were really like until you wear one. Beatrice’s headdress is encased in stone. It doesn’t show us how airy and light the veil is, or how truly wacky and magnificent it appears from different angles. It can’t tell you how it lightly dampens sound, or encourages good posture. But it does tell you what a magnificently dressed person Princess Beatrice must have been as she graced the Halls on feast days at Arundel Castle. Clothed in a sideless surcoat of ermine, she would have made a magnificent and pleasing sight for all to behold. I hope I have done her image justice.
Amphlett, Hilda. Hats: A history of Fashion in Headwear (Dover Publications, 2003 reprint of 1974).
De Courtais, Georgine. Women’s Hats, Headdresses and Hairstyles (Dover Publications, 1973).
Hartley, Dorthy. Medieval Costume and How to Recreate It (Dover Publications, 2003).
Houston, Mary G. Medieval Costume in England And France (Dover Publications, 1996 Reprint of 1939 Edition)
Piponnier, Franciose and Perrine Mane. Dress in the Middle Ages (Yale University Press, 1997).
Scott, Margaret. Fashion in the Middle Ages (The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2011).