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(801 words)

Author(s): Mark Chambers
Grammatically the word medlee functioned in two ways: as an adjective describing specific types of woollen cloth or else patterns or designs in cloth, and as a noun referring to the garments, suits or accessories made from such cloth and clothing. It was used to designate a textile or garment that could be described as 'mixed' in appearance: either through the type of weave (wools dyed different colours before weaving), or in fashions of parti-coloured, pied or mi-parti textiles/garments. The wo…


(681 words)

Author(s): Mark Chambers
The Anglo-Saxon headdress known as cuffia or cuffie is mentioned in one, 11th-century manuscript, now in the British Library, which has been edited by Benjamin Thorpe (1865) and Dorothy Whitelock (1930). The reference is contained in a copy of a will of a woman named Wynflæd, a benefactress of the Anglo-Saxon nunneries of Wilton and Shaftsbury who lived in the 10th century. The testatrix's will contains several items of clothing she evidently bequeathed to her friends and associates: ' ... hio an Ceoldryþe hyre blacena tunecena swa þer hyre leofre beo 7 hyre be't’sð halir…


(579 words)

Author(s): Mark Chambers
Perse (pers) could refer to various shades of blue, bluish-grey, dark blue or else violet or purplish-black, either nominally or adjectivally. Increasingly, it became used for a type of cloth, most frequently described as 'blue' or thought of as blue or bluish in colour. As an adjective, perse appears in Old French as early as c.1100, and the post-Classical Latin form persus even earlier (8th century in a French source). In Britain, the earliest attested uses are Anglo-Norman (Hue de Rotelande's Ipomedon, c. 1180), and the Records of Leicester for 1259 may give some indicatio…


(348 words)

Author(s): Mark Chambers
Serge or sarge (whence Latin sargium, sargia) usually refers to an unspecified wool fabric used to make soft furnishings. The word appears frequently in vernacular texts from the 14th century onwards and in British Latin from the early 12th. Variants appear in most medieval European languages. Etymology through Old French ( serge, sarge) from Latin ( serica, sarica) suggests an original association with silk, but by the 14th century serges were a woollen-and-worsted mix, less expensive than woollens. In biblical contexts sarges are made of hair rather than sheep's wool: the Anglo-Norm…


(736 words)

Author(s): Mark Chambers
The surcoat was a popular over-garment, frequently mentioned in later medieval British texts. It came in various shapes and sizes, worn by men and women. It was most often worn over a cotte/cote (Latin cota, cotus), tunic or similar outer garment, and occasionally under a mantle. The Latin equivalent supertunica or supertunicale is attested as early as the 1190s in British texts (also compare supercota and surcotus from c. 1200). The surcoat was ubiquitous among the aristocratic classes from the end of the 13th century, initially worn by knights but soon adopted for women's dr…


(543 words)

Author(s): Mark Chambers
In contexts relating to material items, brail represented a thong, strap or girdle of various descriptions, and its use was extended to mean a breech-girdle or loin-cloth, as well as breeches or drawers. British Latin forms braiellum, braiella, etc. apparently developed from Old French braiel/Anglo-Norman brael, while Latin braierium probably stems from Old French braier/Anglo-Norman braer. The vernacular forms, in turn, are related to Classical Latin bracarium (cf. bracarii, 'breeches'). The Close Roll accounts for 1207 record an entry ' pro zona [belt, girdle] et braello ad op…

Coif: non-military

(1,117 words)

Author(s): Mark Chambers
The term coif and its variants seem to have been used to describe various forms of later medieval head-covering: from caps, fillets, bonnets and hoods, to hairnets, ecclesiastical headwear, surgical head-dressing and even the head itself. In British Latin as early as the 8th century, Alcuin describes Greeks wearing a cap ( pileos) or 'coif' ( cuphias) to celebrate religious ceremonies. 13th century Anglo-Norman glosses equate coif with Latin reticulo (a hairnet-like headdress), cuculla (a hood), as well as thiara and mitra, demonstrating the variety of senses the word probab…


