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Elizabethan Embroidery

The wearing of line embroidery by the lady was not seen much before the time of Henry VIII in the early sixteenth century and did not reach its full splendor until the reign of his daughter, Elizabeth. Sumptuous needlework had formerly been used only on church vestments, and this was characteristic for the Mediaeval period. The change may be traced to several causes. The reaction against the worldly magnificence of the church, against which many churchmen themselves had preached for centuries, was partly responsible. While the growing wealth and power of the burgher class demanded expression in terms of privileges. The importance of tie great corporations or guilds of London, whose ceremonies gave an opportunity for the use of magnificent robes, banners, palls, and other equipment used on state occasions, gave ,real scope for the use of embroidery. Among the London companies were the Girdlers, "Broderers, Carpenters, Drapers, Vintners, Goldsmiths, Painter-Stainers, and many more, in which the various artisans grouped themselves according to their trade. "The headquarters of each, or "hall," was a handsome building and their coffers were loaded with costly plate for state banquets. Processions were an important feature of the activities of the corporations, and offered an opportunity for the public display of wealth through magnificent costume.

Black silk embroidered designs on white linen were popular in the reign of Elizabeth. Sometimes this was used on embroidered wrist and neck hands, and on undergarments, such as the shirts worn under slashed doublets, which were slit to show the sumptuous embroidery underneath. Embroidery in black on white was also known in Spain, and was said to have been introduced into England by Henry VIII's Spanish wife, Katharine of Aragon, whose divorce was brought about with so much difficulty.

This was a period when embroidery was the most important feminine occupation although it was done professionally by men as well as women. Mary Queen Of Scoots was a famous embroiderer, and whiled away many hours of her captivity with her embroidery needle. Bess Hardwicke, her protector, an energetic and astute lady whose name has survived in a period which has preserved few women's names save of queens, found time to produce great quantities of needlework, although she doubtless had considerable help from her ladies. Her einbroideries were long preserved at Hardwicke and among them was a series of wall hangings showing appliqued figures, framed in columned arches, the outlines being corded. Many of the the design were Italian in effect which were typical of the period, depicting scenes from history or legend with figures in contemporary dress.

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