Tudor Sumptuary Laws and Academical Dress: An Act Against Wearing of Costly Apparel 1509 and an Act for Reformation of Excess in Apparel 1533
Transactions of the Burgon Society, Vol. 6, pp. 15-43, 2006
30 Pages Posted: 4 Jun 2008
Date Written: 2006
In the United Kingdom, as in other modern liberal democracies, there are few, if any, restrictions upon one's choice of habiliment. There have in the past, however, been repeated attempts in most countries and civilisations - from the Romans (and indeed earlier civilisations) onwards - to strictly control aspects of apparel, by legislation. They were motivated by political, moral or economic considerations. The frequency of such legislation is a sign both of the perceived importance of such measures, and of their failure. Yet the authorities persisted, despite their inability to suppress extravagance, or control expenditure.
There are no general sumptuary laws now in effect in the United Kingdom. None ever applied specifically to academical dress, but some did include provisions which expressly applied to graduates and undergraduates. Franklyn cited one such Act, 24 Henry VIII c 13 (1533) as authorising all doctors to wear scarlet, as well as claiming that the MA and BD are thereby entitled to a black chimere, or tabard. The time of King Henry VIII is particularly important with respect to the development of sumptuary laws - as it was also for the evolution of academical dress.
While Franklyn's interpretation of this particular Act may be disputed, hitherto a study of this aspect of academical dress has been inhibited by the general unavailability of copies of the complete statute. Sumptuary laws in general and the ideological justifications for such laws are beyond the scope of this paper, the purpose of which is two-fold. First, it is intended to offer, for the first time, the full text of the 1533 statute, with a short commentary. For the purposes of contextualisation and comparison, an earlier sumptuary law is also transcribed in full, also with commentary. Second, it will address the contentious question of whether the Act of 1533 does in fact allow doctors to wear scarlet.
Keywords: law, academic dress, costume
JEL Classification: K10, K39
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation