What did bishops wear to travel….?

A detail from a 15th century crucifixion painting by Austrian artist, Conrad Laib. The rider is unknown but is certainly an interesting character! I thought he was a member of the clergy, but my art historian friend thinks he may have been a rich benefactor who funded the painting.

Why is it that a passing thought of adding detail to a minor description leads to one spending hours scouring the internet and book shelves trying to find the information?

All I wanted to know is how a medieval bishop would have dressed to travel. Not in a war zone, just on the road from London to Canterbury in 1375. I’m pretty sure he would have ridden a mule – I think most men of the Church did this – but as to his clothes…??? Surely he wouldn’t be garbed in his full regalia…but he’d still have to be identifiable as a bishop. I realilse he’d have quite a retinue with him, with monks and all. So, help please? Can anyone put me out of my misery?

The illustration above is from this website.



  1. well you do have a problem hereI start by breaking it down – what is the season, who is your bishop traveling with? next, IS there a purpose outside routine pilgrimage to Canterbury?
    If your bishop is forced to travel in poor weather, rain, even light snow, and dampish cold your bishop would need something Chaucer warned every sensible man to have: the pilche. Go nowhere without one. basically a cloak, but more than a cloak, sell your children, but not your pilche! Elspeth Veale wrote a wonderful (and exhaustive) book on all things the Fur trade in the later Middle Ages, I didn’t see in her index anything exactly about a bishop’s garb but then under the pilche they would be in their regular clerical clothing.
    If your bishop is traveling in grand style, with highly significant betters than himself, not to worry, the pilche, again, unless you have him traveling in the middle of August, this dandy item can be as pricey as one can ask for, as it is only a matter of your own funds that limits its expense, furs being what they were. Henry of Derby himself had several and even valued them to such an extent that he had them repaired! There is a term for the repair and use of ‘old furs’ stripped from one pilche or gown or robe and reused, heaven forbid, and passed off as if these were new furs.
    Another place to look is Dorothy Hartley’s “Medieval Costume and How to Recreate i”t (Dover, 2003, #9780486429854; pps123-6), the illustrations are smallish and in B&W but enlarge them on a copier and likely a few in the entourage are clergy – she cites her sources as well. Since the period she is covering is mostly around 1400 that should be a help, the line drawings are the best, very clear, simple, but well done, especially for definition of the sort of pilgrim’s hats, shoes, etc. She’s a bit too early for what I am doing so I modify but all in all good info.
    The Hartley is still available new, the Veale, sadly, can only buy used, as I did with mine – it’s so worth it (my copy was purged from a reference library in Nottingham!, pub 1966, doesn’t even have a ISBN!)

    good luck!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Amma. I do have the Hartley book…I have a LOT of her books, but at the moment the one referred to has done a runner and is hiding somewhere in the clutter of my minefield of bookshelves. I didn’t know about Veale, but will take a look. Thank you for your in-depth answer!


      1. my pleasure Viscountessw, I live in bibliographies! The Veale is an eye opener, it must have been her life’s work. When I decided to branch out to the next tier from traditional Ricardian research I found a treasure trove of information, and quite a bit by female scholars, along with Caroline Barron and Rosemary Horrox (which I think all Ricardians know) but the wonderful Sylvia Thrupp (Merchants Class of Medieval London), and Eleanora M. Carus-Wilson (Merchant-Adventurers), Dr Alwyn Ruddock (Italian Merchants and Southampton, and I DID manage to chase this one down!) …all of them exceptional!
        Among recent works for costume, (I keep digging) I use the series from the Museum of London (I’m sure you have seen these), one that I just got is by Elisabeth (and others on the Staff) is Textiles and Clothing c.1150-1450, from 2006, again, a bit too early but I need bibliographies as much as I do the content and illustrations within. You prob have the Margaret Scott 2007 volume for “Medieval Dress & Fashion, it looks gorgeous, but on ‘amazon, very pricey! I passed and ordered instead something called “Dress in the Middle Ages” by two French curators, Francoise Piponnier and Perrine Mane (# 9780300086911) mostly because one of the review (testily) commented that there was “excessive” concentration on details (hehe I LOVE THAT!) Ok by me!
        have you thought of reaching out to Toni Mount? She’s a avid Ricardian and writes quite a bit about the period, I have most (if not all her books) and while she does discuss clothing I’m not sure I’ve come across anything strictly about what a bishop would wear while traveling to Canterbury, but I bet Toni would know! Ask her!


  2. I think the figure in the centre of the picture is a member of the clergy. Because the animal he is riding on, seems to me to be a mule.Unfortunebly, I don’t remember where got my wisdom from. I only remember that mules were used by the clergy. Look at the ears of the horses of
    of knights which are much smaller, than the mules ears.


Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: