Elizabethe Barton

London widow and servant to Lady Mary Seymour (1543)

Elizabethe’s garments - in her will and inventory

  • Five smocks
  • Three gowns (one puke, one brown-blue, one black lined with black cotton)
  • Three kirtles (one tawny, two black)
  • Two petticoats (both red)
  • Six kerchers
  • Five neckerchers
  • Five rails
  • Three pairs of foresleeves
  • One girdle (black)
  • Five caps (three white, one quilted, one woollen)

Elizabethe lived in Shoreditch, in the London parish of ‘Saynt Leonardes’ and was servant to ‘Ladye Semer’. Mary Seymour was the widow of Sir Thomas Seymour, knight and lord mayor from 1526 to 1527. He was also twice master of the Mercers’ Company. Although these names are well known to those familiar with Tudor history, there is no obvious connection to the more famous Seymour family.

In addition to the garments listed in her will, Elizabethe left 12d to each of her fellow servants. The sum of 12d or one shilling would be roughly equivalent to £20 in 2017, according to The National Archives online currency converter. However, the Bank of England’s inflation calculator suggests that it would be nearer £40 in 2020. This huge disparity demonstrates just how difficult it is to make meaningful comparisons of monetary worth between eras.

A more valuable insight into the purchasing power of 12d in 1543 can be found by looking for clues in the same source. In her will, Elizabethe also left ‘an olde blacke gowne lined wythe blacke cotton’ valued at the time at 12d – so this suggests that she left her fellow servants enough to buy themselves something nice in the second-hand clothing trade.

Her will also mentions a debt of 20li (£20) owed to her by Lady Askew. It was common for people to record sums of money – and sometimes clothes – owed to them by others in their wills. Data collected in research for The Typical Tudor shows that it cost £1 3s to make a damask gown for Lady Hastings in 1547 (not including the damask but all the ‘other things belonginge’). So, the £20 owed to Elizabethe by Lady Askew was enough to pay a skilled tailor working with expensive silk fabric to make as many as 17 gowns.

This is a substantial sum for a servant (even a respectable one in a well-to-do widowed lady’s household) to be loaning to a higher ranking woman. What were Lady Askew’s circumstances that she needed to borrow the money from Elizabethe? Maybe we will never know …

Woman’s round cap

Elizabethe wears a white knitted and fulled cap typical of the 1520s to 1540s based on an extant example at the Museum of London. An act passed in 1571 stipulated that women below the rank of gentlewoman were to wear knitted caps on Sundays. John Stow remembered white caps as a conventional choice for women in his memoirs published in 1600. Most of the caps described as white were women’s in the wills and inventories on which The Typical Tudor is based.

The reconstruction of a round cap shown here and the instructions for knitting it in The Typical Tudor are based on evidence in the Knitting in Early Modern Europe database, extant items including a round cap in the Museum of London, and artworks by Hans Holbein the Younger.

1520s to 1540s
1550s to 1570s

to the wife of her third son, Philip Starlyng … a kerchew a rayle … 2 neck kerchews

to the wife of her third son, Philip Starlyng … a kercher … a rail … 2 neckerchers

to goodwife Byfyld … an woollen cap

I geve to every one of my lady servauntes 12d a pece

I give to every one of my lady's servants 12 pence (one shilling) each

my Lady Askew oweth me 20 li

my Lady Askew owes me 20 pounds

The Typical Tudor

Now available to preorder!

Elizabethe Barton is just one of the many individuals whose wills make up the data on which The Typical Tudor is based. It breaks new ground with a thorough survey of evidence for ordinary people's clothing in the 16th century. The book also features sewing patterns and knitting instructions for more than 50 garments and headwear, including a woman’s round cap.