Which medieval materials had which colours….?

14th-century re-enactors gathered at Ronneburg Castle, Germany

While going through some of my old medieval research, I came upon a list that has given me pause to reconsider some of my descriptions of materials used for clothing. The list was in a paper read on 6th April 1911: XXII—A Wardrobe Account of 16-17 Richard II, 1393-4, by W. Paley-Baildon, Esquire., F.S.A.

“….MATERIALS.

Both in material and colour Richard’s tailors had a large variety to choose from:-

Cloth of gold was red, white, blue and black.

Velvet was white, green, blue, black and red.

Silk was green and white.

Satin was white only.

Cloth was black, scarlet, white, green, violet, sanguine, and blue.

Tartarin was black, green and white.

Cloth of damask was black and green.

Taffeta was green only.

Buckram was black only.

Frieze was sanguine and green.

Ray, a striped material, is generally described by reference to its ground, which was sanguine, green, russet, powdered.

Fustian was white only.

Other materials were Brabant cloth, Kendal cloth, brown russet, blanket, blanket cloth, ‘soupedevyn’, ‘red faldyng’, ‘black streit’, black kersey, linen cloth of ‘reynes’ and ‘westfall’.

The prices vary in a most remarkable way, showing a large range of qualities. The price of cloth of gold is not given; perhaps it was not sold by the yard. Red velvet cost 13s 4d the yard, and the best scarlet cloth 12s; sanguine cloth 10s 6d, white velvet 8s, white satin 6s 9d. Linen and Brabant cloth were sold by the ell; silk was sold by the ounce, and thread by the pound. The lady who sold silk is called the ‘silk-wife’, corresponding to the more familiar ale-wife and fish-wife,

The furs, used largely for trimming, were ermine, minever, bys, budget, gray, cristy gray and calabre. Bys was the most expensive, costing 18s; the ‘furrure’, cristy-grays were 8s 4d each, budgets 4s each, lamb skins 1s 10d, ermines and minevers 14d each; while backs of fine gray were only 2½d each…..”

That’s the end of the extract, and now it’s viscountessw “talking” again. I confess to being somewhat puzzled. For instance, was satin really only white? And silk only green or white? Yes, I know that these were Richard II‘s personal/livery colours, but the list seems to suggest they were the only colours available in certain materials.

As an author, have I been wildly incorrect by mentioning anyone wearing, say, blue satin? Oh, and it seems that sanguine doesn’t mean the colour of blood, as might be thought. No, it refers to the veins in which the blood flows. So look at the inside of your wrist—those silvery blue veins must be sanguine. So I’m informed, anyway. And there’s no mention at all of pink…yet what else could you call the robe of the blue-hatted gentleman (with the white shoulder collar) immediately left of centre in the illustration below? By the way, I’d love to know what the man in black is whispering to him. Call me nosy.

These questions mean I cannot be absolutely certain how to read the above list, but it’s highly interesting all the same, and presumably reliable for Richard’s court if none other. I certainly look anew at illustrations like the one below, from Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry.

from Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

To learn a little about how various colours were achieved, go to this website from which the top illustration has been taken.

