The stiffest and starchiest stuff,
bleached, folded, fussed over enough
to demonstrate I’m
rich in servants and time:
behold, my ridiculous ruff!
Well, this was a bit of a clumsy attempt to justify including an item about ruffs in what is (at times very vaguely) a blog about legal history. Obviously, there was a long tradition in various jurisdictions of legislating about the sorts of clothing which people could wear, but not (as far as I know) specifically about what is clearly the most ridiculous item of neckwear ever – the early modern ruff.
I have been equally horrified and obsessed by the ruff since being bought a Marks and Spencers book about the Tudors, one childhood Christmas, with all of the classic, much-reproduced pictures of the celebs of the day, increasingly, over the 16th C, ruffed up. I mean, the codpieces were … disturbing (especially on young Edward VI – just so wrong) … but it was the ruffs that really stood out for me. They seemed to be a combination of extreme discomfort and extreme silliness. Also a seriously bad idea to be drawing attention to your neck in an era rather well known for its beheading. Some of them even made the ruffee look like familiar pictures of John the Baptist’s head on a plate.
I seem to keep coming across ruff-pics these days, when looking up biographies of legal history ‘great men’ or on social media feeds about various historical things, and feel the need to work out some of my repressed ruff issues. Here, then, is my chart of ruffs – no doubt to be updated as more ruff-porn comes to my attention.
A subtle little number, sort of polo-neck-cum-ruff, from R. Dudley
- Ruff puff
The ruff itself is less than spectacular – but with that puffy sleeve, chain and skull accessorising, a winner from ‘Mam Cymru’
- Ruff and tough and strong and mean …
It’s Walter Raleigh, wearing a doily https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Coke#/media/File:Sir_Walter_Raleigh.jpg
I am not convinced that ruffs are very godly, bishop Hooper
- Ruff music
Johannes Eccard is wearing a ruff, but he’s not happy about it …
- Ruff ruff ruff
In everyone’s favourite tale of domestic violence, Mr Punch’s dog, Toby, always seems to have a ruff
- Ruff and ready
Because there’s no need to be all business-like about your armour,
The absolute satisfaction of knowing yours is the biggest, silliest ruff out there. Also a fine example of the implications of ruffs for hair-dos.
- Ruff justice
The the humble and charming Sir Edward Coke – ruthless misogynist, show-off and snappy dresser.
Then there’s the picture above – the ‘beard squeezer ruff’ – right up under the ears too 0 astounding.
- Elizabeth R[uff]
Was there ever any doubt – this one has it all: the spectacular ruff, the puffy sleeves, the hair … apotheosis of the ruff – ruff as neck-halo, almost.
OK, good to get that off my chest. Or neck. Or whatever.
Not quite worthy of a place on the Completely Official Ruff Pics Top Ten, but may get there in time …
This picture looks as if it has had a bit of early modern photo-shopping. That hat is so 2D. But it’s the ‘ruff almost meets hat’ and ‘scraggy beard’ combo which is worthy of recognition:
Well hello doily!
An honourable mention in the ruff-accessorising category goes to this gent – another Coke – who has cut up a doily and stuck it to his hat and cuffs, to cheer up his look. Also love the detail of shadow on his ruff from his little pointy beard. Marvellous.
Take the ruff with the smooth
William Cecil sets off his hat/ruff/beard combo with a lot of velvet. Marks for detail in relation to the ‘hand ruff’ cuffs (why not make your wrists just as uncomfy as your neck?) and that emphatic rod (virga – definitely has subtext…)
Born #OTD 1520/1 William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley.
A chief advisor to Elizabeth I, Burghley held many important posts in his career, incl. Secretary of State and Lord Treasurer.
Find out more about his career in the House of Commons in his #HistParl bio: https://t.co/SZykYd2vq4 pic.twitter.com/Z6T2IVsg9h
— HistoryofParliament (@HistParl) September 13, 2020
Not even close …
I am afraid this chap just gets it all wrong. There really is no point in ruffing if your ruff is overshadowed by a brushed beard and natty hat. Yes I know it was early in ruff history, but still…:
Died #OTD 1549, Anthony Denny, MP for Ipswich and later Hertfordshire, and close friend of Henry VIII.
— HistoryofParliament (@HistParl) September 10, 2020
What about this one – excellent illustration of variation of ruff angle: James VI of Scotland in the 1580s, ruffed at a very steep angle indeed – going full ‘John the Baptist’s head on a plate’: the head and body seem to be completely separate.
And, new in on 5/11/2020 it’s this veritable neck-tutu from Henry Howard, earl of Northants, d. 1614 (from https://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2019/11/coppie-the-words-but-burne-this-paper.html:
This one – can’t quite put my finger on what it looks like: meringue?
Died #OTD 1642, Henry Montagu, lawyer and MP for London 1604 & 1614.
Following a prominent career in the Commons, Montagu was elevated to the peerage in 1620, becoming lord high treasurer and later lord privy seal.
Read his Commons bio here: https://t.co/dCKFkRws5E pic.twitter.com/wWZY9ZvT0m
— HistoryofParliament (@HistParl) November 7, 2020
Ruffs: it will never be enough
Well, it would seem that my ruff-obsession remains. Entirely unable to help myself commenting on two more instances of ruff-age, which turned up on Twitter:
This one is a lovely scene of friendship and pastimes, but I can’t help but wonder (yes I know that is rather C. Bradshaw) whether it might have been easier to sew, or to cuddle a child, without the impediment of a ludicrous and extensive folderol about the neck. There must surely have come a point at which the ruff interfered with visibility of the hands or piece of embroidery (directly or because of its shadow). At the same time I would be a bit disappointed to find out that ruffs were not actually worn all the time like this, and it was just a bit of an artistic convention.
Isabella Rosner on Twitter: “I just learned about this image of women embroidering in the @britishlibrary’s friendship album of Gervasius Fabricius zu Klesheim made between 1603 and 1637 and I truly cannot stop thinking about it. Where has it been all my life?? https://t.co/27RF0gjvqL” / Twitter
Feast your eyes on this multi-layered monstrosity. It puts me in mind of those foam collars worn by people with a whiplash injury, or – in a certain sense – the ‘cones of shame’ worn by dogs who have had an operation. No way Frankie would be licking his stitches with this thing on.
Gray’s Inn on Twitter: “Did you know that the Library holds a collection of pre-1800 books, including a collection of the works of Francis Bacon? Whilst the Library is closed you can find out more remotely here: https://t.co/ohEQOmDWhL https://t.co/PNI0NOuJHf” / Twitter
More treats for ruff-watchers here: ignore Charles (casually wearing a suit of armour – like you do; what this? I just put on the first thing that was lying about in my room …) and look at the necks of (i) the Infanta (is that a furry ruff? What would we call that? A fluff?) and (ii) Buckingham – who is sporting the sort of antimacassar thing I remember from my grandmother’s sofa. Ruffs and silly neckwear clearly still holding firm in the 1620s.
John McCafferty on Twitter: “18 Feb 1623: Charles I & Buckingham set off for #Madrid #otd disguised & under false names to go courting the Infanta Maria, sister to Philip IV #otd. They arrive on 7 March https://t.co/0O9ewSkAtu” / Twitter
And what about this ‘ruff and fluff’ combo? Representing law and politics, it’s the seventeenth century’s own James Whitelocke.
I think we also need to talk about angle. This number, from John Dee, illustrates the ‘ear-warmer’ angle of ruffage – possibly necessitated by the little pointy beard. Good to see that John is keeping the hat relatively conservative, not detracting from his ruff too much.