Why do we know more about the history and lives of the “rich and famous” than we do about commoners? Part of the answer is the number of surviving portraits of people from the upper classes. At Agecroft Hall hangs a 400 year old oil on board portrait of William Dauntesey, the first Dauntesey of Agecroft (married to Anne Langley, inheritress of the estate from her father Robert).
Originally hung in the Great Hall in England, it now takes pride of place in the manor’s entry hall, where it has been hanging since 1983. It was painted the year before William’s marriage to Anne (1566, when William was 24) and is considered a “betrothal painting”.
Why is this portrait important to our study of Tudor clothing? Painted portraits were meant to convey the best attributes of the sitter, including their clothing. In Tudor England clothing indicated social status and wealth. Much can be gleaned about the style of living at Agecroft and among the English landed gentry from an inspection of this painting. Remember, however, that Master Dauntesey is depicted in the portrait in his best clothing.
You can immediately sense that Dauntesey is a person of great importance and wealth by a cursory glance at his clothing - sumptuous fabrics, decorative stitching and embellishment, gold jewelry, and a sense of stiffness. You may perceive his look to be quite vein - he knows just how important he is and he wants us to know too. This also serves to give him a powerful air.
His clothing is indicative of what the landed gentry and nobility would have worn during the mid -1500’s. His hat is made of black velvet or taffeta and embellished with ostrich plumes and a golden decorative border. The plumes are fixed in place with a black cameo jewel. Remember, black fabric was expensive to produce!
Notice the stiff ruff at his throat (standing ruff) and the high-standing collar. These give him a bit of a prideful look. Looking closely, you may see a slight crease in his ruff. Perhaps it was not stiffened enough or he had been wearing it for a time before sitting for his portrait. Even expensive clothing wasn’t always perfect!
His doublet is white silk with stripes of gold thread and a pattern sewn in black. Gold buttons in the shape of flowers and detachable sleeves with padded rolls and vertical braiding add much embellishment. His doublet is narrow at the waist and padded in the peascod manner to resemble an armored breastplate. Notice that Dauntesey carries a sword in a belt with gold clasps. Gentlemen wore swords at all times for protection during this period in history.
Dauntesey wears “pumpkin breeches” (so-called because of their shape) that are filled out with horsehair or rags and attached to his doublet through eyelets tied with golden thread or ribbon. The breeches are yellow silk and split into “panes” with borders of matching yellow braid. They are decorated with embroidery and gold lace.
Master Dauntesey certainly cuts a fine figure worthy of his station in life and his abundant land and material possessions.
Source: Agecroft Hall Curatorial Department Intern Victoria Glover, 2017.