Fashion under the Reign of Francis I. 1515 to 1545. French Renaissance.

Fashion,  Renaissance , Francis, 16th century,
History of Fashion. Francis the First 1515 to 1526. 1530 to 1545.

Fashion under the Reign of FRANCIS I. 1515 to 1545.

The court of Francis I. — A speech of Charles V. — The king’s liberality — Order of the Cordelière — Word paintings of the fashions of the day, by Rabelais — Costumes of the seasons — Feather fans Sunshades — The hoche-plis or vertugadin — Mme. de Tressan saves her cousin’s life — Satires and songs — Mdlle. de Lacépède — “Contenances” — Silk shoes with slashes — Head-dress called a “passe-filon” — Increase of love of dress — The bean flower — Artistic head-dresses — Twists of hair called ratraprenades — Ferronières—Coaches in Paris ; their influence on the fashions.

Marguerite de Navarre, Jean Clouet, Renaissance, Costume, Adornment, Jewellery
The older sister of King Francis I. Marguerite de Navarre, (1492-1549) Queen of Navarre by Jean Clouet, around 1530.

The court of Francis I.

Under the gallant knight, Francis I., the court of France shone with a new and more refined splendour than that of the Middle Ages, and to this was added all the magnificence of Italian art. An eye-witness has described the court of Francis for us with characteristic and intelligent simplicity.

Capture, French King, Francis I, Battle,Pavia, Renaissance, Armor,
Capture of the French King Francis I. Battle of Pavia (1525)
Francois 1er, Battle,Pavia, 16th century, fashion history, Renaissance, costumes
Francis I, after the Battle of Pavia. François Ier, le Roi-Chevalier, après la bataille de Pavie
Pierre de Terrail Bayard, knighted,Francis I, Medieval knights,
Pierre de Terrail Bayard is knighted by Francis I. by Henri Buguet.

Michael Suriano, the Venetian ambassador, makes the following remarks:— “His Majesty expends 300,000 crowns on himself and his court, of which 70,000 are for the queen. The king wants 100,000 crowns for building abodes for himself Hunting, including provisions, chariots, nets, dogs, falcons, and other trifles, costs more than 150,000 crowns. Lesser amusements and luxuries, such as bouquets, masquerades, and other diversions, 100,000 crowns. Dresses, tapestries, and private gifts cost as much more. The lodgings of the king’s household, of the Swiss, French, and Scottish guards, more than 200,000. I am now speaking of men. As for the ladies, their salaries, it is said, amount to nearly 300,000 crowns.

Palace,House,Francis I, Cours la Reine, Champ-Elysées,Paris
House of Francis I at Cours la Reine. (Champ-Elysées)

Thus there is a firm belief that the king’s person, his household, his children, and the presents he makes, cost yearly a million and a half crowns. If you saw the French court the sum would not surprise you. There are generally six, eight, ten, even twelve thousand horses in the stables. Prodigality is boundless; visitors increase the expenditure by at least one-third, on account of the mules, carts, litters, horses, and servants that are necessary for them, and that cost more than double the ordinary prices.”

A speech of Charles V.

On his journey through France, Charles V. saw the treasury and the crown jewels. “There is a weaver of mine at Augsburg,” he disdainfully exclaimed, “who could buy up all that ! “ It is not the less true, notwithstanding the words of the envious Charles V., that the court of Francis displayed the utmost magnificence, and that the king himself lived in the midst of dazzling splendor. The court of this sovereign, nicknamed “Long-nose,” or “Nosey” by the people, was a rendezvous for the pursuit of pleasure.

Judging from prints of the time, the court of Francis I. differed considerably from that of his predecessors. The ladies no longer took up their station near the queen exclusively, nor did the men remain by the king. The two sexes mingled together at the daily receptions, and Francis I. formed a court in the true sense of the word. His liberality was very great; he gave away presents of clothes far beyond any gifts of his predecessors. Brantome tell us that many ladies possessed wardrobes and coffers so full of clothes given them by the king, “that it was a great fortune.”

Louise of Savoy, Marguerite de Valois, Renaissance, fashion history, la Reine Margot.
Louise of Savoy, Duchess regnant of Auvergne and Bourbon 1476-1531, Mother of Francis I., and Marguerite de Valois, la Reine Margot 1553-1615.

Order of the Cordelière.

Women soon acquired extraordinary influence; everything was in their hands, “even to the appointing of generals and captains.” Ladies of the palace were nominated and lived at the Louvre. They belonged to an order of knighthood called the Order of “la Cordelière,“ ( L’Ordre des Dames chevalières de la Cordelière) intended to reward the most prudent and virtuous women among the nobility.