14 comments

  1. Viscountessw, I love posts like this, especially as we (well, I think most of us) are so disconnected from fabric dyeing that we just take it for granted all our hyper saturated colors and in every conceivable pattern and on every fabric – many of which were not even invented yet in the medieval period (or even before the 19thc!)
    The availability of color, any color however, for the period, using naturally derived dyes, that seems to be a two-part discussion – for example, Philippe le Bon, father to duke Charles (the very Rash!) wore black, constantly, which I assumed just meant the man had a dour, boring personality, not quite what I expected for the womanizing duke with some two dozen bastards (and proud of it!) – of course I am foisting 20thc stereotypes onto a man who knew that black was the most difficult of all the dyes to ‘fix’ to a fabric, hence, the most expensive. Perfect for a ducal peacock! Presumably one could get something like black (gray black, faded black, etc) to fix on the fabric, but not the lustrous, permanent black he wanted, or anyone with the funds to afford it.
    NOW, when I look at his sumptuous portrait by Van der Weyden, with that massive black hat and liripipe (?) all I can think is, the robe or hat likely cost more than the gold collar of the Order of the Golden Fleece!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Didn’t Philippe le Bon switch to wearing black for the rest of his life as a sign of mourning, after the assassination of his father Jean sans Peur – except for any gatherings of his chivalric Order of the Golden Fleece when he wore red?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. considering his father (Jean sans peur) was such a rotter, orchestrating the murder/assassination of Louis d’Orleans, in broad daylight no less, and on the streets of Paris (good grief, Machiavelli, where are you?) I think it would have been the ONE relative that I did not wish to bring attention to! It set off quite the family hate fest for decades, one that was still seething into the 1480’s when a dying Louis Xi”s worst fear was his hapless dauphin would feel the wrath of that d’Orleans grandson, young Louis (very unhappily married to Louis XI’s daughter, Jeanne, allegedly a lame and sterile woman, who would thus end the Orleans line – fun family, the French royals)
        Keep in mind it was Louis XI’s own father, that weasely Charles VII, as dauphin, who decided tit–for-tat, and arranged the murder of Jean san peur during peace negotiations! SOOOO no, if Philippe wore black in mourning for his wretched father, murdered himself after committing a scandalous assassination, well, go for it, but it may have been as much to poke Charles VII and then Louis XI in the eye, this excessive mourning for a known and admitted murderer (Jean did admit to the hit, much amused apparently and not in the least repentant) than any real pious sentiment!

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  2. The colours given to the Duke of Berry and his guests are generally used to identify the figures and links to each other. For instance, the colours of the kneeling figure feeding the dog are matched to the servant helping to decant wine for the guest, except that the kneeling figure actually represents Richard II, said to have been fathered by one of his mother’s servants, hence the matching colours. Richard’s place at the table alongside the Duke of Berry is vacant… Among the lineup of figures behind the long bench looking to fill the empt seat is the faceless Henry Bolingbroke dressed in all-black, who eventually usurped Richard and became king Henry IV.

    The January folio has several themes and narratives, some of which I have tried to explain at this link: https://catchlight.blog/tres-riche-heures/

