Christina here. I may have mentioned this before, but back in 2015 something quite amazing was discovered in the little village church of St Faith’s at Bacton in Herefordshire – a piece of cloth from one of Queen Elizabeth I’s dresses. It had been used for centuries as an altar cloth, and the parishioners had no idea what a treasure they possessed. When it was rediscovered, it was rather grubby and worn, and didn’t look particularly impressive. The reason the experts could be sure that it really was one of Elizabeth’s dresses, though, was that it’s made of cloth of silver. Under the so-called Sumptuary Laws of the time, only members of the royal family were allowed to wear it, so it had to be hers. Despite the state of it, it’s priceless, because it is the Tudor queen’s only surviving piece of clothing, even though she reputedly owned about 1,900 dresses in total. Not a single one of them remain, except this small fragment with beautiful embroidered motifs in all the colours of the rainbow. In the so-called Rainbow portrait of the queen, she wears a similarly embroidered gown and this shows how the completed dress would have looked.
Nicola here. Last night we had dinner with my mother-in-law and when I admired the beautiful, hand-embroidered table mats, she told me that she had made them in 1961 as part of her trousseau. That made me think; I hadn’t heard that word in such a long time and I have always loved the sound of it. And I also wondered whether people still had a trousseau or if it was another thing that has gone out of fashion.
The definition of “trousseau” is the clothes, linen, and other belongings collected by a bride for her marriage but originally the trousseau was the box itself. It’s also known as a hope chest or dowry chest, glory box or “bottom drawer.” It’s this last term that I remember from when I was growing up. My grandmother used to refer to putting things in your bottom drawer for when you got married, but by the time I married in the later 1980s things had changed!
The “cassone” of medieval Europe were large, decorated chests like the one in teh picture that were extremely valuable in themselves and were a part of the dowry of a bride from a rich and/or aristocratic family. Elizabetta Gonzaga of Mantua and Guidobaldo da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino, were betrothed in 1486 and married in 1488. In an inventory of Elisabetta’s trousseau corredo, compiled around 25th February 1488 was recorded: ‘Venti forzieri, dieci lavorati d’oro, dieci depinti a la divisa’ (twenty chests, ten gilded, ten painted with heraldic arms/devices" which included the flames of love. This was a trousseau on a very grand scale both in terms of the boxes and their contents!
Nicola here, dusting down a classic blog post that sank without trace (appropriately enough!) when I last posted it up on my own site! I love this story and wanted to share it on the Word Wench blog because not only is it a real life tale of Georgian adventure but it also throws light on a little known episode in British history, that of the last invasion of Britain. The major invasions – the Romans, the Normans – are well known. And of course Napoleon planned to invade Britain and the country was on high alert against such an …