Courtiers (MS. Reg. 15 D. Ill, and MS. Harl. No. 1319)

Courtiers of the Time of Richard II

Above all other periods in our history, that of the weak Richard II was remarkable for the variety and gaiety of its fashions. The satirists and reformers of the day were zealous and loud in their outcries against the extravagance of the higher classes. Chaucer, who wrote at this period, in declaiming against the:

“superfluitee of clothing” which prevailed around him, blames “the coste of the enbrouding, the disguising, endenting, or barring, ounding, paling, winding, or bending, and semblable wast of cloth in vanitee; but ther is also the costlewe furring in hir gounes, so moche pounsoning of chesel to maken holes, so moche dagging of sheres, with the superfluitee in length of the foresaide gounes, trailing in the dong and in the myre, on hors and eke a foot, as wel of man as of woman, that all thilke trailing is veraily (as in effect) wasted, consumed, thred-bare, and rotten with dong, rather than it is yeven to the poure, to gret damage of the foresayd poure folk, and that in sondry wise.”

Courtiers (MS. Reg. 15 D. Ill, and MS. Harl. No. 1319)
Courtiers (MS. Reg. 15 D. Ill, and MS. Harl. No. 1319)

The “gowns” alluded to in this passage of Chaucer, as worn both by men and by women, are exhibited in the figures given, in the accompanying plate, from two MSS. of the period (MS. Reg. 15 D. Ill, and MS. Harl. No. 1319). The rich gown of the knight at the lower part of the plate, as well as that of the person who is making obeisance to him, will explain what Chaucer means by pounsoning and lagging. The edges of the sleeves, hoods, &c. were punched and dagged (or cut in shreds) into the form of leaves, &c, and sometimes gave the dress a very grotesque appearance. Among the nobility, the gown was often enriched with a profusion of jewellery. The man above has, apparently, a collar of small bells about his neck.

Source: Dresses and Decorations of the Middle AgesVolume 1 by Henry Shaw F.S.A. (1843)