Thursday, May 31, 2018

Margaret Campion, Business Woman

By Lauren Gilbert

Campion Banking House, originally founded 1800
Historically, women had limited options for their lives, and Georgian England was no exception. As any reader of Jane Austen’s novels knows, this situation resulted in marriage being a primary career objective. Lack of education and property laws restricted the ability of many women to support themselves respectably, or even adequately. However, there were always exceptions. Margaret Holt Campion, known as the first Lady Banker in northern England, was one of them.

Margaret Holt was born to John Holt and his wife Martha Storm Holt in 1748, the fourth of nine children. John Holt was a ship owner and tradesman in Whitby. Margaret’s brothers and sisters married local families involved with shipping, banking and other businesses. Margaret married Nathaniel Campion, a ship owner who was also engaged in trade, sailcloth weaving and flax spinning, and as a general merchant (including wine sales.) Available data indicates Margaret worked with her husband and with her own family on business involving ship building and trade. Margaret and her husband had a son Robert, born about 1773. (There is an indication that they also had daughters, but I found no record identifying them.) Around 1790, Arundel House in Whitby was built and at some point became the home of Margaret and Nathaniel and their family.

In 1792, Margaret partnered in building a ship named The Vigilant with her brothers Thomas and William Holt, and her sister Mary’s husband Christopher Richardson. Accounts for this venture were kept by her brother John Holt. As we can see, this was truly a family affair. The Vigilant’s maiden voyage was from Whitby to St. Petersburg, Russia in May of 1792, and she was engaged in trading runs to Russia, Stockholm and the West Indies until she was lost in 1797. (Records of the ship were sold through Bonham’s in 2007.)

After Nathaniel passed away in 1798, Margaret took control of his ships and various business interests. She paid the required fee and became a freeman of the Russian Company in her own right, authorized to trade in the Baltic. (The Russian Company, also known as the Muscovy Company, was a group of English merchants organized in 1555 by the explorer Sebastian Cabot that was awarded a monopoly on Russian trade. Its privileges were revoked by Tsar Alexis in 1649 and it lost its monopoly on Russian trade in 1698, but the company retained some influence and participated in the revival of British-Russian trade in the 18th century.) The Baltic trade was a risky business as illustrated by an episode that occurred in 1800 when Tsar Paul seized British ships and goods, causing significant losses to the ship owners and investors. Fortunately, neither the Campions nor their family connections sustained losses from this action.

In order to facilitate her many business interests, Margaret formed a bank with her son Robert, which opened January 2, 1800. Whitby was the 7th largest port in the United Kingdom, and home to numerous ship builders and other businesses, so banking offered the potential for significant profit. By all accounts, Margaret was a respected and influential business person in her own right. Robert married Jane Smales, whose father was also a ship owner. (Her father insisted that Jane’s portion be settled on her at the time of the marriage.) Robert and Jane had a son, John, born May 8, 1803 at Whitby. Records indicate Margaret and Robert operated Campion Bank and their other business interests successfully, with the Campions becoming one of the most well-to-do families in Whitby. The bank occupied Campion Bank House on Church Street in Whitby, shown above. Margaret died February 15, 1804.

After Margaret’s death, Robert carried on the bank and business interests as sole partner, adding a wine business and expanding certain of the existing interests, including obtaining a patent in 1813 for an invention to prepare yarn for making sailcloth. His son John joined him as a partner in 1817 with the bank, although there is no indication that John was particularly ambitious or active in the family businesses. The bank and businesses continued to be quite successful as, by 1826, Robert was known as a very wealthy man and had started signing his name Robert Campion, Esq. of Bagdale. Robert and John were known for their philanthropic contributions, particularly to abolitionist causes, and built a monument to Captain Cook in 1827. Unfortunately, Robert and John appeared to be more interested in their gentlemanly pursuits than advancing their business interests after this point.

