M. E. Haweis: Colors and Cloths of the Middle Ages.

The Living Age 2051, 13.10.1883

From The Contemporary Review.

The extreme difficulty of identifying mediæval colors, and even those of the Renascence time, has perplexed many historical painters, and even antiquaries from the same cause are apt to miss the point of many graphic verses in the old writers. Chaucer and his contemporaries are as careful as Van Eyck in realizing an exact and brilliant picture, and in trying to put it before our eyes as definitely as they saw it themselves. They attached more importance to the outer man, perhaps, as an index to the inner man, than we do: hence every color is named and placed, every pattern and motto on border and pendant noted. By-the-by, the fashion of embroidering mottoes on borders would never have come in but for this habit of scrutinizing dress, for a motto would have had no sense if never read.

The difficulties of future antiquaries will be as great as ours if they try to discover what shades of color were known by such names as feu d'enfer, eau de Nil, Magenta, Alexandra blue, azuline, and a hundred others. When we say blue, do we mean light, dark, or middling blue? turquoise, indigo, or peacock blue? that is, blue with a shade of red in it, a shade of yellow in it, or a shade of deep green in it? When we say green, who is t:) distinguish between dark sage green, pale grey green, harsh arsenic green, yellow mossy green, sea-green, pea-green, emerald green, etc., unless such words as sage, pea, sea, arsenic, help us out? The name of a princess or of a town gives no idea of a shade of color. Nothing could do it but a natural object which is likely to remain always with us, like the poor.

But such are the elegancies of trade in this commercial country, that I suppose a thing could scarcely sell by its own English name, or by some simple epithet which described it. If a beautiful thing with a sensible name occurs by chance, it never lasts long. Peacock, terra-cotta, and cream-color, have been spoilt, and are much ill-used. Réséda, for instance, a pretty pale green which came in some seven years ago, was soon degraded into dark greens and slates, and ultimately into an ugly reddish-brown — all called "réséda, newest shades" — and the soft tint of mignonette was not recalled any longer.

Why, it is thought infra dig, to use such expressions as "black as thunder," "red as fire," and the rising generation are checked for such vulgarisms! I do not know what we should make of our historical colors, even the commonest of them, if clear old Chaucer, who mostly calls a spade a spade, had not helped us with continual happy "vulgarisms," showing us the franklin's beard "white as a daisy," "white as morning milk;" the monk's horse "as brown as a berry" Alison's eyebrows as "black as any sloe;" the miserable face of Avarice "green as a leek." How clearly and speedily we frame a mental image from such pictorial terms! and how they add to our pleasure!

Chaucer uses numerous other expressions in describing his people, which are meant to be as graphic as the others: but the names are obsolete, and we no longer catch his drift. The pretty woman with eyes "grey as glass," the dainty Sir Thopas, with his face as white as "pandemaine," the summoner with his evil countenance "like the fiery cherubin" — these we do not understand without a little consideration, which interrupts the train of thought, and seems to blur the picture. Does he mean a woman with whitish, glassy goggle-eyes? how frightful! Or why had the cheruhin the reputation of evil and vicious faces? and how can we realize a doughty knight with the chalky face of a coward? We shall see presentky.

But it has unfortunately been so long the custom to christen colors after some obscure but once celebrated person who was in the habit of wearing them, or after the town or country where the color was first sold, that it is in some cases next to impossible to identify the hue; and so it always will be. Yet it would certainly be wiser, usefuller, more poetic, to call a robe or mantle after the flower which suggested its shape, or the gorgeous mineral which gave it its color, or the variegated moss, or dancing butterfly, or drifting cloud, that originated some idea connected with its texture, etc., for the flower, and the mineral, and the race of insects would remain forever as an explanation. Colors and forms ought always to be named after some common effect, so that the idea may not be lost. There is a great deal in a name, though Juliet did not think so. A name may carry the prettiest or the ugliest associations with it, may recall happy or horrible images; and popular names, like all fashions, are to some extent a chronicle of their time and an index to the manners of the age. Naming colors, however, is difficult, as the words themselves, al-though expressive once, change and cease to represent the same ideas. The slightest liberty with the word opens the door to oblivion. The classics used the term purple, for the sea, for a maiden's blush, for a cucumber, for something bright and shining, and for something dark and gloomy. How? Crimson is allied to blue, and a rich tint of either was produced from the same fish, Murex trunculus. This was the famous Tyrian dye, and it is easy to trace how a dark, "em-purpled" (we must say it) cucumber, and the other contradictory objects were describable by the one word used in various senses. Do we not lake the like liberties, we moderns, with our words? Do not our colors still get confused with each other, the last meaning being as far from the first as in the old game of scandal?

