Fashion,  ThreadTalk

ThreadTalk Icons: Elizabeth I of England

1 – Welcome to #threadtalk, the first in my icon series.

Yup. It's gonna be ruff.

It’s fitting that we begin with the very monarch who signed the East India Company into being: Queen Elizabeth I.

Join me as we travel back to the 16thC to one truly warped family. 👑🧵🪡

Queen Elizabeth I with an immense, ornately decorated ruff, jeweled crowns covered in pearls. She has no eyebrows, a long nose, full lips, and deep eyes. He chair is a reddish hue.

2 – No one expected the daughter of Henry VIII & Anne Boleyn would ascend the throne–but she did. Her coronation (1558) portrait shows her swathed in cloth of gold–the very same her deceased sister Mary had worn (bit creepy).

Oh, that cloth of gold? £2170 a yard in today's $$.

Elizabeth is wearing a dress decorated with Tudor roses and fleur-de-lis. The fleur-de-lis is a reference to the English claim to French soil.Elizabeth has long flowing hair in this portrait, which istraditional for the coronation of a queen.The fabric of her dress is made from woven gold andsilver silk thread. The lining of her robe is ermine, witheach black dot being the tail of one animal.

3 – Every line of her dress is a message: the cloth of gold was a favorite of her father's; the fleur-de-lis represented the ongoing claim of France; the Tudor roses: legitimacy. Her long hair and serene expression? The beginnings of the Virgin Queen. And all that ermine.

A portrait miniature of Elizabeth I's coronation gown, similar to the previous picture, but in less detail. This would have been a smaller item to wear, on enamel, rather than a portrait.

4 – And though Elizabeth was a bit less extravagant to start, she knew the importance of fashion PR. And she came by it honestly: Henry spent the equivalent of £2,400,000/year on clothing (& loved his, uh, codpieces)

This is Mary, Edward, Hank, Jane Seymour & young Lizzy (1545).

On the left is Princess Mary, later Mary I, the king’s daughter by his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and on the right Princess Elizabeth, later Elizabeth I, his daughter by his second wife, Anne Boleyn. The view through the arches is of the Great Garden at Whitehall Palace. The heraldic King’s Beasts, carved in wood with gilt horns and set on columns, are prominently displayed amidst the flower beds, which are demarked by wooden fencing and painted in the Tudor colours of white and green. Through the archway on the left can be seen part of Whitehall Palace and the Westminster Clockhouse, balanced by a view through the archway on the right of the north transept of Westminster Abbey and a single turret of Henry VIII’s Great Close Tennis Court.

5 – Now, Mary. She loved fashion, too, & may also have adapted the French style of dress, which allowed for a freer middle (absent of a stomacher) to show off her (phantom) pregnancies.

She also adapted to new trends, shirking the gabled hood for the English version.

6 – (Also of note: Mary wasn't *that* bloody. I mean, no bloodier than the rest of her family.)

Though Mary I certainly used fashion to her benefit, she was a notably bad politician & died without an heir. Lizzy came to the throne just five years after Mary's coronation.

7 – Elizabeth had a relatively humble upbringing & her nurse plead with Henry for more clothing for the young princess:

"she hath neither gown, not kirtle nor sleeves, nor railes, nor body stitchets, nor handkerchiefs, nor mufflers nor biggins" (a biggins was a child's cap).

Henry and his three children, who look like little pale adults dressed in dark colors.

8 – One portrait of Elizabeth as princess (1546) I love is this one. It's much like the earlier one of Mary: a demure, studious daughter. But you sense a bit of personality here. Not to mention the depth of fabric.

Pearls became a big part of her repertoire later, too.

Elizabeth as princess, wearing a red gown over a gold underdress. She is wearing a hood and pearl jewelry, and looks like a real person rather than an icon here.

9 – As queen Elizabeth had a big job. There was no precedent for a monarch like her in England. Plus, her kingdom was financially unstable, politically wobbly & generally a mess. She could not be seen as weak.

So she made herself Gloriana, step by step, stitch by stitch.

The Hampden Portrait of Elizabeth I, 1560s - Elizabeth I in a traditional pose and red satin gown with ruffed sleeves, a small ruff. The dress is very ornate, and she looks decidedly uncomfortable.

