Angel of death – the stylish executioner

When we mention the medieval executioner most of us probably imagen a half naked man, hooded in a black cloak over his face and casually leaning against an enormous axe. This image is however a modern conception of the hangman of the past.


The medieval executioner was indeed fully dressed, and never hooded. He wasn’t even all dressed in black – on the contrary we see him quite colorful in many depictions. But people did fear and shun the hangman intensely. He was often a ruthless criminal who chose the role as executioner instead of the death penalty, offered to him by the state. He was also often somehow marked with cut off ears, or burn scars on the side of the face.

The fact that the modern perception of the executioner highly differ from the historical one, made me curious. Who was the early modern hangman, and more importantly – what did he look like?

The diary of an executioner

In 16th century Hof in Germany lived a man called Frantz Schmidt. More formally known as “Meister Franz”, he might be the only 16th century executioner writing a diary during his 45 year long career of killing, punishing and handling criminals in the name of the state.

Schmidt was one of the executioners that inherited the title from his father, unlike earlier practice where the role as executioner was offered to criminals as an alternative to death penalty. Schmidt seems to have been a well mannered executioner, sought after and definitely not unlucky in love nor career:

“he married chief executioner’s daughter Maria, and eventually became chief executioner after his father-in-law. He fathered seven children, and his salary, on par with the city’s wealthiest jurists, allowed him to have a spacious residence in Nürnberg. After his retirement in 1617, he began a new, lucrative career as medical consultant.” (source)

In Schmidts diary he detailed all the punishments that he performed. He had a fruitful career where he performed according to his diary 361 executions, many finger-choppings aswell as ear-clippings:

During his entire career he flogged at least 367 offenders, usually before effecting the court’s order for their banishment from the city; many more were whipped by his assistant. He branded a large N for Nuremberg on the cheeks of four pimps and conmen, clipped the ears off four “thief-whores”, snipped off the end of one blasphemer’s tongue, and chopped off the fingers of nine prostitutes, procuresses, false gamblers, poachers and perjurers. (Source)

Despite his chopping, clipping and executing he seem to have been a fairly respected man. Even so that he could retire from his profession as hangman and instead end his life as a (surprisingly enough) healer, claiming to have treated more than 15,000 patients at the end of his life.

We have a few depictions of Frantz, and as far as we can see he was a fairly well dressed chap, and it seems his gear matched his salary:

The executioner Franz Schmidt executing Hans Fröschel on May 18, 1591.

Franz Schmidt executing Hans Fröschel on May 18, 1591.

A painting from the Nuremberg State Archive of Frantz Schmidt executing Anna Peihelsteinin for 'harlotry and lewdness'

Frantz Schmidt executing Anna Peihelsteinin for ‘harlotry and lewdness’, 1584.

Depiction attributed to Franz Schmidt, end of 16th century.

Depiction attributed to Franz Schmidt, end of 16th century.


Depiction of Schmidt executing the parricide Franz Seuboldt who killed his own father by ambush while dad was setting bird traps, 1589.

The coin and dress of the hangman

The executioner was by no means a wealthy profession but he couldn’t be called poor either. He had a steady income, certain executions gave extra cash and travels, accommodation and meals during work was paid for. A diligent and ambitious hangman could amass a good coin during his career.

Another less known perk of the job was garments:

“A privilege the executioner had at the time was that he got to keep the garment of the sentenced – as long as the criminal were considered without honor or a stranger to the community. And as most sentenced to death were considered without honor, the executioner pretty much kept all the clothing he desired. This meant that the executioner in many cases could be quite well dressed, to commons folks annoyance”. (93, Sanden)

That the feared and hated executioner was allowed to dress more or less finely, wasn’t highly appreciated.  In 1603 there is a somewhat disgruntled quote on the dressing of a german executioner. That his dress “be so great that not the princely grace was worthy to shine the shoe, and that his mother shall have such stately dress and skirts that the princess herself did not have it better” (93, Sandén)

The Swedish executioner Clemet Foss was 1594 said to “be with gaudy clothes”, probably due to pickings from his victims, and well use of his incomes. When the wealthy Ulrich Schwarz, master of the carpenters guild in Augsburg and famous for his love for fancy clothes, was sentenced to death 1478 the city council “forbade the hangman to appropriate his clothing, so as not to perpetuate his memory” (86, Rublack).

I have found some claims that the executioner during medieval times dressed in certain ways. “Hangmen, in particular, were often forced to to wear striped, or strangely cut clothing and are frequently represented in this manner in crucifixion scenes or martyrical scenes (103, Rublack)”.

"Die sieben Schmerzen Mariä" By Albrecht Durer, 1494-1497

“Die sieben Schmerzen Mariä” By Albrecht Durer, 1494-1497

However I am not sure that the strangely cut clothes in biblical scenes represent how the hangmen actually dressed, but is more of an exotic depiction of clothing. If the executioners garments in a biblical scene differ very much from common fashion during the 1500 and 1600s, it is most probably a fictional clothing style to symbolize a bygone time.

Some also claim that executioners were said to often be dressed in red (96, Sandén). But I am always suspicious of modern interpretation of color use in history. The color red is often said to be the color of devily, or a lewd woman. But I would say that that the meaning of color differs greatly according to who wore it. Martin Luther for example, infamous for wearing black, personally wore a lot of red (97, Rublack). “Luthers choice of scarlet clothing also reflects the increasing sartorial distinction that scholars had begun to raise their status”. (98 Rublack).