Francis I. almost invariably wore a very splendid costume, and was considered the finest gentleman in the kingdom. We are not concerned here with the numerous different fashions adopted by the king and his nobles, suffice it to mention that the “robes” of the gentlemen of the time were no whit less magnificent than those of the ladies, and that consequently there was a struggle for pre-eminence between the two sexes.

(The Order of the ladies from the knitting or as he called himself, the belted ladies, was in 1498 by the Duchess Anne of Brittany as a women’s religious orders founded. Various reasons are accepted as a foundation occasion. Thus, the Order should remember to commemorate the bonds (ropes) of the Saviour.

According to another view, the religious honored the rope of St. Francis of Assisi. Also, the Order should have symbolized the bonds of marriage. The latter reflects the fact that difficulties stood in the way of re-marriage of Anna. Derived from marriage bondage, ropes and chains are in French Heraldry for noble ladies, especially widows, came to the crest. The motto of the order was “J’ay le corps délié” – “I have the body untied“.)

Word paintings of the fashions of the day, by Rabelais.

Feminine dress was coquettish, and generally speaking, very graceful in form. François Rabelais (1494-1553, is considered the greatest prose writer of the French Renaissance.), that encyclopedic writer who treated of every subject, whether serious or trifling, describes the fashions of his time in the following words:- “The ladies wore scarlet or crimson stockings, the said stockings reaching three inches above the knee, and the edge thereof finely embroidered or cut out. The garters were of the same colour as their bracelets, and fitted tight both above and below the knee.

Note:  Dame et Gentilshommes d'environ 1584.

The shoes or slippers of crimson, red, or violet velvet, were snipped like the edges of a crab’s claw. Over the chemise they wore a fine vasquine (Read more: The Corset and the Crinolin. A Book of Modes and Costumes.) of rich silk camlet (Also commonly known as Camelott, originally from Angora, canvas-like woven, lightweight firm fabric of camel wool and fine twisted silk are manufactured in Asia Minor in unmatched beauty and consumed in the Orient. In the factories of England, France and Germany, this fabric is copied from a mixture of silk, goat hair, cotton, linen. The most beautiful silk Camelotte delivers Lyon, the German manufacturers produce their most completely of wool.); on the vasquine they placed the vertugade (hoop) of white, red, salmon-coloured, or grey silk.

Above this the cotte, in silver tissue, embroidered in fine gold needlework, produced a charming effect. Or, if it pleased them better, and was in accordance with the weather, their cottes were of satin, or damask, or of velvet, orange-coloured, salmon, green, grey, blue, light yellow, crimson, or white; or of gold cloth, silver cloth, or embroidery, according to the festivals. Dresses were made, according to the season, in cloth of gold crossed with silver, of red satin embroidered in gold canetille (canetille fr. spiral metal wire used in embroidery), of white, blue, and black silk, of silk serge or camlet, of velvet, of cloth, of silver, of drawn gold, or of velvet or satin with gold threads variously interwoven.

In summer ladies sometimes wore, instead of dresses, graceful marlottes (Or wrappers. Grand woman coat long but shorter than the skirt, completely open at the front, puffed sleeves, piped behind symmetrical folds, which was fashionable in France under Francis I.) of the aforesaid stuffs, or bernes (sleeveless marlottes), after the Moorish style, in violet velvet ornamented at the seams with small Indian pearls. And at all times they wore the beautiful bouquet of feathers (or panache), according to the color of their muffs, thickly spangled with gold.”

Anne de Pisseleu d’Heilly, Mistress,French King, Francis I, Renaissance, costume, Adornment, jewelry
Anne de Pisseleu d’Heilly, duchesse d’Etampes 1508-1580, Mistress of French King Francis I.

Costumes of the seasons.

“In winter, silk dresses of the colours just described were lined with costly furs.
To complete the costume we must add rosaries, ornaments in goldsmith’s work hanging from the girdle, rings, gold chains, jewelled necklaces, and carbuncles, balas rubies, diamonds, and sapphires; finally emeralds, turquoises, garnets, beryls, pearls, and “unions d’excellence,” as Rabelais says. That great man almost seems to have written expressly in order to give us these details of Parisian dress. He omits nothing, neither shape, nor price, nor colour. He instructs us as to the fashions of each season; he mentions fans, and “eventoirs” in feathers.