10 – Court reports show that Elizabeth took over two hours to get ready–no surprise considering all the elements of her gowns.

This step-by-step guide is delightful, and not even as elaborate as Elizabeth would have endured.

11 – Elizabeth also knew how to dress politically. She was know for internationalizing fashion, incorporating Venetian, German, Spanish & French elements into her repertoire.

Also a lute because she was jaunty like that. This Hilliard miniature is 🔥

Queen Elizabeth I rocking out on the lute. She's got her crown, and is sort of sitting on a chair (it's a miniature, so this can be a little sus) -- but she's clearly having a very good time. Her hair is red, and her eyebrows are almost there.

12 – She imported not just insanely expensive fabrics, but tailors from all over, sending patterns to courts across Europe to make gowns.

Lizzy also squeed routinely about getting fabric as gifts, & often gave it as well. Remember, fabric is basically currency at this point.

Elizabeth as Paris before the three goddesses, wearing her usual clothing. Aphrodite is, unsurprisingly, totally naked.

13 – Liz also had about twenty ladies in waiting, who addressed her every whim from emptying the trash bins to applying & making her makeup (more on that shortly).

One of whom was Bess of Hardwick (who eventually became one of the wealthiest people in all of England).

Bess of Hardwick, dressed in a gown with embroidered sleeves, hemmed in fur. She has red hair and looks... possibly related to the royals, but that's probably more of a beauty standards thing. She's holding a pair of gloves.

14 – Bess of Hardwick had a life of ups and downs before becoming one of Lizzy's ladies & was a good friend.

But Elizabeth had a problem named Mary Queen of Scots. And that problem became Bess's problem… you know, as good friends do. A 15 year problem. Because Queen. 👑

A portrait of Mary Queen of Scots, who was known for her beauty. She is wearing a long veil, and is rather lovely... but also not... unlike many of the other portraits we've seen?

15 – Mary Stuart was a Catholic & had good (arguably better) claim to the throne. Her mom was Margaret Tudor, Henry VII's sister. And she was legit.

Lizzy didn't know what to do with her cousin. So she locked her up w/Bess.

And like, some screwball comedy, they became friends.

A portrait of Mary Queen of Scots, staring at the painter, with a black and white, embroidered dress, rug, and jaunty hat.

16 – This makes me giddy: Bess and Mary collaborated on an incredible series of tapestry miniatures, known as The Prison Embroideries.

They still exist–they're full of symbolism, they're funny, and clever & darling.

UNICORN & DOLPHIN ALERT, feat. Mary's initials.

17 – You can clearly see their monograms throughout, and it really just brings such closeness across history.

It's on green velvet, and no expense was spared in materials (I know that feel). Over 100 panels were made along with household staff, & they're beautifully preserved.

Many of the panels feature Mary and Bess's monograms – Mary's was the letters MA superimposed on the Greek letter Φ, and Bess's the initials ES. The majority of Mary's 'signed' pieces were later sewn onto what is known as 'The Marian Hanging'. The embroideries attributed to Mary suggest that needlework was a powerful means of resistance during a period when both her letters and actions were under constant surveillance.

18 – I do have to get back to Lizzy, but if you want to know more about the Prison Embroideries, the V&A has a great page about the history:

Sadly, Mary was convicted for treason in 1586 & beheaded. The phoenix she made speaks for itself, I think.

A phoenix portrayed above burning flames with the word "PHENIX" above it on a cross-like shape.

19 – Lizzy was ruthless with her cousin & with herself.

She refused to marry or name an heir–meanwhile, her image was to be preserved at any cost. She guarded her image fiercely, even approving only certain portraits, and fought against the tide of aging.

The "phoenix" portrait of Elizabeth, ascribed to Hilliard, one of her favored paintings. The elaborate jewels and embroidery on her gown make it almost impossible to see her dress design.

20 – At 29, Lizzy got smallpox. She didn't believe it. But, you know, germs don't care (SSDD).

Though she survived, it left her face pock-marked & so began a lifetime of pale makeup application.

Some debate remains over whether she used a substance called Venetian ceruse.

Elizabeth in a portrait with her red hair (a wig at this point) and large ruffs, her dress covered with blackwork embroidery. She is holding a fan and does not look particularly pleased.

21 – Venetian ceruse was a white face paint made primarily of lead, mixed with some vinegar & water. Women infrequently washed their faces of it, thinking it gave a more youthful look.