No word has more exercised antiquaries than the above-named old word ciclatoun — spelt siglaton, checklatoun, etc., etc. This is not a bad instance of the difficulties besetting such studies. Some say the word was first cyclas, a certain round gown. Skeat derives it from the. Persian sagalát, scarlet stuff, and saglatàn, scarlet cloth. Guillaume le Breton says it was a rich silk made in the Cyclades.

At any rate, the East produced a rich stuff suitable for certain garments called cyclas, as we might say, coat-cloth. Judith of Bohemia wore a cyclas worked with gold, in 1083. The knights' surcoats were called by the same word in the thirteenth century: —

Armez d'un haubergeon
Couvert d'un singleton.
Some ancient writers seem to use syglaton as an equivalent for any kind of mantle.

Chaucer says Sir Thopas's robe was made of ciclatoun, or checklatoun, in some MSS.; and checklatoun was early confounded with a certain chequered cloth, properly called checkaratus, knotted in diaper design. Strutt considers them identical. Which came first, the place, the garment, or the color? Here is a mesh which no consideration for the after-borns could perhaps have evaded. It is one instance among many.

Of course one of the obstacles in discovering the old colors by name is the oddness and variability of the old spelling — not to say, the obstructive blinkers we have put upon ourselves with our new ordinance of a fixed orthographical standard. We never spell phonetically, according to the proper pronunciation, or individual accent. But that is just what our forefathers did do; and so when in old English and French we see the same word spelt in all sorts of ways, even in a single page, we are very much impeded in our progress towards light.

It is, however, very interesting to dig out the half buried bit of antiquity, and charming little "finds" often occur by the way, which we do not expect. Whilst we are scratching for a proper name, some flower's scent is wafted to us, some strong and pithy term delights us, or a gem from a maiden's crown slips under our hands. And whilst we beat the great coverts for so small a thing as the meaning of a color or a fold, from this side and that seeds quick for future wealth fall silently into our empty basket — a witty old proverb, or a little geographical hint, or some curiosity of lingering word or lost token. It is pretty play, on Tom Tiddler's ground, like mining.

Chaucer is of course the main reference for all medieval questions. He goes over so much ground, and his tales are so crowded with allusions and similes, that he is a well of information. From him we might almost compute the extent of the scientific and art knowledge of his day. From him we get exact and telling pictures of fourteenth-century people inside and out, and implied pictures of England during the century or so before, as well as not a few promises for time coming — just as we find, in some of Giotto's pictures, foreshadowings of Fra-Angelico and Signorelli.

There were a great many colors used in Chaucer's day, and there were a great many materials. Velvet, satin, samite, silk — plain and figured and painted — crape and gauze, with ribbons and fringes, and purflings of all sorts, with various linen and woollen webs, were all in use and all mentioned by Chaucer. Leather and cuir bouilli were already employed. Bright colors were in vogue for the dresses of both sexes and for the decoration of "houses of worship." Chaucer describes the fat dyer and tapiser in his prologue. They could well afford to take their private cook about with them — not that lie was any better than other cooks, it was all ostentation. We do not hear much of white materials, probably the old white, even of linen, was less perfectly bleached than our own. The white skin of a very fair person was quaintly called by Chaucer ("Sir Thopas") after pain de Maine. Maine bread, as the cleanest white he could think of — perhaps the most tempting morsel, for all his similes have a raison d'être. Chaucer names many dyes, among them Brazil-wood and grain of Portingale ("Nun's Priest's Epilogue"), madder, weld, and woad (Isatis prima). Weld was a plant producing a yellow dye (Reseda luteola); madder would yield reds, such as Turkey-red, purples, lilac, and pink, and woad a red-blue. With these, numberless shades could be produced. Among the most popular were "royal grene," which from ancient minatures we should judge to have been a fine grass-green with a distinct dash of yellow in it, like the color of a sunlit leaf. The chief reds were scarlet, named by the wife of Bath, etc.; sanguine, or crimson, and grain, imported from Portugal — i.e., "vermus or vermilion" — in fact cochineal, a red so fast and permanent that the word "ingrained" had become in the fourteenth century, and still remains, a general term for a fast color of any kind. And here I may say a word for the fiery cherubin as likened to the red-faced summoner by Chaucer. In many old pictures the childish art of the time depicted these spirits wholly in red, the color of love; rows of them surmounted rows of blue seraphim, the spirits of knowledge and truth, of which the color was held blue. It had doubtless become a proverb already in Chaucer's time, "as red as the fiery cherubin," as blue as the seraphim, from the pictures in the churches; and no insult was meant to the cherubin, nothing even blasphemous, by the quaint simile.

