Medieval Women's Headdresses

A woman's outfit was not complete without headwear of some kind. A woman's activity and function would have determined what kind of headwear was required. Many of these were constructed from fabric but some were built on a wire base or used metal in their construction This page takes a brief look at the most popular forms of medieval headdresses.

Templers and Bosses
Sometimes also known as fretts or bosses, templers were fashionable among the upper classes during the 14th century. Chaucer, in his prologue to the Legend of Good Women, notes

'A frett of goold sche hadde next hyre her'

indicating that these might be made of gold or gold thread. A Dictionary of English Costume by Cunnington and Beard, describes the headdress with the rounded protuberances worn in the late 13th to end of 14th centuries as bosses. The entry reads:

BOSSES: Decorative cauls of net-work or linen covering the thick coils of plaited hair, generally artificially enlarged and arranged on each side of the head above the temples. Usually worn with a veil (coverchief).

Bosses were more commonly known as templers. These were made of goldsmithry or fine needlework, and were worn over the temples enclosing the hair. They were supported by a connecting fillet crossing above the forehead.

The Horned Headdress
A Dictionary of English Costume by Cunnington and Beard describes the horned headdress as being a that which is worn with wide templers which are wired up to resemble horns from which a pendant veil curtained the back of the head.
It was worn from 1410 to 1420, but rarely to 1460, although, the Surtees Society's Townley Mysteries in 1460 notes that "

'she is hornyd like a kowe.. for syn'

indicating that at that stage the style was persisting. The image detail at left comes from the 15th century Guiard des Moulins Bible Historial, and shows the horned headdress style of headdress.

English headwear researcher, Katrina Wood has this to say:

This style of headdress was worn for many years by the middle classes and was Burgundian-French in origin. The cones or horns which projected out at roughly a 45 degree angle were called templettes or templars and over the course of the next few hundred years varied in shape and size according to fashion. The hair was completely concealed as decorum dictated. Starched white veils would then be attached to the headpiece using pins.

Along with the hennin, the steeple hennin and the butterfly hennin, the late 15th century saw the return of the horned headdress for the upper classes. The primary difference between this and other previous styles of truncated headdress, is the lack of a padded roll previously seen in earlier versions and the style of gown it was worn with.

This painting by Rogier Van Der Weyden in the 1500s of Isabella of Portugal is a fine example of the new richness that this style adopted and the silken veil which was de rigeur. There appears to be a loop at the top of the forehead centrally and it is uncertain whether this is attached to the headdress itself to permit the wearer to pull the piece forward in case of slippage or whether it is a part of a cap which is worn underneath.

There often appears to be some kind of support around the ear, but of what kind, it is unclear. It is unlikely to be a securing cord as it doesn't pass around the ear but rather stops in front of it. Perhaps this was heavily stiffened or wired for the purpose of securing.

The fabrics used were sturdier than those of the original steeple hennin and were often geometrically patterned brocades. The lozenge design was popular as the cloth could be worked with precious and semiprecious gemstones and pearls according to the pattern of the cloth. Obviously, to show off the workmanship of such a headpiece, the veils accompanying them were the finest and gauziest silks of a generous size. This allowed the wearer to appear modest with a large veil while at the same time displaying her wealth underneath.

Crespines and Cauls
The medieval caul was often known as a fret, described by Cunnington & Beard as a trellis-work coif or skull cap of silk thread or goldsmithry, sometimes lined with silk. These were shaped like modern-day hairnets, which is hardly surprising since they performed exactly the same function.
Shown at right is a detail from a late 15th century illumination, Mother Nature Forging Babies, showing the crespine with a soft headband. The hair can be seen gathered at the sides of the face through the network and the remainder of the hair hangs loose at the back.

Clothing historian and author, Herbert Norris discusses the headdress. usually known as the crespine or crespinette:

"known in the middle ages as the crespine or crespinette, a network cap to confine the hair... made during the second half of the 13th century, network caps, more properly called cauls, came into fashion for ladies wear. These headdresses were shaped like bags, made of gold, silver or silk network, were worn over the hair... they enclosed the head and hair, and were secured by a circlet or fillet. Jewels were often set at intervals in the band, and also at intersections of the cross-bars. The caul or crespinette was an important headdress worn by noble ladies of this period. The network was made of gold or silver, framed in a border of the same metal about a half or three quarters of an inch in width. At the intersections of the network, a single stone or a cluster of jewels was set. Sometimes the caul was composed entirely of a network of small pearls, and such a caul often had at each intersection a jewel surrounded by 4, 5 or 6 pearls."

