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hats & hennins


veils & wimples



Medieval Women's Hats and Hennins

The Cocked Cap
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. In French it is called a chapeau a bec, due to it looking like a bird's beak at the front.

It's first written mention is in the 1464 Expenses and Accounts of Sir John Howard, where he pays his goldsmith:

“Payd to the goldsmythe that made the bokelys, pendawntes and barrys to my masters salat and his byecoket.”

Many 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 worn by upper class women, for outdoor activities such as riding, travelling and hunting. As to date, I have not seen these mentioned in women's clothing or expense accounts.

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.

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 high.

Manuscripts like the Bohun Psalter, above, from 14th century England, show it being worn with long strings, presumably to hold the hat on in inclement weather.

The image from the Ormesby Psalter, folio 48r, shown at right, is extremely unusual, in that it shows a woman with a barbette and hairnet and a peaked cap over the top. Her hairnet is red, which is not usual, but it by no means unheard of. She is engaged in the act of fighting a snail with a shield and slingshot, so it could be conjectured that her attire and activity are intended to be traditionally manly, and not indicative of a woman's usual attire.

The straw hat
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.

Both 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
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.

Some 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 Steeple Hennin
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.

In 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.

The Butterfly Hennin
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 pot.

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.

This 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.

Other hats
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 seen.

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.

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