So much for the reds. Russet, murrey, musterdevclers, watchet, vair, may be quoted among the commonest mediæval colors, which I must treat separately.


That the leather employed for jerkins was reddish, we can inter from "russet" apples having been called "leather-coats." Russet and grey seem almost convertible terms, though russet was a very "warm" color (Fr. roussette), whilst grey is decidedly "cold." Russet was fox-color; Chaucer speaks of the fox as Dan Russel, from his red coat. Probably the red was often very dull in russet, and the grey imperfect, with a drab or brown tendency, like undyed wool — that is, when woven in coarse, friezes, or lynsë-qolsë, such as were worn by working people, children, etc. None of the old colors were quite as pure as our own, I imagine, and were therefore more beautiful; for when a color is too pure, it is usually unpicturesque. Modern distillation had made most colors painful till art-Protestants insisted on re-introducing softer shades. A color may be bright without being pure, that is, it may partake of some other hue just enough to take off the edge of its sharpness, like crimson, peacock, grass-green and some of the new (old) yellows. These are all imperfect colors. We may judge from the pictures by Van Eyck, Quentin Matsys, etc., how rich were the pinks and scarlets; and yet there seemed to be a certain softness present, owing to the scarlet having a hint of yellow, the pink being touched with blue or salmon, the yellow either reddish like orange, or greenish like mustard, or earthy like clay.

But it is probable that "russet" and "grey" had become the regular names of homespun wool — irrespective of their precise color — when Margaret Paston was ordering it both for the children and the servants' liveries. The useful linsey that was fashionable fifteen years ago, never took any strong dye; and russet was probably similar. We read in old stories of grey russet. "We are country-folks, grey russet and good hempe-spun cloth cloth best become us." (Deloney's "Pleasant History of Thomas of Reading.") Peasants wore the cloth called russet, till they themselves were called "russetings," and their garments in general their russets in the sixteenth century. In this case the color certainly named the stuff; and the stuff named the wearers.


The above hypothesis of the dulness of colors in coarse woollens may account for "russet" or "grey" representing "argent" in the Paston liveries (a metal usually signified by white in heraldry), just as drab liveries are carried now. But it is less clear how murrey (Fr. murier, mulberry), which was a dull lilac color, much like claret spilt on a white tablecloth, could have stood for "or" in the same arms, as we gather from one letter that it did; unless there were as many shades of murrey as the berry passes through on the tree.

We can only account for "red gold" being represented in liveries by murrey, if the murrey was distinctly red (not lilac) — a very unripe mulberry.

Murrey is repeatedly spoken of in the Paston letters (1434-85), and painted in ancient pictures, from Giotto up to Matsys and his school. It was sometimes dark, sometimes pale, unmistakably mulberry-color. I do not find that the mulberry-tree was growing in England before 1434; thus the color is likely to have been imported from Italy or south France, where the fingers of the fruit-gatherers were stained by the purple juice, for some time before we had mulberries of our own.

It is an odd color to place next blue; but in the Paston arms they stood together, and they were also the livery-colors of the house of York. We should think murrey and blue would go better together if the murrey were decidedly red. But the mixture was popular. In Quentin Matsys' pictures blue and true murrey are often combined, not disagreeably. I remember in the Amsterdam Gallery a Madonna in a blue dress cut square, a high white smock and murrey sleeves. She wears a green girdle, and the child rests on a deep murrey cushion. In the great Matsys' triptych at Antwerp, Herod has a murrey veil from his head, and a pale blue mantle shot with pink. But a great colorist can harmonize the strangest combinations, and Quentin Matsys is the master of the rainbow.

There is a figure in the MS. Hist. of Alexandria, temp. Rich. II. (fourteenth century), wearing a "syde [wide] gown" particolored, of blue and murrey; here the murrey is decidedly lilac. His cap is blue, and his hose respectively scarlet and white — the scarlet leg on the murrey side. Scarlet and crimson were often worn together also, strange to say. Burne Jones is the only modern painter who can reconcile them.

