English Literature


Church writers, national and local administrations, and interested observers of society regularly condemned their contemporaries’ extravagant behavior and appearance. Manners, carriage, gestures, diet, drink, clothing, makeup, and hairstyles all formed a complex aggregation thought to be specific to particular estates, classes, genders, sexualities, and occupations (see “Feasts,” p. 190). The pestilences of the later fourteenth century stimulated anxieties about social movement and personal transgressions, as evidenced in the legislation to control labor (see “Pestilence,” p. 169, and “Ordinance and Statute of Laborers,” p. 163). An additional sign of this concern may be found in national and local legislation to restrict how people spent their money on personal items. The sumptuary legislation of 1363 followed closely the second outbreak of the pestilence. It was the third such general law passed during Edward III’s reign (the previous two were in 1336 and 1337), and it was repealed in the following year. Nevertheless, various other attempts to institute laws occurred in the Lancastrian era, but it was not until 1463–4 that parliament passed another similar act, which was soon followed by two more in 1477 and 1483.

Despite little evidence of enforcement, the laws signal attempts to compel visible signs of class distinctions, curb practices that were believed to have deleterious moral effects, and change people’s spending habits, particularly to favor local industries during the Hundred Years’ War. Geoffrey de la Tour-Landry, in his instructions to his daughters, is characteristically very concerned about women’s appearances, and his vituperative tone is also typical. The passage from Dives and Pauper is from chapter 13 on adultery, the subject of the seventh commandment. For introductions to Geoffrey’s Book and Dives and Pauper, see “Marriage,” p. 21.Item: for the outrageous and excessive apparel of diverse people against their estate and degree, to the great destruction and impoverishment of all the land, it is ordained that grooms, servants of lords, as well as those of mysteries and artificers, shall be served to eat and drink once a day of flesh or of fish, and the remnant of other victuals, as of milk, butter, and cheese, and other such victuals, according to their estate; and that they have clothes for their vesture, or hosing, whereof the whole cloth shall not exceed two marks, and that they wear no cloth of higher price of their buying norotherwise, nor anything of gold nor of silver embroidered, enameled, nor of silk, nor anything pertaining to the said things; and their wives, daughters, and children of the same condition in their clothing and apparel, and they shall wear no veils passing twelve pence a veil. Item: that people of handicraft and yeomen shall neither take nor wear cloth of a higher price for their vesture or hosing than within forty shillings the whole cloth by way of buying nor otherwise, nor stone, nor cloth of silk nor of silver, nor girdle, knife, button, ring, garter, nor ouche,1 ribbon, chain, nor any such other things of gold or of silver, nor any manner of apparel embroidered, enameled, nor of silk in any way; and that their wives, daughters, and children be of the same condition in their vesture and apparel, and that they wear no veil of silk but only of yarn made within the realm, nor any manner of fur nor of budge but only lamb, coney, cat, and fox.

Item: that esquires and all manner of gentlemen under the estate of a knight who have not land or rent to the value of one hundred pounds a year shall not take nor wear cloth for their clothing or hose of a higher price than within the price of four and a half marks the whole cloth, by way of buying or otherwise, and that they wear no cloth of gold, nor silk, nor silver, nor any manner of clothing embroidered, ring, buttons, nor ouche of gold, ribbon, girdle, nor any other apparel, nor harness of gold nor of silver, nor anything of stone, nor any manner of fur; and that their wives, daughters, and children be of the same condition as to their vesture and apparel, without any turning up or purple; and that they wear no manner of apparel of gold, nor silver, nor of stone. But that esquires who have land or rent to the value of two hundred marks a year and above may take and wear cloths of the price of five marks the whole cloth, and cloth of silk and of silver, ribbon, girdle, and other apparel reasonably garnished of silver; and that their wives, daughters, and children may wear fur turned up of miniver, without ermine or lettice,2 or any manner of stone but for their heads. Item: that merchants, citizens, and burgesses, artificers, people of handicraft, as well within the city of London as elsewhere, who have clearly goods and chattels to the value of five hundred pounds, and their wives and children, may take and wear in the same manner as the esquires and gentlemen who have land and rent to the value of one hundred pounds a year; and that the same merchants, citizens, and burgesses, who have clearly goods and chattels to the value of one thousand pounds, and their wives and children, may take and wear in the same manner as esquires and gentlemen who have land and rent to the value of two hundred pounds a year; and no groom, yeoman, or servant of merchant, artificer, or handicraftmen shall wear otherwise in apparel than is above-ordained of yeomen of lords. Item: that knights, who have land or rent within the value of two hundred pounds shall take and wear cloth of six marks the whole cloth for their vesture and of no higher price; and that they wear neither cloth of gold nor cloaks, mantle, nor gown furred with miniver nor of ermins, nor any apparel embroidered with stone, nor otherwise; and that their wives, daughters, and children be of the same condition, and that they wear no turning up of ermins, nor of lettices, nor any manner of stone but only for their heads; but that all knights and ladies, who have land or rent over the value of four hundred marks a year to the sum of one thousand pounds, shall wear at their pleasure, except ermins and lettices, and apparel of pearls and stone, but only for their heads.

