Archaeological Journal/Volume 1/English Medieval Embroidery

ENGLISH MEDIEVAL EMBROIDERY.

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Steeple Aston, Oxfordshire.

The subject of embroidery, as practised during the middle ages, possesses sufficient claims to entitle it to notice in our Journal. It constituted one of the most prominent decorations in ecclesiastical and civil costume during that lengthened period, and served to occupy the leisure of the English gentlewoman when there were but few other modes in which her talents could be employed. Apart from the exercises of devotion, or the pleasures of hawking, it was probably the only recreation she could enjoy. Shut up in her lofty chamber, within the massive precincts of a castle, or immured in the restricted limits of a convent, the needle alone supplied an unceasing source of amusement; with this she might enliven her tedious hours, and depicting the heroic deeds of her absent lord, as it were, visibly hasten his return; or on the other hand, softened by the subdued influences of pious contemplation, she might use this pliant instrument to bring vividly before her mind the mysteries of that faith to which in her solitude she fondly clung.

It would be unavailing to seek for the origin of this art in Great Britain; it is one as ancient as any now existing, and must have been imported from the East. Still it is not out of our power to shew from contemporaneous sources, that whilst it was practised at a very early period in this country, the specimens which found their way to foreign lands were most highly prized for their beauty. Embroidery is comparatively a modern term, (Brit. Brout, Brout, acupingere, and Brwyd instrumentum aeu pingendi; Lat. Barb. Brustus, Brusdus, Aurobrastus, Brodatus, Bacuatus; Pr. Broderie;) the art in question is better known in medieval writers under the title of aurifrasium, or anrifrigium, the opus Phrygium; Fr. frange d'or, or work of gold, and hence the different names of Orfrais, Orfrays, or Orfreys, words indicating in their general signification, borders, guardings, facings, or any parts of a material in which gold tambour was used. It is not the opus plumatum of the Romans, for that was feather tapestry, resembling the dresses worn by the natives of Central America. There is clearly a distinction to be made in the various applications of the word plumatæ. When Lucan so fervidly describes the extraordinary change introduced by the Imperial Cleopatra into the habits and domestic economy of the Roman citizens, his use of the words pars auro plumata nitet, implies couches embroidered with gold, in the same way as Appian speaks of the togæ pictæ; but the Glossaries, which are our best authority, render the title plumarius a feather dyer, and the opus plumarii or opus plumatum, certainly, even as Seneca (Epis. 90.) speaks of it, denotes a work in which feathers form the chief ornament.

English embroidery has consistently enough been called the opus Anglicanum, from being a manufacture extensively and skilfully pursued in our own country. These Orfrais are continually mentioned by medieval writers, but as will be gathered from the ensuing extracts, their appropriation was various. In the Roman de Rose, for instance, the word is found in connection with the head:—

Et un chapeau d'Orfrays eut neuf.
Le plus beau fut de dix-neuf,
Jamais nul jour où je n'avoye
Chapeau si bien ouvré de soye.

And again, as Chaucer speaks of them:—

Richesse a robe of purple on had,
Ne trow not that she it mad.
For in this world is none it liche,
Ne by a thousand deale so riche,
Ne none so faire, for it full well
AYith orfreis laied was every dell.
And purtraid in the ribanings
Of dukes stones, and of kings.

And in the Roman de Garin:—

Bien fu vestuë d'un paille de Biterne,
Et un Orfrois a mis dessus sa teste.