In the end, the only thing we can do is to look at contemporary sources and study depictions of executioners of the time:

Execution from a french Chronicle, end of 15th century.

Execution from a french Chronicle, end of 15th century.

The execution of Robert Tresilian, as depicted in Jean Froissart's Chroniques. Date 15th century

The execution of Robert Tresilian, as depicted in Jean Froissart’s Chroniques. 15th century


Very early 16th century, origin unknown to me

woodcut of a decapitation, early 16th c.

Woodcut of a decapitation, early 16th c.

various torture and execution styles, 1509

Various torture and execution styles, 1509

A woodcut of Tyndale’s execution from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (1563)

A woodcut of Tyndale’s execution from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (1563)

"Scharfrichter" (Executioner) from "Praxis rerum criminalium iconibus illustrata", 1562.

“Scharfrichter” (Executioner) from “Praxis rerum criminalium iconibus illustrata”, 1562.

Woodcut from Swiss chronicle of Johann Stumpf, 1586.
Woodcut from Swiss chronicle of Johann Stumpf, 1586.

Executioner, end of 16th century

The execution of Mary Queen of Scots at Fotheringhay Castle, 8 February 1587.

The execution of Mary Queen of Scots at Fotheringhay Castle, 8 February 1587.


Suggested further reading, for the curious:

 The Director of the Theater of Horror
 The Journeyman
→ God’s Executioner


Good riddance to bad rubbish!

The saying “good riddance”, meaning “pleasure on being rid of some annoyance – usually an individual” is a phrase most people are familiar to.

But in the 16th century “riddance” wasn’t always of a good kind – it basically meant “deliverance from” or “getting rid of”.

A riddance can be of many kinds, it can be a “gentle riddance” as in Shakespeares “Merchant of Venice”. It was Shakespeare that first coined the combination of “riddance” and “good” as far as we know, in the line from “Troilus and Cressida” (1606):

Thersites: I will see you hanged, like clotpoles, ere I come any more to your tents: I will keep where there is wit stirring and leave the faction of fools. [Exits]

Patroclus: A good riddance!

But we find this little word in even earlier sources, in John Rastells little sarcastic love poem “Away mouring” written in 1525:

I haue her lost,
For all my cost,
Yet for all that I trowe
I haue perchaunce,
A fayre ryddaunce,
And am quyt of a shrew.

Lets just hope that the lady that Rastell is so bitter over truly was such a “fair riddance” as he’s implying.

I’ll end this little entry and conclude that the Devil himself just might sigh with relief and mumble “good riddance” as soon as he gets this angry witch of his back:

"Witch attacking the devil with a spindle", Jakob Binck (1528)

“Witch attacking the devil with a spindle”, Jakob Binck (1528)

Horror & gore! Hidden killers in early modern times

Its Recommend a Documentary time again!

This time it a sneak peak into the everyday lives of the tudor homes, and secret hidden dangers that effected the normal lives of people.

HEEMSKERCK, Maerten van Family Portrait c. 1530.

“Family Portrait” by Maerten van Heemskerck c. 1530.

The beautiful Dr Suzannah Lipscomb with BBC 4 takes us back to early modern times in search of the household killers of the era in the documentary series “Hidden killers“:

“It was a great age of exploration and science where adventurers returned from the New World with exotic goods previously unknown in Europe. An era in which the newly emergent middle classes had, for the first time, money for luxuries and early consumer goods, many of which contained hidden dangers.

The period also saw a radical evolution in the very idea of ‘home’. For the likes of Tudor merchants, their houses became multi-room structures instead of the single-room habitations that had been the norm (aristocracy excepted). This forced the homebuilders of the day to engineer radical new design solutions and technologies, some of which were lethal.”

I can tell you that there are some surprising finds that truly entertained and horrified me in this documentary. Like why drowning was a common reason of death for young women at the time. Or why teeth hygien suddenly horribly declined during the Tudor period.

I highly recommend it!

Weekly proverb of the past: Pushed into the pig sty

This time we sneak at a proverb that seems to have been a popular motiv for both of the Bruegels to paint on its own. Its it the depiction of a group of rowdy villagers loudly and roughly pushing an unhappily looking drunkard into a pig sty.

Pieter Brueghel the elder - 1568 - The Drunkard pushed into the pigsty

“The drunkard pushed into the pig sty”. Pieter Brueghel the elder, 1568

To the modern eye it seems only to be a comical scene, but this is actually a  Flemish proverb saying that “those who, like drunken pigs, waste their time and good in the house of Venus will finally have to be pushed in the pigsty with the other swine”.

Simply put: if you drink and whore around, you’ll end up knee-deep.

'The drunkard pushed into the pigsty' by Pieter Brueghel the Younger

“The drunkard pushed into the pigsty” by Pieter Brueghel the Younger

The Drunkard Pushed into the Pig Sty. Made after 1568, after Pieter Bruegel the Elder.

“The Drunkard Pushed into the Pig Sty”. Made after 1568, after Pieter Bruegel the Elder.

