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Medieval Gloves

Gloves are one of the items mentioned by Andreas Capellanus in his 12th century text, De Amore, when he speaks of what may and may not be freely given to a lady love without being inappropriate-

A lover may freely accept from her beloved these things- a handkerchief, a hairband, a circlet of gold or silver, a brooch for the breast, a mirror, a belt, a purse, a lace for clothes, a comb, cuffs, gloves, a ring, a little box of scent, a portrait, toiletries, little vases, trays....

This indicates that gloves were an item of clothing widely worn as a dress accessory, probably in winter at the very least, by women of all classes and not solely for utilitarian purposes.

Many time periods in history consider a well-bred woman improperly dressed for society without hat and gloves, although there is no way to tell if this also applied to medieval women.

Osbern Bokenham's Life of St Elizabeth talks of how devout Elizabeth was when she was young saying:

...the Solemn Holy days this girl observed with such devotion that would not permit anyone to lace up her sleeves until after mass. On Sundays she would not wear gloves until noon, no matter how cold it might be...

Hawking gloves
Hawking was a pastime which was very popular amongst upper class ladies. Naturally, a specific glove would have been worn to protect the lady's hand. The detail above right comes from the 1300-1320 German manuscript, the Manesse Codex shows a woman wearing a hawking glove.

Gloves in household accounts
Vary rarely do household accounts and wills include small items like chemises, smocks, hose and gloves. Only in upper class inventories where gloves are made from better materials or are made as special gifts intended for special people, or those embroidered for the clergy or for royals.

This is especially true of gloves for women.

One notable entry is in the the household accounts of the King's Great Warderobe of 1360-1361, where the king made gifts to the domicella of Brittany. Among them are listed eighteen pairs of leather gloves.

Gloves for working
Gloves were worn by outdoor workers, both male and female, for practical purposes the same way that we wear gardening gloves for heavy outdoor work ourselves.

The carved image of three-fingered gloves shown here date to 1498 and are from a misericord at the Cathedral of St John the Baptist, in Maurienne, France.

They are typical of a unisex working glove and look to be made of leather and lined with fur, or perhaps made of sheepskin with the fleece to the inside. The split fingers allow for greater ease of manipulation while working without the need to remove the gloves altogether. Gloves like this can be seen in illuminations of working class women who are performing gardening or farm work.

Knitted gloves
Only a few knitted items survive in tact from the late medieval period, but among them is a knitted glove, now in the Museum of London. There is a lot of early knitting with one needle known as nahlbinding which is destinctly different fibre craft.

The lack of finds might be due to the nature of the item itself- gloves are usually worn until no longer serviceable and then discarded. The glove shown at right dates to the 15th century and comes from a London deposit.

It is likely that the mitten style shown here was not worn by the wealthy upper classes, but more likely knitted at home and worn for warmth. The construction and method is simple, and is still used today.

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