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One thing that I find continually fascinating is the historical linkage between a person’s preferred mode of dress and their political affiliations. This was especially true in the Tudor era, particularly in the court of Henry VIII. In fact you could often tell just by a woman’s headdress who she was supporting to win the king’s favor.

Henry’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, is shown in her portraits wearing the English or Gable hood, so named because of its severe, angular structure. As you can see in the portrait below it really does look like a velvet-covered, bejeweled birdhouse worn as a hat.

Portrait of Catherine of Aragon. Lucas Hornbolte, 16th century.

These hoods covered the hair completely, even concealing the hairline from view, with two curved pieces framing the face. In the early sixteenth century these side panels, called lappets, extended down the side of the face and past the shoulders. By the 1520’s the lappets were pinned up to curve just at the jawline. The structure of the headdress was stiffened with buckram and long veils were attached to the back that could be pinned up into elaborate styles depending on the preference of the wearer.

Elizabeth of York. Unknown artist, C. 1500

Towards the 1830’s we start to see less angular variations of the gable hood with shorter lappets and a flattened top. These two styles existed concurrently for a time before eventually being replaced by the crescent-shaped French hood.

The introduction of the French hood to the English court is credited to Anne Boleyn when she came to England in the 1520’s. The French hood was rounded, covering the ears and sometimes curving along the cheekbones, but leaving the hairline visible.

Portrait of Anne Boleyn. Unknown artist, C. 1534

There were six basic components to the French hood: the coif, the crepine, the paste, the veil, the billaments, and the cornet or bongrace.

The coif was a linen cap that was either pinned to the hair or tied under the chin. Early french hoods could be seen with red coifs but most of the time the linen used was undyed.

Next came the crepine, which was a pleated linen or silk headcovering that sometimes replaced the coif.

Over that came what is called the ‘paste’ — possibly named for the paste used to stiffen it. This was the border of contrasting colour on the French hood.

After that came the veil. These were made of a variety of fabrics including wool, silk velvet, and satin, and were almost always black. Young children were portrayed with their hair bound back in a net or a cloth bag under the veil.

The billiments were the decorative borders along the upper edge of the hood and the front of the coif of paste. Where the billiments in a Gable hood crossed over each other in the front, concealing the hair, they were farther back on the French hood, framing the shape of the crescent. They were often made of velvet or satin and were set with jewels, pearls, and other elaborate goldwork.

Some women chose to wear their French hoods with a comet or bongrace, which was a visor-like piece that folded over the hood and pinned in place to shade the wearer’s eyes.

Elizabeth I. Unknown artist, 15th Century. Gioviana Collection, Uffizi Gallery. Florence, Italy.

Under Anne Boleyn the French hood became a symbol of youth and fashion-forwardness, compared to the more conservative appearance of Catherine of Aragon’s English hood, and it was easy to see among the court ladies which of the competitors for the king’s favour they supported.

Portrait of Jane Seymour. Hans Holbein, 1537.

This comparison continued well after Anne’s loss of favor and subsequent execution. Henry’s next favourite, Jane Seymour, chose to differentiate herself from Anne by bringing the English hood back into fashion. Where Anne’s progressive style was once seen as a good thing, it was now associated with nothing but scandal and ruin. Jane’s decision to reintegrate the English hood was seen as a return to more traditional values and behavior.

Henry’s next wife, Anne of Cleves, wore variations on the French style, which to me looks like a combination of the French and English styles. It covered most the the hair and had the crescent part tipped back, making it look like the flattened form of the Gable.

Portrait of Anne of Cleves


By the mid 1500’s the English hood fell out of fashion,, favor having fallen to modified versions of the French hood. As time went on they became flatter and narrower until it became more of an elaborate form of billiment that crowned the back of the head, instead of being a full covering hat.

Elizabeth I.

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