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Dressing Henry VIII

In this History of Royal Fashion video we meet Richard and Max who will take us through the process of dressing like Henry VIII.
Even if the original garments still survive, it’s not like we can actually go and try any of them on. So, throughout the course, we’re going to be talking to historical interpreters who are going to show us what it was like to get dressed up, in the past, by using historically accurate reconstructions.
Max and Richard, I’m sorry to interrupt. That’s all right. Not at all. But we’re here for the first of our videos with Past Pleasures, for the online course. And you are costumed live interpreters for Historic Royal Palaces and Past Pleasures. Could you tell us a bit about what that involves? Sure. Well, we work, mostly, in historical sites, playing historical characters that are associated with the sites, doing performances of a story which relates to the characters, but, also, being able to have moments with the public where they can ask questions in whatever manner they wish. And we will respond, in first person, as the character.
And this is why we have to do a lot of research, besides rehearsing the actual performances that we do. And it’s a way of, obviously, bringing the history of historical places to life. When you see, you know, Henry VIII, or whoever it might be, walking down a corridor at Hampton Court Palace or the Tower of London, it, sort of, just energises and enriches the experience, I think, of visitors. And Past Pleasures does a lot of research to get the costumes as accurate as possible. They do, indeed. And that must help create that character, too. Yeah. It certainly makes you feel the character, when you’re wearing the clothing associated, which is accurate, as far as they can make it.
And, today, for us, you are playing Henry VIII. I am, indeed. And we’re going to show us what it was like to be dressed as King Henry. Except, when I’m performing, normally, I dress myself. So it’s quite a luxury to have Max, here, dressing me. And, of course, King Henry would have had people dressing him. As many as possible, probably. Oh, well, it may take a few, yes. Yes. Well, thank you very much. We’re really looking forward to seeing the final product. Thank you, Sally. This is one of the things I can’t do on my own. No, exactly. This is about the only thing I usually ask you to do, or you ask me to do, when we’re doing this.
Got to make sure the lovely goldwork shows. Yeah. I wasn’t sure I put it through. Only the king can wear it and show it off. Might as well make the most of it. I like your braies, by the way. Yeah, they’re very nice, these underpants of Tudor extraction, although, I have to say, you have to do them up really tight. I’ve never worn them. No, well, a colleague of mine was doing a couchee– Who was it? I’m not going to say, because during the couchee, where they were taking off all their clothes in public, and they’re only dressed in this, with a gown over them, and, as they left, the braies started to fall around their ankles.
But, to keep them on, let’s put on the doublet and hose. All right. Next stage.
I have to say, this is a bit like putting on a catsuit. Yeah. Because it’s like an all-in-one. Yeah. It can be pointed. So you put on each item separately, and then point it, but that will take forever. It does take a lot longer. It’s a very irritating– So just hold the shoulders, Max, if you would. Yep. Lift, and we are in.
Let me just make sure you don’t have any bits of your shirts puffed out, so we can still see the goldwork on your collar. Obviously, there’s no Velcro in Tudor times, but this acts, a little bit, like zip. It does. It’s, actually, I think, a really good system. It feels really secure when you wear it. Obviously, not very easy to do up yourself, if it’s a fairly tightly-fitting costume, or it’s, obviously, at the side or the back of the costume. Yeah. And make sure the goldwork on the collar is showing. Yeah. There’s so much goldwork, I don’t know where to look, Richard. Well, there’s no goldwork on the pieces that won’t be seen.
But, where will be seen, we’ve got to make sure it is. Yeah. So, now, the garters, seen in a lot of the paintings of the time. You know, the Order of the Garter garter was around since Edward III, and echoed by kings and queens after. It’s not too tight? No, no, it’s fine. I can still feel my feet. Good, good. Talking of feet, next on, shoes, I think. Nice and soft leather. And, of course, it’s got silk in the toe, to go through the slashes in the toe. Henry went through shoes every week. And he had different shoes, of course– indoor slippers, which were made out of velvet. There you go. There we are. Got the basics, there.
Let’s have a look. Oh, this is undone a bit, here. Can’t have the codpiece flap. No. Very important part of this. There. What do you think, so far? So far, so good. Good. But it’s, sort of, still quite– it’s interesting to see Henry like that, because you always imagine the layers, don’t you, of– It almost feels naked, doesn’t it– It does, even– –just in this. –still, with that. But it shows off quite a lot of the bling, which will be shown off, again, by the scoop-front jerkin, which we’ll put on. Yeah. Nice gold velvet, there we go.
What keeps it all together is the sash, as well. And that’s, literally, just one or two hooks and eyes, there. And they’re completely open, so you get to see all the– Doublet. –gorgeous doublet-ness. Yes, with all the jewels on. So, I think, now, the sash around the waist, and the dagger will be placed in it, to show off wealth, yet again, with the intricacies of a dagger, in the way it’s beautifully decorated. Very coordinated, today, your majesty. I’m all in gold, today, although red is a particular favourite colour. And would you usually start in the front, and, then, go all the way around? Yes, with the size of this one.
