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What happened to the clothing? A case study of a glazier family

On a fall day the 15 October 1591, the worldly possessions of the deceased couple, the Elsinore glazier Morten and his wife Kirstine, were divided among their two kids, the son Morten Mortensen, and the daughter Anne Mortensen.[1] Unfortunately the inventory is not clear about whether the father or mother died first, only that their children were entitled to their common goods. [2] As a glazier, Morten worked on windows, and owned for example a casket with candles, a tool for rolling lead mullions for windows, and a chest and another box with glass ‘whole and half panes’.[3]

Glazier, woodcut artist Jost Amman Das Ständebuch, 1568. SLUB / Deutsche Fotothek / DDZ.

Sadly, their son Morten died not long after his parents’ inventory was made, leaving Anne alone at a presumably very young age.[4] We do not know what happened to Anne from the time of her parents’ death to the death of her brother, but we can see from her brother’s inventory that several costs for Anne were listed, indicating that she was taken into care from 12 October 1591 until Christmas, but by whom, and what happened after this, is unknown. Entries also indicate that she had new clothing made: the tailor was paid 2 marks and 4 shillings for two garments and  some mackaye, possibly a mixed woollen fabric that could contain linen, cotton or even silk.[5]

Despite these awful circumstances two rather interesting inventories survive from this family, documenting what happened to the clothing belonging to the parents, not only in terms of why and how it changed hands, but also how the descriptions of the garments changed.[6]  

First page of the common inventory of the parents Morten Glazier and his wife Kirstine.

The clothing of the parents

The apparel of the parents was first distributed to the two children. The heirs for the glazier Morten and his wife were Morten and Anne, represented by their guardians Michell Snøckill and Jørgen Shriffuer, who were responsible for naming the goods. Both children’s lots included numerous items of copper, brass, and pewter, as well as a number of household linens such as sheets, bed linens, and table cloths. The children also inherited all the household’s linen fabrics, adding up to 48 ells (ca. 30 meter) of linen fabric made of flax and 26 ells (ca. 16,3 meter) made from coarser blår (tow). It seems that it was mainly the mother’s clothing that was given to the children; the items Morten received included one woman’s brown kirtle, a black woman’s kirtle and a red skirt. In comparison Anne received a cloak with a velvet trim and a red woman’s kirtle.

Sales, payoffs, and giveaways

Some of Morten and Kirstine’s clothes were also sold, which could be a way of obtaining financial means to benefit the children or to pay for the funeral or the cost for having the inventory made. Father’s outfit, a black kirtle made out of English cloth and a pair of breeches, was bought by a man whose name was Jørgen Lichtt Hartt for 3 daller. He also bought a felted hat for 24 shilling, but since the estate of the glazier and his wife owed him 11 shillings he ended up paying only 13 shillings. But some of the clothing owned by the glazier and his wife was also used to pay people who had provided services to the couple. This included their servant-maids, who were given two of Kirstine’s trøjer (doublets), and a pair of stockings were given to a woman who had watched over ‘the corpse’.[7] Some of the father Morten’s clothes were also bequeathed to close family, for no costs it seems. This was the case with a pair of leather stockings, 2 leather livstøcker (a sleeveless garment worn over the shirt), and a pair of leather breeches which were granted to the children’s grandfather on their mother’s side. Additionally, a cloak, presumably also belonging to the father, was used to make new garments for his children. 

New meanings

When the young Morten died in March 1592 an inventory of his goods was made.[8] This inventory explains how Morten’s guardian sent for his sister’s guardian to collect the goods that he had received from the estate of their parents. Is not clear if Anne received all her brother’s goods, but the objects listed in the inventory drawn up after her parents are listed again, giving us new insights about their appearances and where some of them went after her brother’s death.

Emphasized in brackets were Mortens heirlooms that were inherited from his mother, but now their descriptions had changed slightly, including:  ‘1 black under kirtle, 1 red flesh coloured skirt and ‘1 brown under kirtle without upperpart’.[9]

The inherited clothing highlighted in brackets in the son Morten’s inventory.

Anne’s goods had also changed description: the black cloak was still decorated with velvet trim but instead of just being a kirtle, the red garment was now described as an under kirtle. These changing descriptions in the inventories indicate not only the difficulties of working with dress terminology but also how perceptions of clothing change from viewer to viewer, giving new information on shades of colours and the construction of garments.

Sale of the mother’s kirtles

It is not clear what happened to the red or flesh-coloured skirt belonging to Morten, but we see that two kirtles, presumably the ones he had inherited, had been attacked by moths. They were therefore not useful, and were given to a woman who in turn sold them for 24 shillings. This is an interesting information because it tells us that garments—even in bad condition—could be attractive on the secondhand market.