I will now give three extracts from the interesting Paston letters. Margaret P. writes:—

As touching for your liveries, there can none be gotten here of that color that ye would have of, neither murrey, nor blue, nor good russet, underneath 3s. the yard at the lowest price, and yet is there not enough of one cloth and color to serve you: and as for to be purveyed in Suffolk, it will not be purveyed not now against the time, without they had had warning at Michaelmas, as I am informed. — Norwich, November 25, 1455 (?)

Before 1459: —

I pray you . . . that ye will do buy me some frieze to make of your children's gowns. Ye shall have best cheap and best choice of I lays's wife, as it is told roe. And that ye will buy a yard of broad cloth of black fur one hood for me, of 44d. or four shilling_s a yard. for there is neither good cloth nor good frieze in this town (Norwich).

Agnes Paston writes, January 28, 1457 —
Item, to see how many gowns Clement bath, and that they be bare, let them be raised.
He bath a short green gown. And a short mustcrdevelers gown, were never raised.
And a short blue gown, that was raised, and made of a side (wide) gown, when I was last at London.
And a side russet gown furred with beaver was made this time two years.
And a side murray gown was made this time twelve month.


In this letter we have "a musterdevelers gown" spoken of perhaps as a material, not a color, inasmuch as it was "never raised," says the thrifty house-wife. The word is very variously spelt. In a later letter the bride, Margery Paston, writes, "My mother sent to my father to London for a gown cloth of mustyrddevyllers." In Rymer's "Fœdera," in a list of articles shipped from England for the use of the king of Portugal and the countess of Holland, in 1428, two pieces of mustrevilers and two pieces of russet mustrevilers occur. Some suppose the word to be a corruption of moitiè de velours, "a kind of mixed grey woollen cloth," says Halliwell, evidently with a nap of some sort — mestis de velours, a bastard velvet, say others. There was a town, however, spoken of in the reign of Henry V., called Moustier de Villiers, near Honfleur, and this may have given its name to a cloth there made.

Whichever was the original word, Stow uses the name in his "Survey of London" distinctly as a color, not a material. "In the nineteenth year of King Henry VI. there was bought for an officer's gown two yards of cloth coloured mustard villars, a color now out of use, and two yards of cloth coloured blue, price two shillings the yard." Here it is pretty clear that the place named the stuff; and the stuff named the color. And what was the color? Mustard-colored cloth was much used for official dresses and liveries in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The stockings of the blue-coat scholars may be an instance of it. It is by no means clear that the manufacture of Moustier de Villiers was not as probably mustard-color as grey. The glossarists are fond of calling most woollen fabrics that they know little about, "grey mixtures." But dull grey colors are the rarest seen in the old pic-tures and miniatures; every one, poor and rich, loved bright tints. And I am much inclined to attribute Stow's evidently corrupted term to the tradition of its yellow color. This is precisely the way in which a word so often becomes corrupted, especially among ignorant people. They attach no meaning to the original word, and it slides into one that has some sort of meaning to them — e.g., Lete-rede (Wise Council), now Leatherhead; the ship "Bellerophon," called "Billy Ruffian." I have known countless instances of proper names being lost in terms that seem to better describe the object — e.g., bouffetier beef-eater, the dress being red as beef; écrevisse, cray-fish, for it is a fish; huy-zenblas, (sturgeon-bladder) isinglass, for it is glassy and transparent.

Let us suppose, then, that musterdevelers was a handsomely napped cloth, generally yellow, sometimes foxy yellow (cf. russet mustrevilers), in which we so often see ladies of position, such as Margery Paston was, arrayed in fourteenth and fifteenth century pictures by Fra Angelico and earlier masters, and worn also by officials who are commonly required to be conspicuous.

Metallic Colors.

The exact color of the common metal latoun, often spoken of in medimval literature, does not seem clear yet. All the glossaries describe it as a mixed metal, not unlike brass. But brass is yellow, as yellow as gold, and one allusion alone in Chaucer seems to mark it as a very different metal.

Phmbus was old, and hewed like latoun,
That in his hotë declination
Shone as the burned gold, with stremes bright;
But now in Capricorne adoun he light
Whereas he shone ful pale.

