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Dressing Queens (and Some Others): Signifying Through Clothing in Wroth’s Countess of Montgomery’s Urania

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Queens Matter in Early Modern Studies

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Abstract

This essay explores the various ways that clothing, and especially the color of clothing, signifies in Mary Wroth’s Urania according to (1) familial identification, (2) expense, (3) emotion, and (4) fashion. The language of clothing was complicated by the transition from a neo-feudal to an emergent consumer economy, as shown by the shifts in the way that clothing signified in the courts of Queen Elizabeth and King James with his consort Queen Anne. Queenly attire created complex meanings within a highly sophisticated early modern language of clothing. This essay draws on work by Carole Levin on queenship and material culture.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    For the language of clothes, see, for example, Alison Lurie, “Clothing as a Sign System” in The Language of Clothes (New York: Holt and Co., 1981 rev. 2000), 3–36; Grant McCracken, “Clothing as Language”, Culture and Consumption (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1988), 57–70; T.H. Breen, “The Meanings of Things”, in Consumption and the World of Goods, ed. John Brewer and Roy Porter (London: Routledge, 1993), 240–260; Roland Barthes, The Fashion System, trans. Matthew Ward and Richard Howard (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1990); Diana Crane, Fashion and Its Social Agendas: Class, Gender and Identity in Clothing (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000); Christopher Breward, The Culture of Fashion (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995); for a larger perspective on the meanings conferred by consumption generally, two classic texts are Mary Douglas and Baron Isherwood, The World of Goods: Towards an Anthropology of Consumption (1979; London: Routledge, 1996) and Robert Bocock, Consumption: Key Ideas (London: Routledge, 1993). Aileen Ribeiro, Fashion and Fiction: Dress in Art and Literature in Stuart England (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 2005), 3 notes that “dress is a common metaphor of language, and creates a web of meanings, some explicit and some implicit; we are, to some extent, the creation of our clothes”; since some nuances have now been lost, it is more difficult to decode this language. Ann Rosalind Jones and Peter Stallybrass, Renaissance Clothing and the Materials of Memory (Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press, 2000), 3 discuss clothing as a “worn world, a world of social relations put upon the wearer’s body”. See also Ornamentalism: The Art of Renaissance Accessories, ed. Bella Mirabella (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2011); Linda Levy Peck, Consuming Splendor: Society and Culture in Seventeenth-Century England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005); and Susan Vincent, Dressing the Elite in Early Modern England (New York and Oxford: Berg, 2003).

  2. 2.

    Edith Snook, “The Greatness in Good Clothes: Fashioning Subjectivity in Mary Wroth’s Urania and Margaret Spencer’s Account Book (BL Add. MS 62092”, Seventeenth Century 22.2 (Fall 2007), 229.

  3. 3.

    Vincent, Dressing the Elite, 103–104.

  4. 4.

    Amanda Bailey, Flaunting: Style and the Subversive Male Body in Renaissance England (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007).

  5. 5.

    Even the Tudor monarchy had begun to replace suits of clothing with royal badges, although on occasion Queen Elizabeth still clothed her maids of honor in identical dresses, which served as a form of livery: Jones and Stallybrass, Renaissance Clothing, 18 and Arnold, Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d (1988; Leeds, UK: Maney Publishing, 2008), 100. In 1638, the custom of marked livery was still sufficiently in circulation, however, for Thomas Overbury to describe a servant as “a creature, which though he be not drunk, yet is not his owne man. He tels without asking who ownes him, by the superscription of his livery”: A wife now the widow of Sir T. Overbury… whereunto are added many witty characters (London, 1639), G1.

  6. 6.

    Janet Arnold, Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d, 90.

  7. 7.

    Jane Lawson, “Rainbow for a Reign: The Colours of a Queen’s Wardrobe”, Costume 41 (2007), 37.

  8. 8.

    Jane Schneider, “Fantastical Colors in Foggy London: The New Fashion Potential of the Late 16th century” in Material London ca 1600, ed. Lena Cowen Orlin (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000), 110.

  9. 9.

    Jane Schneider, “Fantastical Colors”, 109–127. Carole Frick, Dressing Renaissance Florence: Families, Fortunes, and Fine Clothing (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), 170 observes that in Renaissance Florence “rigid symbolism … had been overlaid by market considerations”. See also Vincent, 117–120, on Elizabeth’s 1574 statute as a means of protecting home industries against foreign textiles and garments.

  10. 10.

    M. Channing Linthicum, Costume in the Drama of Shakespeare and his Contemporaries (New York: Russell and Russell, 1963), 1–12, 40; Schneider, “Fantastical Colors”, 112, Frick, Dressing Renaissance Florence, 170 notes that “the most intensely colored cloth used the most expensive dyes” so that crimson, for example, carried an “association with luxury”.

  11. 11.

    See Lawson, “Rainbow for a Reign”, 30, 36 for the popularity of orange and crimson gifts.

  12. 12.