Dressing guide: how to frau

This little tutorial I wrote in a collaboration with the very talented historical seamstress Katafalk. It is meant to be a simple How To approach to reproduction and reenactment of the women that accompanied mercenaries, i.e Landsknechts, during the 16th century.

The aim is to get a bigger understanding around what kind of women that accompanied the military trains, as well as fabrics, materials and cuts at the time. Enjoy!


“Baggage Train” from the “Triumphal Procession of Emperor Maximilian I” by Albrecht Altdorfer and workshop, (c. 1512-1515)

How to frau

A guide to easily understanding the 16th century female outfit in Northern Europe, focusing on women from lower social standing.

Before you begin it is vital to think about what kind social class, or type of woman, you want to recreate. This has nothing to do with LARP:ing (live action role playing) or acting. It is simply to do with making a construction that feels historically relevant. Women differs from each other in the 16th century, not only due to social standing. Even women from the same social class dressed differently according to her place in society.

That is why it is a bit unfortunate to put all these amazing women together in the same group as many tend to do today. It is important to know that women of the tross which followed the mercenaries, such as the landsknecht, were not female landsknecht, they were not soldiers. They followed the tross because of what the soldiers may need during military campaigns: help with domestic chores, as companions, whores, and different professional craftswomen. The captain’s wife did not have the same function as for example the wine maker/seller, but instead holds a different status in the group.
That is why it always is good to know who you want to recreate and what her role in the tross might be. First when you know this can you move forward and build your wardrobe. It might seem really boring, but this is only to help you make the right decisions for your outfit and should only be seen as something positive; as a helping hand.

Something that is worth thinking about is that the women in the tross during early modern time chose to follow a dangerous, erratic and by the society excluded group; the landsknecht. During this time in Europe the landschnecht was associated with violence, terror, and bloodshed. The society both hated and feared them. That is why it is most likely that the vast majority of the women, which in spite of this chose to follow them, came from the lower classes of society without any higher social status.

As these women, as we have discussed, are not a unitary group, calling them for “kampfraus” is of course incorrect. Instead we should look at what these women really were. By stepping away from the far too generalized mold “kampfrau” and instead start to think “lower class women” you in a way get a lot more freedom in your creativity, as you now choose to create a person with a profession or role in the camp and not only a platitude. That is why the word “kampfrau” is such a bad and foremost historically incorrect word to use. The word kampfrau have long been in use in different reenactment groups and have because of its popularity spread beyond these reenactment groups, so far that people are not aware that it is a made-up word. To with one word smooth out the diversity of the women of the tross feels incredibly sad and also disparaging to the history of the women.



As you might have noticed, the figure in the picture is only wearing a pair of hose. There is a reason for this, and that is the fact that this is the bottom layer. Corsets, stays, panties and bloomers came much later in history. The earliest extant pair of stays are from late 16th century and panties are a much later invention; they appear a bit into the 20th century, when skirts become shorter they started looking as what we are used to seeing them.

If your aim is to be as correct as possible, this is your bottom layer.

The hose are made out of wool fabric and cut on bias to give them as much stretch as possible. As you can see it has a sewn sole that continues up on the leg in a gusset. It also has a seam in the back to make it possible to shape the hose after the leg. As a woman you wear knee high hose that is fastened with garters which are tied around the leg. The hose can both be of solid colour or vertically striped, but the solid coloured hose seems to be most common on women of lesser means.

Watch out for!

Modern underwear – It is hard to build a historical silhouette when you are shaped by modern underwear.

Corsets and stays – Not everything from the 16th century is Tudor. If you look at are from the period you will see that the silhouette of the dresses from England, Italy and Germany differs from each other quite a bit. In Germany you can see that you have a more rounded bust, not the more cone-like shape an early stay will give you.




Shoes during this period vary widely and simpler and heavier shoes is a marker of a person of lesser means. The most visually prominent and fashionable shoe in the 16th century is the cow moth shoe, a flat shoe with a square shape in the front. The shape ranges from slightly rounded to more extravagant versions.

Something which is worth mentioning about the shoes in the 16th century is that they are welt sewn unlike the earlier shoes, which were turnshoes.
This means that they are sewn on the last with the right side out and have an insole which the upper is attached to, and then have an outsole which is attached under this. The outsole is attached to a strip of leather called welt. The welt is attached to the shoe in the same seam which binds the insole and upper together.
In turnshoes this piece of leather is called rand. The use of a welt and outsole makes it a lot easier to change the sole of the shoe when it is worn down without actually interfering with the construction of the rest of the shoe.
When the outsole is sewn to the welt you will get a visible seam, much in the same way which you can see in a classical dress shoe.

The cow moth shoes are not the only shoe worn at this period of time, there is a plethora of shoes. That is why it is important to look at the shoes in the area which you have chosen to recreate. Also look at the class from you have chosen to work within. Farmers are often depicted with heavier more rounded shoes and finer folk seem to be using daintier shoes, both more decorated and slashed.

Watch out for!

Wrong shoe on the wrong person – Just because a shoe model has been in use in England in 1520 does not mean that that shoe can be used when you are doing Italian or German 1520s.
This is the same way as the fact that an English farmer did not wear the same shoes as an English king.

