Archaeological Journal/Volume 1/The Horn-shaped Ladies' Head-Dress in the reign of Edward I

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1909858Archaeological Journal, Volume 1 — The Horn-shaped Ladies' Head-Dress in the reign of Edward I1845Thomas Wright (1810-1877)



The study of costume is of considerable importance to the antiquary, as affording the means of fixing the age of sculptures or paintings which bear no other certain indications of date. We in the first instance derive the knowledge of costume itself from the study and comparison of monuments of different ages, and especially of the illuminations of manuscripts. Knowing the date of these monuments, we are enabled to say with certainty what costume was in use at a certain period; but we are too apt in this and other things to take the silence of writers, or the absence of pictured representation, as a negative assertion, a proof that a certain thing did not exist. It is the object of the following observations to point out an example of the danger of this practice.

No portion of medieval costume underwent more frequent changes than the head-dress of ladies. In the fifteenth century the female coiffure was made to take the form of two horns, a fashion which excited the indignation and mirth of contemporary moralists and satirists. This horned head-dress appears (we believe) in no pictorial monuments older than the reign of Henry IV.; nevertheless, a French writer of the beginning of the fourteenth century, Jehan de Meun, (who completed the famous Romance of the Rose,) speaks very distinctly of women's horns: he describes the gorget or neck-cloth as being twisted several times round the neck, and pinned up to the horns—

La gorge et li goitrons sont hors de la touelle,
Ou il n'a que .iij. tours à la tourne bouelle;
Mais il y a d'espingles plus de demie escuelle
Fichiées es .ij. cornes et entour la rouelle.

After observing that these horns appear to be designed to wound the men, he adds, "I know not whether they call gibbets or corbels that which sustains their horns, which they consider so fine, but I venture to say that St. Elizabeth is not in Paradise for having carried such baubles. Moreover they make a great encumbrance; for between the towel (gorget), which is not of coarse linen, and the temple and the horns, may pass a rat, or the largest weasel on this side Arras."

Je ne say s'on appelle potences ou corbiaux
Ce qui soustient leur cornes, que tant tiennent à biaux;
Mais bien vous ose dire que sainte Elysabiaux
N'est pas en Paradis pour porter tiex babiaux.

Encores y font elles un grant harribourras,
Car entre la touelle, qui n'est pas de bourras,
Et la temple et les cornes, pourroit passer un ras,
Ou la greigneur moustelle qui soit jusques Arras.
(Le Testament Jehan de Meun.)

This passage was observed by Strutt, who has been blamed for attributing (on this single authority) the horned head-dress to so early a period as the reign of Edward I. of England. Jehan de Meun's description appears, however, to be tolerably explicit; and it is supported by passages from poems the dates of which are not doubtful. M. Jubinal, in his volume entitled "Jongleurs et Trouvères," has printed a very curious little satire on the fashions of the time, which appears under the title Des Cornetes, "Of Horns." It is taken from a manuscript in the Bibliothèque Royale at Paris, No. 7218, written (as I am informed by M. Paulin Paris) within the first ten years of the fourteenth century. In this poem we are told that the Bishop of Paris had preached a sermon against the extravagant dress of the ladies, and that he had blamed particularly the bareness of their necks and their horns. He had directed people, on the approach of women thus dressed, to cry "Hurte, belin," and "Beware of the ram" ... "If we do not get out of the way of the women, we shall be killed; for they carry horns to kill men. They carry great masses of other people's hair upon their heads."

Et commande par aatie,
Que chascun 'hurte, belin,' die.
            Trop i tardon,
'Hurte, belin,' pur le pardon.
Se des fames ne nous gardon,
            Ocis serommes;
Cornes ont por tuer les hommes.
D'autrui cheveus portent granz sommes,
            Desus lor teste.

We learn from the two last lines of this extract that the horns were supported with (or made of) false hair. After having further warned people of the danger of such a horned animal, and expatiated on the impropriety of going with the neck uncovered, the satirist returns again to the horns, and says that the Bishop had promised ten days' pardon to all who would cry "Heurte, belier," at their approach. "By the faith I owe St. Mathurin! they make themselves horned with platted hemp or linen, and counterfeit dumb beasts"—

Et à toz cels .x. jors pardone,
Qui crieront à tel personne,
           'Hurte, belin!'
Foi que je doi saint Mathelin!
De chanvre ouvré ou de lin
           Se font cornues,
Et contrefont les bestes mues.

"There is much talk of their horns, and in fact people laugh at them throughout the town"—

De lor cornes est grant parole,
Genz s'en gabent, n'est pas frivole,
            Parmi la vile.

The foregoing extracts prove the existence of this description of head-dress in France at the beginning of the fourteenth. As might be expected from the known analogy in the history of costume in the two countries, we find the same fashion existing at the same time in England, which proves that it was not partial or transitory. A satire on the vanity of the ladies, written in England about the end of the thirteenth century, and preserved in a manuscript in the British Museum of that date[1], commences thus—"What shall we say of the ladies when they come to festivals? they look at each other's heads, and carry bosses like horned beasts; if any one be without horns, she becomes an object of scandal."

Quei diroms des dames kaunt vienent à festes?
Les unes des antres avisent les testes,
Portent les boces cum cornues bestes;
Si nule seit descornue, de eele font les gestes.

A Latin song on the venality of the Judges, preserved in an English manuscript of the beginning of the fourteenth century[2], speaking of the influence of the fair sex in procuring judgments, says,—"But if some noble lady, fair and lovely, with horned head, and that encircled with gold, come for judgment, she dispatches her business without having to say a word."

Sed si quædam nobilis,
Pulcra vel amabilis,
           cum capite cornuto,
           auro circumvoluto,
Accedat ad judicium,
Hæc expedit negotium
           ore suo muto.

These horns are compared above to the horns of rams; perhaps we may be assisted in forming an idea of their shape by the consideration that the writers of the age apply the term horned to Bishops when wearing the mitre—thus in the Apocalypsis Goliæ Episcopi[3],

Væ genti mutilæ, cornutis ducibus!
Qui muletant mutilos armatis frontibus,
Dum habet quilibet fœnum in cornibus,
Non pastor ovium sed pastus ovibus.

We thus find in written documents a particularity of costume described very distinctly at a period when it has not yet been met with in any artistical monuments; a circumstance not easily accounted for, but which should make us cautious in judging too hastily of the absolute non-existence of any thing from mere negative evidence. T. WRIGHT.

  1. Printed in the Reliquiæ Antiquiæ, vol. i. p. 162.
  2. Printed in the Political Songs, (Camden Society Publication,) p. 224.
  3. Poems attributed to Walter Mapes, p. 8.