A MEDIEVAL WOMAN'S LIFE - AT HOME
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Girdles & Belt Fittings
Some women were employed in the production of decorative girdles, but not many. In 1344, the Guild of London Girdlers regulated the employment of women in their ranks to:
of belts & girdles
The pendant tag at the belt end is known as a belt-chape. It is shown as the round knob at the bottom tip of the belt seen here above at right. This existent belt chape from London in the 14th century. Many had decorative buckles and additional metal mountings which were often sewn on, and most had a metal chape at the end. The higher up in society a woman was, the more likely it was that her girdle would be ornate with much in the way of ornamentation.
Shown at right is a 15th century belt made from cloth of gold with an ornate buckle set with enamel and jewels. It is Italian made and dates to 1450. The two-pronged tongue was popular on buckles towards the later end of the medieval period
Margherita Datini, an Italian medieval woman of means, listed two leather belts in her personal inventory of 1397, a blue one and a black one, both with silver-gilt buckles. She preferred the heavier belts to the lighter ones currently in fashion and gained a terse reply from her husband to her wishes to return one such belt:
Aristocrats and women of the high medieval court also wore heavy, jeweled, metal belts and silk girdles with gold embroidery, enamels, precious stones and metals set into them. When Johnna, the daughter of King Edward I, married Gilbert de Clare, it was recorded that she wore a magnificent girdle of gold with rubies and emeralds which was bought in Paris for the huge amount of 37 pounds and 12 shillings. At Queen Jeanne of Burgundy's coronation in 1317, she was given four belts embroidered with pearls. In 1319, Mahaut is recorded as giving a gift to his niece of a silk belt trimmed with gilded silver. A 1305 record from a mercery in Paris records a green silk belt with rosettes of pearls and gold.
Up until the 13th century, buckles are scarce in archaeological finds. Buckles with a single loop were the most common type worn during the 13th and 14th centuries, although the 15th century saw double loop buckles become the most common. Single buckles continued to persist though to the renaissance, on shoes and belts and dress accessories.
By the 15th century, even the very poor
were able to afford the cheaper, mass-produced buckles which were readily
The buckle mould at left comes from excavations in York, England, and shows a single loop buckle with plate- a very popular medieval style, and the most common in the 14th century. Many buckle plates were gilded, stamped with decorative features or showed animals and saints.
Shown below is a segment of a beautiful
14th century belt made from velvet fabric with extensive metal mounts
and decorative metal chape. It is interesting to note that while some
of the mounts appear to be part of a set design, many of the other mounts
do not appear to match anything at all.
Pockets had yet to come into vogue and the belt was the usual place for a woman to secure her purse, hang her chest or warderobe keys and her eating knife. For this she might have used a metal purse hanger. A purse hanger is shown above on the belt at the top of the page, source unknown, A woman's purse was usually an ornately embroidered and tasseled affair and it was as much a fashion accessory as a practical place to keep money.
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