ENGLISH LAWS - FRENCH LAWS - ITALIAN LAWS - GERMAN
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.
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
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:
- 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
1409 - Law on the playing
1414 - 2 petitions proposed
by Commons on price fixing (rejected), proclamation on unlawful
1419 - 1414 petition on price
1420 - passing of sumptuary
1422- succession of Henry
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
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
- 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.