French Queen, Claude de France, Renaissance, fashion history, costume.
Claude of France 1499-1524, (Enamel Portrait)

We observe, however, that there is no mention of autumn fashions in his interesting description. We must infer, therefore, that the fall of the year was included half in the summer and half in the winter season, and that the ladies of the sixteenth century were as yet unacquainted with that refinement of fashion at the present day, the autumn costume.
Umbrellas, which at first were ill-made, did not “take” in France. They were considered inconvenient things. “There is no season more inimical,” says Montaigne, “than the burning heat of a hot sun, for the umbrellas that have been used in Italy from the time of the ancient Romans, fatigue the arm more than they relieve the head.”

Head-gear varied with the seasons. In winter it was worn according to the French, in spring to the Spanish, in summer to the Turkish fashion; except on Sundays and festivals, when women covered their heads in the French style, as being more honourable and more suggestive of “matronly chastity.” On those occasions they generally wore a velvet hood with hanging curtain.

The cap of the women of Lorraine consisted of a piece of stuff wound about the head in cylinder shape; that of the Basque women resembled a horn of plenty upside down, it was made of white lawn trimmed with ribbon ; and that of the Bayonne women was a “guimpe” arranged like a turban, with a little peak or horn in the front.

The “hoche-plis” or vertugadin.

King Francis I. French renaissance fashion. Medieval clothing. middle ages costume
Lady of the time of King Francis I.

The greatest innovation in feminine costume was the appearance of the vertugadin, or hoop, in 1530. Dresses were stretched over wide, stiff petticoats mounted on hoops of iron, wood, or whalebone. A band of coarse linen, supported by wire, lifted them up round the waist. It is said that Louise de Montaynard, the wife of Francois de Tressan, contrived, by the aid of her hoop, to save the life of her cousin, the brave Duc de Montmorency (Henri II de Montmorency 1595-1632 was Duke of Montmorency and held partly in addition, partly in succession and the post of Grand Admiral of France, Marshal of France, viceroy of New France Governor of Languedoc. With him went the direct line of the noble family of Montmorency.). The duke was hard beset by a great number of the enemy in the town of Béziers.

Louise bade him hide under her huge bell-shaped hoop, and thus saved him from the vengeance that threatened him. The fashion of wearing three gowns, one over the other, shows the prejudices of the time with respect to distinctions in dress:- “Pour ime cotte qu’a la femme du bourgeois, La dame en a sur soy l’une sur l’autre trois, Que toutes elle faict également paroistre, Et par la se faict plus que bourgeoise cognoistre.”
“For one coat that the wife of a bourgeois wears The great lady puts on three, one over the other; And letting them all be seen equally, She makes herself known for more than a bourgeoise.”

Note:  Civil and military dress of the nobility in Italy of the 14th, 15th, 16th century.

Satires and songs against vertugadins.

Songs and satires against “vertugadins” abounded. The „Débat et Complainte des Meunièrs et Meunieres à l’Encontre des Vertugadins” appeared in 1556, and the “Blason des Basquines et Vertugales, avec la Remontrance qu’ont faict quelques Dames, quand on leur a remontre qu’il n’en falloit plus porter,” in 1563. Next came the “Plaisante Complainte …,” by Guillaume Hyver, beginning as follows:— “Ung temps fut avant telz usaiges, Lorsque les femmes estoient sages…”
(” There was a time, before these customs, When women were wise.”)

Renaissance fashion. King Francis I Court dress. 16th century fashion.
Lady of the Court of King Francis I. (Dame de la cour du roi François Ier. XVIe siècle.)

This epigram was quickly answered:- “La vertugalle nous aurons, Maulgré eulx et leur faulse envie, Et le busque au sein porterons ; N’est-ce pas usance jolye ?”
(“The ‘vertugal’ we will have, Spite of them and their false envy; And the busk at the breast we will wear; Is it not a pretty usage?”)

Charles IX., Henri III., and Henri IV., all issued edicts against the hoop. But far from disappearing, it became more and more generally worn. Little shopkeepers imitated the great ladies; and in the “Discours sur la Mode,” published in 1613, we read as follows:-
“Le grand vertugadin est commun aux Françoises, Dont usent maintenant librement les bourgeoises, Tout de mesme que font les dames, si ce n’est Qu’avec un plus petit la bourgeoise paroist; Car les dames ne sont pas bien accommodées Si leur vertugadin n’est large dix coudées.“
(“The large vertugadin is common to all Frenchwomen; The bourgeoises wear it freely now, Just the same as the great ladies, if it be not That the bourgeoise is content with a smaller one; For the great ladies are not satisfied With a vertugadin less than five yards wide.”)

Mdlle. de Lacépède. Muffs were called Contenances.