Does pale here mean dull? Here is a pointed contrast drawn between gold and latoun.

In another place Chaucer uses the simile, yellow, "as any Mason scoured newe," perhaps brass: and in "Piers Plowman" we read of a cloister with conduits of "clene tyn" and "lavoures of laton," which, being not tin, might have been yellow metal. The use of laton by common people as the mounting for false relics (Prologue to the "Pardoner's Tale") points to its cheapness; the purse of co-quettish Alison, the miller's pretty wife, being pearled with laton, points to its brightness, as a copy of silver or gold, like the brazen armlets found in Etruscan tombs, so goldlike beneath the rust. Let us remember, too, the beautiful delicate hammered copper and pewter work of the Middle Ages. There are hammered vessels of a pale kind of brass, and latoun may have been used in sckveral colors, according to the amount of alloy used. Latten stands in French dictionaries as laiton, vuicre laminé — wrought or hardened copper, distinct from l'étain, tin; and fatten is a name which before the reform in the customs tariff was applied here to sheet-brass. But the "mines of latten" mentioned in the time of Henry VIII. remain an archæological crux. If latoun was copper, it is curious that Chaucer names "coper" as well as "tin" in "The House of Fame" — though the sunken sun above quoted might be coppery. If it was brass, as we understand it, how could Chaucer, the accurate, call it pale? and where shall we find mines of brass, save in the half mythical Corinthian conflagration? Chaucer uses the word "brass," too, in the "Squire's Tale," "the horse of brass." I have been shown a vessel dated very early in the sixteenth century of a very pale kind of brass; and I am told by a good antiquary that there are mines in England of a sort of bastard copper, poor in color — either of which may be Chaucer's latoun. The word latten, indeed, is derived by Skeat from latte, a thin plate; and copper and brass, and even tin (cf. Port. lata, tin plate) may all have been called latoun when hammered and perforated in a thin form. At any rate, it was markedly less deep in color than "red gold."

By-the-by, conventional terms, such as "red gold," "teeres blew" (an expression used by Chaucer in his "Complaint of Mars and Venus"), are still more confusing. Gold was called red because it had decidedly "warm" shadows: it was apparently deeper in color than ours, and it was represented in tapestries by a red color. The rich gilding of letters in the old missals looks quite red against modern gilding. Not only is the gold thicker, but really it seems to me deeper in color; and that it must always have been so, the term red gold, especially when applied to red hair, etc., seems to assure us. The two were always linked. "Blood betokeneth gold, as me was taught," babbles the wife of Bath. Often purposely, gold was laid over red, as we see upon ancient picture-frames.

Blue, on the other hand, is a "cold" color, and seemed to the ancients (not heralds) the nearest thing to describe silver, which is certainly neither white nor black. The old tapestries represent silver vessels always by blue threads. And the "teeres blew" of the lovers in Chaucer's poem were silvery — with the cold glittering color of white metal and water



"Eyes of vair," praised so often in medieval poetry, have exercised many minds. For my part, I was years before I realized that there was any point in the expression. But at last I "saw" it.

Vair was the name of the fur of the grey squirrel, from varié, because the belly of the squirrel, which was white, was mixed with the grey back in oval-shaped compartments — variegated. Probably the same confusion occurred between this word vair and verre, glass, as that in the old tale of Cinderella, whose "glass slipper" was indubitably the shoe of vair fur worn by nobles, according to Mr. Ralston.

This confusion of two similar words in a French-speaking country such as England was, is the less curious, as grey was commonly considered the nearest color to glass — not then the clear white crystal which now rivals the diamond. Glass was then just white enough to show grey when thick enough to have any tint of its own, with white and variegated reflections. Chaucer plainly says the prioress's eyes were "grey as glass," — "grey as a goose," lie says of Absolon's. Eyes of vair were the soft light-grey eyes common in England, with or without blue in them, and the lashes giving a sort of furry softness to the glance. When we see how the mediæval artist represented vair fur, in escallop-shaped compartments on a white ground, and how it is still "diversified with argent and azure" in heraldry (in fact, the white and grey squirrel fur commonly used now) we may see at once that there was a good deal of point in the expression, and a very pretty compliment, seeing that vair was the next costliest fur to the white ermine, and sacred to the créme de la créme. The iris of the eye showed a grey escallop on a white ground, and heralds represented grey by "azure," as the tapissier used his dark-blue threads for silver, for convenience' sake.