There are indications the businesses were taking on debt. The bank ultimately failed in 1841, greatly encumbered. The records of the Commission of Bankruptcy in 1842 shows the bank and the Campion ship owners in debt to the tune of almost 40,000 pounds, and that Robert and John were also personally significantly in debt. In spite of their precarious financial state, Robert and John maintained their gentlemen’s lifestyles (perhaps in part because John’s father-in-law required that his daughter’s portion be settled, protecting her interests). Robert died on December 10, 1866. At some point after the business failed, John gave up his business career and became a clergyman. (In the directories, he is described as gentleman.) He became a deacon in 1843 and was ordained in 1845. After resigning his living at St. James’ Church, Doncaster in January of 1890 due to poor health, John died May 19, 1894.

Margaret Holt Campion spent her life as a business woman, as well as a wife and mother. She maintained and advanced the business interests left by her husband, and was the senior partner of the bank she started with her son, which was successful under her care. I don’t think it’s too much to say that she was significantly responsible for building the family wealth that allowed her son and grandson to consider themselves gentlemen. Although they managed to keep things going well for 22 years, neither Robert nor John was willing to sustain the effort; nor did they seem to care enough to find competent managers. Sadly, Margaret’s business legacy did not survive.

Sources include:

Dawes, Margaret and Selwyn, Nesta. Women who made money WOMEN PARTNERS IN BRITISH PRIVATE BANKS 1752-1906. 2010: Trafford Publishing, Bloomington, IN. “Arundel House.” HERE “Lot 706 Shipbuilding.” HERE “Muscovy Company.” HERE “Holts of Whitby, Yorkshire, UK 1700-1850” by user, February 25, 1999. HERE Craig, Beatrice. WOMEN AND BUSINESS SINCE 1500: Invisible Presences in Europe and North America. P. 161. 2016: Palgrave (imprint of Macmillan Publishers Ltd.), London. HERE ; Phillips, Maberly. A HISTORY OF BANKS, BANKERS AND BANKING IN NORTHUMBERLAND, DURHAM AND NORTH YORKSHIRE. PP 219-221. 1894: Effingham, Wilson & Co. London. HERE “A Maritime History of the Port of Whitby, 1700-1914” by Stephanie Karen Jones. Thesis submitted to the University College London 1982. HERE

Image: Wikimedia Commons. Campion Bank House by Mike Kirby. HERE


Lauren Gilbert lives with her husband Ed in Florida, where the roses, gardenias and plumeria are currently blooming in the yard. She is a member of the Jane Austen Society of North America. Her first book, HEYERWOOD: A Novel, is available, and her second A RATIONAL ATTACHMENT is due out soon. Please visit her website HERE.

Monday, May 28, 2018

The Enchantment of The Bayeux Tapestry

by Carol McGrath

The Bayeux Tapestry has retained its enchantment and its vivid colour almost a thousand years after it was embroidered. It tells the story of The Norman Conquest through beautifully framed vignettes and long-shot depictions made in embroidery from Harold Godwinson's departure on a mysterious mission to Normandy in 1064 until his death at Hastings in October 1066.  I have often wondered about the fabric and the natural dyes used for the embroidery wools in the Tapestry's construction.

Scene from The Bayeux Tapestry

Carola Hicks wrote in her wonderful book The Bayeux Tapestry, The Life Story of a Masterpiece, "Made from the workaday fabrics of linen and wool, the Tapestry has often been described as an uncharacteristically humble artifact when compared to other works of the period, even an example of quaint folk art."

It is true that the Tapestry is not sewn with valuable gold, silver, and gems, or silk embroidery threads. It is by Anglo-Saxon standards a modest work, and yet it is a glorious feat of craftsmanship and artistry. The Tapestry is constructed in the everyday fabrics of linen and wool. Even so, its fabrics were designed and executed as the result of practice by extremely talented craftsmen.

Woodland Scene from the Tapestry

Here in Tapestry the dramatic story of the Norman invasion of England is stitched out and embroidered on strips of linen. It is seventy meters in length and half a meter wide. The fact that these homely though durable fabrics, linen and wool, were used are the reason for its preservation despite its great age and fragility. Most of what we see today is original. Even where the Tapestry has been repaired we can still see the original stitch marks.


