Women's Hats and Hennins
THE COCKED CAP (AKA THE BYCOCKET) - THE STRAW HAT
- THE HENNIN - THE STEEPLE HENNIN
THE BUTTERFLY HENNIN - OTHER HATS
The cocked cap is generally described in the modern day as the
Robin Hood hat or bycocket and it was worn by both men
and women in medieval times. It was a hat, probably felted or
made of stiff material, and worn with the brim turned up either
before or behind.
The brim usually is a different colour to the body of the hat.
Women's cocked caps do not have feathers on them, whereas men's
cocked caps might have feathers and a hat jewel set centrally
on the front of the hat.
contemporary images show men of all classes during the fourteenth
and fifteenth centuries wearing this style of hat. Images and
iconography also suggest that the cocked cap was also popular
with upper class women, especially for outdoor activities such
as riding and hunting.
Manuscripts like the Bohun Psalter, above, from 14th century England,
show it being worn with long strings, presumably to hold the hat
on in inclemant weather.
An ivory mirror case from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London,
at left, shows a noble woman wearing a cocked cap over her veil.
The mirror case was made in Paris, dated to 1320 and is five inches
The basic form and function of the straw hat has remained unchanged
throughout the centuries. As today, the medieval straw hat was
worn by both men and women for protection against the sun. Many
paintings show women wimpled for sun protection instead of hatted,
although this was probably a personal choice and not regulated
or prohibited by any laws.
workers in the field and the merchant classes are recorded as
having worn woven hats or plaited hats of straw. Shown at left
is a detail from the Manesse Codex showing a woman gathering
wheat in the fields wearing what appears to be a straw hat. Later
time periods show clearer images of women in straw hats like the
1490 Grimani Breviary detail for the month of June.
The hennin was a popular 15th century hat much like that of a
traditional Turkish fez. It first appeared in France about 1428
and was usually worn with the style of dress called the Burgundian
Gown. The hennin consisted of a cap of a stiffened fabric covered
with a rich material with a cone or cylindrical construction over
the top. It was worn on a 45 degree angle at the back of the head
entirely concealing the hair which was drawn back off the forehead
and covered by the hennin.
of the caps which were worn underneath featured a wide black band
folded back from the front by the brow. The fold helped secure
the rest of the hennin to the head. A circular veil was draped
over the hennin in such a manner that it's edge came just above
the eyes, the remainder and most part falling behind the head.
It was often caught up with a jewel at a point in the centre of
the forehead. A veil was almost always worn although some depictions
in contemporary art show them being worn without.
At right, dated at 1464, Van Der Weyden's Portrait of a Woman
shows a young woman in a hennin and veil.
Because of the physical nature of the hennin, it was banned from
the lower classes. How could one perform daily work in a hat such
as this anyway? It was deemed that a woman with an income of less
than £10 was not permitted to wear one, effectively restricting
it to the upper classes and the wealthy only.
The hennin is the hat that Hollywood would have us believe was
worn for the entire of the medieval period. Indeed, one can scarcely
see a medieval movie or picture from the archives which doesn't
have the female lead wearing one of these, regardless of the exact
time period or of the dress teamed with it.
fact, this style of hat was worn for an extremely short time,
and only with a specific style of dress.
From 1440 in France until about 1490 in Europe, hennins reached
new heights as they rocketed skywards. Steeple hennins, as the
tallest of the tall, pointed hennins became known, were very rarely
worn in England, although extremely popular in Europe.
In Italy, some steeple hennins reached an astonishing half an
ell high- 45 inches or 3/4 of a metre from base to tip.
The taller hennins were made of brilliantly coloured silk or of
gold or silver tissue and were extremely lightweight and fragile.
Although occasionally pictured in contemporary artworks worn alone,
the steeple hennin was generally worn with a loose kerchief or
veil hanging down sometimes as low as the ground.
The picture detail, above at left, shows The Wife of Tommas
Portinari painted by Memling in 1470. She is wearing a steeple
hennin with fine, translucent veil.
During the late 15th century, a new style hennin became more fashionable
and supplanted the steeple hennin. It was again constructed similarly
to the Turkish Fez, in that it was shaped like an upturned flower
The fabric under-cap with the wide black fold-back front which
was worn underneath the hennin previously was abandoned in favour
of very thin supporting straps which pass under the ears of the
wearer. An example of a heavily jeweled hennin with a supporting
band can be seen here in a detail from a painting by Petrus Christus
in 1450, Portrait of a Female Donor.
newer style of hennin could support the weight of more decoration
and became heavily decorated and set with gemstones and pearls.
The fabrics used to construct it were heavier and often of geometrically
patterned brocades which themselves, were stiffer by nature than
the previous silks.
In an extremely short period
of time another decorative feature made an appearance- two silver
wires attached to the front of the hennin like a butterfly's feelers
and supported the veil in new and interesting ways. This
was the Butterfly hennin. Shown at right is a detail from
1511, The Gift of Kalmthout by Van der Weyden, which clearly
shows the wire framework under the veil.
Slightly later in the 15th century and into the early 16th century,
there developed a trend to add fabric side wings onto the hennin.
These were often stuffed with gemstones and had a border around
the edges. Shown here is a detail from an unknown source showing
the hennin-with-wings and veil being
worn by a noble lady in a brocaded houppelande.
Other paintings show this style of hennin worn without a veil.
Some illuminations show images of women workers on the fields
wearing hats which are coloured and non-textured. It appears that
these are not straw, but it is unclear what they are made of.
It is entirely possible that these may be felted wool hats, although
there is no written reference to felted wool hats which I have
The picture at right shows Chaucer's Wife of Bath out riding
in her goffered veil and what looks like a black, felted hat and
a strap under her chin.
© Rosalie Gilbert
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