It is in the reign of William I. (1066—1087) that we begin to meet with any historical illustration of the present subject. The Norman chronicler Vitalis, in recounting the incidents connected with his own abbey of St. Evroul, narrates that Matilda, the monarch's queen, having heard of the exemplary lives of the monks of this establishment, was induced to pay them a visit, and she placed a gift upon the Altar worthy their heartfelt recollection. In this visit she was accompanied by Adelina, the wife of Roger de Bellmont, who brought with her an alb richly adorned with Orfrais, and presenting it to the church, the priest wore it whilst celebrating mass[1]. Matilda also left, by her will, to the abbey of the Trinity at Caen, which she had founded, a chesable worked at Winchester by the wife of Alderet, and a cloak worked in gold made for a cope, and also another vestment wrought in England. From this time down to the reign of Henry VIII. there are copious notices scattered throughout our historical documents, which serve to shew the extent to which needlework was employed in beautifying various articles of ecclesiastical and secular costume. Some notion, however, may be formed of its extensive application, by merely looking over the catalogues of church vestments which were preserved in the cathedrals of York, Lincoln, London, and Peterborough. In Lincoln alone there were upwards of six hundred, wrought with divers kind of needlework, jewelry, and gold, upon Indian baudekyn, samit, tarterain, velvet, and silk. Even in the succinct way in which they were described by a common inventory, we cannot help being struck with their splendour: the constant repetition of such terms as "an orphrey of goodly needlework," "the arms of England and squirrels of gold;" or, as in the instance of mortuary copes given to the church of St. Paul's, "emblazoned with the arms of Eleanor, of England and of Spain," knights jousting, lions fighting, amices barred with amethysts and pearls, &c. Without enumerating more, all are cumulative proofs of the gorgeous effects produced by the English needle. They were finished too in the most elaborate manner, the nicest details of Gothic tracery or personal peculiarity of expression being accurately pourtrayed.

An idea of the pecuniary value of these works of art may be gleaned from the Liberate Roll 24. Hen. III.[2] (1241), where among other entries of a similar kind, we find this monarch ordering the payment of £24. 1s. 6d. to Adam de Basinges, for a cope of red silk, given to the bishop of Hereford: also to the same person £17. 18s. 10d. for two diapered and one precious cloth of gold, for a tunic and dalmatican entirely ornamented with gold fringe, and also £17 and one mark, for two embroidered chesables for the royal chapel. Reckoning the comparative cost of these vestments according to the present increased rate of money, which the calculations of Dr. Henry and of Adam Smith have made out to be fifteen times greater than at that period, the cope presented to the bishop of Hereford must have been worth £361. 2s. 6d. The monarch also gave to this newly-elected bishop (Peter de Aqua Blanca) a mitre costing £82[3], which, pursuing the same kind of calculation as that just instituted, must have equalled in value £1,230 sterling. And a sum as large as £140, equalling it is presumed £2,100 now, was given to Thomas Cheiner for a vest of velvet embroidered with divers work, purchased by Edward III. for his own chaplain[4]. I must confess upon applying the test of the two cambists already mentioned, this computation appears exaggerated. Yet even reverting to the charge first named, £140 for a vest of embroidered velvet, indicates that the skill displayed must have been something extraordinary, or it would not have drawn so large a reimbursement from the royal exchequer; whilst it adds another to the numerously-existing evidences of the encouragement afforded to this species of English workmanship, afforded, at a period too, when the arts had risen to their highest state of perfection in Great Britain.

It may be true that very little is still existing by which their merit may be fairly tested, since from various causes these works have generally perished; in some measure through an insufficiency of strength and texture in the material itself on which they were wrought; through the want of that unselfish and advanced taste which, whilst it properly estimates, also preserves, that the future also may have the means of enjoying and admiring; partly destroyed through an ungenerous fear that such things would tend to beget a grovelling superstition, or else through a cause to which the destruction of the greater portion may be assigned, a sacrilegious love of the gold, which formed their prominent attraction, and consigned them to the Jewish broker, and then reduced them to ashes.