Linen and The Tapestry

Linen has a long history. The ancient Egyptians found linen's sweat-absorbent and cooling properties divine. They attributed the invention of linen to the goddess Isis. With the advent of Christianity linen was used for priestly garments. It actually had a high status. It comes from the flax plant which was sown after Easter and harvested three months later. In the Middle-Ages the young plants were pulled by hand and never cut. Cutting might damage the stems. Plant stalks were soaked till they were decomposing, dried out, then smashed with mallets to separate the outer bark from the inner fibres. These were spun into thread on a hand spindle. Medieval women spun constantly. They attached a bundle of flax fibres to the cone-shaped top of a pole , the distaff. Then the other end was tucked under the spinner's arm. A spinner drew the fibres out from the top, twisted them onto a weighted whorl, then spun them tightly into a thread.

Retting (cleaning) the flax

The Bayeux Tapestry consists of nine separate panels sewn together after they were embroidered. The two longest strips measure nearly 14 meters. This suggests a long warp or length setting. Other Tapestry sections are shorter. The original lengths were woven a meter wide and then cut to make strips that would be comfortable to embroider. A loom is used to weave the threads into lengths of fabric.  Carola Hicks thought that professional weavers made the linen on a horizontal treadle loom, a more advanced machine than an upright warp-weighted loom that was used to make woollen cloth.

Upright weaving frame

When the linen was woven it was a natural brown in colour. The linen was bleached by boiling it in a solution of water alkalized by the addition of wood ash, fern or seaweed. It was stretched out on frames for exposure to the light. It was still kept damp. After a period of three weeks or so the linen was soaked in a solution of sour milk fermented by rye or bran. The fabric was pounded with a piece of marble or glass to create a smooth silky texture.

Wool Embroidery on The Tapestry

It is considered by most Tapestry historians that there was a common cartoon source  for the Tapestry design. There is a similarity between the images, especially those of figures, emblems, plants, and animals, and those depicted on Canterbury manuscripts of the period. This suggests Canterbury as the location for the Tapestry's overall design. However, between three and eight workshops are suggested for the linen's weaving. There were probably several embroidery workshops involved as well. Likely contenders were Canterbury and Wilton.

Queen Edith, the widow of Edward the Confessor, was one of the most notable embroiderers of the era, and after her husband's death she retired to Wilton Abbey which had a school for embroiderers. She may have had a hand in the execution of the Bayeux Tapestry. It is recorded in The Vita Edwardi Regis, completed around 1066-69, a few years after Edward's death, that several people were with Edward just before his death.  There were Harold Godwin and Archbishop Stigund. Edith, one of three women depicted on the Tapestry, who warmed his feet in her lap can be seen kneeling at the bottom of his bed. According to the Vita, Edward gave a prophetic vision and then said a few words to comfort Edith. Interestingly, Edward's death scene as depicted in embroidery on the Tapestry corresponds to that described in the Vita which was commissioned by Queen Edith. Wilton Abbey is, I suggest, one of the locations for the Tapestry's construction. Queen Edith may even contributed to which scenes should be included and their depiction.
King Edward's Death Scene

The embroidery is stitched in strands of worsted wool, the end product of an old and complicated process. An enormous amount of wool was dyed. Carola Hicks states more than 45 kilograms was used for the embroidery. The original wools remain vivid. They are also more resistant to moth than chemically dyed wools. Winchester was one of the cities that monitored the practice of dyers within its jurisdiction since dyes produced noxious waste products and hideous odours. Alum which was valuable was the favoured mordant. Dye ingredients came from animal, vegetable or mineral products acquired locally. Sometimes ingredients were imported from further afield to be smashed, boiled, and simmered, concentrated to extract the essence of a hue.

There are ten main tones on the Tapestry. They came from only three plants, woad, madder and weld. The dyes were blended into two reds, a yellow and a beige, three tones of blue and three tones of green.


Beige and yellow came from the flowers and leaves of weld.

Green also came from weld but it was mixed with the leaves of woad.

Woad produced the blues.


The reds came from madder. The roots of madder were ground into a powder, heated and simmered with added chalk or lime at a constant temperature for not more than two hours. Once a whole fleece was dyed to the required colours, a hand held spindle was used to turn the fibres into bales of worsted.

A friend of mine, Charles Jones, has had spinners and embroiderers working on a tapestry to tell the story of The Battle of Fulford September 1066. Here are a few of the dying recipes he has used to reproduce authentically the colours which his embroiderers used. Be careful if you try them out.


