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‘The inordinate excess in apparel’: Sumptuary Legislation in Tudor England

‘The inordinate excess in apparel’: Sumptuary Legislation in Tudor England


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‘The inordinate excess in apparel’: Sumptuary Legislation in Tudor England

Kirtio, Leah

Constellations: History and Classic Faculty of Arts,University of Alberta, Vol.3, No.1 (2011)

Abstract

The purpose of this paper is to explore the nature of sumptuary legislation in sixteenth century England. It argues that the aims of sumptuary legislation were threefold: that legislators sought to maintain the stability of the common weal through social regulation, moral regulation through the moralization of luxury goods, and to regulate England’s economy, by prohibiting foreign trade in luxury goods, in order to stimulate the home economy and the burgeoning wool and stocking trade.

Sumptuary legislation can be seen in English statutory legislation from the mid-fourteenth century onwards. Under the Tudors, especially during the reign of Elizabeth I, there was increased parliamentary activity concerning what contemporaries saw as “the inordinate excess in apparel.” While sumptuary legislation covers a broad spectrum of material goods, both durable and semi-durable, the parameters of this paper will be concerned with the control of fashionable dress and textiles, and what came to be known as Acts of Apparel throughout the sixteenth century. I argue that the aim of sumptuary legislation was threefold; that legislators sought to maintain the stability of the common weal through social regulation, moral regulation through the moralization of luxury goods, and to regulate England’s economy, by prohibiting foreign trade in luxury goods, in order to stimulate England’s home economy and the burgeoning wool and stocking trade.

Sumptuary legislation can be defined as a set of regulations, passed down by legislators through statutory law and parliamentary proclamations, that sought to regulate society by dictating what contemporaries could own or wear based on their position within society. Francis Baldwin argues, “these regulations can be classified as sumptuary in the sense that they governed the amount and direction of individual expenditures.”2 Sumptuary legislation can be seen in law books as early as Classical Greece, and Alan Hunt suggests that these laws provide key evidence for funeral regulation and the control of women.


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