Sunday, June 28, 2015

"Tales of the Royal Wardrobe": A Review

Dr. Lucy Worsley dressed in a replica of the Armada Portrait Dress for the documentary "Tales of the Royal Wardrobe". Picture Historic Royal Palaces/PBS.

     Yesterday I finally got to see the Historic Royal Palaces documentary "Tales of the Royal Wardrobe". It aired much earlier in the U.K., and I wasn't sure if it would ever make its way to the United States (some of these wonderful British documentaries I read about do, and some don't), but thankfully this one did! I tuned in, of course for three reasons: first and foremost, because I read that a portion of the program focused on the wardrobe of Queen Elizabeth I, a master of image control as a political asset. Second, because Historic Royal Palaces was behind the project, a non-profit I trust and admire, and third, because Dr. Lucy Worsley was hosting, a historian and curator whose career I respect and not-so-secretly covet! 

     The portion on Queen Elizabeth I did not disappoint. Dr. Worsley highlighted Elizabeth I's aptitude for crafting and utilizing her clothing to create her powerful image as Gloriana, the Virgin Queen, adored, beloved, and worshiped by her subjects. Indeed, as Worsley said, her image very much contributed to the longevity of her 44-year reign.While Queen Elizabeth I was no doubt the best of the Tudors at marketing a personal political brand, it was an art form practiced by the dynasty as a whole. As Worsley pointed out, their successors, the Stuarts, failed by comparison in that respect. Where the Tudors had kept their court artists on a tight reign, the satirical pamphlets mass-produced by the printing press in the 17th century opened the royal court (and their lavish, outlandish fashion choices) up to unprecedented criticism. While this mockery did not cause the English Civil War itself, of course, it contributed to the dissent that ended in rebellion.

     Here are some interesting facts from the Queen Elizabeth I portion of the program:

-Queen Elizabeth I had many staff responsible for her elaborate wardrobe. She had one man who looked after just her muffs!

-Contrary to the many myths perpetuated on Pinterest, not a single dress of Queen Elizabeth I's survives.

Worsley "queened up" as Elizabeth I in Armada Portrait attire in "Tales of the Royal Wardrobe". Picture by A.Jensen. Documentary Historic Royal Palaces/PBS.

-It took Queen Elizabeth I probably about 2 hours to get dressed on a typical day (with the assistance of her ladies, of course). Dr. Worsley wore a reproduction of the Armada gown and its accurate underpinnings when she got "queened up" (as she put it). The original Armada gown had 800 hand-sewn freshwater pearls on the dress alone, not to mention all the additional ropes of pearls and other jewels and trinkets worn by the queen on top of that!

-Queen Elizabeth was very concerned with Sumptuary Laws, and in order to ensure that everyone dressed according to their station, she passed no less than 10 Statutes of Apparel.

I highly recommend "Tales of the Royal Wardrobe". I am posting a few small video clips over on the BeingBess Facebook page about the effigy bodies/stays of Queen Elizabeth I. You can also read all about them in our BeingBess article here