Chop lengths to boil for one and a half hours
Add wool and pinch of tartar
simmer for one hour
one hank of woad dyed wool added to light green will produce dark yellow.


5lbs of walnuts smashed and put to soak for twenty four hours
Tap water and a half cup of vinegar

Soak the wool for two days and then simmer for half an hour will produce a nut brown shade

Oak Gall Powder

20 gm of oak gall powder
boil for 30 minutes
teaspoon of salt
alum mordanted wool added
cook for twenty minutes
fix with salt and vinegar

Produces a light green-brown

These are just a few of the recipes used for dying wool used in embroidering a latter-day tapestry replica. I wonder if EHFA readers have had experience of creating dyes for wool using similar methods.

[This is an Editors' Choice archive post, originally published on this blog on 18th November 2014]


Carol McGrath is the author of The Handfasted Wife (2013) published by Accent Press and inspired by The Bayeux Tapestry.

The Swan-Daughter published by Accent Press (2014) is available now from and from

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Editors Weekly Round-up, May 27, 2018

by the EHFA Editors

English Historical Fiction Authors brings you posts every week on different aspects of British history, society, and culture. Check out the articles for the week ending May 26:

Friday, May 25, 2018

Garden Guide for English Historical Authors: Spring

by Margaret Porter

Tulips and primula

'Planting and gardening addes much to the Health and Content of Man.'  Moses Cook, 1676

'My Garden, like my Life, seems to me every Year to want Correction and require attention.'  Alexander Pope, 1736

This is the fourth and last seasonal gardening guide, with information taken from 17th and 18th century sources in my personal library. I took the photographs either in historic gardens in England or in my own 21st century gardens, in which I grow heritage plants. The previous three entries are:  
Garden Guide for English Historical Authors: Summer and Garden Guide for English Historical Authors: Autumn, and Garden Guide for English Historical Authors: Winter.

With the advent of spring, garden tasks multiplied, in the past as they do nowadays. Seedlings and young plants established on hotbeds had to be planted out in prepared sites where they could thrive, grow and bear. The onset of warmer weather meant that pleasure gardens would serve areas for display of flowers and fruit, enjoyment, and relaxation, hence the need to continuing the tidying begun in winter's waning days. Printed garden guides provided explicit instructions to the professional as well as the common gardener.

Bluebells in springtime


'First sturdy March with brows full sternly bend,
And armed strongly, rode upon a Ram,
The same which over Hellespontus swam:
Yet in his hand a spade he also hent,
And in a bag all sorts of seeds ysame,
And fild her wombe with fruifull hope of nourishment'
                           Edward Spenser, The Faerie Queene

In the kitchen garden. Ensure that cucumber and melon hot beds are properly warm, with lively but moderate heat. Sow seeds of both throughout the month. Make new hot beds for moving transplants. Transplant cabbage and lettuce plants, and plant cauliflowers in rich ground. Sow broccoli, cabbage, savoy, spinach, onions, leeks, radish, carrots, beans, peas, turnips, celery, parsnips, tomato or love-apple, asparagus, chervil, coriander, parsley, basil, and other pot and medicinal herbs. Plant cuttings of rosemary and rue. Dress existing asparagus and artichoke beds, forking or lightly digging, then raking. Plant potato beds and Jerusalem artichokes. Shake the nut trees to loosen pollen from the catkins; this will fertilise the flowers. 

In the fruit garden. Prune fig trees, cut out branches overtopping the wall. Plant fruit trees of all kinds on walls, as espaliers, or as standards. Train young apricots, peach and nectarines planted against a wall. Prune and train apples, pears, plums, and cherries. Prune raspberries of deadwood and thin live shoots. Prune vines. 

In the flower garden. Sow tender annuals in hot beds. Add fresh earth to potted plants. Guard auriculas in pots from too much wind, cold, and frost. Support heavy hyacinth flowers to prevent toppling. Plant ranunculus and anemones. Plant biennial and perennial flower seeds. Transplant perennial plants. Prune shrubs. Plant additional  shrubs and evergreens. Lay turf for new grass walks, clean gravel walks of weeds and litter.

Garden produce: Winter spinach, some cabbages and savoys, broccoli, red and chard beets, parsnips, carrots, potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, endive, all sorts of salad herbs. 