There are several other such entries as the foregoing in the Liberate Roll of Henry III., all tending to shew that at that time the art of Embroidery had reached a high degree of perfection in this country. Amongst those who practised it, frequent mention is made of Adam de Basinges, Adam de Bakering, John de Colonia, Thomas Chenier, John Blaton, William Courtenay, Stephen Vyne, Thomas de Carleton, &c. In this list we find Stephen Vyne so highly commended by the Duke de Berry and d'Auverne, that Richard II. and his queen appointed him their chief embroiderer, and their nephew Henry IV. granted him at their decease a yearly pension in reward for his skilful services[5].

Doubtlessly these labours were also pursued by females, both for their amusement as well as their profit, and there exists another entry (Apr. 24, 1242.) on these same Rolls in proof of it, authorizing a payment to Adam de Bakering of 6s. 8d. "for a certain cloth of silk and a fringe purchased by our command, to embroider a certain embroidered chesable which Mabilia of St. Edmund's made for us[6]." It seems most reasonable therefore to conclude, that the men commonly travailed at the orfevrie department, whilst the women undertook the needlework[7]. And in the 10th of Edward II. (May 10, 1317.) fifty marks in part payment of a hundred, were given by Queen Isabella's own hands, to Rose the wife of John de Bureford, citizen and merchant of London, for an embroidered cope for the choir, lately purchased from her to make a present to the Lord High Pontiff from the Queen[8].

In such high estimation was the opus Anglicanum held on the continent in the Latin Church, that John bishop of Marseilles in his testament (1345) made a special bequest to the church of his alb that was wrought with English Orfrais. Nay, even at Rome, where it might have been expected that the most costly works of this description would have been sufficiently common, the English Orfrais excited both admiration and cupidity. For as we are informed by Matthew Paris, the Pope, who was Innocent IV. (1246.), observing on the copes and infulæ of certain of the ecclesiastics some very desirable Orfrais, he enquired where they were made, and being answered in England, he exclaimed, "Truly England is our garden of delight; in sooth it is a well inexhaustible; and where there is great abundance, from thence much may be extracted:" and accordingly his holiness dispatched his official letters to nearly all the abbots of the Cistercian order in England, to the prayers of whom he had just been committing himself in the chapter-house of their order, and urged them to procure for his choir, for nothing if they could accomplish it, yet, at all events, to purchase things so estimable. An order which, adds the chronicler, was sufficiently pleasing to the London merchants, but the cause of many persons detesting him for his covetousness[9].

Truly one cannot help feeling surprise that these Orfrais, costly and gorgeous as they no doubt were, should have excited in the eyes of the Pope such wonder and unrestrained avarice. For certainly productions of a similar kind had adorned ecclesiastical apparel from as remote a time as Leo III. (795.), since this Pontiff is commemorated by Anastasius the librarian as a great benefactor of them to the Church[10]; whilst the frequent enumeration of aureate and purple tissues (chrysoclaba) in his valuable catalogue of the benefactions made to various churches in Rome by the earlier Popes, is full and minute, even to the very subjects represented on the vestments, which were usually the Nativity, the Passion, and the Resurrection of our Lord.

Yet, it must not be supposed that this species of work was exclusively confined to ecclesiastical uses. It was the prevalent decoration of royal as well as of military costume, besides being employed upon various kinds of domestic furniture. King John orders Reginald de Cornhull (April 6, 1215) to furnish without delay five banners of his arms embroidered with gold[11]. Nor ought mention to be omitted here of a passage in the French poem descriptive of the siege of Carlaverock, which records that the banners and caparisons of the knights and soldiers who accompanied Edward to that memorable scene were embroidered on silk and satin with the arms of their owner.

Là out meinte riche garnement
Brodé sur cendeaus et samis.