And I’m going to just cover where the hook and– Yeah, just the centre. –and eye is, there, yeah. You’ve got to lift that slightly, because you don’t want– you need to make sure that your codpiece is showing. Of course. No point in having it, if you don’t show it. Exactly.
You tied it. Pull it as tight as you can, Max. Yeah? Do you want it tied at the back, or just– No, no, no, no. Bring it ‘round again. Yeah, yeah, yeah. If you would. I’ll hold it. Can you bring in the dagger? We’re going to hang the dagger off the sash. So you need that on your left side, because you are right-handed. Yep. If you just allow that to hang, so hold on. Take the weight of the dagger down. Yep. And you’re going to stick that on the end. Let’s make sure it’s more– that just hangs down, there.
And it’s important to try and pull the sash as tight as possible, because the weight of the dagger is going to pull on the sash. And you don’t want it falling down around your knees. If you could pretty that up for me, make sure the bow is looking stupendous. How close are you, how prepared, to have your dagger to your codpiece, by the way? Because I would, often, wear a leather belt, as well as– not playing the king, obviously. No. And, then, that gives you something to just, literally, put your dagger through. So there are a number of different ways you can wave a dagger, aren’t there? It doesn’t matter if it separates the sash.
You see paintings with the king looking as if he’s almost wearing two sashes, because there’s two bows at front. I think that’s all right. It’s very nicely decorated, actually, that codpiece, isn’t it? It is very much a feature of this time, show off your masculinity.
Came to prominence, if I can put it that way, under his father, Henry VII, but, really, grew to the really fantastic size in Henry’s reign. Is was still going in Elizabeth’s reign, but it started to die off, so, by the time the end of Elizabeth, the codpieces are gone. Yeah, it feels like the, sort of, feminisation of the monarchy, kind of, puts paid to the codpiece, a little bit. It’s still 100 years of fashion of the codpiece. This is, actually, the Order of the Garter pendant that was, possibly, a watch. They were making early watches in Germany. So– What do you want next? I think the coif– very old fashioned. Yes, it is, isn’t it?
Worn by clerics, mainly, and old people, I have a feeling, mainly to cover up the hairpiece, or lack of it. Oh. Do you want to put it on? Yeah. But it covers up the lack of hair, so very, very much a fashion for older people. No, I’ve only worn a coif when playing mediaeval characters. Oh, it’s very much a common– It’s, obviously, a lot more regular than– –common headpiece for many years. I think the gown, now. Gown? What I always find, with Tudor gowns, is that you never quite realise how heavy they are– No. –when you just look at someone wearing them. I mean, there’s a real weight to it.
And they, sort of– to make sure that you don’t let them weigh you down. So I have a tendency to slip, a bit. So you’re adjusting them. And, then, a chain ‘round my neck, before we put the hat on. So this is called a collar. That’s going over the top of your gown, making sure we get it the right way ‘round. That’s it. Does that feel like it’s not going to fall forward? No. It feels fine. OK. So, I think, the hat, now, Max. Yes.
People often ask, why the soft hat, and no crown. The soft hat, more than anything, is much more comfortable. Yes, of course. You remember, I’ve worn the replica crown that they’ve got, here at Hampton Court. Leaves a mark on your forehead, doesn’t it? It’s extremely heavy, and, also, it’s circular, so it doesn’t fit the head properly, needs padding inside, which it’s got. But it, really, makes you walk in an erect manner, because you daren’t lean forward, otherwise the whole thing’s going to come tumbling off. So you have a bit more freedom, with this. A lot more freedom. A lot more comfortable. And King Henry is, often, portrayed in this soft hat, which is, of course, bejewelled– pearls, the diamond ouches.
African ostrich feathers. And, of course, when the king enters a room, everybody takes their hats off until they’re told otherwise. Except for the king. My hands, though, feel naked– the last bit of bling– A bit more bling? –the rings. How many rings would he wear? Oh, six or seven. I would imagine, though, they would have to increase in size, as– As he got older. –the king grew. Yes, as he got older. Because he, obviously, didn’t wear a wedding ring. That wasn’t something they did, then. No. Do any of these rings have any particular symbolism? Well, there’d be rings as gifts, it’s a good New Year’s gift, I mean, gifts being given at New Year. So rings are always good.
So you’ve got all your bling. We can see your– all the goldwork, which makes me jealous, because I’ve only worn blackwork, never having been the king. Well, you may rise to be a king, one day. Well, I’m not ginger enough to play Henry. Come and have a look at me, in full splendour. I think you are ready to meet your subjects. My adoring subjects. Your adoring public, Yeah. God save the king. God save the king, indeed, Max.

Throughout the course we’ll be given an insight into how outfits from the past were created. We’ll meet live costumed interpreters from Past Pleasures who work at Historic Royal Palaces. They will show us how they get dressed in historically accurate clothing for their work at the palaces. They’ll tell us what it feels like to wear historic clothing, from heavy Tudor velvets and elaborate Stuart costumes, to light Georgian silks and elegant Victorian dresses.

In this first video we meet Richard Evans and Max Berendt who will take us through the process of dressing like Henry VIII (1509-47). They explore how even the King’s underwear showed his royal status, the difficulties of getting into a doublet and hose, and how to accessorise like Henry VIII.

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