07 September 2009

in an Elizabethan Garden

"For if delight may provoke men's labour,

what grater delights is than to behold the earth apparalled with plants

as with a robe of imbrodered works,

set with orient pearles
and garnished with great diversitie of rare and costly jewels."

-John Gerard's dedication to Lord Burghley from his book

a beloved book , THE ART OF DRESS Clothes and Society 1500-1914, is the best single source for all things in Fashion. Written by Jane Ashelford and published the National Trust, it is an amazing compendium of scholarly knowledge, but written with the most divine details - little bits about the garments worn and the people that wore them. I've corresponded with Jane and found that the book will be reissued in August. Get yourself a copy, You won't regret it.

I am fascinated by the grand Elizabeth R- and no less fascinating is this glorious dress worn in the portrait  of her at Hardwick Hall. The Elizabethans used motifs of nature in abundance and the white satin skirt is the piece de resistance of this love of nature.

Elizabeth R
The Hardwick Portrait by Nicholas Hilliard

According to Jane- at one time the skirt was thought to have been painted- now consensus is that the needle was the brush that created this masterpiece. Apparently this garden is embroidered and its intricate stitchery overseen by Bess of Hardwick. Bess is likely to have put her own embroidery skills to work on the fantastical skirt. The costume was a gift for the Queen on New Year's Day. Interestingly- both male and female servants at Hardwick were schooled in the art of embroidery-so it is easy to imagine them with heads bent, working the magnificent white satin into a virtual natural world for the Queen.

Bess of Hardwick

*Satin Gauntlet embroidered with silk and metallic thread, purland spangles, trimmed with silk ribbon and silver-gilt bobbin lace…English c. 1600-1625Fashion in DetailSeventeenth and Eighteenth CenturyAvril Hart and Susan North*

The botanicals and beasts on the garment would have been studied and rendered from the book : The Herball or General Historie of Plants by John Gerard and published in 1597.
(pages from the work below)

the skirt in detail

There are many and most All recognizable animals and floral specimens. The Pansy- one of the flowers depicted- was a favorite with Elizabeth and appeared on many of her clothes. Other specimens: Eglantine Rose, the Iris, Cowslip, Columbine, Strawberry & Pomegranates .

an example of the embroidery of the period.

From the Animal Kingdom: the swallow, crocodile , the spider, moth, crane, the whale, shark, the serpent and a fierce dragon.

What is in your Elizabethan garden?


  1. Fascinating. Book is on the list. LLGxx

  2. This is such a wonderful post. It still seems to be a discussion about the paint vs. the embroidery, Either way it is exquisite. I love that Elizabeth's favorite flower was the pansy, so hearty and of course royal purple.

  3. Dear, You know I do like the Elizabethans and the pansy as well. BCT

  4. Love that bird on the gauntlet. I assume only women were behind these incredible hand stitched bits of history. Unless you were queen, of course. Trish

  5. Exquisite post right down to the very threads, and details. Just lovely.

  6. I would dress like this everyday if I could get away with it. Although I would have to have a driver.

    I adore wandering around the V & A looking at all the marvelous fabrics!

  7. Debra, glad you stopped in and many thanks

    PT&E- Yes wouldn't it be fun to be queen. the V& A is a place I could get lost in and never return.


  8. LLG- thank you for stopping in, I am so enjoying your blog and have signed up to get your Mom's too. This is a wonderful book- a must have. G

  9. Anon s-
    Isn't the pansy a beautiful velvety flower. I agree whether paint or threads a work of art. G

  10. Hardwick Hall is one of the most extraordinary places I have ever been. Form Bess's handiwork to that of Mary Queen of Scots. It blew me away. Another book you should get your hands on is Santina Levey's "The Embroideries at Hardwick Hall."

  11. Janet,
    I bet that book is exquisitely full of photographs. I would love to get to HH.

  12. The quality and effort that went into royal clothing from the Elizabethan era really is sensational!

  13. Beautiful. There's a book for my TBR list!

  14. Good Lord! I have to have that book! Bankruptcy looms! YIKES!!!

    Beautiful! I just hope there are rhinoceros left when my 15 year old granddaughter is 25!!

    I HOPE SO!!!




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