    Schneider “Fantastical Colors”, 122. This appreciation of brightly colored clothing suggests a contradiction in Elizabeth’s perspective, evident in Susan Vincent’s assertion, “Elizabeth, particularly, was concerned to reform abuses in apparel, but Elizabeth, particularly, was also determined to harness its powerful potential”.

  13. 13.

    Michel Pastoureau, “A Moral Color”, in Blue: The History of a Color (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001), 85–122, especially 100–101; see also Schneider, “Fantastical Colors”, 112.

  14. 14.

    Arnold, Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d; Lawson, “Rainbow for a Reign”.

  15. 15.

    John Harington to Mr. Robert Markham, 1606, in Nugae Antiquae, ed. Henry Harington (1779) (Hildesheim, Germany: Georg Olms Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1968), 2: 140. My thanks to Carole Levin for tracing down this reference.

  16. 16.

    Schneider “Fantastical Colors”, 110.

  17. 17.

    Peck, Consuming Splendor, 18.

  18. 18.

    Peck, Consuming Splendor, 20.

  19. 19.

    Jones and Stallybrass, Renaissance Clothing, 21–22.

  20. 20.

    Ribeiro, Fashion and Fiction, 26.

  21. 21.

    Ribeiro, Fashion and Fiction, 67; Christopher Breward, The Culture of Fashion (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995), 78–80; Vincent, 35–38.

  22. 22.

    Jones and Stallybrass, Renaissance Clothing, 1.

  23. 23.

    Mary Wroth, The First Part of the Countess of Montgomery’s Urania, ed. Josephine A. Roberts (Binghamton, NY: Renaissance English Text Society, 1995), 517. Quotations will be made parenthetically in the text as 1: 517.

  24. 24.

    Pastoureau, Blue, 56.

  25. 25.

    Margaret Hannay, Philip’s Phoenix: Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), 88, describes the Sidney coat of arms as a “gold pheon (broad arrow) on a blue background”. The chapel of knights of the garter at Windsor Castle, however, is a blue pheon on a yellow background (Hannay’s personal communication). Yellow may not have been used for the Morean livery, because, according to the Urania itself, it signified jealousy (1: 239).

  26. 26.

    Henry Peacham, Gentleman’s Exercise (London, 1612), V4.

  27. 27.

    Linthicum, Costume, 39–40.

  28. 28.

    Linthicum, Costume, 39–40.

  29. 29.

    Mary Wroth, The Second Part of the Countess of Montgomery’s Urania, ed. Josephine A. Roberts, completed by Suzanne Gossett and Janel Mueller (Tempe, AZ: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 1999), 117 (my emphasis). Quotations will be made parenthetically in the text as 2: 117.

  30. 30.

    Susan Frye, Pens and Needles: Women’s Textualities in Early Modern England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010), 192.

  31. 31.

    The inappropriateness of this costume is also mentioned by Frye, Pens and Needles, 221.

  32. 32.

    More nuances for the meanings of pearls are presented in Karen Raber, “Chains of Pearls: Gender, Property, Identity”, in Ornamentalism: The Art of Renaissance Accessories, ed. Bella Mirabella (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2011), 159–181; see especially 165, 168.

  33. 33.

    Hannay, Mary Sidney, Lady Wroth, 23 and plates 2 and 5.

  34. 34.

    Snook, ‘Greatness in Good Clothes,’ 230.

  35. 35.

    Frye, Pens and Needles, 207.

  36. 36.

    Ribeiro, Fashion and Fiction, 69.

  37. 37.

    Peacham, Gentleman’s Exercise, O8v, P1 presents two recipes for carnation; one uses tin-glass, gum, jet, and ochre; another uses Jet, some silver, tin-glass, iron scales, gum, and red chalk.

  38. 38.

    Ribeiro, Fashion and Fiction, 28.

  39. 39.

    Lawson, “Rainbows for a Reign”, 30.

  40. 40.

    Linthicum, Costume, 37 and Ribeiro, Fashion and Fiction, 28.

  41. 41.

    Ribeiro, Fashion and Fiction, 99 citing Francis Bacon, Of Masques and Triumphs (1597).

  42. 42.

    Linthicum, Costume, 38.

  43. 43.

    Josephine Roberts, editor, Mary Wroth, First Part, 753.

  44. 44.

    William Shakespeare, Henry V (2.3.29) in Norton Shakespeare, ed. Stephen Greenblatt et al. (New York: Norton, 1997).

  45. 45.

    This general distancing from other aspects of romance, as well, is described by Clare Kinney, “‘Beleeve this butt a fiction: Female Authorship, Narrative Undoing, and the Limits of Romance in The Second Part of the Countess of Montgomery’s Urania”, Spenser Studies 17 (2003): 239–250.

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Lamb, M.E. (2018). Dressing Queens (and Some Others): Signifying Through Clothing in Wroth’s Countess of Montgomery’s Urania . In: Bertolet, A. (eds) Queens Matter in Early Modern Studies. Queenship and Power. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-64048-8_17

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