By investigating two inventories from the same family we are able to follow the many ways in which clothing could be obtained and disseminated into society as heirlooms, sales, gifts, or a way of paying for services. Hopefully further research will reveal more of these interesting cases.


[1] Helsingør byfoged, 1583–1592, 238 r–241 r.

[2] There is unfortunately no information on the time of death, where they lived in town, or the age of the children. 

[3] His tools and materials were left undivided and given to his children. 

[4] The inventory of her parents belongings was made up on 15 October 1591 and the inventory between the son Morten and his sister Anne is dated 10 March 1592.

[5] See e.g. Ulinka Rublack and Maria Hayward, eds., The First Book of Fashion. The Books of Clothes of Matthäus & Veit Konrad Schwarz of Augsburg (London & New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015)., 400, https://kalkarsordbog.dk/ordbog?aselect=Makejer&query=makej, https://www.saob.se/artikel/?seek=mackejer

[6] On this topic see e.g. Patricia Allerston, ‘Clothing and Early Modern Venetian Society’, Continuity and Change 15, no. 3 (2000): 367–90, who discusses many of the ways clothes could be obtained and distributed in early modern society.

[7] If this was Morten Glazier or his wife is not mentioned.

[8] Helsingør byfoged, 1583–1492, 275 r–277 v.

[9] The inventory of the son Morten in general includes more clothing than he inherited, so we must assume that these were his personal textiles including a linen skjortekrave (shirt collar).

To remove Ink, Cherry Juice and Other Stains and Spots

In 1648 the book Flora Danica, det er: Dansk Urtebog. (Flora Danica, what is: Danish Herbal book), was published. The author of the book Simon Paulli (1603—1680) was a Danish doctor, botanist and anatomist. From 1643 to 1639 he was a professor of medicine in Rostock and in 1639 to 1648 he worked as a professor of botany, anatomy and surgery at University of Copenhagen. In 1650 he became a physician at the court and later on he became the private physician to the Kings Frederik III (1609—1670) and Christian V (1646—1699).[1]

Engraving of Simon Paulli from 1666 (Royal Library of Denmark)

Flora Danica was commissioned by Christian IV (1577—1648) in 1645 while he wanted a book for the general population.[2] This can also be seen in the introduction of the book where it is noted how the book was aimed for people such as ‘the ordinary Man who lives in the country./ who does not always have resources or money to seek Doctors against various illnesses and incidents…’[3]

The book is divided in two sections containing 384 plants: the first part describes information such as name, appearance, place and use, whereas the latter part contains woodcut illustrations of the species.

First page of the Flora Danica

Although much of the information in the first section of the book relates to health and medicine, Paulli also offers tips on caring for textiles. For example he warns readers about walnut trees advising them not to: 

 … hang your [linen] Goods under Walnut Trees to bleach or dry: while the drops that fall down from the Walnut Trees / will stain the linen garments/ and the same stains will not go away easily It can therefore be concluded/ that Walnut trees are not beneficial in bleach fields.[4]

Engraving of a walnut tree (Flora Danica).

But in case of having stained garments, Paulli also explained how juice of Malus Limonia, lemons, could work as a stain remover:

With this same juice distinguished women also care for cloths and other linen garments by applying [it] / when they have Ink / Cherry Juice or other alike are becoming stained and spotted: Then spread it [the fabric]  out / and keep some lit Sulphur matches underneath / and if the spots are not too old/ then they will vanish with this Art.[5]

This was not the only purpose for lemons, which could help with several medical problems such as rotten teeth caused by scurvy, and were used in ointments against scabs and itchiness. The peel of the lemon was also advised to be used as ‘winter room’ refreshers in fine inns. The peel should be boiled in a pot or put in a fire pan and when soaked in rose water before boiling it would leave a ‘delightful scent’ so new guests could feel ‘recreated and be refreshed’. A sweeter scent could be achieved by adding nutmeg and Indian cloves.[6]

The plant Malus Limonia ( Flora Danica).

This stain removal instructions given by Paulli were tested on the 28th of November 2019, when I arranged a session for the students participating in the course ‘Textile Archaeology – A Hands on Approach’, based at the Centre for Textile Research and Department of Archaeology at the University of Copenhagen.

For the experiment I tried to use as authentic materials as possible, however some compromises were made. I for example used bleached medium-weight machine woven linen and in case of using svovlstikker (Sulphur matches), I used modern matchsticks. The svovlstikker (Sulphur matches) mentioned in the recipe would have contained smelly and poison Sulphur and would not have been self-igniting as the matches we use today.[7] I furthermore acquired organic unsweetened cherry juice made from sour cherries, organic lemons and ink, made from oak galls, iron sulfate and gum Arabic. Furthermore, I brought some organic cold pressed sunflower oil to test if the recipe could remove oily substances.

People are testing the stain remover.

