Medieval Monday: The One True Century

It’s So Cold, You Can See My Rivets Through My Surcoat!

Depending on who you ask, global cooling began to happen sometime between the late 1200’s and 1300. And, also depending on who you ask, this either begins the period known as the Little Ice Age or it ends the period known as the Medieval Warm Period. But either way, the weather in Europe becomes cooler and wetter and this is disastrous for their grain crops—especially wheat, which accounted for about 2/3rds of the medieval peasant’s calorie intake.

The population was also at its maximum and, even when the weather was good, it was everything the land and crops and technology of the time could do to adequately feed everyone. When the weather takes a turn for the worse, reoccurring famines throughout Europe become the norm.

The Poker Goes WHERE?

Edward II was almost as bad a king as John. His penchant for setting men of no standing over his nobles and swirling rumors that he was homosexual caused his nobles to rebel against him (twice) and throw down his favorites. His wife, Isabella, was likewise incensed when he ignored her (and gave her jewels to his male favorites!). She eventually took a lover, Roger Mortimer, and together—and in conjunction with many of the other nobles of England—they deposed Edward. Edward died later in captivity—murdered, so it was said, by a red hot poker up the bum.

Edward II


The Trinitarian Papacy

In 1305, a Frenchman was elected Pope Clement V after a contentious conclave. He decided that he didn’t need to live in Rome, so he set up his court in Avignon. The Papacy stayed there for a total of seven papal reigns (67 years) and became infamous for its corruption and the undue influence of the French kings.Popes

Pope Gregory XI finally moved the Papacy back to Rome in 1376, but his successor proved unpopular with the cardinals, some of whom elected another pope, who set up a rival papacy in—you guessed it—Avignon. Before the Great Schism was over in 1414, there would be multiple popes and anti-popes—sometimes as many as three at one time.

The Hundred Years (More or Less) War

Edward’s son, Edward III, is crowned king at 14, but his mother rules as Regent with Roger Mortimer as a close advisor. Roger is soon as unpopular as Edward II’s favorites had been and after Edward III turns 17, he throws off his mother’s regency—putting her under house arrest—and has Roger executed.

In 1337, Edward makes a claim to the French throne through his mother, beginning an on-again, off-again war between the two countries that will last for a little more than a century. And, for most of that time, France’s wealth pours into England, making it very rich.


In 1346-47, a new disease came from the East and entered Western Europe through a port in Italy. Thanks to weakness of the population due to the famines and a series of animal plagues (murrains), Plague spread over the entirety of Europe and into the westernmost parts of Russia. It ravaged the population severely for three consecutive summers, then continued to make localized and somewhat less severe appearances for the better part of a decade. After 1360, Plague would be a reoccurring feature in Europe, but more akin to other disease outbreaks, such as smallpox. It is estimated that in the initial outbreak, Europe lost between 1/3rd and 2/3rds of her population. Europe would not regain her population numbers until the 17th century—and, in some places—not until the 18th or even 19th centuries.Plague

Useless Trivia: “The Black Death” is actually a post-medieval term. In period it was known as “The Great Pestilence” or “The Plague”. Incidentally, the medical term is also just “Plague.” Bubonic Plague is actually just one of three manifestations of Plague.

Additional Reading:

A sample of medieval accounts of Plague and its social effects: Eyewitness to History

The DNA of Y. pestis: Nature

14th Century Reenactor Porn: Pinterest

Previous Posts:

All Roads Lead to Rome

The Dark Ages

Charles in Charge

Make Haste to Hastings

Now Boarding Crusades 1-9 (Part 1)

Now Boarding Crusades 1-9 (Part 2)

Medieval Monday: The Middle Middle Ages

The One True Century

Here is another picture of me with my new ruffled veil–this time with the proper dress and hairstyle. I’m absolutely loving it!


And a quick alternate with the flat ram’s horns.



Medieval Combat Society Ruffleception! This German figure is wearing two veils–one on top of the other–similar to mine, then she has a wimple that has a matching ruffle around the bottom edge. I kind of like it.

Head of a Noble Woman(You know, I just realized I have my medieval face on: hooded eyes, pasted-on smile.)


My Cotehardie Project

I’ve mentioned here before that I do medieval re-enacting. While I plan to one day have a dress from every major century, my favorite century is, by far and away, the 14th century.

When I started re-enacting 10 years ago, I made my cotehardies from a Simplicity (or was it McCalls?) pattern. I think I made five dresses from two similar patterns.

Once I got the hang of that, I wanted to make a more authentic-looking cotehardie, so I switched to Period Patterns. I made two dresses from that pattern, then gave it up as a bad job; I had to do major alterations to the pattern and the dresses still fit less well than the ones I made from the Simplicity pattern.

But, the experiment did teach me one thing: how to alter a pattern and a dress to make it fit. So, having gotten some confidence (and experience), I bought a copy of The Medieval Tailor’s Assistant (which I highly recommend for anyone who wants to make 13th-15th century English/French clothing) and drafted my own pattern.

