Leather clothing

Several months ago (early summer 1999) I wound up in a discussion on several email lists trying to document the appearance of leather clothing in Europe in the Middle Ages.   This appears to be one of those topics that many scholars take as an article of faith (i.e. there were leather clothes) but the documentation is fairly sparse.  If you have anything you would like to contribute to this, please let me know.  I make no pretense that this is in any way exhaustive.

The entries are in date order, with the original source, an explanation or quote, and finally from where I got the quote.  "<imc>" means I dug it out myself; "<imc - MED>" means I dug it out of the Middle English Dictionary, and so on.

Groenman-van Waateringe, W. Leather from Medieval Svendborg 1988.
"Clothes made from leather seldom turn up in archaeological context. Large pieces of leather must have been reused for smaller articles, if the original article was worn out."
Other leather Items found in archaeological sites:  Shoes, Boots, Knife Scabbards, Sword Scabbards, Belts, Purses and Bags, Sling Pouches, Gloves, Saddles. Achievements and crests on helms.

<imc>

Iron Age or Bronze Age. Hald, Margarethe, Ancient Danish Textiles from Bogs and Burials (1980)
Leather Capes from bogs, including one hooded cape, as well as several leather objects that are probably garments.

<imc>

Iron Age Mairead Dunlevy, Dress in Ireland.   New York: Holmes & Meier, 1989, pp. 25-26.
A leather cloak , elbow-length, with hemmed neck and edges, pieced and sewn, with the fur on the inside of the piece, was recovered from a peat bog in Derrykeighan, north Co.Antrim, Ireland in 1891.

Tigernach mac ╔oghain ua ┴eda <tigernach@PIPELINE.COM>

c.800 Owen-Crocker, Gale. Dress in Anglo-Saxon England.
"In winter he protected his chest and shoulders with a jerkin made of otter skin and ermine."

David Horvath <HORVATHD@fargo.ars.usda.gov>

900s??? Some remnants of something thought to be a leather tunic at Hedeby
(Haithabu), Schleswig Holstein, northern Germany.

<ICarlisle.Artefact_Research.YAT@yorkarch.demon.co.uk>

941 Dunlevy, Mairead. Dress in Ireland.   New York: Holmes & Meier, 1989, pp. 25-26.
Irish annals mention a Muircertach na gCochall gCroicionn (of the Leather Cloaks) who for the winter campaign he conducted gave a gift of a leather cloak to each of his soldiers. These were apparently long enought to be both a garment by day and a body covering by night.

Tigernach mac ╔oghain ua ┴eda <tigernach@PIPELINE.COM>

1204 English Medieval Knight 1200-1300, (Warrior #48), Osprey Publishing, p. 20.
In 1204, for example, King John spent....He also knighted one of his valets, Thomas Esturmi, that same year but spent only ú6 10s on the latter's robes: 'A scarlet robe and a hood of deerskin.".

<mart-shearer@webtv.net>

After 1220 C.E.

Heimskringlasaga is written by Snorri Sturluson.  In that is St. Olaf's Saga, aka Olaf Haraldson's Saga, about St. Olaf, King of Norway (c1015-1030).

204.  He had 12 large coats of reindeer skin made for him.

240. King Olaf hewed at Thorer Hund, and struck him across the shoulders; but the sword would not cut, and it was as if dust flew from his reindeer-skin coat.

It was blowing a cold wind, and Styrkar had not much other clothing upon him but his shirt, and had a helmet on his head, and a drawn sword in his hand. As soon as his weariness was over, he began to feel cold. A waggoner met him in a lined skin-coat. Styrkar asks him, "Wilt thou sell thy coat, friend?"

David Horvath <HORVATHD@fargo.ars.usda.gov>

c.1250 The King's Mirror (Speculum Regale -- Konung's Skuggsja)  an English translation by Laurence Marcellus Larson. New York,  Twayne Pul. Inc. 1917, p. 181. 