Sometimes, however, the banners and jupons of the knight were painted, as is the case in the fragment floating in the church of Elstow, Bedfordshire. Without filling these pages with too many elucidations of the subject, attention shall be directed to an entry on an Issue Roll of 9 Edward III. (1335.) illustrative of the application of embroidery to domestic purposes. On the 28th of June we find payment made to John de Colonia towards the cost of two vests of green velvet, embroidered with gold, one of which is described as being decorated with sea sirens, bearing a shield with the arms of England and Hainault; and for making a white robe worked with pearls, and a robe of velvet cloth, embroidered with gold of divers workmanship, made by him against the confinement of the Lady Philippa, Queen of England[12]. Edward of Westminster is commanded to order (35th Hen. III., 1252.) a banner to be made of white silk, and in the centre of it there is to be a representation of the Crucifixion, with the effigies of the Blessed Mary and St. John, embroidered in Orfrais, and on the top a star and a new crescent moon[13]. Such modes of ornamenting chambers are frequently alluded to in the early wills. Amongst the effects of Henry V. was a bed called "the bed of embroidered figs." In short, the art of Embroidery appears to have been displayed on every material where elegance of design and richness of effect was capable of being produced by such means.

The Monarch himself wore garments embroidered after the same fashion as the Churchmen. In fact, one of them, the dalmatic, was common to both orders, and there is an entry on the Issue Roll of the 40th Edward III. (1366.) recording a payment made to William Courtenay for one of these royal habits, describing it as being embroidered with pelicans, images, and tabernacles of gold[14].

The dalmatic on the effigy of Henry II. was painted to imitate the original, and flowered over with golden stars. The coronation robes of the same Monarch, of Richard I. and John, were all splendidly embroidered. The order is extant for making the robes of Henry III., one of which was commanded to be of the best purple-coloured samit, embroidered with three little leopards in front and three behind. His sandals also were to be fretted with gold, each square of the feet containing a lion or a leopard.

This truly elegant mode of decorating the dress is minutely described in the following entry from the Close Rolls, not yet published, but given by Mr. Hardy in his learned introduction to the first volume of these important records. "John de Sumercote and Roger the tailor are commanded by Henry III. (1252.) to get made without delay four robes of the best brocade which they can procure, namely, two for the king's use, and two for the queen's, with Orfrais and gems of various colours; the tunics to be of softer brocade than the mantles and supertunics, and the mantles are to be furred with ermine, and the supertunics with minever." Besides the robes for the king's use, three were ordered for the queen, with 'queyntisis,' one of which was to be of "the best violet-coloured brocade that could be procured, with three small leopards in the front and three others behind[15]." These magnificent dresses were ordered in anticipation of the marriage of his daughter, the Princess Margaret, with Alexander III., King of Scotland.

The costume of the military opened a wide field for this elegant species of decoration. The countenance of the Knight being shrouded by his bacinet of steel, it became necessary that he should bear some device by which he might be readily recognised by his friends and followers, and nothing appeared more suitable than that his own armorial bearings should be emblazoned on his shield, or embroidered on his dress. And such, as is well known, was the constant practice of the period, it being the usual custom to charge the jupon, cointise, and cote hardie of the men, and the open surcoats of the females, with the heraldic badge of the wearer. In nearly every monumental effigy, traces of this practice are discernible, and as there is not the smallest reason for doubting that all these creations of the sculptor were as faithful representations of the deceased as he could possibly exhibit, both as regarded his very features, as well as his dress, they will become invested with an additional degree of interest when it is ascertained in what manner, and to what extent, the various diaperings, powderings, and other methods of adornment were produced.

We have fortunately one specimen, and it is much to be regretted that it is the only one at present conceived to exist, which affords the necessary corroboration to the truth of these remarks.

It was at the first meeting of the Archæological Association held at Canterbury, a session when British antiquities began to assume a definite and scientific complexion, that I became enabled, through the courtesy of the cathedral authorities, to give a minute inspection to the rapidly decaying jupon suspended over the tomb of Edward the Black Prince. From this examination I ascertained, to my own entire conviction, first, that there was a prevalent and systematic mode of working the elaborate ornaments which decorate the military costume of the middle ages; and secondly, that the habits themselves were conscientiously delineated on the sepulchral monument of the departed warrior. With feelings of no ordinary emotion, I pressed forward to handle a garment, that the spirit of chivalry and courage alike had consigned to the protecting regards of posterity. Tor who could allow his fingers to grasp but a fragment of what had once enwrapped that model of regal dignity and magnificence, without carrying his impressions backwards to those scenes which witnessed the prowess of this flower of English knighthood, or without throwing a hasty recollection over the fields of Britain's glory, where he had nobly fought, Crecy and Poitiers?