Visible seams – There are no seams visible on extant shoes. Neither the heel counter nor side seams are sewn with a seam that is visible from the outside.
The only visible seam on welt shoes is the welt seam that attaches the outsole.




There is a large variety in the shape of the chemise, all from very simple with only a little width to garments where it is obvious a lot of fabric was used. The chemises comes with both high and low collars and I have a hard time seeing that either one is more common in any social class. However, taking into account the quality and the quantity of the fabric can say a lot about the social class which you are aiming for.

The collars varies from beautifully embroidered with tiny pleats to simpler pleating where you have sewn a flat linen band of the same fabric as the rest of the chemise to keep the pleats in place. The same goes for the finish of the sleeves even if the most common thing seems to be simple string which you tie with small bows at the wrist.
The closure of the chemises are often not seen. Here it is very likely that they have used hooks and eyes to keep the collar together. A hidden closure seems to be very common but other ways of closing the collar are simple linen ties or decorated braided ribbons which might match the colour of the embroidery you might have.
There are also depictions of decorative clasps, buttons, and pearls as closures, but it is worth noting that these are most often found on the upper classes and might not be fitting for a women of the tross.

Watch out for!

Too short chemise – Make your chemise to your knees or to your calf. Underskirts or petticoats are not in use yet so it is the chemise job to protect your body from the wools and vice versa. But do not make it all the way to the floor, a wet linen hem is cold and not at all pleasant against your legs.

Keep to your class – A poor soldier’s wife does not have a chemise with golden bands, embroideries, and beads. Think about what choices you make and you will get a more convincing outfit.

Raw silk – It might seem luxurious with a raw silk chemise and raw silk “looks like linen”. However, raw silk as a fabric for clothing is not correct for the 16th century and silk is also sensitive to sweat, something which is not optimal for a chemise.


Under dress



As I mentioned, the use of modern bras and corsets came a lot later in history than the 16th century. However, of course they used some kind of supportive underwear. We have the Schloss Lengberg garments as an example of many different ways to support the bust in the shape of linen “bras”. The Lengberg finds are dated to late 15th century and there are a lot of images from the 14th century depicting similar “bra dresses”.
When we come to the 16th century these pictures disappear from the pictorial evidence and instead we start to see sleeveless wool dresses. We can find similar dresses all over Europe on women preforming physical labour. We do not see them on women outside the “home” or the private sphere for the simple reason that you wore a dress over it when you were in more public places.

The under dress sometimes had stripes on the skirt, especially if you were from a higher social status. With this comes all kinds of laws and regulations which tells you who are allowed to wear what kind of materials and how many stripes you were allowed to have on your skirt. The fact that these laws exist is because people broke the rules, but it might be worth thinking about; did the laundry woman have silk brocade stripes on her under dress? Almost certainly not.

There are no evidence that the under dresses were as stiff as corsets, it is common to see in images and woodcuts that the bust have a soft more rounded shape.

Watch out for!

Underskirts and petticoats – There is no evidence for the use of underskirts. Many uses linen underskirts to get more shape over the hips and to protect their legs from the wool. Instead of doing that, make your chemise longer. This is something that we have pictorial evidence for and start using a full under dress to achieve those 16th century hips and to get a correct silhouette.

Modern brassiere – In the end it is simple, modern underwear will give your dress a modern silhouette. Sometimes you have to let go of your modern aesthetics to create a correct shape.




The classical 16th century dress in northern Europe had a high waist and low neckline. The shape of the dress varied depending on where in northern Europe you were. However, generally in Germany the square neckline and closure centre front was prominent. The dress had often just as low neckline in back as in front and had very often decorative stripes at the bottom of the skirt. The skirt was pleated and sewn onto the bodice as separate skirt and a bodice was not used.

It is easy to want to emulate the grandeur of the males, but the dresses of the women were generally a lot simpler in cut and details. The slashing that is so common in the outfits of the men is almost nowhere to be seen, you can perhaps slash the stripes of the skirts or in exceptional cases the guards around the neckline and centre front.

The sleeves of the dress are also in contrast to the male puffiness and extravagance. The sleeves are often very simple with a plain sleeve with a cuff that can either be worn folded up or folded down over the hand. You can also see simpler slashing of the sleeve at the shoulders and elbows but they are much less extravagant and as big as on the men.

It is just that, the contrast between the male and female, which is so beautiful when you see the tross together. Let the men have their big upper bodies and skinny legs and let the women be the opposite, wide hips and in contrast to the hips, slim upper bodies.

Watch out for!

Too low waist – Many wear their dresses on their hips and the result of that is that they never get the right silhouette. Let the waist sit where it should, a good bit over your bellybutton, and you will automatic get those nice 16th century hips and a correct silhouette.

Too high neckline – If you look at woodcuts, the neckline is often very low, this does not matter much as there is always a chemise under to cover up and to make sure that the boobs does not pop out. Dare to go lower both in the front and back and you will get a dress with a much more correct look.

Gaping lacing – It is very unusual to see the lacing on the dress, The everyday woman did not show her face in society in a dress with gaping lacing. The dress should be completely shut in front either with hidden lacing or hook and eyes.


