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Queen Elizabeth, authentically, meticulously attired, visits Woodland

August 28, 2016
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@dcn.davis.ca.us

This article is about a lecture given by Jane Malcolm-Davies at the Woodland Library in June 10, 2005, but JMD also wrote a nonfiction book referenced at the end of the article called: "The Tudor Tailor: Reconstructing the 16th Century Dress." This is a past article from June 2005, which appears at this web site for the first time on August 28, 2016.

WOODLAND When Queen Elizabeth I came out of her makeshift dressing room at the public library last Friday evening, she received an enthusiastic round of applause.

"Welcome to Woodland, California," said Jane Malcolm-Davies to Queen Elizabeth I, enunciating the strange words in her careful British accent.

The queen looked regally pleased but not surprised by her warm reception, but then dropped all formality. After all, she was inviting a group of about 30 strangers to watch her get dressed.

Malcolm-Davies and the queen, played by Caroline Johnson, were in California to visit a friend, Ania Mieszkowska. The three worked for a company in England that specializes in authentic historical costume reproduction and social history.

Mieszkowska now lives in Woodland and when she found out that her friends would be attending a conference on the East Coast, she asked them to stop in California, too, and give Woodland residents a chance to meet the queen.

The program, "Deconstructing Queen Elizabeth," is an illustrated talk demonstrating how the queen dressed, from her underwear to her jewel-encrusted exterior.

Malcolm-Davies said she, Johnson and Mieszkowska were members of a company that worked at Hampton Court Palace outside London from 1992 to 2004 as docents and historical interpreters.

"Management asked us to represent Queen Elizabeth I herself," Malcolm-Davies said. To do so, the company chose to represent an image of the queen taken from a portrait hanging at a National Trust house, Hardwick Hall, in Derbyshire. That meant copying her dress, hair, shoes and jewels down to the tiniest detail of the 1590s image when the queen was no longer young or beautiful. The queen lived from 1533 to 1603.

The two women described how they researched the materials and construction techniques of dressing the queen. Much of the work they did was based on educated guesses.

"There are no extant garments that we can say for sure belonged to her," Malcolm-Davies said. There were, however, household records of the costs associated with the queen's wardrobe.

In her day, it took about an hour and a half to dress the queen. Three ladies of the bed chamber were in attendance to help her.

The queen wore fairly shapeless linen underwear next to her body over which was placed a corset and a linen slip. Over that went a hooped farthingale to keep the queen's skirts widespread. Under the farthingale was an object called a bun roll or a hip roll that tied around the queen's waist out of sight.

Over this went a copy of the petticoat seen in the queen's portrait a fabulous hand-painted replica of a petticoat covered in sea monsters and flowers. The queen's heavy black velvet robe opened in front to display the petticoat/dress.

The replica gown contains 9,000 pearls.

The jewel-encrusted and lace-decorated sleeves could be removed. Household accounts of the day refer to "pairs of sleeves."

"Component dressing (sleeves, skirt, robe) was done at the time but we don't know if it was common," Malcolm-Davies said. The robe was held in place by brass pins and hooks and eyes. Approximately 10,000 brass pins were used every six months by the queen's dressers.

"A huge army of people helped make this (present-day) costume," Malcolm-Davies said. A man in Nottingham made the queen's lace ruff based on a sample of lace in the Victoria and Albert Museum. The excess lace was sold on eBay.

The queen's face powder of the day was made of white lead, but it didn't remain in fashion very long, according to the Johnson and Malcolm-Davies. The queen wore a wig, too. Other elements to her costume included white stockings, shoes, gloves and various pieces of jewelry including, finally, a crown.

"It's very difficult to work out why fashions change and trends alter," Johnson said. The queen's velvet robe was black, a fashionable color of the day.

"The British aristocracy copied French fashions despite ongoing wars," she added.

"A gown like this would make an impressive spectacle but was not practical," Johnson added. It would be uncomfortable and the queen would not be able to do anything very easily. She would wear it for some hours perhaps long enough to impress visitors in what might be the modern equivalent of a photo shoot and then would retire to undress.

"The queen was famously short-tempered," Malcolm-Davies added. "Her maids got their ears boxed and the queen once broke a maid's little finger."

Toward the end of her life, Elizabeth had reasons to be ill-tempered, in terms of health and politics.

"She had a great deal to annoy her," Malcolm-Davies said.

Queen Elizabeth died at age 69.

Malcolm-Davies has published much of this information in a new book, "The Tudor Tailor: Reconstructing the 16th Century Dress," which has just been published. For more information, go to http://www.tudortailor.com/.

-- Reach Elisabeth Sherwin at ensherwin@gmail.com

For More Information, Visit These Links:

  • Ninya Mikhaila Historical Costumer
    by Ninya Mikhaila
  • The Tudor Child: Clothing and Culture 1485 to 1625

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