(920 words)

Author(s): Mark Chambers
Nowadays the word gorget is used to name that piece of armour which covers the throat and sometimes the chin and upper breast. This has not always been the case: the term stems from Old French gorgete, a feminine noun literally meaning 'little throat' (from gorge). This is the meaning that was carried over into Anglo-Norman usage. There is little continental evidence for the word being used for armour, and Stella Mary Newton points out that on the Continent in the mid-14th century the word could also refer to the veil worn wound round the necks of mature women. In surviving …


(730 words)

Author(s): Mark Chambers
Crakows were worn by fashionable young men during the reign of Richard II (1377-1399), and similar 'piked' shoes retained their appeal through the early decades of the 15th century, often being stuffed to retain their shape. In the 1420s, the play of The Castle of Perseverance has the character Superbia (Pride) instructing the wayward Humanum Genus (Mankind) to 'Loke þou blowe mekyl bost / with longe Crakows on þi schos'. In the same decade, a continuation of Ranulph Higden's Polychronicon intriguingly relates that 'A man longynge to þe bischop of Excestre was compellede t…


(197 words)

Author(s): Elizabeth Coatsworth | Mark Chambers
All references in the Middle English Dictionary date from the first half of the 15th century. MED also suggests this was possibly a name for fustian, although there is nothing in the usages offered to confirm or deny this possibility: this is probably because of Cotgrave's description from 1611: 'A kind of fine Buckeram, that hath a resemblance of taffata, and is much used for lining', noted in the Oxford English Dictionary. Bokasin was purchased to mend vestments, as recorded in the Anglo-Norman Account Rolls of the Priory of Durham (' In carde, bukram, et bukasyn empt. pro emendacio…


(401 words)

Author(s): Elizabeth Coatsworth | Mark Chambers
The name 'buckram' is today applied to a stiff textile, generally linen or cotton, made by impregnating a plain-weave fabric with fillers and stiffeners, and used for (for example) waist bands and book bindings. In the medieval period, however, buckram (bokeram, bougeren, bokram, buk(e)ram), a word derived from Old French bo(u)querant and Italian bucherame (named for Bukhara) appears to have been used of a fine costly cloth, apparently of linen or cotton used for curtains, bedspreads, banners, lining, etc. The earliest reference in the Middle English Dictionary dates from the 13th ce…


(3,631 words)

Author(s): Mark Chambers | Louise Sylvester
Texts produced in Britain in the later medieval period frequently include more than one language, either as stretches of text or as individual words or phrases. English has a long history of contact with other languages, most notably Scandinavian and later French. Contact-induced linguistic effects in general presuppose some degree of bilingualism or, in the case of dialects or closely related languages, mutual intelligibility. In situations of no or limited literacy, language contact predominantly happens in oral commun…


(227 words)

Author(s): Elizabeth Coatsworth | Mark Chambers
Found also as Old French rosset, rossete, Anglo-French russet, Medieval Latin russetum and  Anglo-Latin rossetum, russet (as a noun) could mean a colour, grey or dull red, brown, suitable for working clothes, as in a reference of ?1439: 'Hir habit was of manyfold colours ... Feynt blak for moornyng, russet for trauaille'; or a serviceable woollen cloth, usually of plain or subdued colour and usually worn by the poor or by working men; or a length of such cloth. For example from a will of 1418-19: ' Volo quod sex pauperes vestiantur in russet'. If qualified by place names or other adject…


(499 words)

Author(s): Elizabeth Coatsworth | Mark Chambers
The meaning of this word depends entirely on context, as two words of different origin, both referring to textile, could end up spelled the same. The first possibility is: sai , also spelled seu, saie , seie , , etc., variations of Old French soie , and Anglo-Latin seia , also of Medieval Latin seta. The meaning of this form is silk; thus sew worm, the silkworm ( Bombyx mori). This meaning is manifest in a Romance of Sir Firumbras ( c. 1380): 'Olyuer tok his mantel of say [French bliaut de soie]; gold peynt hit was wel fine'. On the other hand, sai(e), from Old French saie and Medieval Latin saia, a va…