From the hot beds: Cucumbers, peas, kidney beans, purslane. In warm borders: mint, tarragon, tansy, sage, parsley, marigolds, burnet, sorrel, hyssop, winter savory, rosemary, other pot herbs.

Persian iris
Plants in flower: Various sorts of crocus, double snowdrop, several sorts of narcissus, Persian iris, spring cyclamen, several sorts of daffodils, early turnips, crown imperials, hyacinths, violets, hepaticas, wall-flowers, alyssum, primroses, dog's tooth violet, hearts ease or pansies, wood anemones, hellebores.

Crown imperial


Hearts ease


Tree and shrubs in flower: Apricot, almond, daphne mezereon, cherry plum, spurge laurel, laurustinus, cornelian cherry, honeysuckle.

Medicinal plants to gather: Elder buds, nettle tops, liverwort, primrose, violet, watercress.

Greenhouse plants in flower: Ilex-leaved lantana, Spanish Jasmine, Aleppo cyclamens, geraniums of several sorts, cotyledon, African marigold, Canary campanula, coffee tree, purple lotus, gladiolus.


'And the buds and blossomes breathing forth pretious and pleasant Oders, rejoyce and delight the inward and outward senses.' Ralph Austen, A Treatise of Fruit Trees, 1653

'In Aprill about St George his day, you shall set abroad your citron and orange trees, as also such other trees as you had kept within house from St Martin's Day.' Richard Surflet, 1600

In the kitchen garden. Many vegetables sown in prior month may still be sown for successive crops. Transplant lettuce where there stand close. Thin radishes. Sow spinach. Plant early kidney beans in dry weather. Sow gourds and pumpkins. Sow broccoli for a winter crop. Sow borage, bugloss, clary sage, thyme, sweet marjoram, savory, burnet, sorrel, and hyssop. Continue to sow pot herbs. Also nasturtium and marigolds. Cuttings and slips of new growth from herbs can be planted, especially lavender and rosemary.

In the fruit garden. Continue planting fruit trees as required. With fumigating bellows, destroy insects that breed in this season and damage trees, pick off curled leaves. Protect blossoms and young fruit of trees from frost by covering with evergreen branches or mats, until fruits are as large as the end of a man's finger, or larger.

In the flower garden. Make a hot bed to receive annual seedlings planted the prior months. Continue sowing of tender annuals. Sow seeds of hardy annuals and other flowers in borders and elsewhere: convolvulus major and minor, Tangier and sweet-scented pea, nasturtiums, lupines, larkspur, poppy, hawkweed, candytuft, dwarf lychnis, nigella, stock, dwarf and large sunflower, lavatera, oriental mallow. Sow some in patches in in the borders. Water frequently in dry weather. Sow pinks, carnations, and polyanthus. Take especial care of hyacinths, tulips, ranunculus and anemone flowers now blooming--guard from heavy winds and rains by screening with mats. Plant tuberoses in hot beds or inside the hothouse. Place pots of auriculas on shelves of the auricula stage. Stake such flowering plants as require support.

18thC Sweet-scented pea

Garden produce: Turnip shoots, spinach, radishes, asparagus, pot-marjoram, late celery and endive, chervil, young onions, leeks, scallions, borage, sage, rosemary, young carrots sown in autumn. From the hot-beds: cucumbers, peas, kidney beans, purslane, early cabbages.

Fritillary & daffodils
Plants in flower: Anemones, ranunculus, polyanthus, auriculas, tulips, crown imperials, hepaticas, hyacinths, narcissus, daffodils, jonquils, violets, muscaria, snowdrop, flag iris, cyclamen, Double white violet, anemone, double daisies, fritillaria, Persian lily, lungwort, lily of the valley, hearts ease, periwinkle.

Trees and shrubs in flower: White and purple and blue lilac, Persian lilac, laburnum, peach, pear, cherries of all sorts, plum, almond, hawthorn, Italian honeysuckles, Yellow jasmine, coronilla, dogwood, horse chestnut, spirea, azaleas.