Watchet is regarded by Tyrwhitt as a kind of cloth, on account of some MSS. reading "whit" instead of "light" in the portrait of Absolun in the "Miller's Tale;" and probably the name emanates from the town of Watchet in Somersetshire. But it is usually held to be a color, pale blue, which is precisely the sort of color the dandified church clerk would have worn with red hose. It is common to see light-blue coats and gowns with red hose in the missal pictures. But in Barnfield's "Affectionate Shepherd," (1594), we hear,

— The saphyrc stone is of a watcbet blue.
Now, sapphires are dark blue: not un-like the cassocks which Roman Catholic Church officials wear, and Absolon's "kirtle" was probably a cassock, not a coat, for he wore his surplice over it. Still Chaucer distinctly says Absolon went
All in a kink of a light waget,
whereas I do not remember to have seen any old picture of acolytes robed in really pale blue, though plenty of pale blue existed (cf. Giotto's pictures). I suggest, then, that Absolon's "light waget" was the lightest shade of a blue which is morally certain to have been sold in more than one shade: not turquoise, though described by Cotgrave as "plunket or skie-blue," but a red blue liker ultramarine or cobalt, which in the darkest shade would be sapphire, or that almost violet shade still used for cassocks in great festal services in foreign cathedrals. The sky is not seldom of a deep, ultramarine color — a red blue as opposed to a yellow blue — in fact jacinctus, one of the names for plunket-blue. And plunket is said to have been taken from the name of one Thomas Blanket, who in 1340 set up a loom in Bristol, Somerset. Our "blanket" is said to come from "plunket," blue; whether from a bluey-grey quality of the wool does not seem clear: probably yes, the color naming the cloth. Meantime, Blanket may have worked at Watchet, or the neighbor towns may have produced a very similar azure; and a blue many shades deeper than what we should call pale, might have been reasonably spoken of as "lyght blewe or skie-color" when compared with the common dark Prussian or navy blue appropriated by sailors from very early times. We cannot do better than consult the old missals themselves, or an institution happily (for antiquaries) so conservative as the Roman Catholic Church in some of its great festal shows, for the explanation of many shapes and colors in garb, and manner of use.

I have now shown that both fabrics and tints were multifarious in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, as is natural in every highly civilized age. Weavers from abroad were greatly encouraged under Edward III., and all native manufactures received a new stimulus from the royal interest.

The embroideries: England had been long so famed for them that they were known as the unrivalled opus Anglicanum, and the ancient painters show us how perfect they were. Heavy bullion work, and the daintiest imagery produced by the needle — scenes, portraits, inscriptions, etc., were seen on the Church robes, on the coat-hardy of the young noble, and the royal mantle. Nay, sumptuary laws in vain tried to prevent their use by anybody else who could get hold of them, or make them. Moreover, these were painted dresses, not unlike those that came in a season or two ago. In "The Romaunt of the Rose," the robe of the god of Love is described as not silk — i.e., I suppose, a plain, palpable silk, —

But all in floures and flourettes,
I painted all with amorettes,
And with lozenges and scochòns (escutcheons)
With birdës, libardes (leopards), and liòns,
And other beastës wrought ful wel.
His garment was every del
I purtraied, and ywrought with floures,
By divers medeling of coloures—
i.e., paint and needlework were blended.

As this was the period of elaborately painted tapestries, in which the subordinate parts were woven, the heads and hands, etc., of the figures being left to the artist's brush, it was natural that so easy a mode of decoration should have become popular for dress. How much less time it would take to paint a pretty border or motto, or to renew by such means a worn part, than to embroider or weave it! Both fashions then were in at once — embroidery, as of the squire's coat (Chaucer's Prol.), and painted fabrics, as above.

Samite and satin.

One word upon a much-discussed and still mysterious material — samite. The Germans say that it was satin, and that the two words are the same. It is impossible, however, to believe this, when Chaucer actually uses both words more than once. In "The Romaunt of the Rose," mirth is described as clad

In a samette with birder wroughte;
and he later speaks of "an overgilt samy." In the "Death of Blanch" he promises Morpheus a feather bed in fine black satin rayed with gold. The mediæval Latin words differed, examitum, samite, setimus, satin; and the chief glossaries enter the words apart, though each simply as "a rich silk stuff." That satin of old was precisely like satin of to-day many old pictures assure us; but if samite is what I believe it, painting could not make the web clear, it would only look like silk. The surface of satin is absolutely smooth, slippery, with long threads, from the Latin seta, a hair; that identifies satin, as the Latin villosus, shaggy, identifies velvet.