B/c the lead was probably eating away at their skin underneath.

22 – There was other weird and sometimes toxic makeup including cinnabar (uh… mercury) & our friend cochineal (beetles).

The more her health & youth declined, the more ornate Elizabeth's wardrobe got. This unfinished miniature may have been too realistic to meet approvals.

An unfinished miniature of Elizabeth, with just her face and hair painted on. She looks drawn and haggard.

23 – Lizzy loved sweets which was not good news for her teeth. She had many removed which resulted in a sunken appearance to her face.

In private, she wore very plain clothes–sometimes for days at a time–but in public and in portrait, she was basically a Colonialst Liberace.

The painting is attributed to Marcus Gheerearts the Younger, and was almost certainly based on a sitting arranged by Lee, who was the painter's patron. In this image, the queen stands on a map of England, her feet on Oxfordshire. The painting has been trimmed and the background poorly repainted, so that the inscription and sonnet are incomplete. Storms rage behind her while the sun shines before her, and she wears a jewel in the form of a celestial or armillary sphere close to her left ear. Many versions of this painting were made, likely in Gheeraerts' workshop, with the allegorical items removed and Elizabeth's features "softened" from the stark realism of her face in the original.

24 – Portraits were guarded and replicated — Gloriana was big business. She was the virgin queen & goddess of love; a demure maiden & a warlike conqueror.

This (SUPER EXTRA) portrait is my favorite b/c it hung at Bess of Hardwick's. Lizzy may never have seen it…

The Hardwick Hall Portrait, the Mask of Youth, Hilliard workshop, c. 1599 - It's hard to describe the level of extra here, but her dress is covered in animal depictions and her ruff is immense. Her hair is piled high. She has a fan? So much is happening.

25 – Lizzy's later years were plagued by loss, grief, depression, illness, & loneliness. Her own love life was a shambles.
Yes, she ushered in an age of fashion, but she also made the slave trade possible. Not to mention she was also peeved with all the "blackamoors" in London.

A sad-looking Lizzy with a fan of colored feathers. She's wearing a cloth of gold gown.

26 – And that's not even to mention all the sumptuary laws she passed, prohibiting elegant fabrics to the royals.

A visitor said of her: “When anyone speaks of her beauty she says she was never beautiful. Nevertheless, she speaks of her beauty as often as she can.”

27 – Lizzy remained petite, but in time her hair fell out, her skin became sallow & she was plagued with abscesses in her mouth.
Her ladies in waiting, doctors, & courtiers begged her to seek help, but she refused. She would not be looked at. She was the Virgin Queen, after all.

Elizabeth draped in Velvet in her Parliament robes, late in her reign. She looks sallow, but regal.

28 – As Lizzy began ailing in early 1603, she refused rest. When Cecil, her advisor, said she must sleep, she said:
"Must is not a word to be used to princes! Little man, little man, if your late father were here he would never dare utter such a word."
Well then. There you go.

Elizabeth I in black velvet holding a sieve, a symbol of virginity.

29 – It's said that Lizzy grieved Mary Queen of Scots' death until the end. No doubt, Lizzy also suffered from severe depression (as her father had).
Elizabeth left an indelible mark on fashion, power, politics, and the language of textiles, that remains today.

Elizabeth in a ruff, raising an eyebrow, lines clearly on her face, but still arrayed in absolute resplendence.

30 – Bess of Hardwick died at 81, one of the most affluent & well-connected women in England. She was married four times & catalogued an incredible collection of textiles that remains to this day along with her embroidery.

Mary Queen of Scots' son, James, succeeded Elizabeth.

31 – There's so much more I couldn't fit. Please, there are some FABULOUS sources this week!

32 – Sources, part deux.

33 – Sources, part the third.

34 – Part four?

35 – Thank you for joining me on this week's #ThreadTalk! Raise a cup for Lizzy, Bess, Mary, Mary, Hank, and all the rest. Or don't. Maybe just enjoy the details on this DRESS. Good heavens.

Portrait of Elizabeth I of England in stomacher and petticoat embroidered with roses, birds, and honeysuckle in goldwork and blackwork sleeves, c. 1600

Originally tweeted by Natania Barron (@NataniaBarron) on April 19, 2021.