'There is no flower can be more glorious than the Poppy.' John Worlidge, 1677


In the kitchen garden. Melon beds and cucumber frames require especial care--early plants in frames will now show fruit. Maintain sufficient warms in the beds while fruit is setting. Admit fresh air to the plants each day by propping the glass. Shade the plants from the sun on the brightest days. Plant out the gourds and pumpkins sown in April. Plant out the tomato or love-apple plants sown earlier. Cut asparagus for the table. Transplant lettuce. Plant more beans and peas for later crops. Continue to sow pot herbs and propagate medicinal plants from slips and cuttings.

In the fruit garden. Train new shoots of wall trees. Thin apricots, peaches, and nectarines where the tree is too heavily laden with fruit. Water new-planted trees. Clear vines of all useless shoots. Train all shoots that have fruit upon them. Uncover fig branches in warm weather to prevent mold. continue to repair espalier frames. Transplant fruit trees. Look carefully after bullfinches, at this season they do great mischief to fruit trees by packing off blossom buds and can destroy all garden fruit in two or three days.

Parrot tulip
In the flower garden. When tulips cease flowering, cut away the seed pod from the top of the stalk and allow the leaves to wither. In dry weather transplant autumn flowering bulbs, and separate off-sets from the main bulb. Plant out tender and less hardy plants from hot beds into the ground. Transplant the perennial flowering plants that were sown in March. Mow grass walks and lawn, and keep gravel walks tidy. Continue to support tall flowering plants.

Garden produce: Cabbages, savoys, broccoli, carrots, parsnips, turnips, red beets, salsify, cardoons, spinach, potatoes, artichokes, onions, leeks, garlic, shallots, sage, parsley, sorrel, mint, tansy, tarragon, sallet herbs, mushrooms, endive, celery, chervil. Pot herbs and aromatic plants: winter savory, hyssop, thyme, lavender, rosemary, pot-marjoram, burnet.

In the pleasure garden. Plant out carnations in pots to flower and place in a warm situation. Sow seeds of auricula and polyanthus in pots or tubs of light, rich earth. Add fresh earth to auricula pots. Near the end of month, stir the surface of flower beds, and clear them of weeds and moss. At end of the month transplant Canterbury bells, French honeysuckle, daisies, rose campion, foxgloves, pinks, sweet william, bachelors' buttons, campanulas, thrift, scarlet lychnis, columbines, goldenrods, and other fibrous-rooted plants. On dry frosty nights cover beds of ranunculus, anemones, and tulips to protect from injury. Rake and clean in the wilderness, because the flowers under the trees are beginning to bloom. Edge the grass walks and lawns, and roll them when the ground is soft. Make hot-beds for tender annual flowers.

Lawn roller

Garden produce: Radishes, spinach, cabbage, lettuce, sorrel, mint, winter savory, borage, bugloss, young onions, chives, asparagus, peas, beans, early artichokes, cauliflower, young carrots in protected locations, cucumbers, melons, purslane, kidney beans on hot beds, mushrooms, parsley, coriander, chervil, cresses, mustard, burnet, tarragon, spring herbs for soups.

Lily of the valley
Medicinal plants for gathering: Sorrel, wood sorrel, lily of the valley, pimpernel, watercress, ground ivy, dead nettle, fumitory, columbine, tansy, stonecrop, woodruff, mandrake leaves, dandelion, betony, groundsel, borage, horse tail, cranesbill, burnet, lungwort.

Fruit for gathering: Cherries, strawberries in warm soil, late in the month gooseberries and green currants in warm situations.

In the forcing frame: Apricots, peaches, cherries, strawberries, other early fruits.

Plants in flower: Late tulips, anemones, ranunculus, lupines,  lily of the valley, daisies, thrift, valerian, sage, rosemary, veronica, geraniums, Armenian perennial poppy, peonies, monkshood, stock gillyflowers, wallflowers, Solomon's seal, ladies' mantle, tuberose, lady slipper, Welsh poppy, double white narcissus, harebells, iris, flag-leaved iris, spiderwort, bellflower, double feverfew, ladies' smock, snapdragon.

Trees, shrubs, and vines in flower: Yellow jasmine, lilacs, honeysuckles, whitethorn, Guelder rose, cinnamon rose, monthly rose, damask rose, burnet-leaved rose, Scotch rose, horse chestnut, laburnum, flowering almond, perfumed cherry, Portugal laurel, dwarf medlar, myrtle, double-flowering cherry, viburnum, dogwood, privet, flowering ash, common broom, clematis.