The hair was divided into two sections at each side of the head and restrained in cauls made from either fabric or fine metal wire. These were usually held in place with a narrow fillet which may or may not have an additional crown or coronet added. A veil was often worn with the crespine. This fashion persisted on and off over the next few decades. By the time of Edward III in the 14th century, the crespine or caul was still worn, often lined with fabric and highly decorated with pearls, goldwork and gemstones.

The details shown above at left show a sculpture of Isabela Bavorska dated between 1371 and 1435. It clearly shows a caul which has been decorated in its entirety. It is very likely that the groupings of 4 balls in each segment are gemstones, glass beads or pearls which have been sewn on to a fabric coif. There is a decorated band along the front which finishes as it curls out of sight around the jaw line. The headpiece is worn with a jeweled coronet or fillet over the top.

Shown at right is a detail from the mausoleum of Mary of Burgundy dated at 1502 where her jewelled crespine can be clearly seen. She is also wearing a crown with her crespine.

Cylinder Cauls
Cylinder cauls were a specific style of templer which was fashionable exclusively among upper class women during the 14th century. Two cylinders were made of fine metalwork or fretwork attached to a fillet or coronet, which could also be heavily jewelled. If it was worn with a veil, it was worn with the finest gauzy, silk veils which might be decorated with fine gold embroidery and narrow edging. Cylinder cauls were formal wear and for special occasions and were not worn everyday around the house.

The image detail at left comes from a rubbing of a monumental brass from the tomb of Sir Thomas Burton and his wife dated at 1381. Although not royal, she still wears an expensive headdress which is studded with jewels across the top.

In his book, Medieval Costume and Fashion, Herbert Norris notes that while the costume for Queen Phillipa shown on her effigy in Westminster Abbey is simple and the headdress is very much damaged, part of the cylinders remain.

The Padded Roll
The padded roll, or bourrelet as it was sometimes known, was worn during the late 14th and 15th centuries. The padded roll consisted of a padded circlet, constructed either of hair or plaited hair held in a net or from a textile covering which was artificially stuffed. It was often highly decorated and could be worn either alone or over the top of another head-dress-and-veil as shown in the detail of the three women at the top of the page.

In their book, Dress in the Middle Ages, Francois Pipponier & Perrine Mane say that much more voluminous headdresses built up on a padded bourrelet came into fashion. These developed vertically and gave rise to some amazing creations, some spherical, some cylindrical, or even split in two like horns. They are talking of the padded roll incorporated in other headdresses as seen on the heart-shaped headdress.

Shown at right from 1420, Portrait of a Princess, by an unknown painter. She is wearing an expensive houppelande and hair fashionably elongated, European-style with the bejeweled padded roll shaped, not as a circle, but to fit around her hair and forehead.

The Heart-Shaped Headdress
The heart-shaped headdress combined two of the medieval woman's favoured headdress elements to make a new style of headdress the earlier caul or coif, and the padded roll. The coif was no longer made from a softer fabric or network, but a stiffer, more rigid fabric which continued to confine the hair in two sections on either side of the head. Instead of a fillet or band, it had a large padded roll affixed to the top of the headdress As the top of the padded roll extended heavenwards, the middle of the roll descended into a V at the centre of the forehead making a heart shape when viewed from the front, hence the name.

This style of headdress was much favoured in Europe and was worn alongside other fabulous headwear such as the hennin and the horned headdress. Shown at left is a painting of Isabella of Portugul from Flanders dated at 1430. The richness of her headdress can be clearly seen, with clusters of pearls and gem stones set in a geometric pattern. She also has a securing band under her ear to support the weight of the coif, which is also jeweled.

The padded roll or bourrelet could be made from coloured silks, figured or brocaded velvets or linen. It was often jeweled or decorated and finished off with small circular veils. These veils differed dramatically in that they were often not white, sometimes daggued and usually decorated at the edges.

The heart-shaped headdress continued to stay in use by the middle classes during the greater part of the 15th century, even after fashionable women had discarded it about 1465-1470. The middle classes versions were more simplified and less jewelled, as befitted their stations in life.

This is by no means a comprehensive guide to headdresses in the medieval period. For a more in-depth look at medieval headdresses, visit Katrina Wood's website KAT'S HATS.

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