The exquisite monument of the Prince is partially known by numerous engravings and descriptions, but it may however be questioned whether, as a work of art, it has yet been sufficiently appreciated, but the period is at length approaching, it is ardently hoped, when the value of these works will be better known, when their intrinsic merit as statuary will be acknowledged, and when their evidences of history, personal and national, will, if it cannot excite an admiration and generate a higher taste, serve, at least, to protect them from wanton spoliation. So much ruthless and ignorant destruction has been perpetrated, that, on recounting it, one cannot suppress a sigh, and mournfully contemplate the dishonoured fragments that have been accidentally spared. I have seen these time-honoured memorials of the dead torn from the sacred fanes where affectionate devotion had fondly placed them, to be cast in the public highways, or stuck up as incongruous embellishments, to eke out the paltry enjoyments of a suburban parterre.

The influence of the Archæological Association can never be more legitimately, or more wisely exerted than in preventing the recurrence of wilful havoc in the monuments of the country; and by such a preservative course of action, should their exertions effect nothing more, they will protect the national character from the unnatural imputation, that Englishmen have no respect for the sacred monuments of their fatherland.

Reverting, however, to the two facts which I have stated as being established from the examination of the Black Prince's jupon, I will remark that as concerns the first, namely, the mode of decoration, that the vest is of one pile velvet, at present of a palish yellow brown colour, faded probably from crimson. Its foundation is of fine buckram or calico, stuffed or padded with cotton, stitched and quilted in longitudinal folds, gamboised (gamboisé), as the proper term for such work is, and the velvet covering is ornamented with the arms of the Black Prince, quarterly France and England, embroidered in gold. As the mode of effecting this is precisely the same as that pursued in ecclesiastical habits, which will be presently fully described, it will be unnecessary to enter upon it here.

The second inference drawn is fully borne out, by comparing the jupon with its antitype in the latten effigy. So close indeed is the imitation, that not only in length and in general appearance do they exactly correspond to each other, but even to the half one of the fleur-de-lis semee, is the resemblance carried out. Had the artist merely intended to personify the Prince in the dress of the period, such scrupulous attention would scarcely have been considered deserving his notice, but he intended to produce, what there can be no reason for disputing was the universal custom, a faithful portrait of the garment itself. And if this exact attention were bestowed on the dress, can it be imagined that less regard would be paid to representing the countenance of the deceased? In that age, nothing was deemed too minute or elaborate to engage the talents of the sculptor, the limner or the embroideress, and portraits could not, amid all their love of truthful detail, be overlooked.

Such a fondness for costly raiment had at this period crept into fashion that it became necessary to repress it by legislative enactments. And hence the statute of 37 Edward III. (1363.) against excess of apparel, by which it was ordered that none whose income was below four hundred marks a year should wear cloth of gold, or drapery enamelled (aymelez) or embroidered[16]. How far this enactment may have been efficacious it is difficult to say, since Embroidery still prevailed, and in those ages of correct design, as in these of servile imitation, no one probably liked to be left behind his neighbours, and as every one's resources were not equal to bear the same cost, a spurious method of embroidery found customers; so that in the 2nd year of Henry IV. it was represented to the Parliament, that whereas divers persons occupying "the crafte of Brauderie, maken diverse werkes of Brauderie of unsuffisaunt stuff, and unduely wrought as well upon velowet, and cloth of gold, as upon all other clothes of silk wrought with gold or silver of Cipre, and gold of Luk, or Spaynyssh laton togedre, and suiche warkes, so untrewely made by suiche persons aforesaid, dredyng the serche of the wardens of Brauderie in the said citie of London, kepen and senden unto the fayres of Steresbrugg, Ely, Oxenford, and Salesbury, and ther thei outre hem, to greet deseit of our soverain Ld. the Kyng and all his peple." To which it was replied that all such counterfeits should be forfeited to the king[17].


