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Officers of the royal household

(2,395 words)

Author(s): Stephen Church
The wearing of clothes of distinction has marked out the rich in society for as long as societies have existed. In England, the tradition of kings and great men and women wearing luxurious items certainly goes back to the 10th century if not before. Recently, for example, Robin Fleming has demonstrated that the Anglo-Saxon élite in 11th-century England wore brightly patterned silks obtained at vast expense and with great difficulty from, mostly, the Byzantine east. Men such as Earl Harold Godwinesson, the future King Harold II (d. 1066), would have b…


(1,419 words)

Author(s): Stephen Church
Richard fitz Nigel, in his Dialogus de Scaccario, written around the year 1179, wrote of the Exchequer: 'The exchequer is a rectangular board, about ten feet long and five feet wide, which those sitting around it use like a table. It has a raised edge about four finger-widths high, so that nothing placed on it can fall off. Over this aforementioned exchequer is placed a cloth bought during the Easter Term, not an ordinary cloth, but black, marked with lines a foot or a spread hand's width apart'. It was this cloth that gave its name to the part of the royal household responsible fo…

Laws and prohibitions: sumptuary

(1,154 words)

Author(s): Maria Hayward | Stephen Church
Sumptuary legislation takes its name from sumptus, the Latin word for expense. The English laws concerned with clothing were also known as Acts of Apparel. The acts sought to regulate expenditure on luxury goods. They were not an innovation of the late Middle Ages, having developed in classical Greece. Luxury in itself was not a problem for the social élite because it was a useful way of defining the social order. However, uncontrolled access to luxury goods could result in the blurring of social boun…