April 11, 2019

Red underwear – Racy, religious or respectable?

Saoirse Ronan 2019 Mary Queen Of Scots Movie

An exciting range of red fabrics is now available from The Tudor Tailor which makes it easy to reconstruct appropriate underwear for the well-dressed 16th century woman whether she is a princess, a pauper or somewhere in between.

A regularly repeated rumour is that Mary, Queen of Scots, wore a bright red petticoat at her execution on 8 February 1587 to symbolise her martyrdom for her Roman Catholic faith. This is reinforced by Hollywood film portrayals (most recently by Saoirse Ronan in Mary Queen of Scots directed by Josie Rourke). But this image of the doomed queen turns out to be misleading in more ways than one.

An eyewitness account says she chose to wear a petticoat of cramoisy brun (crimson brown) trimmed with black guards instead of the bright red alternatives such as fine scarlet wool or incarnate satin, which were also listed in her wardrobe inventory. In addition, a red petticoat would not be a surprise choice whether it was bright or subdued in tone. Red petticoats were worn by all and sundry in the 16th century both for every day and special occasions.

Mary was in right royal company with Catherine of Aragon, who had two scarlet petticoats recorded in 1520, Jane Seymour, who bought crimson velvet for a petticoat in 1536/1537, and Catherine Parr, who wore 1.5 yards of fine scarlet in her petticoats a decade later. Further down the social scale, red petticoats were de rigeur as illustrated by Mistress Lamyman who received a red petticoat of striped russells in 1543, Anne Arundel who bequeathed a red frizado petticoat in 1569, and Mary Whitney who owned a petticoat of red durance in 1590. Servants were often given red petticoats by their masters or mistresses: Katherine Fleminge had one of cottoned wool in 1589 and a maid called Margaret received a red cloth petticoat “for service done” in 1571.

The Tudor Tailor’s database of wills, inventories and accounts records more than 500 red petticoats from 1538 to 1603 representing 54 per cent of all of those described by colour (971). There are 524 red petticoats belonging to 422 people which suggests that it was usual to own more than one red petticoat. Most of the red petticoats for which the textile is also recorded (49 examples) were made of woollen cloth.

The Tudor Tailor now has a selection of red fabrics suitable for every station in life. There is a racy red silk option for royals (crimson taffeta), a showy yet warm wool (red frizado) for the well-to-do tradesman’s wife, and a choice of murrey or madder cloth for a yeoman’s servant or similar. Wherever you are in the “chain of being”, there’s some respectable red underwear just for you! Choose from the following – all with 10 per cent off the regular price shown below until 30 April 2019:

Crimson silk taffeta fabric at £15 for a half yard at 55.5 inches wide (91.5 cm/141 cm wide) - Buy now

Red wool frizado fabric at £15for a half yardat 50 inches wide (91.5 cm/127 cm wide) - Buy now

Murrey red woollen 2/2 twill cloth fabric at £14 for a half yard at 60 inches wide (91.5 cm/152.5 cm wide) - Buy now

Madder red woollen 2/2 twill cloth fabric at £14 for a half yard at 60 inches wide (91.5 cm/152.5 cm wide) - Buy now