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Medieval Sumptuary Laws

Sumptuary Laws were brought in place periodically to restrict what medieval people ate but more particularly, what they wore.

They were not particularly successful. Often people found ingenious ways to skirt them. In one particular case, a long liripipe which was "too long" was protested by the woman who owned it. She showed that it was, in fact, pinned onto the hood and therefore not actually part of it.

Reasons for the laws
After the Black Death caused a worker's shortage and the lower classes were able to charge more for their services. The upper classes were increasingly concerned about the newly-affluent townsfolk and merchant classes who could now afford to dress like their social superiors.

In a world where one's dress generally denotes one's social status, and as merchants were born lower, this was deemed not in the least acceptable by the upper classes. It would never do.

Not to mention, many a merchant's wife sent him to the poorhouse attempting to keep up with the latest court fashions which they could not afford, all for the sake of appearances.

Sumptuary laws passed by the King was the answer to this, although with varying degrees of success.

Listed below are some selected medieval Sumptuary Laws. This is by no means an all-encompassing list, but a selection of those which affected women and the running of a household, dressing of staff and serving of meals.


Selected regulations imposed
by English Sumptuary Laws

1336 - Law regulating the number of courses at dinner

1337 - Law protecting English woolen industry prohibiting the wearing of fabrics not woven in England and restricting furs

1355 - Statute regulating the dress of prostitutes

1361 - Proclamation to fix prices of food in London

1363 - Petition from Commons to fix the price of 'little victuals'

1363 - Statute Concerning Diet and Apparel
- Lords with lands worth £1 000 annually and their families: no restrictions
- Knights with land worth 400 marks. ie £266 13s 4d annually and their families: may dress at their will, except they may wear no weasel fur, ermine or clothing of precious stones other than the jewels in women's hair.
- Knights with lands worth 200 marks. ie. £133 6s 8d annually and their families: fabric worth no more than 6 marks ie £4 for the whole cloth: no cloth of gold, nor a cloak, mantle or gown lined with pure miniver, sleeves of ermine or any material embroidered with precious stones; women may not wear ermine or weasel-fur, or jewels except those worn in their hair.
- Esquires with land worth £200 per year, and merchants with goods to the value of £1 000 and their families: fabric worth no more than 5 marks. ie £3 6s 8d for the whole cloth; they may wear cloth of silk and silver, or anything decorated with silver; women may wear miniver but not ermine or weasel-fur, or jewels except those worn in the hair.
- Esquires, gentlemen with £100 per year, and merchants with goods to the value of £500 and their families: fabric worth no more than 4 1/2 marks, £3, for the whole cloth; no cloth of gold, silk, or silver, no embroidery, no precious stones or fur.
- Yeoman and their families: fabric worth no more than 40s, ie £2 for the whole cloth, no jewels, no gold, silver, embroidery, enamelware or silk; no fur except lamb, rabbit, cat or fox; women not to wear a silk veil.
- Servants and their families: fabric worth not more than 2 marks for the whole cloth; no gold, silver, embroidery, enamel or silk; women not to wear a veil worth more than 12d.
- Carters, ploughmen, drivers of ploughs, oxherds, cowherds, swineherds, dairymaids and everyone else working on the land who does not have 40 shillings of goods: no cloth except blanket and russet at 12d per ell, belts of linen (rope).

1364 - Repeal of The Statute Concerning Diet and Apparel

1399 (or 1388?) - Possible statute 'regulating apparel suitable to every man's distinct rank and quality' Listed in the Parliamentary History of England and Knighton's chronicle, official roll lost

1402 - Sumptuary law petition proposed by Commons

1406 - 1402 petition resubmitted with additions

1409 - Law on the playing of games

1414 - 2 petitions proposed by Commons on price fixing (rejected), proclamation on unlawful games

1419 - 1414 petition on price fixing resubmitted

1420 - passing of sumptuary law

1422- succession of Henry VI

1439-40 - sumptuary regulation for the dress of prostitutes (repeat of 1355)

1463 - Statute of Apparel

1465 - Statute forbidding the making of shoes with pike past the ordained length

1466? - Proclamation on the length of shoe pikes

1477 - Act of Apparel adds to 1463 Statute

1477 - Law on gambling and illegal games

1483 - Statute of Apparel

Select regulations imposed
by French Sumptuary Laws

1283 - Burghers and their wives are prohibited from wearing coronals of gold or silver or precious stones or gold belts

1360 - Prostitutes are forbidden to wear embroidery of any kind, pearls, gilt or silver buttons and squirrel edges on their clothes.

1430 - Statutes of Savoy by Duke Amadaeus VIII.



Select regulations imposed
by Italian Sumptuary laws

1332 - Wives of knights, judges and doctors are permitted to wear silver-gilt jewellery.
Other women are restricted to silver jewellery.


Select regulations imposed
by German Sumptuary laws

1356 - Laws concerning clothing restrictions
- Noblewomen: permitted to wear one brooch of silver or gold weighing up to one heller, and a girdle of silver of up to one mark.
- Burgher Class men and women: forbidden to wear any gold, silver, precious stones or fine pearls.

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