Cloaks & Mantles
STYLES - FABRICS & LININGS - FASTENINGS - DECORATION
the 12th century, English cloaks with hoods attached were exported across
the Roman kingdom. Known as British cloaks, they were thick wool
and particularly weatherproof and waterproof.
In the middle of the medieval period, the cloak most commonly worn by
women was the mantle. It was worn as the outermost layer of clothing
in the middle ages. Indeed from antiquity and onwards through to the
19th century, cloaks for both sexes remained a popular garment for traveling
and for wear out of doors, particularly in cold climates. Mantles and
cloaks at that time appear to be unhooded; the hood usually worn as
a separate item of clothing and having a cowl.
Many illustrations and illuminations from the Middle Ages show a cloak
which drapes over the head and does not fasten at all. It would appear
that this garment may not be shaped and not be a garment as such. It
appears in many cases to be just a large, wrapped piece of heavy fabric
which has a highly decorative border.
Cloaks for traveling in the medieval
period tended to be thick and warm, often fur lined for those who could
afford such luxury. Wool, with it's weather resistant properties made
it a natural choice for outdoor wear.
One account for working class people states that the garment is first
a cloak and then cut down into a mantle when it is worn, hinting
that a cloak may be hooded for outdoor travel, and then rehemmed with
the hood cut off later, when the separate hood with its own cowl would
have been worn.
Pierce the Ploughman's Crede writes of
a wife working in the field with her husband-
In a clouted coat cut short
to the knee,
wrapped in a winnowing sheet to keep out the weather..
Mantles of a lighter nature also appear
to have been worn. The drape of the fabric and colours in many paintings
suggest many of these were unlined.
Our model woman from the 14th century,
Margherita Datini owned six cloaks/mantles at the time of her household
account in 1397. It is not unreasonable to assume that they were not
identical, but were of differing thickness and suited to different weather
conditions. It is possible she had duplicate quality in differing colours
for the sake of fashion, but it is probable that hers were suited to
different seasons and purposes.
Mantles were made of various materials but it not not unreasonable to
assume that functional ones were wool owing to the nature of the fabric
and the heavy drape depicted in representations of mantles and cloaks
in contemporary artworks and sculptures. Wool is warm and naturally
weatherproof and was produced in a variety of qualities and finishes
making it suitable for an outer garment. Most
illustrations appear to show the mantle to be lined with fur or some
again, this would reflect the status of the wearer and Sumptuary Laws
of the region and year.
Mantles for many women seem to be fastened across the front, with a
cord and two brooches of some kind on each side breastbone height. Many
contemporary illustrations show this style with the mantle apart, although
one imagines that the cord could be drawn or tied together on colder
days for warmth.
Shown at right is the head of the effigy
of Philip IV from 1327 showing the mantle fastening with a tasseled
cord. The cord would be tied at the front pulling the two sides closer
other method of fastening for the mantle or cloak is a large jewelled
brooch or pair of brooches.
These were often highly ornate and costly but were not a part of the
cloak per se, this is, they were not stitched on and were removable
although it was likely that they were used for the purpose of closing
the cloak alone and not for anything else.
Whether there was a reinforced eyelet for the brooch to fasten through
or whether it was fastened directly through the fabric is not known,
although it appears that no special holes were made for this purpose.
The 1370 German tomb effigy at left shows a large gold brooch fastening
a lightweight mantle on the wife of a man in Bartholemeus Cathedral.
with most other forms of medieval clothing, mantles also were decorated
with large, elaborate gold embroidery, mottoes or jewelled bands. The
two details from the paintings on this page show samples of both.
At the right, the 1434-1435 painting by
Daret, Visitation shows elaborate embroidery on both women's
mantles and one with shaping, gathered fabric on a neckband, a front
fastening of cord and two jeweled brooches and the other with no real
shape or fastening..
At the top of the page, the 1436 Jan van Eyck The Madonna with Canon
van der Paele shows a band around the hem and up the front set with
gemstones and no apparent front fastening.