Sumptuary Laws

Is that outfit REALLY worth dying for?

Henry VIII was a good king in that during his reign, England
prospered.

As a result it was becoming more and more difficult for people to visibly recognize the merchants and middle class from the nobility.

This distinction was, by all appearances, an important one to the King because this was what prompted him to enact what became known as the "Sumptuary Laws".

Although these laws began with King Henry the VIII in England, they were quickly adopted throughout Europe by other rulers and monarchs who were experiencing similar problems.

SUMPTUARY \-sem(p)-che-,wer-e\ adj.

[L sumptuarius, fro sumptus expense, fro sumptus, pp. of sumere to take, spend]
  1. designed to regulate personal expenditures and esp.
    to prevent extravagance and luxury

  2. designed to regulate habits on moral or religious
    grounds

These laws and taxes were enacted by Henry to keep the different
classes separate. He wanted to be able to tell at a glance where
you stood socially by the clothes you were wearing.

Your character's livelihood, how he makes his living, has a
direct impact on the clothes he wears. For instance violation of these laws could result in loss of property, title, or (in the cases of lower class) death!

These are the sumptuary laws of the time of King Henry’s reign:

WOMEN

NONE SHALL WEAR:

  • Cloth of gold or silver, purple silk
    EXCEPT countesses and all above that rank (Viscountesses may wear
    it in their kirtles)

  • Silk or cloth mixed with or embroidered with silk, pearls, gold, or silver
    EXCEPT Baronesses or above that rank

  • Cloth of silver in belts or Kirtles
    EXCEPT Wives of Knights and all above that rank.

  • Embroideries of gold or silver or silk (or Mixed). Headdresses
    trimmed with pearls
    EXCEPT Wives of Baron's Eldest sons, and all above that rank, Boron's
    Daughters, wives of King's knight, or Privy Councilors, or maids of Honor

  • Velvet in upper garments, Embroidery with silk thread
    EXCEPT Knight's wives and all above that rank

  • Velvet in Kirtles or petticoats, Satin in Gowns, cloaks, and other outer garments
    EXCEPT Wives of Knight's eldest sons, Gentle~':l'O:rrle~ cttending
    countesses, and all above that rank

  • Satin, Damask, Taffeta, grosgrain in their gowns
    EXCEPT Landed Gentlemen's wives and all above that rank

MEN

NONE SHALL WEAR:

  • Cloth of Gold or Silver, or silk of purple color
    EXCEPT Earls, and all above that rank, Knights of the King and then
    only in their rnnnttes

  • Cloth of gold or Silk'."e:-, Ti~s!ed satin, silk or cloth mixed or
    embroidered with gold or silver, or Foreign Woolen ctotri.
    EXCEPT Barons and above that rank. Knights of Garter, and Privy
    Counselors

  • Any lace of gold or silver, mixed with gold or silver, or silk.
    Spurs. swords. rapiers. daggers, buckles, or studs with gold,
    silver or gilt.
    EXCEPT Baron's sons and all above that rank. Gentlemen attending
    the Queen, Knights, and Captains

  • Velvet in gowns, cloaks, coats, or upper garments,
    embroidery with silk. or hose of silk.
    EXCEPT Knights. and all above that rank, and their heir's apparent

  • Velvet, satin. damask. Tarteta. or grosgrain in Gowns, cloaks.
    coats, and upper garments, or velvet in their jerkins, hose,
    or doublets
    EXCEPT Knight's eldest sons, and all above that rank


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