Manly Matters

As eagerly anticipated, no doubt, by female readers of this blog, here’s an item from Edward IV’s last Parliament, that of 1483, in which Parliament took a firm stand against firm–no, I’m not going there. Not at all.

And that it be ordained and enacted by the said authority that no one below the estate of lord shall wear . . . any gown or cloak unless it is of such length that, when he stands upright, it covers his genitals and buttocks, upon pain of forfeiting 20s. to your highness for each offence; and the same execution, process and judgment shall be had in this matter as is ordained for the foregoing. [The Parliament Rolls of Medieval England, ed. by C. Given Wilson et al., Scholarly Digital Editions]

As anyone who’s sat on a beach and witnessed 300 pounds of man tucked into a piece of spandex best suited for 180 pounds of man will agree, this legislation clearly was valuable. Note, however, that lords were excepted. Whether Parliament decided that lordly assets were more pleasing to the eye than nonlordly ones, or whether it was concerned that the lords would rise up in anger against a threat to their ordained right to show off their nether regions, or whether the cloth lobby had a hand in the legislation, is a matter I’ll have to leave to the scholars among us.

Which brings us to Richard III. (This blog always brings us to Richard III, doesn’t it?) This being the man’s death anniversary, I promised myself I’d write only nice things about him today, even in my novel in progress, where today I promise he’s going to say strictly things like, “Nice weather we’re having, Buckingham,” and, “I do so regret that the Nasty Woodvilles killed my brother Clarence.” However, there’s an illustration in a manuscript presented to Edward IV by Jean de Waurin that shows a Knight of the Garter in a rather short surcoat, which from the rear view would appear not to leave too much to the imagination if the knight were to bend over. Sir Short Surcoat has been identified by some historians as being the future Richard III (the king on the throne being Edward IV and the kneeling figure being Waurin). The last time I saw this issue being discussed on a Internet forum, it degenerated into a rather unseemly debate about the posteriors of the various Knights of the Garter during the first part of Edward IV’s reign, with Richard III’s supporters arguing (if I recall correctly) that only William, Lord Hastings, would favor such a revealing garment. What cheek.

6 thoughts on “Manly Matters”

  1. Which raises the question, of course, of whether after that infamous meeting at which Richard demanded strawberries and decapitation, Hastings was led away and shriven by a confessor who urged him to forgive his persecutors, imitate Christ and turn the other cheek…

  2. Fashion in those days was all about status, not personal expression. Hence the various sumptuary laws, that basically intended that a ‘lord should go as a lord, and a rogue as a rogue’ or words to that effect.

    If fashion required Richard to wear a ridiculous outfit as part of his status, you can bet he’d have worn it. That’s not a criticism or a piece of mockery, it’s just how things worked.

  3. I guess that was their version of really low cut jeans or “gangsta” pants.
    Were there any corresponding rules for women’s dress ?(although I doubt Edward IV would have allowed any rules against low cut gowns)

  4. You mean there was an unseemly discussion about nether regions and I missed it? Darn! Mind you, I bet there were some men who should never have been seen in anything tight or short!

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