Blush damask rose

Blush burnet rose

Double flowering cherry

Having closed out the seasonal guides to the gardening year, I hope they will prove informative and perhaps useful to my fellow authors, as well as interested historical fiction readers.

Flag iris


Everlasting pea

English Garden History: Summer Guide
English Garden History: Autumn Guide
English Garden History: Winter Guide

Margaret Porter is the award-winning and bestselling author of twelve period novels, whose other publication credits include nonfiction and poetry. A Pledge of Better Times, her highly acclaimed novel of 17th century courtiers Lady Diana de Vere and Charles Beauclerk, 1st Duke of St. Albans, is her latest release, available in trade paperback and ebook. Margaret studied British history in the UK and the US. As historian, her areas of speciality are social, theatrical, and garden history of the 17th and 18th centuries, royal courts, and portraiture. A former actress, she gave up the stage and screen to devote herself to fiction writing, travel, and her rose gardens.

[This article is an Editors' Choice, first published on March 22 2016]

Monday, May 21, 2018

Women of the Middle Ages: Wimples, Veils, and Head-rails - Part ll

By Paula Lofting

From the advent of the conversion to Christianity, it is generally accepted that women in Europe were following the convention of covering the whole of the hair. We can take this to be from the 8th-9th centuries on, though earlier than that in Britain, it is easier to find evidence for not covering the hair. The custom had started early on in the Christian religion, and was proposed by St Paul and promulgated by his followers. Loose or uncovered hair was to become associated throughout most of the medieval period with loose morals or prostitution, therefore it would be unlikely that many women would forgo this custom - at least when going out abroad. Poorer women may not have been able to afford the extra cloth to augment their head-gear, however, their caps, which the most observant of the custom wore, could be adapted to cover the whole of their hair by using a square piece of material, big enough to fit their head and then some, with a drawstring sewn within the hem. This would allow them to tie long hair into a bun or coil at the neck which could be stuffed into the cap. So even the poorest of women could enjoy the comforts of not being singled out as loose women.

Previously, we have seen during the pagan era in Europe, that women wore their hair in nets, caps, and scarves, intimating that there was a practical need for keeping the hair contained. However there have been veils worn by followers of certain pagan deities in Rome and Greece, such as Vesta, remember the Vestal Virgins? The veil in pagan times seems to have been associated with virginity and chastity, as well as being to do with female shame and the dominance of men who enforce it. Many Roman women wore the veil, and there is evidence that the veil goes back to 1100 BC. The veil may have also been in use for priestesses performing rituals, so we know that the veiling of women has been around much longer than Judaism and Christianity, but it was Christianity that brought it to Northern Europe.

Virgo Vestalis Maxima
As we saw in Part One, there is little archaeological evidence of veils and wimples being worn even during the conversion era in Anglo-Saxon England. However, there have been found in high status graves, small pairs of dainty pins by the head which indicate they were used to hold a veil in place to a cap. In some of the less wealthy graves, single pins have also been found at the jaws, near the foreheads and under the skulls of 7th century women's skeletons. showing that they may have been used to fasten scarves, hoods or other everyday head-wear.

So, what types of hair coverings did the women of this era wear?

In the top of the late 8thc Genoels-Elderen Diptych, (below) we see the Virgin Mary wearing a short wimple that appears almost to be attached to her tunic, or mantle that she is wearing. She also wears a diadem under her wimple at her forehead, which is a decorative accessory worn to hold her cap in place. Her maidservant next to her is clearly of lower class and appears to wear her uncovered hair pulled back possibly into a bun at the nape, or is cut very short. The Diptych is from the late 8th century, and originates from Flanders and so could be the custom for someone of her status in that area at that time. She might even be a slave.

Genoels-Ederen ivory
Public Domain
Bishop Aldhelm, a West Saxon abbot and bishop, was known to have documented his concerns about women's dress. He disliked the extravagant forms of white or colourful long veils attached to fillets or ribbons. In the image on the lower Diptych panel, the embracing saints look to be wearing the type of long veils that Aldhelm could be talking about. (I wonder what Aldhelm would think about today's dress if he found these distasteful!) However, these long veils could also be interpreted as cloaks, which we have seen in other images as covering the head and fastened just below the breast.

