The Lost Dress of Elizabeth I

The Lost Dress of Elizabeth I

I first came here four years ago to see rather an important item which is the subject of an exhibition at Hampton Court Palace. This church, – it’s beautiful – in this lovely rural Hamlet here in Herefordshire but the object that we found in it is of international significance and we are delighted to be able to bring it to light. I’ve known the cloth for years because it’s hung for 106 years – no I’m not that old – on the north wall of the church over there. It was associated with Blanche Parry really rather vaguely because of the monument. Blanche Parry was born just down the road. In the end she became Elizabeth’s ‘Head of the Privy Chamber’ If you wanted to get to Elizabeth you went through Blanche. This was her family’s church. Her ancestors were buried here and this is where she expected to be buried which is why she had this monument put here. Having found so much about the monument I started to become more curious about the Bacton Altar Cloth itself and then I started to investigate it more. It was presumably used on an altar for a while. It had been probably kept under the vicar’s bed because there was nowhere else to keep it. At the time the then vicar, the Reverend Brothers, decided that the parishioners should see it so they managed to raise the money – three pounds, eight shillings and a penny. They had it framed and it’s been hanging on the church wall, where the facsimile is at the moment since 1909. So it was on the wall through two world wars. For the people of Bacton, we’ve always known what it was, but we’ve never had any real proof. So i was researching my book ‘Tudor Fashion’ which was all about the way that dress was used at court but very sadly very little Tudor fashion actually survives and then I happened upon a picture of the Bacton Altar Cloth online just as I was eating lunch one day. But it was only when Eleri rang up and said could she come down and look at it that it all sort of came to light. They walked in the church and they just said ‘Wow!’. I climbed up into the pews to have a look at it I knew as soon as I saw it that I was looking at something really very special. The materials were just incredible – I was looking at silk, cloth of silk and silver. I spotted the evidence of pattern cutting. Once we got it out of that original frame more evidence of pattern cutting became visible. So all of that just supported the fact that we were looking at a dress and once you’re looking at an item of dress, made of cloth of silver, that leads very directly to one name. Elizabeth I had 1900 dresses when she died and this is the only provenanced piece of cloth from one of those dresses to have survived and that is just incredible! Our specialist conservation team have been working on the altar cloth now for a thousand hours which is probably as much, if not slightly more, time than it took to originally make it. The conservation team have also cleaned it, but obviously not in a bath or anything like that, they’ve been using cosmetic sponges to lift off the dirt ever so gently. The most emotional part of this story for me was when the conservation team removed the backing of the Altar Cloth and revealed the original colours. We’re very lucky as to how dark the church is because the colours have actually been preserved seeing as it’s been hanging on the north wall, opposite the door and the windows, since 1909 the colours haven’t faded dramatically. We were looking at vibrant, sometimes almost neon colours that had been untouched by light for 400 years. We uncovered evidence of blue indigo from India and also a red dye from Mexico and given that Mexico was quite a new discovery as far as Europe was concerned it was luxury commodity. So all of these findings are showing that the materials used in the creation of this garment were exceptional they were elite, they were expensive. So the exhibition will feature the Rainbow Portrait alongside the Bacton Altar Cloth. The embroidery on the bodice is so tantalisingly similar to the motifs that we see in the Bacton Altar Cloth. The Bacton Altar Cloth is now being put on display at Hampton Court Palace. Blanche lived there with Elizabeth I who she adored and I’m absolutely delighted that the cloth will be exhibited, put on display, in the rooms that she knew which is absolutely wonderful and anyone who wants to see it can go and see it and I can’t get over it – that’s marvellous.

4 Replies to “The Lost Dress of Elizabeth I”

  1. So they used a dress as an alter cloth? Lol oh dear. I love historical fashion. I can’t believe out of 1900 of her dresses only 1 survived. It’s a beautiful piece. 😍

  2. That’s AMAZING and incredibly interesting. I love how everything fits together and how dedicated to your this you guys seems to be.

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