LEATHER SHOES - FABRIC SHOES - SLIPPERS - SANDALS
- WOODEN PATTENS
Shoes were worn by all classes of
woman, even the very poor. Only the quality of the materials and
fine details varied. The purpose and basic design of the shoes
remained the same. Margherita Datini's wardrobe in 1339 lists
among her footwear, wooden pattens with leather laces and one
pair of backless leather slippers with thick soles called pianelles.
Her regular shoes are not mentioned.
Shoe styles changed a little over the medieval period but the
general shape and features remained more or less the same.
fashionable shoe was made to fit the foot with an elongated piece
over the big toe side of the front. The shoes were known in England
as crackows and the shaped fronts poulains, although many times
the shoes are simply listed as poulains, particularly by the French
where it word indicated the country of the origin of the style-
Poland. This term also indicates they are the shoes with the pointed
toes. The Museum of London have excavated a large number of these
shoes and one has been recovered complete with the moss stuffing
inside the toes. It is assumed that this stuffing provided a certain
amount of rigidness to the shoe and helped the toe retain it's
shape. The image at right shows the shoe and it's stuffing.
There were two basic methods of shoe
construction in the middle ages. The first comprised a shoe which
stitched it's upper directly onto the sole with the stitching
visible on the outside. The other, known as a turned shoe is constructed
inside out and then turned the right way out after the sewing
was completed. A further sole could be added, but was not a necessity.
In order to turn the shoe once the stitching was completed, it
was soaked in a bucket of water until it softened enough to allow
maneuvering. Care was needed not to stretch the shoe out of shape
or tear the leather. Once it was dry again, the leather returned
to it's original stiffness.
medieval shoes have been excavated from the river in London. Most
are of similar shape- some with less pointy toes and others with
decorative embossing, cutwork or tooling on the uppers. Some of
these can be seen at left. In 1313, Anicia atte Hegge, a widow
from Hampshire made a will made on the surrendering of her holding
to her son included the stipulation that, among other things,
would be provided with various items including a pair of shoes
worth 6d each year.
Leather shoes could be decorated with cut outs and decorative
tooling or stamping. Stamping was done after the leather had been
soaked in hot water to make it soft. Finds show several leather
slippers with the same identical Tristan and Isolde stamp showing
that they were mass-produced and not restricted to just the elite
There is no record that I have seen
of women owning or wearing long boots similar to those worn by
men in the 14th century. Certainly townswomen and noble ladies
did not seem to. Ankle boots were possibly worn by country women.
In the 12th to 14th century, heavy shoes of undressed leather
were worn by English peasants. These were called revelins or riveling
or slops and were constructed of raw hide with the hair on the
An existing sample of embroidered fabric ecclesiastical shoes
shown at right, is those belonging to the Holy Roman Emperor dated
from approximately the 1200s.
Although this sample is 200 years
before the high medieval period, it demonstrates the high level
of skill utilized in the construction of the shoe itself. The
shoe appears lined and has a drawstring around the ankle. The
sides seem quite rigid and a separate sole is evident. Gold thread
embroidery can be seen and gemstones have been stitched on.
It would appear that shoes made for
special occasion which were highly embellished could also possibly
be worn by ladies of high status who also had the ability and
the funds to do so.
are limited existant samples of medieval sandals but it is certain
that they would have been worn during the warmer times of the
year just as we do today.
Shown at right is a 15th century
sandal from a London excavation made from leather. The sandal
has a bronze buckle and a strap between the toes and over the
forefoot- the design which persists today.
Slippers were worn the same as we wear them today- as a light
indoor shoe. The pinson was a 14th to 16th century light, indoor
shoe which was often furred.
detail at the left is taken from the 1485 Memling painting of
Bathsheba. It shows a naked woman getting out of her bath
and stepping into some household slippers which would not look
out of place in any modern household today although it it not
possible to ascertain the material of the slippers themselves.
In the household accounts of King
Edward III, there is listed a gift of clothing to a lady of Brittany,
which included eighteen pairs of leather gloves and eighteen pairs
image detail at right, The Aldolphini Wedding painted by
Jan Van Eyck in 1434, shows a pair of wooden overshoes called
pattens. They were worn over the top of regular shoes or footed
hose to protect them from the elements and muddy streets. The
pattens shown here are typical of those described during the middle
ages, some having a hinged heel part, to assist with greater mobility.
The lowers were usually made of wood or cork and the upper strap
Margherita Datini, the wife of a
wealthy Italian merchant, in her 1339 household accounts, lists
among her footwear, wooden pattens with leather laces.