Item: that clerks who have a degree in any church, cathedral, college, or schools, or clerk of the king, that have such estate that requires fur, shall do and use according to the constitution of the same, and all other clerks, who have two hundred marks of land per year, shall wear and do as knights of the same rent; and other clerks within the same rent shall wear as the esquires of one hundred pounds of rent; and that all those, knights as well as clerks, who by this ordinance may wear fur in winter in the same manner shall wear linure3 in the summer. Item: that carters, ploughmen, drivers of the plough, oxherds, cowherds, shepherds, swineherds, dairymen, and all other keepers of beasts, threshers of corn, and all manner of people of the estate of a groom attending to husbandry and other people that have not forty shillings of goods nor of chattels, shall not take nor wear any manner of cloth but blanket and russet, of wool, worth not more than twelve pence, and shall wear girdles of linen according to their estate; and that they come to eat and drink in the same manner that pertains to them and not excessively.

And it is ordained that if any wear or do contrary to any of the points aforesaid, that he shall forfeit to the king all the apparel that he has so worn against the form of this ordinance. Item: to the intent that this ordinance for the taking and wearing of cloths be maintained and kept in all points without blemish, it is ordained that all the makers of cloths within the realm, men as well as women, shall conform them to make their cloths according to the price limited by this ordinance, and that all the drapers shall buy and purvey their items according to the same price so that so great plenty of such cloths be made and set to sale in every city, borough, and merchant town, and elsewhere in the realm, that for default of such cloths the said ordinance be in no point broken; and to that shall the said clothmakers and drapers be constrained by any manner or way that seems best to the king and his council. And this ordinance of new apparel shall begin at Candlemas next coming. How a hooly bisshop reprysed and taught many ladyes. I shalle telle yow how a hooly man late dide preche, and was a bisshop, a right good clerke. At his prechynge and sermon were many ladyes and damoisellys, of which som were dressid and clothed after the newe manere. The remenaunt of their heedes was lyke two hornes and their gownes made after the newe gyse. Wherof, the good holy man had merveyle and began to repreve them, gyvynge and rehercynge to fore them many a fair ensample, and told them how the deluge or gaderyng of waters in the dayes of Noe was bycause of the pryde and desguysynge of men and specially of wymmen that counterfeted them self of newe and dishonest rayments. And thenne when thenemye sawe their grete pryde and their desguysynge, he made them to falle in the fylthe of the stynkyng synne of lecherye, whiche thynge was so moche displesynge to God that he dyde made to rayne fourty dayes and fourty nyghtes withoute cessynge in so moche that the waters were above the erthe and surmounted by heyght of ten cubites upon the hyhest montayn. Thenne was all the world drowned and perysshed, and none abode on lyve sauf only Noe, his wyf, his thre sones, and his thre doughters. And alle this grete meschyef cam bycause of that synne. And thenne as the bisshop had shewed to them this fayte5 and many other, he said that the wymmen that were so horned were like the snayle[s] that ben horned. He said more. “I doute,”6 said he, “that betwyxt their hornes thenemye hath made his mancion and dwellynge.

