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 Home > hotspots > Evidence of Gloves from the 12th to the 16th Centuries
Evidence of Gloves from the 12th to the 16th Centuries

Archaeological evidence for mittens predates the medieval period in Europe and hand coverings of some sort have been a necessity if not also a fashion accessory throughout the medieval period. This article focusses on evidence from the 12th century to the end of the Elizabethan period in Europe and the British Isles and deals only with gloves.


Gloves are of two types: 3-fingered and 5-fingered. The 3-fingered glove (thumb and two finger divisions) appears only on working men - never on women or the upper classes. One figure in the Luttrell Psalter (early 14th century) shows a man and a woman engaged in weeding with identical tools, yet only the man wears gloves. A fur-lined version of similar form exists almost 100 years later in Robert Campin's painting "The Nativity" and also in a carved French misericord dating to 1498. In Dress in the Middle Ages (Piponnier and Mane,1997), the authors state, "Furniture inventories and builders' account books confirm thatsheepskin gloves were worn by masons and by other workers using dangerous tools or corrosive materials." Fairholt's Costume in England refers to the 3-fingered type as mittens or "country man's gloves". Both 3-fingered and 5-fingered types appear in depictions of working people.

In the context of English styles in 13th century Ireland, Dunlevy (Dress in Ireland, 1989) states, "Hose, pointed shoes and gloves were worn by all who could afford them." Nevertheless, the 5-fingered glove is seen infrequently in depictions of both high born and low born persons prior to the 15th century, and is extremely rare in depictions of women until after that time, despite the mention of gloves in wardrobe inventories, in reference to particular costume worn by orders of knights, and as gifts to both men and women.

Hunting scenes and those showing birds of prey throughout the medieval period depict a protective glove, presumably of heavy leather, flared past the wrist and occasionally embellished along the edge, pendant from which a tassel sometimes may be seen. This style appears to be almost identical to that used in modern times. Depictions of liturgical gloves are also to be found, but only on high ranking clergy. This style of glove is invariably of thin white material (possibly leather or silk) of fine quality, judging from the tightness in the fingers and rumples at the wrist, with embellishment at the cuff edge and on the back of the hand. A small tassel or perhaps a bell is often seen hanging pendant from the cuff. While early illustrations of gloves most frequently appear to show a one-piece glove and cuff, extending past the wrist, a shorter version did exist. In Fontevrault Abbey, France, the tomb sculpture of Henry II has the dead king wearing wrist-length gloves with an embroidered border and a circle of embroidery or applique on the back of the hand. The Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna has in its collection a wrist-length ceremonial glove dating to 1220 Palermo, heavily embellished with embroidery, gold applique, pearls, cloisonne and gems. The latter glove is made of fabric, though gloves were also made of sheepskin (working class), fine fabric or fine leather (lined or unlined), and could be dyed.

In the 15th century, gloves began to appear as a common fashion accessory in illustrations of both men and women. One portrait of particular interest is the painting "The Family of Uberto de'Sacrati", attributed to Baldassare d'Este in the mid 1400's. The lady in the painting wears gloves with the fingertips cut off and the one visible cuff is tucked into the sleeve of her gown, while the gentleman wears a single hawking glove of a material light enough to rumple at the wrist. Late period styles for men were frequently plain. However, certainly by the 16th century, a broad range of decoration existed which transcended all classes.

Embellishment could be simple slashing , tabs and ribbons, or the addition of elaborate cuffs, heavily embroidered with the costliest threads, pearls, gems, and lace (15). According to Norris, accounts of the wardrobe of King Henry VIII mention highly decorated pairs. Queen Elizabeth I was particularly fond of gloves and her wardrobe accounts list many pairs, including ones which were perfumed, and ones which were knitted.

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