On the head


When you look at the paintings and graphical pictures of women from the 16th century a clear picture emerges; grown-up women hid their hair. To wear your hair down is something which might have been done by extremely young unmarried women or, for example, prostitutes. However, the ordinary woman wore her hair up and almost always covered. To wear the hair up with some kind of covering is so common that you can find picture of women in bathhouses with their head covered while otherwise in the nude.

Even amongst prostitutes you see a great majority with their hair up and covered. If you don’t wish to cover your hair it should at least be braided and put up properly on the head. The visible cute braided hanging loops by the ears that peek out under the veil during the late 15th century is hopelessly unfashionable during the 16th century. If you wear a head covering, the whole hair is now covered.

A very common headpiece is the padded linen cap that is so typical for the northern European fashion. It most likely started with the braided hair being put up in the back of the head under the veil, but as all fashion it went to excess. People started to use padding of different kind, for example the wulsthaube, a padded cap, which you then draped you headdress over. The shape varies from small to enormous.

The veils can be found in all sorts of fashion, everything from undecorated linen veils and super thin silk veils to richly decorated and embroidered. As always, the question is who do you want to portray?

Watch out for!

Cover your hair – the easiest way to enhance your outfit historically is to put on a proper headdress. Don’t be afraid of the padded cap, it might look strange when taken out of its context but nothing can beat it when used together with accurate clothing. If you do not want to use a wulsthaube you can choose to use a draped veil. Look at images and your will surely find something you like.




The 16th century brings a lot of variety in hats. If you generalise a bit you find that two different kinds seem to be the most popular. One is a hat with a split brim where the brim parts overlaps each other a bit with perhaps a few feathers. The other one the one that looks like it has gathered fabric underneath and is filled with feathers.

When it comes to ordinary women, hats are not always worn and when you see a hat on a women it is often of a more simple kind. It is a more safe way to go to not wear a hat; a veil or wulsthaube goes a long way. There are of course images of crazily feathered hats but that does not make it the norm to wear a whole bird stuffed into our hat. Neither is it practical for a hard working woman in the tross. A fully feathered hat is more likely to be in the way for a simple washerwoman. It seems like it is more common with feathers among prostitutes.

When it comes to the choice of feathers we can see that natural ostrich feathers are the most common during the 16th century. We can of course play with the thought that other types of feathers were used but if you look at the pictures from the period we can see that the ostrich is in extreme majority. Everyone wore them; we can see them among landsknechts, wealthy merchants and even the noblemen, such as the very fashion interested Henrik VIII.

Coloured feathers are not at all common during the 16th century. If coloured feathers was used they were of course dyed with natural dyes. The process is technically hard to achieve and that is probably why it is not common to see the coloured feathers. Instead what we see is more than anything else white or naturally grey ostrich feathers, or alternatively, naturally black ostrich feathers. Think about who you are recreating and look at images from your time and you will soon see that the coloured feathers are absent.

Watch out for!

Don’t slash your hat – The popular slashed hat crown cannot be found in the pictorial sources; you can slash the underside of the brim but it is much more common to not slash at all. Decorate instead with a few feathers and don’t slash at all.

Stay away from coloured feathers – They existed but were very uncommon. If can feel nice to be able to match your dress with synthetically coloured feathers, but it is not particularly historically accurate. Why not dive into the wonderful world of natural shades of ostrich. Beautiful in the 16th century, beautiful today!




The most common garment for keeping warm which you see in the pictures is the short cape called gollar. It can either have a high collar or no collar at all, and it can be either short or it can be more of a cloak and go down to the hips. It looks like a liripipe without the head part and can be lined in fur for extra warmth.

There are a number of images of women who wear their capes over what they carry on their backs, it is a good way to keep rain out of your packing. The gollar is as much a trending garment as it is practical and it is often decorated with contrasting borders.

On images and paintings of women from the higher social classes you often see them in silk brocade with fancy clasps, but on simpler women you almost always see no closure at all. We can presume that they were closed with hook and eyes, or that they simply lay on the shoulders. Alternatively they might have used hidden lacing which they tied together as a bow.

There are also examples of this kind of garment which looks more like short vests and are squarer in shape. Look at what is most common for the type of person you want to recreate, perhaps you have no need for a gollar.

Watch out for!

Dress according to your class – It is easy to fall in love with a garment from the upper class, but as always; chose a garment that represent what you recreate. If you need to dig deep after evidence for a garment you want to make or a detail you want to recreate, you might need to stop and think for a bit. Perhaps what you are looking for was not something that was commonly done. A better starting point is to look at what the common thing to do was. Find what most people actually did. It will be a lot easier to make a believable outfit when you have cracked the code of what is probable and what was done. Just because something is from the lower classes does not automatic makes it boring and plain. Find that thing that makes your garment special.




At the first glance the 16th century can feel very “bling” with large golden chains, rings on all fingers and on multiple knuckle joints, many necklaces at the same time. However, all these things are most common among the nobles. As soon as you step down a step on the social ladder all this disappear, especially among women of less means. You might have one ring, but necklaces of precious metals are nowhere to be seen.
On pictures of prostitutes from this time we do find these kind of accessories. However, bear in mind that these were most likely copies in less precious metals, they wanted to mimic the nobility and be showy.

