Gold pieces retrieved from Thames River most likely part of elaborate Tudor era hat
Beautifully fashioned little gold fasteners that probably adorned a hat or clothing in the 16 th century have been turned up by eight people with metal detectors scanning the mud along the Thames River in London over several years. An archaeologist speculates the 12 pieces found over the years, all in the same place, belonged to a single piece of headgear that was blown into the river by a gust of wind. They think the person wearing the hat may have been on a ferry in the Thames.
The media are calling it a treasure hoard of Tudor gold, dating to 1500 to 1550, when the main way to get across the river was by ferry.
“Such metal objects, including aglets – metal tips for laces – beads and studs, originally had a practical purpose as garment fasteners but by the early 16th century were being worn in gold as high-status ornaments, making costly fabrics such as velvet and furs even more ostentatious. Contemporary portraits, including one in the National Portrait Gallery of the Dacres, Mary Neville and Gregory Fiennes, show their sleeves festooned with pairs of such ornaments,” says The Guardian in an article about the finds.
The fabric has long since worn away to nothing. Some of the pieces are inlaid with little bits of colored glass or enamel. In total they comprise a very small amount of gold but are legally treasure that must be reported to a British government finds officer, in this case Kate Sumnall of the London Museum. The museum hopes to acquire the pieces and put them on display after a valuation and inquest.
Jane Seymour painting by Hans Holbein, 1537; note the gold worked into the fabric along the collar and the gold and jewels and pearls on the hat. Jane Seymour was briefly queen of England as Henry VIII’s wife. (Photo by UVM.edu)
It is Sumnall’s theory that wind blew a fantastic, gold-adorned hat off someone’s head into the river. She said the pieces are of very fine quality workmanship.
“These artefacts have been reported to me one at a time over the last couple of years,” she told the Guardian. “Individually they are all wonderful finds but as a group they are even more important. To find them from just one area suggests a lost ornate hat or other item of clothing. The fabric has not survived and all that remains are these gold decorative elements that hint at the fashion of the time.”
The website A History of Tudor Clothes, written by Tim Lambert, says all people of the era in England wore wool, poor people coarse wool and the rich fine wool. Fashion was important to the rich, the article says.
Rich men wore trousers that were called breeches, tight jackets called doublets and a jerkin over that. They also wore a gown over the jerkin or later a cape or cloak.
Women wore a shift or chemise of wool or linen under their dresses, which were also of wool or linen. The dress was in two parts—a skirt and a bodice. Sleeves were detachable and were held on with laces. Over all this, working women wore linen aprons. The clothing was woven with silk or even gold or silver thread.
Lambert writes that all Tudors wore hats, in fact by law after 1572 all men except nobles were required to wear a woolen cap on Sundays.
In the 16 th century, buttons were decorative because most clothing was held together by pins or laces. Furs used in clothing included cat, beaver, rabbit, bear, polecat and badger. Dyes were vegetable-based and fixed with chemicals called mordants. Bright red, purple and indigo were the most expensive, so the poor wore brown, yellow or blue.
It’s rather unsavory to consider, but people who could afford it wore a container of sweet spices on their belts to cover up the smells in the streets. Lambert says, however, that it’s a myth that people of Tudor times were dirty and stunk. They tried to keep clean, he writes, but many people did have lice. Many lice combs were found on the wreck of the Mary Rose, he writes.
A 1547 illustration of the carrack Tudor ship Mary Rose, upon which were found many lice combs. (Wikimedia Commons)
Featured image: Twelve gold pieces of very fine workmanship have been discovered in the mud of the River Thames over the years by people with metal detectors. (PA photo)
By Mark Miller