The prudish Aldhelm was not a lover of curled hair at the forehead and temples which was probably all he was allowed to see, but still found this distasteful! However, we know that curling tongs did exist so it might be that veils and wimples were worn back off the forehead at some point in the late 7th-8thc era. Fig 116 in Gale Owen-Crocker's book, Dress in Anglo-Saxon England, page 159, shows a stone engraving of a sculpture of a veiled woman with the curled hair around her face showing.

Public Domain
This figure (left) from the early half of the 9thc  wears a cloak over her head and is fastened at the chest, as described above. One might wonder if this is what Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians may have looked like in her everyday wear. Owen-Crocker (2004) describes a late 9thc headdress found in a grave in Winchester as belonging to an extremely wealthy woman. The veil was edged with gold braid; whether the material was linen or silk, we are not informed. There was also a second gold braid which may have been attached to an ornament made with loops of gold decorated ribbon and worn as a band around the head above the brow. The sex of the skeleton was not determined, but the conclusion was that this type of cloth would have been associated with a woman, rather than a man.

Copyright 2012 Shelagh Lewins
with her permission
When people refer to a wimple, they are generally referring to most types of medieval head coverings that cover the whole of the hair. Generally, the consensus seems to be that the wimple, in Old English, wimpel, was a head-covering that might have been designed as a hood-shaped garment that covered the hair and was closed at the chest, in this era, they are not shown in drawings as covering the neck and chin as they do in later periods. Some were short, like the one that the virgin Mary appears to be wearing in the ivory image above, or some were long, and some were long rectangular pieces of material, wrapped over the head with the ends wrapping around the throat and thrown back over the shoulders. They might also be referred to as veils.

The image on the above right is from a lady called Shelagh Lewins who made this reconstruction of a 9thc high status Anglo-Saxon lady wearing a simple snood-like hair covering. Also from the same site is this interpretation of a 9thc lady with a 'wrap around veil' as described above. Underneath her veil, or scarfe, you can see the cap that she has attached her veil to and has an embroidered 'headband' to adorn the cap and probably keep that in place. Medieval women must have been very adept at securing their wimples, when going out, otherwise strong winds, low-lying branches, and perhaps a bit of tomfoolery, would dislodge them quite easily if not secured well.

Copyright 2012 Shelagh Lewins
with her permission
What the pins used to hold the headdress in place may have looked like.

The 'Coppergate' cap was found in the archaeological dig in York. It can be found in the South Yorkshire museum and if you use this link you will see a picture of it: 

Here I have created my own interpretation for use in my re-enactment hobby, and which I wear around the campfire with or without my wimple. Mine has long ties attached to it so I can tie it securely to my head and keep in place. It seems I have slippery hair, which moves my head-gear all over the place throughout the day!
Here, as you can see, it is made of white linen. The cap does not cover all of my hair now, as I have too much hair to wear it all under the cap. The Coppergate cap was found in the 9thc 'Viking' area of York (Jorvik) but quite possibly also worn by the English ladies of the time. Scandinavian women would not have been as bothered about hiding their hair as the Christian Anglian women were, so a cap like this could have easily been worn by them for practical purposes rather than moral or religious reasons.

And here I am with my Coppergate cap underneath my snood-type wimple. If you look carefully, you may just see the on the top of my head, the head of the pin that secures the snood wimple to my cap. Where the 'beard' of the wimple falls at my chest (most handy for catching food that misses your mouth) and just above the York crucifix at my chest, you might just see the penanular brooch that keeps the wimple secure to my clothing, and stops it from flapping up in my face when I bend down!

In my next post, I am going to be looking at the 10th&11th centuries, the late Anglo Saxon era to see how things might have changed or moved on from the 9th century.


Paula Lofting is an author and a member of the re-enactment society Regia Anglorum, where she regularly takes part in the Battle of Hastings. Her first novel, Sons of the Wolf, is set in eleventh-century England and tells the story of Wulfhere, a man torn between family and duty. The sequel, The Wolf Banner is available now. Paula is currently working on the third book in the series, Wolf's Bane

Find Paula on her Blog
on her Amazon Author Page