Thursday, August 21, 2008

What to Wear to Your Execution

I know this is a macabre subject, but it has always intrigued me. What did royals choose to wear before they lost their heads?

Think about it. You are most likely going to be buried in it and it will be your last public viewing. How do you decide which outfit to wear for such a momentous historical occasion? I think the last choice of clothing says a lot about how royals chose to be remembered.

Here are a few examples:

King Charles I
Charles decided to dress warm for the occasion and broke out two heavy shirts. He was worried that he would shiver in the cold and consequently look fearful. Charles had always been viewed as the weakling in the shadow of his stronger, older brother, Henry so even at his death he was concerned about appearing brave.

Charles also worried that his hair would get in the way of the messy business of execution and asked his executioner, ‘Is my hair well?’

Charles I strikes me as the kind of ruler who focuses on the details instead of seeing the big picture. During the parliamentary uprisings, he seemed to agree to one demand after another while failing to see the long term consequences and larger significance of a political revolution. And now at his death, he is worried more about his hair than the head he is about to lose.

Queen Anne Boleyn
Anne traded in her square plunging necklines and went to her execution with a conservative make-over. She chose to wear a loose dark, gray gown of damask trimmed in fur with a matronly mantle of ermine covering her regal shoulders and decolletage. More interestingly, she adorned her soon-to-be-missing head with the simple, gabled head-dress which was frequently worn by her demure predecessor Jane Seymour (shown on the right). This hairstyle choice is an obvious contradiction to her signature, and far more risque French hood (shown on the left) which all her attendants had once copied. With one swipe of the executioner’s sword…French hoods were out and making your head look like a church steeple was back in vogue.

Mary Queen of Scots
Mary chose a crimson petticoat – a clear symbol of a catholic martyr. When Mary was convicted of plotting Queen Elizabeth's assassination, she knew her death would bring outcries from Catholic nations such as Spain and France. By her simple choice of clothing, Mary shifted the cause of her downfall from treason to religious persecution. Although religion was undeniable a huge factor in her death, that blazing red petticoat was one last stir of the pot from a tragic queen.

After her death, Mary’s red petticoat was burned for the fear that it would become another saint’s relic.

Queen Marie Antoinette
Marie Antoinette didn’t get much say in the matter. She was even forbidden to wear the tattered and torn, black mourning dress she had been wearing for two months straight, most likely because the revolutionaries did not want any public sympathy for her. Instead, Marie Antoinette climbed into an old, rubbish cart wearing a clean, white chemise that she had saved for the occasion and a fichu (large, squarish kerchief) over her shoulders. A pleated white cap adorned her famed hair which had been cropped at the neck.

Image Credits: Charles I - FCIT


Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

I was having a Tudor moment, so I watched both The Virgin Queen, and Elizabeth I, and it was nice to see that both shows had Mary, Queen of Scots in her red petticoat, and speaking with a French accent.

Anonymous said...

It is interesting to see what the executed wore to their executions.
Anne Boleyn didn't just wear grey damask it was grey and red damask.
Also Anne did favour the gable hood but mostly favoured the french hood.Apart from her wearing a gable hood to her execution the only other time I know of for sure is at the time of her queenship there is a coin which shows her face and upper part of her body and has the motto The most happy surrounding it which was the motto she chose during her time as queen.
On the coin she wears a gable hood and you can also see her in a cross necklace and she is in the same pose as the known portrait of her wering the B necklace.

Bearded Lady said...

Hi TudorRose (great name!) I didn't know Anne's gown was both grey and red. Trimmed with red... right? Or red underneath?

Her choice of hood is what I find the most interesting. She helped make the French Hood so popular yet chose not to wear it on her execution. It funny to think how showing your ears and (gasp!) hair was seen as so risqué. Some historians have suggested that the gable hood mimicked the new heights of cathedrals, but it looks more like a sloping rooftop to me.

Bearded Lady said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bearded Lady said...

Tudor Rose – I checked several primary sources on Anne’s execution and have yet to find a single source mentioning a red gown. Alison Weir writes that she wore a “red kirtle” which could be where the confusion lies. A kirtle would have been worn under her gown. Interestingly, Weir also wrote that Anne wore a French Hood which to the best of my knowledge is not true. If anyone has further details, I would love to know more.

Anonymous said...

wow how interesting . i am a high supporter for the dead queen. king henry was just a mean man who murdered misunderstood ladies due to him growing tired of them . i am sorry if i had offended anyone . but well i am speaking for all women that have been falsly exucuted. It shouldn't have happened but . there is a quick story i want to share thats only like 3 sentences long.

I think it was charles one but i am not sure. upon his exucution he came back up and asked the exicutioner if he could hit any harder than that. and went back down.

see only 3 sentences!

Anonymous said...

According to Wikipedia, Anne Boleyn wore a "red petticoat under a loose, dark grey gown of damask trimmed in fur and a mantle of ermine." In "The Tudors", Natalie Dormer as Anne Boleyn wears a cloak of crimson damask trimmed with ermine in the execution scene.