Dressing the Queen: dress of Ann Boleyn and her ladies
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".
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.
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!
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.
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.
(Above: Ann Boleyn sitting)
(Below: Ann Boleyn standing)