What ordinary women wore was much plainer, most of what you see are accessories hanging from the belt. Small leather bags of different kinds, sewing tools, and often a simple knife; sometimes you also see keys. It seems like it was the practice to wear two belts, one that you kept your things on and one that you used for draping the dress up when marching. However, you never see two belts worn at the same time. We can presume that they had a belt specially for the draping that they took off when they wore the dress down. As this belt never was visible it would probably not been decorated with more than a simple belt buckle.

Many speaks about booty from the battlefields but think about the fact that if there was any booty this was first and foremost for the men. Wives, hang-arounds or women without any social status in the tross were probably not allowed to enjoy expensive fabrics, gold or jewellery. In other words; it is not likely that the cook and laundry woman in the tross had gold rings on all fingers.

Watch out for!

Less is more – Looking like a living Christmas tree with a million things hanging off your belt or on your outfit is never a positive thing. Do not carry more things in your belt than is logical. If you need to carry a lot of stuff, than take a basket to carry in your hand, a sack, or the things wrapped up in fabric which you carry on your back. Willow baskets on your back does not seem to be common at all in the tross.

Don’t put on all your fancy jewellery – We all want the fancy stuff, but as always, reflect over who you are recreating and what is practical. It is not likely that a women that followed the tross had gold chains and lots of rings, unless she was a particularly popular prostitute.




And there we have it, the complete kit! With the help of another belt you can drape the gown up in this way, this makes it a lot easier to march and is a very common thing to see in pictures of women in the tross.

So a short recap:
Do not imitate the men, just because they look a certain way does not mean that you can copy it and put it in your women’s outfit. Also think about colours and colour combinations. Lighter colours were a lot easier to create. Perhaps it is not fitting for a poor soldier’s wife to wear a tricoloured bright purple dress with four contrast colours in the same bright colour scheme. Poorer women wore less contrast colour and lighter coloured fabrics.
It is good to think about fabrics in the same way. Silk, velvet and brocades belongs on the Saxon noblewomen in Cranach paintigns, not on the general women of the tross. To base you outfit on them is as far off as basing them on Elizabeth I most macabre feastgown.
During the medieval era and early modern time wool is the absolutely most common of fabrics both for high and low born along with linen.

It is a lot about dressing within your social class and not pick and choose details from other classes. Just because a noblewomen have pretty sleeves does not mean that your simple soldier’s wife had the same kind of sleeves; even if they both are from 1523. I instead dare you to make a simple woman, because these were the women who followed the landsknecht.

Let go of your modern ideals. The concepts of what is pretty and beautiful nowadays are not applicable in the 16th century. If you are recreating a period you are also going to have to recreate their ideal of beauty. It is also very important to keep track on what part of the 16th century you are making and were you are geographically. The fashion changes around every ten years and there are big regional differences in northern Europe, even among the simpler people and underclass.

Always check the title of your sources or image that you are using. Even if Pinterest tells you one thing does not mean that the title is correct. The original title may also reveal that what we see on the picture is actually a biblical motive or allegory. If that is the case then the picture is not suitable to base a simple German women clothing on. If something look extra strange or macabre on a picture, ask yourself the question; what type pf image is this? You cannot base your clothes on a caricature, not either a saint, queen or noble woman’s dress – at least not if you want to portray a women of the tross.


July 13, 2015

How to Frau – svenska

Posted by Cathrin under Uncategorized
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The paupers and peasants of the Renaissance

The 16th century might seem to be overflowed with magnificent Tudors, curly Italian Renaissance nobles, finely dressed reformers or colorful mercenaries. But the finest woolen, the golden brocade and the velvet was dedicated for the privileged few. Most people in Europe were of the more simple kind.

Although 16th century is a period known for it’s experimental playfulness when it comes to fashion among both highborn and low, that doesn’t mean the strict medieval rules surrounding clothing and fabrics in any way disappeared. On the contrary. The newly found consumerism did force the higher classes in society to enforce strict sumptuary laws, making sure the the finest accessories and fabrics remained a privilege for the chosen few. Breaking these sumptuary rules in the lower classes meant either a loss of property (the garment being confiscated) or a fine, working as a strain on a member of the working classes. A person of lower status could not purchase the “rights” to a specific item or material.

Sumptuary laws “regulated clothing, ornamentation, food, drink, and other forms of luxury, imposing a hierarchy of consumption. These laws prohibited certain ranks of persons from wearing specified cloths, garments, or ornamentation. Typically, the rarest furs were reserved for royal families, lesser furs for nobles, and inferior furs for commoners”. An English proclamation of 1559 stipulated:

“None shall wear in his apparel any cloth of gold, silver, or tinsel; satin, silk, or cloth mixed with gold or silver, nor any sables; except earls and all of superior degrees.”

In England 1510, for example, “Parliament passed an extensive and detailed law regulating the wearing of all sorts of fabrics and of trim from fur to gold and silver. This law was amended and added to in 1514 and again in 1515 and 1553”.

This meant that commoners most definitely couldn’t, and wouldn’t, dress as extravagant as the nobles or classes above them. Lower classes, such as laborers and apprentices would wear linen, a light, cool fabric derived from the flax plant, wool, or sheepskin.

But how did the commoner, and the truly poor, dress and look like during the 16th century? This question intrigued me to look into depictions of the 16th century paupers and peasants. (As my collection of depictions from this period is predominately northern European, it’s reflected here as well). Enjoy:

Three Peasants In Conversation by Albrecht Dürer, 1497

“Three Peasants In Conversation” by Albrecht Dürer, 1497


“Amorous Peasants”, by Albrecht Durer, ca 1500.