    The presentation is work in progress and therefore subject to change and updates as new information comes to light.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Well, I will leave it to ViscountessW here to explain the idea that Richard II was fathered by anyone other than Edward prince of Wales! As one of the few actual love matches in medieval history among the noble class I’m just too stunned to even consider this idea … how many years did Edward wait for his cousin to finally marry her? Tell me VixcountessW please, that this is all just piffle!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. RIchard II was fathered by one of his mother’s servants? Um….never heard that one before. The only story I’ve heard concerning Richard’s legitimacy was that his mother, Joan of Kent, had a checkered marital history very early on, and had become entangled in two marriges at the same time: to Sir Thomas Holand and William Montacute/Montagu, Earl of Salisbury. Sir Thomas had been away and when he returned he wanted his wife back. (That’s one version, another is that she and Sir Thomas concocted the previous marriage because they wanted to be together.)
        The Pope eventually found in favour of Sir Thomas and that was that. BUT, when Thomas died and she married the Prince of Wales, Salisbury was still alive. There were many who considered HIM to be her legitimate husband. So, any hint of Joan and a servant is a new one, unless it’s a reference to Thomas Holand, who started off as Salisbury’s steward. But Thomas was well and truly dear and buried BEFORE she married the prince, and long gone by the time Richard II was born.
        The closest I can come to a highborn lady and a servant is Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, and the archer named Blaybourne, who was suggested as the father of Edward IV! Rumours of illegitimacy were rife in the medieval period. John of Gaunt was said to have been a replacement for a dead baby girl—his real father rumoured to be burgher of Ghent (I think). But the same is also said of his son and heir, Henry IV!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. A burgher or butcher? John of Gaunt is the tall figure dressed in green shown carving meat, a duty he was honoured with at Richard ll’s coronation.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. There must have been other colours – for silk at least, as banners, flags etc were made from silk and look at the many colours depicted on these.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The figure in front of Henry Bolingbroke is the Duke of Gloucester, Thomas of Woodstock. He is dressed in a PINK SILK garment; its fur-lined sleeves represent caterpillars dangling from a tree branch when in the process of creating a silk cocoon. Seemingly Woodstock had a taste for wearing silk. In Froissart’s ‘Chronicles’ there is an illustration showing him being strangled by assassins with his own white silk scarf.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. ViscountessW, As to Blaybourne, I always thought that a bit iffy, a noble lady who managed to keep the moniker “proud” strikes me as unlikely to stoop to a mere archer, no matter how much her hormones are raging. The scandal I’ve always liked is the double Beaufort one, that Edmund Tudor is Edmund Beaufort’s secret son, not Owen Tudor’s, putting Henry of Richmond in the both parents were Beauforts club. There’s some DNA I would like to check up on!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Maybe Proud Cis kicked off her slippers of a Friday night and let rip with a bit of rough…..? 😁 But agreed about the Beaufort line. I believe Henry VII was ALL Beaufort, and therefore ALL bastard descent.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ah me, perhaps it comes down to human nature and not the quite severe risks of her day for an adulterous wife- her own mother was the result of adultery, possibly double adultery (hmm, tho’ not by the time of Joan Beaufort’s birth, just the elder brothers?) – and if Cecily was inclined to be sensitive about her mother’s delicate past, legally illegitimate until she was 14 or 15? and miraculously legitimated through the beneficence of both King and Pope, a more timorous lady might hesitate about taking on an archer (or anyone else) and then knowing slurs about her adultery, just like Mother, would be whispered in every court and alley.
        So, it could come down to personality, and here the rumours might win out, in that relationship between the duke and Cecily I definitely see the duchess the stronger, more imperious of the two. York may have said all the high and mighty things expected of a royal duke with his lineage, (and let’s be honest, his daddy had a few questions of parentage too!) but I can see Cecily being the one demanding all the right perks of her station, in clothing, carriage, servants, Henry VI’s government may have been hundreds (thousands?) of pounds in arrears in payments to York but that did not impede how she intended to live, travel, or present herself at court. And if she pursued (no wilting, seduced shocked duchess she) a bit of rough as you put it, lol, then she also would not have been too worried if the duke found out, because I also think she was just the type to tell him, not let him hear it from others. “You neglect me? fine, others do not!”
        Now you may be horrified, the saintly Cecily of York, and I am trashing her? well, both Margaret Beaufort and her cousin, Cecily, did the pious widow with stunning success, and being the younger woman MB copied her cousin in everything, from requiring a title, Queen by Right for herself, to running her son’s government (altho Edward put a stop to that within his first years and Henry never did anything of the sort), but I will give MB this, IF I had to chose a more supportive mother for Edward and Richard, (ok, a mother whose machinations knew no bounds for her sons), one could not outperform MB! Perhaps Cecily was as dedicated and relentlessly ‘helpful’ with counsel – we simply do not have those records (like so much else in Yorkist history) and it was only with George’s death (or murder if one prefers) that it broke Cecily?
        It is one thing to lose a child in its youth from illness, or in warfare, Cecily suffered both, but to have the one son destroy another son, that might have been more than she could bear. Whatever led her to retreat from the public life, to Bermondsey and meditate upon her coming Judgement, then George’s death had to mean something quite different to her than to Edward. For myself, I think Richard paid the price, his mother retreated, emotionally and physically, her last public official duty was the baptism of baby Bridget in 1482.
        so, yes, IF I posit Cecily the dominant (imperious is still the best word I can think of here) partner in that marriage then York likely put up with alot! For all we know she did throw that “neglect me again…” and lo, she was having babies pretty much every year after that without fail!

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