We followed Paulli´s instructions, applying cherry juice, ink and oil on linen fragments. Shortly after we applied the lemon juice and lit a matchstick underneath. After the samples were  rinsed in water and left to dry.


Before and after pictures of the stained linen fabrics. Top: before the stain removal was applied: oil, ink and cherry juice. Bottom: after the stain removal process: cherry juice, oil and beneath cherry juice is ink.

The recipe did not remove the stains completely, but the stains were improved, and you can imagine, especially in the case of cherry juice and oil, that if the fabric was bleached afterwards it would almost become unnoticeable. In all, I think the experiment was a success, not only in terms of trying out the recipe, but also in introducing the students to how historians can make use of texts to reconstruct or materialize practices or processes, in this case contemporary textile cleaning practices. It also shows how we can get a deeper understanding of how people might have cared for their textiles and to what extent it worked.


[1] http://denstoredanske.dk/Natur_og_miljø/Botanik/Botanikere_og_plantegeografer/Simon_Paulli, Salmonsens Konversations Leksikon, Christian Blangstrup, Bind XVIII Nordlandsbaad—Perleøerne (Copenhagen: A/S J. Schultz Forlagsboghandel, 1924)., 993

[2] http://denstoredanske.dk/Natur_og_miljø/Botanik/Botaniske_haver%2c_museer_og_foreninger/Flora_Danica

[3] Flora Danica, see introduction

[4] Flora Danica, p 94 Y

[5] Flora Danica, p 279 Y

[6] Flora Danica p 279 S – V, Z

[7] Self-igniting matches as we know of today were first invented in the 19-century. Svovlstikker ( Sulphur matches) is mentioned in Danish dictionaries from the sixteenth-century referring to them in Latin as Sulphurata, Fomes Sulphureus and Sulphuratum. Sulphur matches were first mentioned in England in the 1530s, see e.g. Nell DuVall, Domestic Technology: A Chronology of Developments (Boston: G.K. Hall & Co, 1988), 271.

 

 

The theft in the bleachfield

In 1629, on the 12th of December, Hanns Oellsenn and the bailiff Lauritz Christensenn gathered at the council house in Helsingør a trading town in Denmark to discuss and make an inventory of the items that were stolen from Kirstinne Berrnt’s bleachfield. It was the linen bleacher Jenns Andersenn, who reported the theft, where multiple other people also had lost their precious linen garments, left outside to be bleached. The thieves were soldiers and when they were caught, they were sent to the prison Bremerholm in Copenhagen.

Een bleekveld in een dorp, Joos de Momper & Jan Brueghel the Younger, ca, 1650. ( Wikimedia Commons)

In the household-inventories from Danish trading towns, linen items ranging from sheets, towels and clothing items constitute an important part of household and personal textiles. Textiles were  desirable items to steal, as they could be transported easily and resold or pawned, and acted as a kind of currency.  

The Bleaching ground, David Teniers II ( 1610 – 1690), The Henry Barber Trust, The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham.

As the documents indicate, the thieves were caught, but it is a bit unclear whether the stolen linen goods were retrieved, or if the aim of the inventory was to account for how much people had lost.

The linen bleacher, Jens Andersen himself, had lost one linen shirt and some linen garments belonging to his wife and children. Among the other people who had lost linen textiles, was the woman Citze Villums. She had kept 78 ells ( 48,9 meters)  of flax linen in the fields, and had lost 42 ells ( 26, 3 meters). The wagonner, Hanns Rickersenn, was the owner of 42 ells ( 26,3 meters),  but had lost 12 ells (7,5 meters) of flax linen. Furthermore, the brewer journeyman Søffren Madsen was the owner of 4 ells ( 2,5 meters) of linen, but none of his linen fabric had been stolen by the thieves.

A page from the inventory where all the stolen goods are recorded, Helsingør Byfoged, 1628-1631, p. 246 r, Danish National Archives.

The records also indicate that the soldiers had been stealing linen from other bleaching grounds in town. Among  the goods that the bailiff and Hans Olsen made up were 32 ells (20 meters) of blårgarn, a courser variety of linen. This belonged to Lenne, the wife of a bell man named Annders, but was stolen from Christenn Dauidsenn´s bleachfield.

The goods were likely retrieved when the thieves was caught, as the council house also found items that had no owner; these included one flax linen sheet and two linen shirts. This was valued by two women and was assessed at 4 daler.

Fine linen shirt, decorated with lace trim, ca 1650. ( Rijksmuseum)

Even though this is a very small case-study, it gives us basic information about practical aspects of dress, such as how people living in towns handled the process of bleaching their linen textiles.

Furthermore, we get insight into the consequences of textile theft, and how the community handled this, and not least  how much work was put into finding the rightful owners and the extent of people’s textile losses.