Dressing the Scottish Court

Many thanks to Professor Melanie Schuessler Bond for this introduction to her new book, the third in our Medieval and Renaissance Clothing and Textiles series.

James Hamilton

James V, King of Scotland, died in late 1542, leaving only an infant daughter (later known as Mary, Queen of Scots) as heir. After some rather murky back-room wrangling, James Hamilton, Earl of Arran emerged as regent. His defense against England’s “Rough Wooing” is well-documented, but the rather vast purchases of clothing and accessories he authorized for himself, his household, and his political allies over the eleven years of his regency have not been much discussed.

These purchases are recorded in a set of accounts that detail expenditures on everything from food for horses to cannon repair. My book extracts the thousands of entries regarding clothing and accessories and presents a transcription and translation of them as well as analysis and discussion of clothing types. The entries are organized by recipient to create “wardrobe biographies” that tell us much about the fashion of the time, gradations of social status, Arran’s relationship with each person, and even their taste in clothing.

The number of items Arran purchased for himself is somewhat staggering considering the relatively small wardrobes of the sixteenth century: fifteen gowns and night gowns, sixty coats, forty-three cloaks (many of which formed a matching set with a coat), forty-six doublets, forty-eight pairs of thighs of hose, thirty-five pairs of legs of hose, dozens of pairs of shoes, and many other items. He also appropriated for his own use some items of the late king’s wardrobe, as can be seen from this entry in the accounts:

Item þe xxx day of nouember for half ane quarter of blak satyng, half ane quarter crammesy sating and half ane quarter quhyte sating to eik þe syde semys of thre doublattis quhilkis war þe kingis gracis of before—xx s

[Item, the 30th day of November, for ⅛ ell of black satin, ⅛ ell of crimson satin, and ⅛ ell of white satin, to enlarge the side seams of the doublets which were previously the king’s grace’s, 20s.]

Arran was very concerned to maintain his image as a ruler, so in addition to the attention he paid his own wardrobe, he also outfitted several members of his retinue in display livery. This often took the form of particolored clothing with the right half in one color and the left in another (the colors were of course those of his own family heraldry). Particolored clothing had not been fashionable since the previous century, but it survived in the display livery employed by both James V of Scotland and Henry VIII of England, making it a good choice for someone who was filling in for royalty. Arran generally kept his trumpeters, fools, drivers, and a personal page in display livery to increase his consequence. Once such page, named Claude, was notable for the number of shoes he was provided—on average a pair every other month.

After the regent himself, his family received the largest grants of clothing per capita. From the entries for Arran’s youngest daughter Anne, it is clear that she preferred bright colors:

Item to be ane goun to his graces ȝongest douchter Ladye An tua elnis and ane half ȝallo taffate armosene price of þe elne xliiij s Summa—v li x s

[Item, to be a gown for his grace’s youngest daughter, Lady Anne, 2½ ells of yellow armosene taffeta, price of each ell 44s; total: £5 10s.]

She also received four sets of matching hoods and sleeves in crimson, white, yellow, and black satin and was evidently very pleased with them, as another identical group of four sets appears in the accounts for her just over a year later.

My book includes more on Lady Anne and much more on the wardrobes – livery, wedding clothing, mourning garb, and more – of many others, from beggars to earls.


This guest post was written by Melanie Schuessler Bond, Professor of Costume Design, Eastern Michigan University.

Dressing the Scottish Court, 1543-1553
Clothing in the Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland
by Melanie Schuessler Bond
Hardback / 9781783272624 / £56.25 or $97.50

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