Now, I remember, when a child, wearing a cloak of rich antique Oriental silk. Persian, I think, of a web I have never since seen, either in museum or Oriental warehouse. It had a silk, not satin, surface, simple, not twilled, with right side and wrong, and was damasked in a minute pattern on stripes of gold color and violet — I think other colors as well — and, I think, with little birds and beasts mingled. Its peculiarity which delighted me was, that in whatever direction you cut it you found a double web, as of two rich silks made together. Cut it any way, the two were quite distinct, and yet inseparable, like the Siamese twins. I loved to clip odd bits of this silk for my dolls, alas! which I would gladly see again now, for it was an excessively rich, soft fabric, rather loosely woven. and easy to ravel, but as firm and strong and immovable as many a silken, yielding nature, taken edgewise.

The low-Latin word examitum means a stuff woven with six kinds of thread, and if we give samite credit for some more mysterious quality than the variegations of six mere colors, at a time when all fabrics were frequently figured and variegated, I think the subtly woven ancient silk I have described is more than likely to be samite.

The thickness, and the curiosity of design, possible in a material so woven en fumelle, may be imagined at an epoch whose days might be called, from one point of view at least, des jours filés d'or et de soie. And the samites "with birdes wroughte," and rayed (striped); and over-gilt, which is likely to have meant trimmed with jewellery in parts the black samite, the white samite, and the "vermeil samit," of which was made the sacred oriflamme, may all have been a similar web to that I have in mind, of everlasting wear, strong as fate.

Satin, on the other hand, is likely to have been identical with the Chinese zatayn, of Zaitun, which, like many Celestial manufactures, may carry us back to the remotest antiquity; thus setinus would be a comparatively modern name for it.

It is remarkable how elaborate the mediæval love of dress rendered the trade-products; also how like the present day were the commercial shifts and tricks. In the "Vision of Piers Plowman," Covetousness says: —

My wyf was a webber and woollen cloth made;
She spake to spynnesters to spynnet it oute;
But the pound that she payed by poised a quarteroun more
Than myne owne auncere (scales) whoso weighed treuthe (fair)
Again, he says he learned another trick: —
To draw the lyser (selvage) along the longer it seemed:
Among the riche rays (striped cloths) I rendered a lessoun,
To broche them with a packneedle and plaited them together,
And put them in a press and pinned them therein,
Till ten yards or twelve had tolled out thirteen.

There was probably no "dodge" of modern commerce unknown to the ingenious inventors of the Middle Ages, as there was hardly any one of the rich and dainty fabrics and colors known to the classics unknown to them, from the costliest cloth of gold to the filmiest veils, such as the little kerchief of Valence (some infant lace of Valenciennes?) that did not hide the charms of Venus ("Parliament of Birds"). Persia, India, the whole East supplied silks: Flanders supplied fine linen, "cloth of Lake," "cloth of Rennes," etc. The average worth of good common cloths, when the respective values of money are computed, did not vary greatly with our own, as political economists will easily understand, because the prices of necessaries are regulated by unalterable social laws. But the qualities may have been coarser, like the fitting and the making of clothes. Rich materials, however, fetched an enormous price. People probably spent more to begin with on their clothes; but they lasted longer. Indeed, dress has never been so cheap as now, never so undurable; and that is commonly the result of a highly civilized state. In the ancient times the best materials were demanded, and were hand-wrought; and though cheatery and deceit were busy, there were not so much adulteration and %saste as now, when mechanical and chemical means combine to assist the ever-freer circulation of money, by producing rapidly and often helping to destroy.

Space forbids any digression here; but, in conclusion, I must express surprise that more use is not made by persons engaged in compiling glossaries of costume, or verifying facts in mediæval manners, of the beautiful mediæval pictures in foreign and English galleries. The old painters, like the old poets, were more exact in knowledge and expression than their critics sometimes give them credit for. Van Eyck's "Worship of the Lamb" is a whole glossary in itself: the same might be said of the Memlings at Burges, and the Matsys at Louvain and Antwerp. And putting aside our own rich collections, the above painters alone, with the help of Chaucer, carefully examined, would almost suffice to answer many of the questions which I have been dealing with.

- M. E. Haweis.

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