Cope of Crimson Velvet, Campden, Gloucestershire
Compared with the great number of splendid church vestments that once existed in this country, very few at present remain. At the cathedral of Durham, where copes continued to be worn as late as the prelacy of Bishop Warburton, there are three, said to be as old as the fourteenth century. The Roman Catholic college of St. Mary's, Oscott, has a very beautiful suit, found walled up in the cathedral of Waterford, and subsequently presented to the institution by the Earl of Shrewsbury. One of crimson velvet at Black Ladies, Staffordshire. One of cloth of gold, at Stonyhurst. One of crimson velvet, embroidered with crowns and stars of Bethlehem, at Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire.
Cope, Weston Underwood.
One of purple velvet, in the Roman Catholic chapel at Weston Underwood, Northamptonshire. One, probably a cope, at Llaugharne, Caermarthenshire. One of green velvet in the cathedral at Ely. One of the earlier part of the thirteenth century, formerly belonging to the nuns of Sion House, now in the possession of the earl of Shrewsbury and several in the possession of Edw. Wilson, Esq., Lincoln. Besides these, there are portions of embroidery, formerly used as vestments, generally copes, at Buckland,
Cope, Ely.
Worcestershire; Ling, Norfolk; East Langdon, Kent; Bacton, and Kinnersley, Herefordshire; Hullavington, and Cirencester, Gloucestershire; Stoke Canon, Devonshire; all converted into pulpit and altar cloths: there is not sufficient evidence that the fragment so carefully preserved at Lutterworth, really formed a portion of the vestment worn by John Wickliff:—Kettleston, Norfolk; Wool, Dorsetshire; Conway, Caernarvonshire; Careby, Lincolnshire; at Cothele Chapel, Cornwall; there are two altar fronts of velvet in a perfect state at Wardour Castle, a cope formerly belonging to Westminster Abbey, and other specimens; another vestment from this abbey is at Stonyhurst;
East Langdon, Kent. (A.)
at Talacre a chesable from Basingwerk Abbey, (?) and an ancient alb at Shrewsbury; at Prior Park, near Bath, and Bath Abbey, are various ancient specimens; Madeley Chapel, Shropshire, has two vestments of the fourteenth century, probably from the priory of Much Wenlock, Little Dean, Gloucestershire. This list, imperfect and brief as it is, the reader will probably be able to augment, and to correct those deficiencies for which I feel myself incompetent.


East Langdon, Kent.
The embroidery at Stoke Canon seems to have been an altar-cloth; it has three central figures; the Conventional Devices are the eagle displayed, a fish, and candlestick. The pulpit-cloth at Hullavington, originally a cope, is a beautiful specimen of the work of the period: the Redeemer is represented in the centre suspended on a cross, with angels catching the blood in chalices; the velvet ground is powdered over with angels with outspread wings, standing on stars of Bethlehem, with fleur-de-lis, and with one of the patterns found on the Communion table-cloth at East Langdon, represented in the accompanying fig. (A.)