In Paris, the royal edicts against hoops had fallen into disuse, but in the provinces certain parliaments had maintained a merciless severity. It is recorded that at Aix a Demoiselle de Lacépède, the widow of the Sieur de Lacoste, having been accused before the court of wearing a hoop of seditious width, appeared before the counsellors and gave her word of honour that the “exaggerated size of her hips, which was the cause of complaint, was simply a gift of nature.” The judges laughed, and she was acquitted.

The fashion of vertugadins was especially pleasing to women of humble birth, who also wore hooped gowns, and thus, like high-born dames and maidens, attained a likeness to pyramidal towers or gigantic beehives. This extraordinary whim of fashion was destined to reappear, with various modifications, at different periods. Muffs, like those of the present day, were already used by women of rank. They were called “contenances.” Long gold chains, or cordelières, were twisted in the waistband, and fell almost to the feet.

Marguerite, Navarre, Margaret, Angoulême, Valois
Marguerite de Navarre (1492-1549) by John James Hinchliff. “The Heptameron” of Margaret, Queen of Navarre.
Marguerite, Navarre, Francis I, Renaissance, Costumes, history
French King Francis I. with his sister Marguerite de Navarre.
Margaret, Navarre, Marguerite, Angoulême, Bourbon, Renaissance
Margaret of Navarre, also Marguerite de Angoulême 1492 – 1549. She promoted poets, artists and scholars and was even a writer. Her best-known literary work is the Heptaméron. Marguerite is the ancestress of the Bourbon kings of France, being the mother of Jeanne d’Albret, whose son, Henry of Navarre, succeeded as Henry IV of France, the first Bourbon king.

Head-dress called à “passe-filon”

The women vied with the men in splendour of dress. At court or in town they wore an under-skirt, showing below the gown, which was made with pointed bodice, the skirt widely opened in front, with narrow sleeves to the elbow, where they suddenly widened, and were bordered with lace or fur.

Royal, Château de Blois, France, Loire Valley, Louis XII,Francis I
The Royal Château de Blois. The kings Louis XII and Francis I used the buildings as their main residence.

The bodice was cut low, disclosing a collerette of fine open-worked cambric or of lace. Silk and satin shoes were still in fashion, widely opened on the instep, which, it must be owned, was not conducive to the elegance of the foot. Some ladies preferred slashed shoes. But if there was little change in shoes, there was much in the fashion of head-dresses. Small rounded coiffures in satin or velvet, forming a harmonious frame to the face, succeeded to the ancient head-gear; or else graceful turbans, whose delicate softness could be perceived beneath a network of pearls or precious stones. The head-dress “à la passe-filon,” dating from the time of Louis XI., retained its place:— “Les cheveux en passe fillon, Et l’œil gay en émerillon,“ (“Netted hair and hawk-bright eye.”) says Clément Marot.

The hair was sometimes worn in curls round the face, and falling on the neck. Many women, however, imitated Marguerite of Navarre, by wearing ringlets on each side of the temples, and drawing back the hair above the forehead. Wire pins were first imported from England about 1545; before this invention ladies made use of extremely fine and flexible wooden pins or skewers. We have already mentioned these.

Increase of love of dress. The bean flower.

There were, in fact, two distinct periods in the fashions under Francis I.
From 1515 to 1526 feminine attire was still influenced by the Middle Ages, not only as regards form and cut, but also as to colouring, which was somewhat grave. Ladies were averse to low dresses, nor did they care for any fanciful trimmings. Some few even abstained from jewels and diamonds; their dress was graceful, but without studied elegance.

Francis I, Anne Pisseleu, Duchesse d'Etampes, Charles Quint, Renaissance, fashion history
Francis I, Anne Pisseleu, Duchesse d’Etampes and Charles Quint.

From 1530 to 1545, on the contrary, tastes wholly changed. Women began to wear necklaces and beads, light-coloured stuffs, and rich trimmings; they became accustomed to baring the bosom and shoulders, and the habit grew yet more upon them. Dress became a mass of small details, and women were ingenious in contriving not to omit one of the thousand trifles intended to add to their attractions.

Note:  Dame en Grande Tenue. Gentilhomme et Paysans. 16ème siècle costumes

In one word, coquetry began to wield its exclusive sway over the actions of women. To please became their only business. They used perfumes of all sorts—violet powder, Cyprus powder, civet, musk, orange flower, ambergris, rosemary, essence of roses. They refreshed their complexions with an infusion of the beanflower, and washed with musk soap.

Artistic head-dresses. Twists of hair called ratraprenades.