For as they take hooly water, they cast dounward theyr faces, and that maketh the devylle syttynge upon their heede by nature and strengthe of the hooly water.” He tolde and reherced to them many merveyles in so moche that at the ende of his predicacion he made to be mowrnynge and full of thought, for he hadde repreved them so sore that they had so grete shame that they ne durst lyfte up their hedes and helde them mocked and diffamed of their vyce. And after, many of them caste awey their braunches and hornes, and held them lowe and went symply, for he saide that suche coyntyses,7 and suche countre-faytyng, and suche wantonnesse were to compare to the copspyn8 that maketh his nette to take the flyes. Ryght soo dothe the devylle by his temptacion the desguysyng in men and wymmen to the ende they may be enamoured one of other and for to take and brynge them to the delyte of lechery. He taketh them and byndeth them as the copspyn doth the flees in her nette, as a holy heremyte telleth in the booke of the faders of lyf, to whome was shewed by tonge as ye may fynde playnly in the said book.9 And yet he saith that the coulpe10 of the synne was in them that first tooke and brought up suche desguysynge, and that every good womman and wyse ought wel to drede the takynge and werynge of suche raymentes unto the tyme she seeth that every one comynly took and went in hem. For after the word of God, the first shall be the most blamed and the last shal syt on the hyhe syege.11 The bisshop, that a good man, was sayd an ensample upon the fait of them that hasted them to be the fyrst in takynge and bryngynge up suche novelteees, and said thus. How the yong ladyes were scorned and mocked of the olde and auncyent. It befelle that many ladyes and damoysels were come at the weddyng of a maide. As they were goyng to ward the place where as the dyner sholde be, they found a passynge fowle wey within a medowe. Thenne said the yong ladye[s], “We shalle wel go thorugh this medowe and leve the hyhe waye.” The auncyent and wyse said they shold go the hyhe way, for it was the best and more sure goynge and moost drye.

The yonge ladyes, that ful were of their wylle, wolde not folowe them and thought they shold be bifore them at the said place. And soo they tooke their weye thorugh the medowe where were old cloodes12 all roten. As they were upon them, they brake under theyr feet, and soo they felle in the myere and dyrte unto the knees, and with grete peyne cam they oute ageyne and took the hyghe weye. They made clene their hosen and gownes with theyr knyves the best they couthe. So long they were in wasshyng of their hoses and gownes that they myght not come to the begynnyng of the dyner. Every one demaunded and asked after them, but no body couth tell of them. At the last they cam as the fyrst mes or cours was eten, and after they had taken their refection and wel dronken, they beganne to telle and recounte how they were falle in the myre unto the knees to. “Ye,” said thenne a good auncyent and wyse lady that was come by the hyghe weye. “Ye wend to take the shortest way to thende ye myght be the sonner and fyrst at the place and wold not folowe us. Hit is wel bestowed. For I telle yow for certayne that some wene to avaunce them self that hyndreth them, and suche one is that weneth to be the first and formest that ofte fyndeth her the last of all.” She gaf them these two notables to thende they shold know their faute. For as saith the said holy man, “Thus is hit of this worlde. They that first may have noveltees of the world wene to doo wel and be therfore enhaunced and tofore other ben holden and wysshed, but as for one that holdeth hit wel done, ther ben ten that m[o]ken of hit. For suche one preyseth their doynge before them that behynde their back putteth out his tonge, scorynynge and mockyn them.” Yet of the same. She holdeth her self the best welcome that firste bryngeth upon her ony noveltees, but as the good and hooly man saith, “They that firste take suche newe raymentis be lyke to the yong ladyes that fylle in the myere wherof they were mocked by the wyse ladyes that tooke the best and ryght wey, for men may not mocke them that kepe suche wey and that use their lyf after reason and not after theyr owne wylle.