A woodcutter,  by Hans Burgkmair, (c 1500),

A woodcutter, by Hans Burgkmair, (c 1500),


“Three pilgrims at the crossroads”, by Hans Burgkmair, 1508.

"The Beggars". Lucas van Leyden (Netherlandish, 1494–1533) Date: ca. 1509

“The Beggars”. Lucas van Leyden, 1509


“Resting pilgrims”. Lucas van Leyden, 1508.


Farmer with a basket of eggs, by Jakob Binck, 1510.

Gypsies in the Market Hans Burgkmair, 1510.

“Gypsies in the Market”. Hans Burgkmair, 1510.


“The Milkmaid”. Lucas van Leyden (Netherlandish, 1494–1533) Date: 1510

Duerer, Die Marktbauern - Duerer, Peasants at the Market/Engr./1519 -

“The Peasant and His Wife at Market”, by Albrecht Durer, dated 1512


“Peasant Couple Dancing”, Albrecht Dürer, 1514


“Bagpiper”. Albrecht Dürer, 1514,


“The Pedlar”. Hieronymus Bosch, 1516

“Cripples, beggars and street musicians”. Bosch, Hieronymus c. 1450 – 1516. (also attributed to Pieter Brueghel (or Bruegel) the Elder).

“Cripples, beggars and street musicians”. Bosch, Hieronymus c. 1450 – 1516. (also attributed to Pieter Bruegel the Elder).


“The Peasant and His Wife”. Albrecht Dürer, 1519


Sorgheloos (“Carefree”) in Poverty, 1510–20. Netherlandish


“The Beggars”. Lucas van Leyden, 1520.


“Dancing farmer couple “Niklaus Manuel gen. Deutsch. 1518/1520

A Peasant Woman Carrying a Jug. Sebald Beham (German, 1500-1550), 1520.

“A Peasant Woman Carrying a Jug”. Sebald Beham (German, 1500-1550), 1520.


Young Peasant Holding a Jar by Sebald Beham, 1520.


“Two peasants on the way to the market” attributed to Hans Weiditz , 1521.


“Farmer love couple”, Hans Sebald Beham, 1521


“Bauer” (Farmer), Niklaus Manuel gen Deutche.

Bettler (Begger), Niklaus Manuel gen Deutche.

“Bettler” (Begger), Niklaus Manuel gen Deutche.


“Old woman with drop spinnel”, Urs Graf. 1519/1521.

The Dentist. Lucas van Leyden (Netherlandish1494–1533)

“The Dentist”. Lucas van Leyden (1523)

The Surgeon. Lucas van Leyden, (Netherlandish 1494–1533), 1524.

“The Surgeon”. Lucas van Leyden, 1524.


“The Musicians”. Lucas van Leyden, 1524.


“The Pensive Carpenter”, 1530. Albrecht Altdorfer


1535, the ‘Kirchweihfest’ (The Parish Fair)

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1535, the ‘Kirchweihfest’ (The Parish Fair)

"Dancing beggars", 1538, Cornelis Massijs

“Dancing beggars”, 1538, Cornelis Massijs


“December” from Golf Book (Book of Hours). 1540.

Woodcut by Cornelis A. Teunissen, 1541

Woodcut by Cornelis A. Teunissen, 1541


“The Peasants’ Feast or The Twelve Months”, Hans Sebald Beham. 1546-1547


“Peasants’ Brawl”, Hans Sebald Beham. 1546-1547


“The Peasant Banquet”. Sebald Beham, 1546/1547.

Peasant couple,by Hans Sebald Beham, 1510-1550

Peasant couple,by Hans Sebald Beham, 1510-1550

Studies pf Peasants ca 1550, Pieter Brugel

Studies pf Peasants ca 1550, Pieter Brugel


“The Sleeping Peddlar Robbed by Monkeys”. 1562

Three blind pilgrims holding staffs and moving to right, after Pieter Bruegel the elder. 1566.

Three blind pilgrims holding staffs and moving to right, after Pieter Bruegel the elder. 1566.


A woodcut of Der Rebmann (the vine-dresser) using a fork hoe in Jost Amman’s 1568 “Das Standebuch”.

The Drunkard Pushed into the Pig Sty. Made after 1568, after Pieter Bruegel the Elder.

“The Drunkard Pushed into the Pig Sty”. Made after 1568, after Pieter Bruegel the Elder.

The Blind Leading the Blind. Pieter Bruegel, 1568.

“The Blind Leading the Blind”. Pieter Bruegel, 1568.


“Summer”. Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1568.

The Beggars. Pieter Breughel, 1568.

“The Beggars”. Pieter Breughel, 1568. (On the back of the painting is an inscription in Flemish: Cripples, take heart, and may your affairs prosper.)

16th century filth: Bathing hats and scented soaps

There seem to be a widespread opinion that hygiene by bathing had its highlights during roman and medieval period, only to decline drastically during the 16th  century. The Dutch philosopher Erasmus in 1526 noted the fall of common hygiene: “Twenty-five years ago, nothing was more fashionable in Brabant than the public baths. Today there are none, the new plague has taught us to avoid them”.

