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ladies, called a kirtle. Some writers suppose it to have meant the petticoat; others, that it was an under robe. But, though frequently mentioned by old authors, nothing can be correctly determined respecting it.
Little appears to be known concerning the costume in Britain under the Danes; but we are told that the latter "were effeminately gay in their dress, combed their hair once a day, bathed once a week, and often changed their attire."
An ancient and celebrated piece of tapestry, kept in the Church of Bayeux, contains some curious representations of the dress of the Northmen. This immense tableau of the conquest of England has survived the ravages of time, and is still in a wonderful state of preservation. It measures two hundred and twelve feet in length, but only eighteen inches in breadth, and is engraved in Montfaucon's "Monarchic Francaise." Till of late years, Matilda, the consort of William the Conqueror, was supposed to have been the embroideress of this beautiful memorial of her husband's conquests; Now, however, doubts on this subject have been raised, and it is said to have been worked in later ages.
We confess our disposition to believe that, notwithstanding the testimony of learned antiquaries, Matilda was the inventress of this ancient tapestry; and, even now, we can fancy the royal lady surrounded by the fair dames of her court, each armed with a needle, gaily recording the triumphs of the Norman Conqueror. How many fair fingers must have assisted in this curious work! how many bright eyes must have smiled at the curious emblems and devices it contains!
King Edward is represented, in this work, habited in a long robe, emblazoned round the bottom; it is fastened at the neck and waist by a band, and the sleeves are long and nearly tight. He has shoes on his feet, and a bushy beard and moustaches. Mont. faucon, in his description of the tapestry, supposes Edward, who is seated on his throne, to be in the act of desiring Harold to go and inform William of Normandy that he has appointed him his successor to the British crown. The beard and moustaches of the monarch are very luxuriant, and seem to intimate that his majesty did not like his subjects to imitate the Norman fashions. William of Malmesbury accuses the Britons, at this time, "of transforming themselves into Normans and Frenchmen, employing their strange speech and manners, and also the very fantastic costume of their nation,—that of wearing short tunics, or clipping their hair, and shaving the beard."
Harold and his attendants are very differently habited from the monarch. Each wears on his head a kind of bonnet, and though the beard is close shaven, and no hair is seen underneath the head-dress, the moustaches are allowed to remain. They wear tunics reaching to the knees, and small cloaks, that much resemble the Greek chlamydes, are fixed on the right shoulder with a brooch. Their feet are covered with clumsy-looking shoes. The riding-dress is the same, with the addition of spurs.
After William the Conqueror came to the throne, the Norman dress was very generally adopted; but the curious fashion of shaving the back of the head was a mode that the Anglo-Saxons appear never to have followed; and we are told by William of Poitou, "that when William returned to Normandy, accompanied by several of his new subjects, the courtiers of the regent were much astonished at the beauty of the long-haired English, and their rich embroidered habits."
The ladies' dress continued much the same as we have described in the preceding chapter, till the reign of Henry the First, when the sleeves and veils were worn so immensely long, that they were tied up in bows and festoons, and la grande mode then appears to have been, to have the skirts of the gowns also of so ridiculous a length, that they lay trailing upon the ground. Laced bodies were also sometimes seen, and tight sleeves with pendant cuffs, like those mentioned in the reign of Louis the Seventh of France. A second, or upper tunic, much shorter than the under robe, was also the fashion; and, perhaps, it may be considered as the surcoat generally worn by the Normans. The hair was often wrapped in silk or riband, and allowed to hang down the back; and mufflers were in common use. The dresses were very splendid, with embroidery and gold borders.
The gentlemen's habiliments, during the above reigns, varied much more than those of the fair sex; and the writers of the time charge the reign of William Rufus with many abuses and extravagances in dress. Every article relating to the toilette was composed of the richest materials. The finest cloths, linen, and silks, adorned with gold and embroidery, and lined with costly furs, formed the costume of the higher classes. The tunic, formerly reaching to the knees, was now considerably lengthened, and the sleeves hung down nearly to the feet, while the inner garment swept the ground.
William of Malmesbury mentions a mantle presented to Henry by the Bishop of Lincoln, which cost 100/., and describes it as being made of the finest cloth, lined with black sables. The same writer greatly censures the long hair, loose flowing robes, ridiculously pointed shoes, and effeminate appearance, of the men of that period.
It is said that a laughable incident occurred when Henry was in Normandy. A preacher so eloquently declaimed against the sin and wickedness of wearing long hair, that the monarch and his attendants actually wept. Delighted with the impression his eloquence had made upon the king and his subjects, the prelate determined to follow up his advantage, and not lose the golden opportunity; he therefore took from the folds of his sleeve a large pair of shears, and cropped the whole congregation!