I say not but that whan that manere of newe raymentis is taken and comynly wered of every one and in every towne, it may be thenne worne and taken, but yet the wyse woman shal leve and forbere it yf she can. And suche wymmen shalle not be lyke ne compared to them that fylle in the myere by cause they wold be first in the place, and they were the last.” Ther-fore, my faire doughters, hit is good that none hast her not, but good is to holde the myddel estate. The lesse is the moost certayne and seurest, but as now is a cursed and shrewed world for, yf somme folysshe woman full of her wylle taketh and bryngeth upon her ony noveltee and newe estate, every other one shalle soone saye to her lorde, “Syre it is told to me that suche one hath suche a thynge that over faire is, and that so wel becometh her, I pray yow good syre that I may have suche one, for I am as good and as gentyll of blood. And, ye, as gentyl a man as she and her lord ben and have as wel for to paye as she hath.” And thus she shalle fynde soo many reasons that she shalle have her wylle or els ryote and noyse shalle all day be at home and never shalle be ther pees tylle she have her parte, be it right or wronge. She shalle not loke yf ony of hir neyghbours have that thynge that she wylle have. Also, she shalle not abyde till every one have it, but the hastlyest that she may, she shalle doo shape and make it, and forth-with shalle were it. It is merveyle of suche coyntyse and noveltees wherof the grete clerkes say that, seynge the men and wymmen so desguysed and takyng every day newe raiments, they doute that the world shalle perysshe as it dyd in tyme of Noe that the wymmen desguysed them and also the men, whiche displeysed God. And herupon I shalle reherce yow [a] merveil whiche a good lady dyde recounte to me in this same yere. She tolde and saide to me that she, with many other ladyes, were come to a feeste of Seynt Margrete, where as every yere was grete assemble made. There cam a lady moche coynt13 and joly, and dyversly disguysed and arraid more than ony other there. And by cause of her straunge and newe array, everychone of them cam to beholde and loke on her, as it had be a wylde beest, for her clothyng and araye was different and no thyng lyke to theyr, and therfore she had wel her part beholdyng and lokyng. Thenne said the good ladyes to her, “My frende, telle ye us yf it please yow how ye name that aray that he have on youre heed?” She answerde and saide, “The galhows aray.” “God bless us said the good lady, the name of hit is not faire, and I ne wote how suche aray may plese yow.”

The tydyng of this aray and of his name were borne al aboute hyghe and lowe, wherof every one s[c]orned and mocked her. And as mockyng and scornynge cam there she was to beholde and loke upon her, I dyde aske of the good lady the manere and facion of the same araye, and she tolde me the manere of it, but evylle I witheld it. But as ferre as I me remembre of it, hit was hyghe enlewed14 with longe pynnes of sylver uppon her hede after the makynge and maner of a gybet or galhows, right straunge and merveylous to se. And in good feyth after that tyme, the yonge and folysshe lady that had that araye on her heede was ever mocked and scorned and nought set by. Here shal I leve to speke of the newe and desguysed ray-mentis and of the good bisshop that so repreved them that hadde and wered suche araye. And that dede shewe to them by ensamples and hooly scripture how that suche noveltees that specially wymmen took on them was token and signe of somme gret meschyef to come as is were, famyne, and pestylence. Glasgow University Library MS Hunterian 270, fols. 173r–173v. In P. H. Barnum (ed.) (1976, 1980) Dives and Pauper, 2 parts. EETS, o.s. 275, 280. Oxford: Oxford University Press, II: 90–2. Language: English (Southwestern) Manuscript date: ca. 1450 DIVES: Womanys aray steryt15 mychil folc to lecherye. PAUPER: And though in cas the aray and the tyr16 is nout to blamyn no mor than is hyr bewte to blamyn. Be comon cours of kende, bothin man and woman sekyn to ben onestlyche adyth aftir her stat and aftir the maner of the contre that thei dwellyn in, nout to temptyn folc to lecherye, ne for pride, ne for non other synne, but for honeste of mankende and to the worchepe of God, to wose lyknesse man and woman is mad, and he is our brothir.