[My corrections appear in brackets and italics]

Your costume [clothing] you should plan beforehand in such a way that you come fully dressed in good apparel, the smartest that you have, and wearing fine trousers [hosen] and shoes. You must not come without your coat [kirtle]; and also wear a mantle, the best that you have. For trousers [hosen] always select cloth of a brown dye. It seems quite proper also to wear trousers [hosen] of black fur [leather], but not of any other sort of cloth, unless it be scarlet. Your coat [kirtle] should be of brown color or green or red, and all such clothes are good and proper. Your linen should be made of good linen stuff, but with little cloth used; your shirt should be short, and all your linen rather light. Your shirt should be cut somewhat shorter than your coat [kirtle]; for no man of taste can deck himself out in flax or hemp.

<imc, with thanks to rune.gundersen@colifast.no>

13th Century Viking and Medieval Dublin from the National Museum of Ireland.  #186
"Portion of leather waistcoat. Stiching holes along margin. 13th century. High Street."

"J. Patrick Hughes" <jphughes@raven.cc.ukans.edu>

c1330 "Arthour and Merlin" 9256 in K÷lbing, E. ed. Altenglische Bibliotek. 4 (1890) Heilbronn. pp.3-272
"And alle his amres, verrament, to ■e purpoint of o serpent" [A doublet of reptile hide?]

<imc - MED>

c1410 Lovelich, Henry. Merlin 23289-91. ed. E.A.Kock.  (Early English Text Sociey, original series 93 (1904, reprint 1932), 112 (1913), 185 (1932))-+
"Which porpoynt was mad of a serpentis skin [porpoins dun serpent]..."

<imc - MED>

1418 EE Wills (1882) 37
"a doubeled of defence couered with red le■er"

<imc - OED2>

c1420 & 1450 Stoermer, Hans Lederhosen, Guertel, Ranzen (subtitled "Leather in the Costume of the Bavarian and Alpine Lands") W. Ludwig Verlag, 1986.
Introduction of washable chamois leather mentioned in statutes of leather-workers

john j cash <jcash@INDIANA.EDU>

1432 Harmand, Adrien. Jeanne d'Arc, ses costumes, son armure. Essai de reconstitution. Paris, Librairie E. Leroux, 1929. p.114
"To Perrin Bossout, valet and tailor, … for assembly? Of 2 pourpoints made for MdS in his city of Brouxelles (Brussels), the one of black damasked cloth in 4 quarters, and the other "a grands assiettes" in VI layers(?) of fabric & 1 leather"

Translated by Cynthia Barnes <Cynthia_Barnes@phoenix.com>

c1450 York Memorandum Book.  ed. M. Sellars (Surtees Society Publications 120) p.65
"For j dakyr of hose ledder, viij d"

<imc - MED>

-1545 Rule, M. The Mary Rose. The excavation and raising of Henry VIII's flagship. 1982, 196-201
Several jerkins from Mary Rose (-1545)

<imc>

1550-1570 Baart, JM. Een 16e-eeuws leren wambuis naar landsknechten-mode. In: R. Kistemaker & M. Jonker (eds). Die Smaak van de elite. Amsterdamn in de eeuw van de beeldenstorm. Amsterdam, 1986. 68-77.
A jerkin from Amsterdam.

<imc>

1550-1600 Baart, JM. Een 16e-eeuws leren wambuis naar landsknechten-mode. In: R. Kistemaker & M. Jonker (eds). Die Smaak van de elite. Amsterdamn in de eeuw van de beeldenstorm. Amsterdam, 1986. 68-77.
A jerkin from Groningen, Netherlands

<imc>

1557 & 1560 Hans Stoermer's Lederhosen, Guertel, Ranzen (subtitled "Leather in the Costume of the Bavarian and Alpine Lands") W. Ludwig Verlag, 1986.
A leatherworker's inventory of Kitzbuehl describes several sets of trousers, in connection with the word "Gesaess" or "seat." Such trousers (whose length is unclear but likely went to below the knee) were either made entirely of leather (perhaps chamois) or were made with a leather front and woolen back or vice versa. The inventory describes at least one pair as "old leather trousers"

john j cash <jcash@INDIANA.EDU>

c1560 Arnold, Janet, Patterns of Fashion: the cut and construction of clothes for men and women c1550-1620 (1985)

