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
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.