In dyvers contres ben divers maners of aray, but if thei don it for pryde, or to temptyn folc to lecherye, or for ony other synne, or that thei take on hem atyre that is not acardyng to hem – yf it be to costful, or to straunge in schap, or to wyde, or to syde,17 not reulyd be reson – be it man be it woman, he synnyth wol grevouslyche in the syght of God, and namely tho men that clothin hem so schorte that man and woman may sen the forme and the schap of her pryve menbrys, whyche it is a schame to schewyn, and the syghte is gret cause of temptacioun and of wyckyd thoughtis. Sent Powil byddith that women schuldyn adyghtyn hem in honest aray with schamfastnesse and sobyrnesse, nout in broydyng of her heyre, nout in gold and in sylver, ne in perre,18 ne in ovyrdon precious cloth, 1 Timothy 2.19 And that same seith Sent Petyr in hys fyrste pystyl 3,20 wher he byddith that men schul-dyn han her wyfys in worchepe and kepyn hem honestlyche. DIVES: Women these dayys arayyn hem wol mychil agenys the techyng of Petyr and Powyl, and therfor Y drede me that they synnyn wol grevously. PAUPER: Petir and Powyl defendedyn nout uttyrlyche swyche aray, but thei defendedyn women swyche aray to usyn in pryde or to provokyn folc to lecherye and to usyn swyche aray pasyng her astat, for we fyndyn that Sent Cecilie and many othir holy women wentyn adyth in clothis of gold and in ryche perre and weredyn the heyre undir that solempne atyr. Also, Petir and Powil seydyn tho wordis pryncipaly for tyme of preyere, as for Lentyn, embyrdayys,21 gangdayys,22 Frydayys, vygilyys and in tyme of general processioun mad for nede. In swyche tyme man and woman schuldyn levyn al pompe and pryde in aray, for, as the glose seyth there, proud clothinge getyth no good of God and makyth folc to demyn omys, namely if it pase mesure and good manere.

The principal intencion of Sent Powil ther he seith tho wordis is to enformyn men and women in preyere, for whom thei schul preyyn, why and how and wher thei schul preyyn, as seith the glose, and he enformyth hem to preyyn in lownesse withoutyn pompe of clothinge and of gret aray, for I am sekyr that the foule stynkyng pompe and pride of aray that is now usyd in this lond in al the thre partyes of the chyrche, that is to sey, in the defendourys and in the clergy and in the commonerys, wyl not bene unvengyd but it be sone amendyd be very repentaunce and forsakyng of this synne, for fro the heyest unto the loweste in every state and in every degre and neyhand in every persone is now aray passyng to23 mannys body and wommans agens al reson and the lawe of God.

33 thoughts on “Sumptuary

  1. The first recorded instance of a ‘your mum’ was in Shakespeare’s ‘Titus Andronicus’ where Aaron exclaims ‘I have done you …

  2. “: How far that little candle throws its beams. So shines a good deed in a weary world.-William Shakespeare “

  3. RT 1: The near-certain (unacknowledged, uncompensated) literary source for Spielberg-Kushner “Lincoln” (scroll to end). http …

  4. With this article, you’ll always know where to go in determining the quality of an online lit journal:

  5. Against criticism a man can neither protest nor defend himself; he must act in spite of it, and then it will gradually yield to him.

  6. 93_ URH WHUT. GTFO. Hunter S Thompson is one of, if not the biggest iconic changes in Literary Genius of the 20th Century.GOOGLE IT

  7. Literary works came into the Old and New Testaments that were not accepted into biblical canon. These works are called the “Apocrypha.”

  8. On this week’s cover, Ian Buruma on the “great literary imagination” and “peasant spirit” of Mo Yan:

  9. How do literary expressions of and attitudes toward slavery in the 19th century change according to fictional setting?

  10. aha yeah i got them for such a good deal as well, omg I literary can’t wait, ahah bless it’s fine man

  11. For £15 a year, you could take advantage of the biggest Polish literary collection outside of Poland here in POSK.

  12. In Another Opening, Myanmar Holds a Literary Festival – After decades of repression in Myanmar, the country holds it…

  13. “It is no surprise…the literary critics are the last people to know a good book when they see one.” -P.Kreeft

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