Trinkets and Charms: the use, meaning and significance of later medieval and early post-medieval dress accessories

Trinkets and Charms: the use, meaning and significance of later medieval and early post-medieval dress accessories

By Eleanor Rose Standley

PhD Dissertation, Durham University, 2011

Abstract: This is a thematic study of dress accessories of late medieval to early post-medieval date from two regions of mainland Britain. It is an investigation of everyday objects which aims to re-engage the material world with past individuals. An interdisciplinary approach is used to understand how dress accessories were often more than ornaments, and how they intersected with and were integral to social, political and religious life. Accessories recovered from a range of excavated archaeological sites, chance finds and data recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS), have been catalogued and investigated. Documentary evidence, paintings and tomb effigies are sources of evidence drawn upon throughout to supplement the archaeological evidence, to enhance the interpretations and to place the accessories into a wider social context. The accessories have been analysed using object biographies in thematic discussions based on aspects of daily life.

The results demonstrate the overall homogenous nature of dress accessories used in the two border regions and there is little evidence to suggest that they were consciously used by later medieval and early-post medieval people to display a border identity. Chance finds and PAS results have extended our knowledge of the types of adornments worn and revealed types not frequently found in excavations. Some variation between and within regions is identified, such as an unusual distribution of dress hooks, the possible presence of ‘Hanseatic’ material in the northeast of England, and purposeful deposits of accessories of monetary value in the north-east of England. Long-term biographies are also identified where a number of accessory types had different meanings depending on their context of use. The themes of memory, heirlooms, and gift giving feature throughout the thematic discussions of the accessories. By viewing archaeological artefacts as things, this thesis endeavours to expand our knowledge of medieval dress accessories and past lives.

Excerpt: There were considerable developments in fashion over this period. During the 14th century a tailoring revolution resulted in a new shape to clothing. Female and male dress began to reveal the shape of the body and simple fasteners, such as buttons, laces and pins, helped define form. The main garment of clothing worn by a woman was the kirtle, which was long and covered her body and was often secured by a belt of girdle. Over this was worn a long over-tunic which developed in the later part of the century to become sideless allowing  more of the shaped kirtle to be seen. Covering this ensemble were mantles which were fastened at the shoulders by clasps or brooches; these are common on effigies from the 14th century and the following century.

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