In the latter part of the reign of Francis I., feminine head-dresses assumed a thoroughly artistic character, of almost exaggerated grace. The Church and certain writers began to murmur, but with as little effect as in the fifteenth century. A book entitled “Remontrance charitable aux dames et demoiselles de France sur leurs ornements dissolus,” Paris, 1577, implored women to renounce their “twists of hair,” which the author calls “ratrapenades.” Another work, “La Gauléographie,“ thundered against the indecency of plaits; and a pamphlet, “La Source d’Honneur,“ bestowed good advice on women, which they were careful not to follow.


La Belle Ferroniere, Leonardo da Vinci, Renaissance, fashion, hairdress,16th century, costumes
La Belle Ferroniere by school of Leonardo da Vinci 1495 to 1499

La belle Ferronière invented the head-dress which bore her name. A skull-cap of velvet or satin, splendidly embroidered, was set amidst curls that only reached to the shoulders. A narrow ribbon, or chain, in the centre of which was fixed a jewel or ferronière, passed across the brow and was fastened in a large knot at the back of the head.

Another style of head-dress formed the hair into bands half concealed by lappets falling over the cheeks and a veil; the folds at one end were gathered together into a golden tulip terminating in a cluster of precious stones. The art of the goldsmith was thus combined with that of the hairdresser, and the most celebrated beauties adorned themselves in every conceivable way. They must have dreaded, especially after nightfall, the numerous thieves abounding in the capital. Fancy going on foot so dazzlingly arrayed!

Françoise de Foix, Comtesse de Laval Châteaubriant, Mistress, Renaissance
Françoise de Foix 1485-1537, Comtesse de Laval Châteaubriant mistress of Francis I.
Costume, fashion,Renaissance, Cour de François Ier, Mode de 16ème siècle,
Epoque de François Ier.

Coaches in Paris; their influence on the fashions.

It is well to bear in mind that in the time of Francis I. there were but three coaches in all Paris; one belonged to Queen Claude of France, a daugher of Louis XII.; another to Diane de Poitiers (1499-1566 Mistress of the future King Henry II), who at the age of thirty-two had lost her husband, Louis de Brézé, Count de Maulévrier, High Seneschal of Normandy (He was the son of Jacques de Brézé and Charlotte de France, an illegitimate daughter of King Charles VII with Agnès Sorel.), and who always wore the widow’s garb even in the days of her greatest prosperity; and the third to a gentleman named René de Laval, who could not mount on horseback on account of his enormous size.

16th, century, costume, Medieval, clothing, Renaissance, fashion history, court dress
French lady 16th century. Dame du temps de François I. de Clèves, duc de Nevers.

Our ancestors had nothing to fear from blocks of carriages, nor from the mud by which we are often splashed in crowded streets. At the end of the fifteenth century, Gilles le Maître, High President of the Paris Parliament, executed a contract with his farmers, by which the latter were bound “on the eves of the four great festivals of the year, and at the time of the vintage, to provide him with a covered cart, with good clean straw inside, in which his wife, Marie Sapin, and his daughter, Genevieve, could be comfortably seated, and also to bring a foal and a she-ass, on which their serving-women should ride, while he himself should go first, mounted on his mule, and accompanied by his dog, who would follow him on foot.”
Truly a humble conveyance for the wife of a High President, who himself rode modestly on a mule!

Falconer, costume, 16th century, Renaissance,
Falconer of the House of Francis I. 16th Century. Fauconnier de la Maison de François I. XVIe Siècle.

If we examine the prints of the time of Henri IV., we shall be at a loss to conceive how such very smart personages could pass through the streets on foot, and with Brantôme, we shall begin to admire Marguerite de Valois’s litters, as represented by the artists of that period, “heavily gilt, and splendidly covered and painted with many fine devices, and her coaches and carriages the same.” The succeeding century witnessed great changes. The wife of the High President, Christophe de Thou (1508-1582), was the first Frenchwoman, not a princess, to whom permission to possess a carriage was granted. The bourgeoises long envied her that delightful privilege!

It is difficult to understand how ladies, dressed in the costumes handed down to us by artists of the time, contrived to get into their litters. These must have been very roomy, and much like our modern closed carriages. It is true, however, that a litter was used by one person only. The use of carriages has contributed to the development of fashion, for by their means ladies in very light attire are enabled to go long distances, from one house to the other, without danger from exposure to the weather, and without attracting the attention of thieves. Hence, from the first appearance of coaches to the elegant carriages of our own day, a particular style of dress has existed, suitable only for persons possessing equipages, and ridiculous when worn by pedestrians through rain, mud, and dust.



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