The repetition and recurrence of these Conventional Devices is very general. The same patterns, for instance, occur at Buckland, in Worcestershire, as are found on the fragments supposed to have formed portions of Wickliff's vestment at Lutterworth;
East Langdon, Kent.
on the Ely and Weston-Underwood copes the same patterns are observable; at St. Thomas, Salisbury, Careby, Weston-Underwood, and Stoke Canon, the same style and patterns prevail. The Communion-cloth at Emneth, Cambridgeshire, given by Sir Thomas Hewar (circa 1570), has the same pattern as may be seen amongst the four on the cope at Weston-Underwood. At Hullavington and Cirencester the same Conventional Design may also be traced. In
Cope at Buckland, Worcestershire.
the latter church there is a pulpit-cloth, no longer used, which appears to have been made out of some ancient vestment, probably a cope, as it has been cut into long strips, and sewed up into its present shape. It is made of blue velvet, with a wide border, which is now quite faded, but was perhaps purple. Both the middle and border are covered with spangles, and embroidered with cherubim standing on stars of Bethlehem; and with pine-apples, in gold and colours. The border at the upper part seems meant to be worn round the back of the neck, as the pine-apples are inverted. One of the cherubim holds a shield of armorial bearings:—Argent, on a chevron sable, three roses, or. Under which is a scroll, with the words "Orate pro anima domini Radulphi parsons." Under the other cherubim are the words "Gloria tibi trinitas." Over the pine-apples on the border are the words "Da gloriam Deo." At the entrance of the chancel is the brass of a priest, bearing the chalice and paten, who appears to be the donor of this vestment. The inscription to it runs thus:

"Orate pro anima domini Radulphi Parsons quondam Capellani perpetuæ cantariæ, sanctæ Trinitatis in hac Ecclesia fundata qui obiit 22 die Augusti Anno Domini 1478, cujus animæ propitietur deus. Amen."

It seems probable by this that the vestment was left by Ralph Parsons for the use of the chapel of the Holy Trinity, which will give both the date of the vestment and the conventional pattern. This chapel was founded before the year 1478, though the present building was made at the expense of Richard Ruthal, bishop of Durham, a native of the town, in the reign of Henry VIII.

There is, moreover, another form, under which the art of embroidery was displayed. The Hangings, Frontals, and Antependia of the Altar received the same care as the priestly vestments. Still fewer of these remain, a fact easily accounted for, by the destruction of the Altar itself, and the substitution in its place according to Queen Elizabeth's letter, Jan. 25, in the seventh year of her reign (1565) of "a decent table provided at the cost of the parish, standing on a frame." Of these Antependiums I have seen three. Two of white watered silk (holosericus) beautifully wrought, having the re- presentation of the Assumption in the centre, and the other part of the ground powdered with a conventional pattern, ten feet ten inches long, and three feet wide, preserved at Chipping Campden. One probably of tarterain, (Tartarinus, tartariscus, Cloth of Tars,) temp. Edw. III., a most interesting specimen of this kind of manufacture, at Steeple Aston, Oxfordshire. It is purfled (pourfilé, brullatus) with various patterns, two of which are introduced (see figures, p. 318 and 343); others represent the crucifixion of the Redeemer, the death of St. Stephen and other holy martyrs; these are heightened by needlework, and the countenances have been pressed with a hot iron, to give the more prominent parts higher relief. Another figured in Hoare's Wiltshire, belonging to St. Thomas's church, Salisbury. And this list also, the reader will most likely be able, from his own observation, to augment.

Archaeological Journal, Volume 1, 0333.png

Steeple Aston, Oxfordshire. See previous page.

It remains merely to offer an explanation of the mode by which this kind of decoration was effected.

In the first place let it be noted, that velvet, having a shifting surface, it necessarily becomes one of the most difficult of materials to work upon. No doubt the early embroideresses fully experienced the inconvenience, for they did not, at least in all the examples to which my attention has been directed, attempt a labour that would have been both perplexing and, certainly to the extent they followed it, insuperable. All their needlework is first done upon some other material (en raport), such as linen, canvass, silk, or vellum, and their operations (appliquées) subsequently sewn upon the velvet. This was simply the universal method adopted to produce these very beautiful specimens of manual ingenuity that now elicit our admiration. A more particular account, however, shall be given, for knowing the process by which Early English embroidery was fabricated, there will not then exist any obstacle in endeavouring to copy it. Apprehending, too, the principles that directed the manufacture, its imitation will become an easy and agreeable accomplishment, as well as form an elegant and refined occupation for those spare hours, which our fair countrywomen have of late years so toilsomely spent, over the coarse materials, and the tasteless patterns, imported from Germany.

