In the 16th century there was a growing trend in social mobility with a merchant class rapidly emerging. This meant that for the first time there was a vein of English society that could afford to import luxurious and expensive cloth, materials, jewels and finished goods from abroad. As these items were previously only accessible to the King due to their cost it lead to consternation and grumbling amongst the upper classes as they strove to display their status to one another.
This presented problems within the Tudor court and in the country at large as it was essential for Henry VIII to maintain the social order and to project his image, that of his Queen and his closest relatives as the pinnacle of wealth, power and magnificence.
Therefore in 1510 during the first parliament of Henry VIII’s reign and subsequently in 1514, 1515 and 1533, as part of the general Sumptuary Laws, Laws of Apparel were enacted to establish who could wear what.
In the 1510 act with the exception of one clause it did not stipulate what the royal family could wear, focusing instead on which materials and styles of dress were appropriate to each rank of society. eg
No person of what estate or condition or degree that he be use in his apparel any cloth of gold of purple colour or silk of purple colour but only the King, the Queen, the King’s mother, the King’s children and the brothers and sisters of the King’
Phrasing the act in this way allowed the King a very personal and physical way to display his wealth and authority in order that no member of his court or any of his subjects would be in any doubt that he wielded ultimate authority and sovereignty in England.
During their extended courtship Henry VIII’s lavished many gifts on Anne Boleyn. His accounts show considerable sums of money spent on clothing and jewellery for her.
Next week we will discover how the quality and style of these gifts illustrated and cemented her status as Henry’s Queen in Waiting.