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What Was Worn Under The Tunic in the 11th Century?

  • Monday, August 20 2007 @ 06:38 PM UTC
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What Was Worn Under The Tunic in the 11th Century? *
By Steven Lowe
This article appeared in Varangian Voice issue 70

There's VERY little reliable information on 11th century hose and no surviving artefacts. The earliest hose from the Viking region are, as I understand it, 14th century - way later than Viking times. So we have to use a lot of guesswork.

Certainly, the Bayeux Tapestry seems to indicate people wearing hose, as do several 11th century Anglo-Saxon illustrations. Or maybe they're really tight trousers.

The current belief is that they were hose. But unlike the wonderful pictorial evidence relating to 13th century stuff (especially the Mispronouncy Bible), there is practically nothing showing what 11th century people wore underneath. You just see the hose vanish under the lower hem of the tunic.

So - did they wear braes and hose like people did 200 years later? Can we really rely on that? 200 years is a long time.

In fact, I am coming to the belief that their hose were much longer - perhaps were even tight trousers after all. Some of the evidence for this is in the Bayeux Tapestry, some I have got from the Golden Psalter (though we have to be careful with that one too - it's 250 years EARLIER than Hastings) - VERY occasionally, you get to see up people's tunics, and the hose/trousers seem to go all the way up.

Fig. 1 - from the Golden Psalter of St Gallen, Frankish c. 800 AD

Fig. 2 from the Bayeux Tapestry Anglo-Norman c. 1080

See the guy from the Bayeux Tapestry in Fig. 2 - smoothing the plank with an axe. He's got his skirt tucked into his belt, and the whole length of his leg is shown - covered with fabric.

There are quite a few people who are shown barelegged (you can tell by the fact that you can see their toesies!) and without exception their legs are shown in outline only - in other words the "infill colour" is the bare surface of the linen.

There are some shown wearing shoes who also have legs only in outline, but I think that's supposed to mean their hose/trousers/whatever are whitish. But the guy in Fig. 2 has yellow "infill" on his legs and is wearing shoes. I take this to mean his legs are covered.

Fig. 3 from the Bayeux Tapestry Anglo-Norman c. 1080

Fig. 4 - David and Goliath Anglo- Saxon 11th century from Harl. MS 603, f.73, British Museum

There's also an 11th century scene with David and Goliath, in which the dead Goliath (bottom of the picture) has been stripped of his armour and appears to be have rucked-up hose which have fallen down his leg, and underneath he has very brief shorts, not the knee-length braies common in the 13th century.

Whether 11th century hose had feet in them, or just stirrups at the bottom, is another question again. We just don't know. Hell, we don't even know whether they were hose or trousers!

But those shorts Goliath is wearing are very tempting . . .

* Nothing it was all in perfect working order!

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