Yet bathing, both alone and in group, seems to persist during the 16th century. At least depictions of bathing people remain popular during the period. Browsing through these early modern nudies I spot a remarkable hat that seems only to show up in bathing situations. It is round, slightly squarish and sometimes with a little tuft on the top:

('Monks in the bath'). Jena Code Antithesis Christi et Antichrist, 1490-1510

“Monks in the bath” from the Jena Code Antithesis Christi et Antichrist (1490-1510).

Depiction of a Nuremberg bathmaid, from 1585.

The text of the Nuremberg bathmaid above translates:

The speech of the bathmaid: I the bathmaid stand alone, with naked arms and white legs. I tend to the bathing men, also the young boys. With my water I am skilled, young and old, the little child, I wash, and I scrub them, so they go home clean.

Labors of the month may by Jörg Breu the Elder

Labors of the month May, by Jörg Breu the Elder (1475–1537).

A somewhat basic everyday cleanliness seems to be expected of the 16th century person: Washing the hands before eating is emphasized in manners manuals of the 15th and 16th century, as well as washing hands and face in the morning and rinse the mouth with cold water. Babies were bathed in tubs, and rather ingeniously binded in the tub to ensure its safety and let the parents have some cupping therapy and wash the older sibling, in the already mentioned bathing hat:

Bathers from Das Ständebuch (The Book of Trades), 1568

Bathers from Das Ständebuch (The Book of Trades), 1568

The theory that people ceased bathing altogether during the 16th century isn’t at all reflected in pictures from the period, as we can see. In fact, even though mixed bathing was discouraged by the Church, records exist that “baths were used as social affairs, with banquets and wedding feasts being joined with the baths”. But Durer’s 1497 woodcut of men at a public bathhouse, contrasted with ‘Women’s Bath’ of the same year shows sex-segregated bathing as well as the little rounded bath hat we’ve already peeked at:

“The Men’s Bath” Albrecht Dürer (1497 Nuremberg)

As we can see in the pictures above and below the habit of head gears follow the early modern people even into the bathroom – we have trendy hairnets on men, braided hairdo’s or headscarfs on the women or bathing hats on both genders. If not naked, men seemed to wear the male tanga we’ve already talked about, and women in a simple linnen underdress.

The gentlemen prefering a slightly more discrete but fast hair wash could also get that done at the barbers, as shown in this late 16th century woodcut (please also note the casual way the barber keeps his comb behind the ear):


Woodcut by J. Amman

Washing, alone or in group, certainly persisted. We see combinations of bathing or washing in bathhouses (in- aswell as outdoors) or bathtubs. In 1511 Lucas Rem, a famous 16th century merchant and diary writer, according to his diary allegedly bathed 127 times (!) from the 20th of may to the 9th of june. Sources does seem to indicate though, that bathing was for the spring and summer, while washing, atleast in public places or outdoors, probably declined somewhat during the winter months…

“A fool with two bathing women”, Hans Sebald Beham (1541)

Also, scented soaps for face and hand-washing (made by the ‘rebatching’ process where cut-up soap is mixed with scenting agents) starts to appear in 16th and early 17th century housewifery texts. The 16th century Spanish Manual de Mugeres suggests some scented soap recipes and Francis Bacon (1521-1626) recommends a saucy bath in oil and herbs for the best result:

First, before bathing, rub and anoint the Body with Oyle, and Salves, that the Bath’s moistening heate and virtue may penetrate into the Body, and not the liquor’s watery part: then sit 2 houres in the Bath; after Bathing wrap the Body in a seare-cloth made of Masticke, Myrrh, Pomander and Saffron, for staying the perspiration or breathing of the pores, until the softening of the Body, having layne thus in seare-cloth 24 hours, bee growne solid and hard. Lastly, with an oynment of Oyle, Salt and Saffron, the seare-cloth being taken off, anoint the Body.

Woodcut from Brunschwig,

Woodcut from “Buch zu Distillieren” (1500)

The love of bringing nice scents into the cleaning ritual we also witness through Adamus Olearius in his Persian Travel Tales of the early 1600s: “The Germans who dwell in Muscovy and Livonia are very nice in their Stoves; they strew Pine Leaves powder’d, and all sorts of Herbs and Flowers upon the Floor; which, together with the Lye make a very agreeable Scent.”

There is a scented lye-based soap recipe in The treasurie of commodious conceits, & hidden secrets by John Partridge (1573) if anyone wishes to try the 16th century BO for a spin:


To Make Muske Soape Take stronge lye made of chalk, and six pounde of stone chalk: iiii, pounde of Deere Suet, and put them in the lye; in an earthen potte, and mingle it well, and kepe it the space of forty daies, and mingle and [styre?] it, iii, or, iiii times a daye, tyll it be consumed, and that, that remayneth, vii, or, viii, dayes after, then you muste put a quarter of an ounce of Muske, and when you have done so, you must [styre?] it, and it wyll smell of Musk.


“Seated Woman Bathing Her Feet”, by Albrecht Altdorfer (ca. 1480–1538)

Suggested further reading, for the curious:

→ Did people in the middleages take baths?

→ Bodies and Selves in Early Modern England

The Culture of Cleanliness in Renaissance Italy