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"Period Sumptuary Laws" by Lady Rutilia Fausta.


NOTE: See also the files: smptuary-laws-lnks, jewelry-msg, jewlry-storag-msg, wearng-cornts-msg, gem-sources-msg, amber-msg, A-Lapidary-art, lapidary-msg.





This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.


These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.


While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.


Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at florilegium.org



This article was first published in 2009 "The Tydes", the newsletter of the Barony of Lyondemere in the Kingdom of Caid.


Period Sumptuary Laws

by Lady Rutilia Fausta


               There were an astonishing number of period sumptuary laws against the wearing of jewelry during the periods that we are concerned with in the SCA. Many of these were religious, many were political, and unsurprisingly, many of them were both. This is a very brief overview of some of them from the 13th-15th centuries in England, France, Spain, Germany, and Italy. Italy alone had 300 sumptuary laws between 1200-1500.


               It was in Spain that the earliest known sumptuary laws were enacted, forbidding even the kings of the time from wearing gold or silver, in 1234 and then again in 1252 with a decree forbidding the wearing of gold braid on clothes. Another sweeping law was passed in what is now Southern France, but was then Mallorca, forbidding married women to wear gold, silver, pearls or precious stones. These restrictions were very strict, down to the number of decorated hairpins a woman could wear, or the total weight of metal she could wear upon her at one time. However, the restrictions upon unmarried women were much less strict, it being supposed that a display of wealth could help one attract a husband. Interestingly enough, a few Spanish statues were enacted that based the wealth a woman could wear on the value of the horses their father or husband owned. In 1274 a Papal Decree prohibited 'all excess of female ornaments'. Women were no longer allowed pearls, or trimmings of gold and silver.


A French royal ordinance in 1283 commanded that no person of lesser class should be allowed to wear gold or precious stones, or girdles of such. It is said this law, and laws like these, were meant to maintain the strict hierarchy of nobility and high society- that it was their right and due to be thusly adorned. On the other hand, merchants and others of lesser classes than the nobility were often united in their dislike for people who did wear these adornments, as an extravagance and pretension. From the 2nd half of the 13th century and beyond, it is found that Italian, French, and German towns and cities enacted similar sumptuary laws. Particularly common were Italian sumptuary laws, perhaps tied in with their generally high levels of connection to religion, as well as the distribution of power in cities and communes. Even clothing of bright colors and extravagant decoration were targeted.


                              Pearls were an extremely common item to forbid women. Italian, French, German and Spanish cities all forbid women to wear any pearls whatsoever for many years, starting in the late 13th century. These laws were particularly prevalent in Italy, generally forbidding any wearing of pearls by women whatsoever, and deeply restricting most jewelry whatsoever. Oft-mentioned is the wearing of pearls on the head or in the hair, apparently this was quite a problem. In 1383, in Messina, a law was passed forbidding the wearing of any trimmings, pearls, or jewelry at all! In 1340, a Florentine merchant notes that the sumptuary laws against pearls had nearly eradicated any demand for them. In 1355, frequent inspections were ordered on the streets of the city, to ensure that the sumptuary laws were not being broken. However, it is certain that these laws were often flouted. In Bologna in 1365-1366, it was recorded that there were 74 contraventions of sumptuary law. In 1401, it was ordered that women must present their dresses for approval and 'marking' before an official.


               Also often mentioned was the permissible materials and value of buttons. It seems that buttons were quite a big deal, and the amount of decoration, the weight of metal buttons, and the permissible materials was quite strictly regulated. In 1356, in Frankfurt Germany, it was written, "All men and women under our authority shall not wear the following hereunder named: no gold, nor silver nor any precious stones or fine pearls; in addition neither women nor men may wear more than two rings on their fingersÉ Also women may wear a brooch of gold or silver of a heller's weight or under, but not over, and women may also wear girdles of gold up to the value of a mark of silver, but not over."


               England passed a sumptuary law in 1363, that was 'enacted against the outrageous and excessive apparel of divers people, against their estate and degree'. What one could wear was, as in other places, decreed for people who earned a certain amount of money (ex., a thousand marks a year- who could wear whatever they wanted, and it went down from there). These laws were renewed in 1388, due to the common people having 'such pride in divers fashions of dress and ornament that scarce one of the people was distinguished by another by splendour of dress or adornment'- meaning you could not immediately tell a person's rank by their dress and adornment, how terrible!


               In 1427, a popular Franciscan preacher began to preach a line of thought that was maintained for a very long time and is referenced from the Bible- that one should wear few jewels, and only those of a nature pertaining to their class. Vanity is, of course, considered by many to be one of the 10 cardinal sins. Even paternosters were covered by these type of ordinances!


Sumptuary laws were quite complex, far-reaching, strict, and in many cases, each city, state, and country had a series of laws that were not consistent from one to the other. If you would like to know more about the period sumptuary laws for your particular period and area, there is much research available.




Medieval European Jewellry, Ronald W. Lightbown

Sumptuary Law in Italy, 1200-1500, C. Killerby

Anxiety, Hierarchy and Appearance in 13th century Sumptuary Laws, Sarah-Grace Heller

Governance of the Consuming Passions, a history of Sumptuary Law, Alan Hunt


Copyright 2009 by Jennifer Kelly. <jen at zenofjen.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited.  Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author is notified of the publication and if possible receives a copy.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org