The materials that may be legitimately used to produce English embroidery like that already described, are limited to five: namely, gold and silver tambour (passé), jewels, velvet, and silk[18]. Having chosen the substance that was to be wrought, the first point was to make out the pattern (prendre la taille) of the conventional device that was to be powdered on the surface. This might be done by tracing it by means of chalk upon white paper, and piercing that so as to shew its contour; several others could then be cut out to the same size and figures. The foundation (le fond) of canvass, vellum,
A. the foundation merely shaped. B. the same edged with galoon. C. the same embroidered. D. the band upon which the gold tambour (passe) is worked. a. pink. b. yellow.
or any other suitable stuff, most commonly the former, was then shaped in a similar way, the edges being bound (galonner) with cord, which was afterwards cast over (en guipure) with gold or silver tambour. The inner part of the design was then worked, either plain or in shades, in tapestry stitch with silk; this too was sometimes raised above the foundation by felt (embouttin). If a leaf were to be represented, (passe en barbiches,) the fibres were expressed by a fine thread of tambour being lightly passed among the silk, to indicate the vegetable tissue. In fact, neither gold nor silver could ever be inappropriately, or too profusely introduced, in delineating the object.

There were two ways of introducing the gold or silver portion. A very common method was to take a piece of gold lace, and cutting it out in the required shape, to attach it to the foundation, and the surface of this (le passé épargne) was raised (embouttin) in certain lines (as, for instance, in representing the sacred monogram) by cord or common twine, which in its turn was whipped over (guipé) but completely covered with a thread of the same metal. The other mode (en couchure) was the most ancient of embroideries; it was made with coarse gold thread or spangles, sewn in rows one beside another.
These two examples shew the Mode of sewing the bouillon and purl (frisure.)

Manner in which the end of the silk is taken in the eye of the needle to the ends, when it is wished to draw it under the stuff.

The introduction of spangles (pailletes) took place at an early period. They are often seen representing tendrils, springing from the points of leaves, and are very rarely found sewn upon the device itself. Manner in which the end of the silk is taken in the eye of the needle to the ends, when it is wished to draw it under the stuff.
Old method of putting on the pailettes.


Paillons, before and after they are sewn on with bouillon and purl.
The conventional devices most usually adopted in Medieval Embroidery, were leopards of gold; black trefoils; white harts having crowns round their necks, with chains, silver and gilt; Catherine wheels; falcons; swans; archangels; stars; fleur-de-lis; lions; griffins; hearts; moons; stars; peacocks; dragons; eagles displayed; lilies; and imaginary leaves and flowers.

charles henry hartshorne.

  1. Order. Vital., lib. vi. p. 603.
  2. Issues of the Exchequer, p. 16.
  3. Issue Roll, p. 17.
  4. Issue Roll, p. 154.
  5. Issue Roll, 3 Hen. IV. p. 285.
  6. Issues of the Exchequer, p. 23.
  7. Issues of the Exchequer, p. 14.
  8. Ib. p. 133.
  9. Matt. Par. Hist. Angl., p. 173. edit. Rom. p. 122. Paris 1644.
  10. Anastas. Biblioth. de Vitis Pontif.
  11. Rot. Lit. Claus., p. 193.
  12. Issue Roll, pp. 144, 145.
  13. Introduction to Close Roll, p. 46.
  14. Issue Roll, p. 198.
  15. Introduction to Close Roll, p. 41.
  16. Rolls of Parl., vii. p. 279.
  17. Rolls of Parl., vii. p. 255.
  18. These may be obtained in every variety from Messrs. Odell and Atherly, Burlington Arcade.