Me by Vicki

My friend Vicki Johnston took this picture of me. My posture is horrible; I blame the straw bale I was sitting on.

I made several dresses from the first pattern–including one that was entirely hand-sewn. Then I altered the pattern (*ahem* when I gained some weight) and made some more dresses.

Last year, I had a friend help me alter it a third time using instructions by Robin Netherton to fit the dress properly at the bust (I’m not wearing a bra under the dress in the picture and if I wasn’t slouching so badly, you’d clearly see I don’t need one).

(Robin’s website is down–and has been for a while–but Charlotte Johnson has similar instructions if you’re interested in the process of fitting a cotehardie.)

When my husband and I were in England in 2008, we went to the The Original Re-Enactor’s Market in Coventry. I was really inspired by the people I saw in garb there. (Most English and European re-enactment societies have higher costuming standards than the SCA.) While some people’s clothes were clearly hand-stitched, the most noticeable thing was how their clothing fit. I could clearly see that everything was lined and it made a huge difference in the fit; everything laid smoother and tighter across the body. I vowed then to start lining our clothing. (Although the English re-enactors have an advantage that we don’t have: we live in Tennessee and have been to re-enactments when it’s been 100+ degrees outside. So our hottest-weather clothing will have to remain unlined, just to keep us from roasting alive.


Okay, so maybe I can’t blame the straw bale for my bad posture. Time to start walking around with a book on my head. (Picture by Stephanie Hoke.)

I also vowed that I was going to start making all of our clothes by hand because I want to a) be more authentic, and b) having conquered pattern-drafting, I need a new challenge.

So, a couple of weeks ago, I put everything together– new pattern, entirely hand-sewn dress, and lining–and made myself a pale-yellow cotehardie with white buttons.

What was surprising was how fast this dress went together. When I made my first hand-sewn dress, I back-stitched every single seam, then did a double flat-fell seam (instead of lapping one seam allowance over the other and stitching once, I rolled each seam allowance back under itself and stitch both individually; this makes it easier to go around weirdly-shaped objects, like gussets and gores, but it also means twice as much sewing).

However, before I started my new dress, I read Textiles and Clothing by the Museum of London, and they said that most medieval clothing seemed to be sewn with nothing more than a running stitch. I was a bit leery of doing just that on my cotehardie, knowing it would fit tightly and the shoulder seams and sleeves, especially, would be under stress, but I also had to admit that it made a lot more sense to do a simple running stitch down the skirt, where there is no stress.


I measured my stitches and it looks like I averaged about 9-10 stitches per inch (6 per cm) in the linen. The muslin lining was easier to sew, so I probably did at least 10 to the inch with it.

I ended up doing a double-running stitch in the dress at the shoulders, and down both sides and the back to the hips. I did a back-stitch around both armholes (thinking they would have the most strain on them), but I did a plain running stitch below the hips.

It was amazing how much more quickly this dress went together than the previous one! In fact, had I not gotten sick and had other life-things happen, I would have had the entire thing done in 7-8 days, working about 5 hours a day on it. That is actually in keeping with the rate of production by a medieval seamstress (although she would have probably worked on a dress with gores and a fuller skirt, but would have worked 7-8 hours a day and finished in the same amount of time).


The lining where it meets the sleeve hole. I worked a nearly-invisible whip stitch.

I was able to make smaller stitches in the muslin lining (it was much finer and easier to work with then the linen), so I didn’t bother double-running any of the seams; they’re all plain running stitch.

Because this is a hot-weather dress, I chose not to line the sleeves, and the lining only comes down to the hips (it’s quite possible–even probable–that many medieval dress were made the same way to reduce material cost). I turned in all the raw edges of the lining and dress, pinned them together, and whip-stitched the lining in around all the openings. At the bottom of the lining, I hemmed it with some quick whip stitches and tacked it down at the seams and a couple of other places to keep it from wrinkling or bunching up when I put it on.


I love making buttons. These are made using wooden screw-hole caps (used on fine furniture to hide the screw hole) covered in fabric. (You can also see in this picture where the lining and linen meet; I whip-stitched the two together, but the stitches are pretty much invisible.)

The front seam (below the buttons) is actually overlapped and sewn with nearly-invisible whip stitches on the front. I do my button-up dresses this way to prevent a pucker at the bottom of the front opening where the buttonhole side overlaps the button side.


Here are my buttonholes (you can still see some of my blue tailor’s chalk marks). Even with stitching through the muslin lining, the linen wanted to ravel on me, so these aren’t as pretty as they might have been in another fabric.

One of the things that’s nice about ditching the sewing machine is that I can sew anywhere. When Stuart and I were on our way to an event, I sewed in the car. The weekend was really rainy and the event was small, so I didn’t have much to do other than sew, so I put in the lining and did all the button holes. Being able to work on it any time and anywhere (I just need a small basket to put my supplies in) means I can fit it into my schedule, rather than working my schedule around it.