(367 words)

Author(s): Elizabeth Coatsworth | Mark Chambers
The earliest reference to the fabric dates to 1189. A typical usage as a furnishing fabric occurs in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales ( c. 1390) where the Reeve describes a Miller anxious to impress (paying) guests who '... hem made a bed / With sheetes and with chalons faire yspred'. The type of decoration on chalons is described in 1415, in the Register of Henry Chichele, archbishop of Canterbury, now in the Lambeth Palace Library, as 'Item ij chalons, reed and plonket; þe red with okyn leves yn, þe plonket with rede rose þeryn'. See Plunket; Tapestry. It appears frequently in Anglo-Norman tex…


(376 words)

Author(s): Elizabeth Coatsworth | Mark Chambers
A document from the City of London, dated 1322, states that : '[A gambeson covered with sendale ... shall be stuffed with new cotton cloth, and with] cadaz'. A gambeson is a quilted jacket or tunic worn under armour. In this sense cadace seems often to be listed along with, or in place of, cotton. The use in the sense of 'surgical pads', however, suggests some confusion between silk and cotton, as in the one reference to the Middle English version of Guy de Chauliac's Grande Chirurgie, ?1425, 'Þai ar made of stupez wele clensed ... or of bombace i. cadace [* Ch. (2): cotoun; L bombace]'. In Anglo-Nor…


(333 words)

Author(s): Elizabeth Coatsworth | Mark Chambers
Burnet could be both an adjective and a noun. As an adjective, it could be used to describe a brown cloth or garment. In this first sense noted by the Middle English Dictionary, it is clear that colour, not quality, is referred to. However as a noun it could mean a brown woollen cloth of fine quality; in which case it could be used in combinations, for example blak burnet, bright burnet. Examples of its use as a noun include, from a Middle English poem: 'I met in a morueninge a may ... Of a blak bornet al wos hir wede'. MED suggests it could also mean a garment or bag made of this cloth. Except…


(499 words)

Author(s): Elizabeth Coatsworth | Mark Chambers
This term appears only in Anglo-Norman and Latin documents. The Anglo-Norman Dictionary translates it as 'haberjet, a hauberk-like cloth', and offers as an example the line 'Cuvert ert d'un mantel de menu haubergié, / E descuvert li erent les jambes e li pié' (where menu means 'fine') from a verse life of Thomas Becket c. 1174. The term also occurs in the Magna Carta (see cloth ). The Anglo-Norman Dictionary follows the most extensive study of this term, by E. M. Carus-Wilson, as seeing it related to Middle English words such as hauberk and haubergeon (a coat or …


(243 words)

Author(s): Elizabeth Coatsworth | Mark Chambers
'Cloth of Cyprus' was used of a costly fabric for garments, hangings, etc.; and is clearly also a fine fabric as it was used for veils and kerchiefs. The Middle English Dictionary appears to suggest that as a fine fabric it was akin to lawn or crepe, although it is not clear why the latter. The costliness of the fabric is suggested in (from a petition of 1448): 'For a sute of white cloth of Gold of sipris'. There are also references to veils and kerchiefs of this material, as for example in a will of 1402. References in MED extend from 1388 to 1500. The Anglo-Norman phrases or de Cipre and argent de Cipre (…


(411 words)

Author(s): Elizabeth Coatsworth | Mark Chambers
Baudekyn was an oriental cloth woven of silk, shot through with gold (or silver) thread, or possibly one that was brocaded, or a brocade popular in England in the 14th century. The word sometimes occurs in the phrase 'baudekyn cloth'. The term is also used for a rug or drape of this cloth. The baudekyn could be of various colours: black, blue, green and red are all mentioned in texts. It could also be of several colours: 'motly Baudekyn'; or ornamented in other colours: 'A frontell of blew and grene bawdkyn wt flowers of wh…
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