A youth's Brown Leather jerkin (Museum of London, c1560)

<imc, lizyoung@fenris.net>

c1560-1600? Waterer, J. Leather Craftsmanship (1968)
Plate 33. Jerkin (Museum of London) Black Goatskin, possibly worn by one of Elizabeth's pages. Tooled with wavy lines and pinked with hearts and stars. This may be the same as the Museum of London one above, but we'll have to compare pictures to be sure.

<imc>

c1560-1600? Waterer, J. Leather Craftsmanship (1968)
A(n uncited) reference is made to the poor in Elizabeth's day wearing leather.

<imc>

???? Waterer, J. Leather Craftsmanship (1968)
A(n uncited) reference is made to leather breeches of sheep, goat, or deerskin

<imc>

1567 Arnold, Janet, Patterns of Fashion: the cut and construction of clothes for men and women c1550-1620 (1985)
A leather doublet worn by Nils Sture (1567, Upsala Cathedral "might be elk", might have originally been black)

<imc, lizyoung@fenris.net>

1567 Arnold, Janet, Patterns of Fashion: the cut and construction of clothes for men and women c1550-1620 (1985)
The wool and velvet pluderhose for Nils Sture: "Nils Sture's pluderhose are based on a foundation resembling chamois leather, probably deer skin." (From Upsala Cathedral, c. 1567)

Matthew Pius <piusma@UMDNJ.EDU>

1567 Hans Stoermer's Lederhosen, Guertel, Ranzen (subtitled "Leather in the Costume of the Bavarian and Alpine Lands") W. Ludwig Verlag, 1986.
A leatherworker's inventory of Tirol describes describes "leather Pluderhosen."

john j cash <jcash@INDIANA.EDU>

c1595-1610 Arnold, Janet, Patterns of Fashion: the cut and construction of clothes for men and women c1550-1620 (1985)
A doublet (it's actually sleeveless, so I'd call it a jerkin) of soft (originally cream-coloured) leather with a suede finish (c1595-1610, Stibbert Museum, Florence)

<imc, lizyoung@fenris.net>

???? Waterer, J. Leather Craftsmanship (1968)
Plate 35. Jerkin (Museum of Leathercraft) Doublet of buff leather, with pickadils, and silk points.

<imc>

1610 Janet Arnold ???
Two more doublets (c1610, Germanishces Nationalmuseum, Nurnberg, c1610 Royal Scottish Museum, Edinburgh) which are nearly identical and made of cream-coloured leather.

<imc>

c.1615-1620 Janet Arnold ???
A suit from the Museo Parmigianino, Reggio Emilia, is made of satin with a leather overlay. The leather has had designs cut out of it so that it resembles applique. On the parts of the trunkhose underneath the legs, the leather has had the design scored, but not cut away. Arnold notes that this adds rigidity which is integral to the shape of the garment.

Matthew Pius <piusma@UMDNJ.EDU>

1640s Waterer, J. Leather and the Warrior (1981)
A reference is made to "Buff Coats" from the English Civil War period.   Samuel Butler "his doublet was of sturdy buff"

<imc>

By 1700 Hans Stoermer's Lederhosen, Guertel, Ranzen (subtitled "Leather in the Costume of the Bavarian and Alpine Lands") W. Ludwig Verlag, 1986.
Alpine leather trousers had become what we recognize as Lederhosen: knee-length leather trousers with opening in front and worn with a belt.

john j cash <jcash@INDIANA.EDU>

This page was last updated on 10 December 2002

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Some Clothing of the Middle Ages - Leather Clothing, by I. Marc Carlson. Copyright 1999, 2002
This page is given for the free exchange of information, provided the Author's Name is included in all future revisions, and no money change hands, other than as expressed in the Copyright Page.