In the 16th century sartorial politics was operating at its finest. The idea that an individual could enforce their power through the clothes they wore dominated the approach to royal fashion in the Tudor period. Henry VIII, the best dressed monarch of his time, and Elizabeth I, immortalised in our minds wearing dramatic ruffs and ropes of pearls, subscribed avidly to this theory, and consequently have shaped our understanding of the Tudor ‘look’. However, if we instead take a moment to look at some of the quieter figures in the dynasty, it quickly becomes apparent that not everyone was convinced by the power of fashion.
Lady Jane Grey, the unsuspecting teenager who had the English crown dropped into her lap on 6 July 1533, could not have been further from the contemporary ideals of regal splendour. She had been raised devoutly protestant and spent much of her time with her nose in a book, rejecting lavish displays of wealth and vanity. She had even been rejected as a potential royal bride for Edward VI on account of her plain appearance. When Jane’s position had been manipulated to line her up for the throne, it seems that the young Queen was made to undergo a royal transformation. It was time for her to play by the rules.
Jane’s first public appearance as Queen took place on 8 July, the day of her procession to the Tower of London, where she was to stay in the lead up to her coronation. Jane’s preference for fashionable sobriety would not have been acceptable for such an occasion, and the ensemble that was chosen for her sent a clear message on how those around her wished for the new Queen to be viewed.
A green dress, brocaded all over with brilliant gold and fashionable wide sleeves, the train of which was carried by her mother, the Duchess of Suffolk. On her head she wore a white coif laden with precious gems, glistening with each shaky step she took. Hidden beneath her skirts were a pair of Venetian Chopines, high-heeled platform shoes intended to make her seem taller and more powerful than she really was. Jane may have shared the fiery colouring of her Tudor relatives, but she did not share their height. Emphasising (or in this case fabricating) physical similarities between the new Queen and her predecessors was of paramount importance to those in charge of her wardrobe – they needed to prove that Jane’s royal inheritance was a rightful one.