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Archive for the tag “codpieces”

The reign(s) of Edward IV….

 

If you want the bare bones of Edward’s reign(s), supposedly born today but on an impossible date, here they are, although there is no reference to his valid marriage in 1461. To me, Edward IV, for all the good he did as king, was rather a prat. Sorry, but there’s no other word for it. He was led by the contents of his codpiece, and didn’t pay enough attention to those he offended.

 

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Dyer or Dire?

Many of you will remember the episode of “Who do you think you are” in which Danny Dyer was revealed as a descendant of Edward III. In this new two part series, he “meets” a few prominent ancestors, some even more distant.

The first episode began with Rollo, ancestor of the Dukes of Normandy, which saw Dyer visit Sweden, although Danes and Norwegians also claim that Viking dynast, to learn sparring with a sword and shield. Then he went to the Tower to talk about William I and Dover Castle for Henry II, discussing his rebellious sons and his mixed relationship with Becket. At every stage, riding a horse, jousting or dyeing (Dyeing?), he was accompanied by a professional genealogist (Anthony Adolph, in a cafe opposite Buckingham Palace) or a historian, if not one of television’s “usual suspects”. At the end, Dyer visited France to learn of a slightly different ancestor – St. Louis IX, although Margaret of Wessex is another canonised forebear.

The second episode did feature some real historians: Elizabeth Norton, Chris Given-Wilson, Tobias Capwell and Tracy Borman. The opening scene had Isabella on the Leeds Castle drawbridge shouting at Edward II (Dyer): “Git aht ov moi carsel” (you may need Google Translate, but not from French). We were shown an image of Hugh le Despencer’s grisly execution, without pointing out that there were two of that name, followed by Edward’s confinement in Berkeley Castle, forced abdication and the legend of his even grislier end. Henry “Hotspur” Percy, who died in battle at Shrewsbury, followed as Dyer tried on late mediaeval armour. The next scenes concerned Sir John Seymour at Wolf Hall, inveigling his daughter into Henry VIII’s world, as Dyer dressed up and tried “Tudor” dancing. We then moved on to Helmingham Hall as Catherine Cromwell married Lord Tollemache, whose successor met Dyer, his cousin, again. The series concluded with a “sugar banquet” as the star’s family joined in, dressed as Elizabeth I’s contemporaries.

Both programmes were informative about mediaeval life, such as the “silver pennies” bearing Dyer’s image and the West Ham badge, although his stereotypical East London patois grates a little. It brought to mind Ray Winstone as Henry VIII (“I have been betrayed!”) or Nick Knowles‘ egregious Historyonics.

Codpieces by the expert

(Dr. Lucy Worsley that is):

“… I wrote for a newspaper this week.  Hope you enjoy!

arrmour-codpiece‘There is no hidden codpiece memo.’

So says Colin Callendar, executive producer of the upcoming BBC Two drama series Wolf Hall, denying claims that the size of his stars’ codpieces were reduced beyond the point of historical accuracy to avoid offending or baffling an American audience.

Actor Damian Lewis did indeed describe the black velvet codpiece that came with his costume as Henry VIII as a ‘little dinky one.’  But it was Mark Rylance, playing Thomas Cromwell himself, who provided a possible reason why, claiming that ‘modern audiences, perhaps more in America’ might ‘not know exactly what’s going on down there.’

So what exactly is this controversial garment?  The codpiece is buttoned, or tied with strings, to a man’s breeches.  It takes its name from the word ‘cod’, middle English for both ‘bag’ and ‘scrotum’, and arose because medieval men wore hose – essentially, very long socks – beneath their doublets, and nothing else in the way of underwear.

When the fourteenth-century fashion for very short doublets emerged, the codpiece was invented to cover up the gap at the top of those hose.   If you believe ‘the Parson’ in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, it was a much-needed innovation.  He disliked the short doublets of his day because ‘Alas! Some of them show the very boss of their penis and the horrible pushed-out testicles that look like the malady of hernia’.

Originally just a triangle of cloth, the codpiece became more substantial and more decorative as time went on, until its decline in the late sixteenth century.

The codpiece, of course, forms part of the picture of Henry VIII that we all carry round in our hands.  In the portraits after Hans Holbein the Younger, Henry’s enormous codpiece emphasizes his virility, and hence his capacity for providing England with heirs to the throne.  It forms the very centerpiece of Holbein’s drawing (‘The Whitehall Cartoon’) that gives us Henry’s definitive image.

None of Henry’s fabric codpieces survive, but the suit of his 1540 armour displayed at the Tower of London also has an enormous codpiece in metal, and its size suggests that Holbein was not exaggerating.  Female visitors to the Tower used to stick pins into its lining in the hope that this would increase their own fertility.

Codpieces also functioned a useful little purse for storing precious items like coins, or jewels, and tradition claims this as the origin of the expression ‘a man’s family jewels.’

They are garments that tend to arouse wonder and disbelief in post-Tudor viewers, so much so that the Museum of London has a whole drawer of codpieces that were catalogued, by a bashful Victorian curator, as ‘shoulder pads’.

But none of them were quite as big as the one worn by Rowan Atkinson as Edmund Blackadder, in his first, late-medieval, incarnation.  For his installation as Archbishop of Canterbury, Blackadder decides to wear his best and biggest codpiece.

‘Let’s go for the Black Russian,’ he tells Lord Percy.  ‘It always terrifies the clergy.’ “.

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