Tudor Wedding Dresses

Have you ever wondered what Tudor women wore as their wedding dresses? I did, and had a trawl through the sources to find out. Of course, a lot of records survive from royal weddings, because they were of more interest and likely to be recorded and spread within the wider community by ambassadors, eyewitnesses and officials.

Marriage of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, 1826. Met Museum, Public Domain.

That said, it is fascinating to discover the colours and fabrics they chose. The wedding of Margaret Tudor and James IV of Scotland was celebrated in 1503 at Holyrood in Edinburgh. James wore a suit of white damask with gold accents, while Margaret also wore white damask, but with a border and lining of crimson velvet.

In January 1512, Henry VIII allocated some of his wardrobe expenses towards the marriage of Richard Mayre, one of the yeomen of the king's Ewery. Mayre's job would have been to oversee the preparation of drinks before food was served, and to keep tablecloths and napkins clean, tidy and readily available. Henry ordered the wardrobe pay for 'a gown cloth of violet containing four broad yards and as much black Irish lamb as will suffice to fur the same'. For his wife, the king allocated 'three broad yards of violet cloth for her gown'.

Violet seems to have been a popular colour for early Tudor wedding attire, with John Black, 'our trompeter' being allocated a gown of violet cloth, as well as a bonnet and hat 'to be taken of our gift against this marriage'. It is interesting to wonder whether this was the John Blanke who Miranda Kaufman identified as the first known person of African origin to live in Tudor England. Spellings were not consistent, and we know that Blanke was at court at this time. 

Mary Tudor, Henry VIII's sister, chose cloth of gold for her wedding gown as she became Queen of France in 1514. Mary famously married the much-older Louis XII and a Venetian ambassador recorded that her gown of 'of stiff gold brocade', with an English-style headdress. She also wore lots of jewels. On another occasion as she rode to one of the other celebrations for her big day Mary dressed in 'cloth of gold on crimson with close English sleeves; her head-tire consisted of certain gold ornaments in their fashion, with two large pearls on the left side. On her head she wore a shaggy hat of crimson silk, cocked over her left eye; and this she did not ever doff save on the King's arrival'. In the evening of her wedding, she changed into a gown in the French fashion. 

Catherine of York, sister to Elizabeth of York and mother of Henry Courtenay Marquis of Exeter, provided her laundress, Philippa, with a wedding gown. According to her accounts records of 1523-1524, the outfit consisted of a gown and kirtle of violet, trimmed with velvet and worn over a white petticoat. She also forked out for the woman's wedding ring, which cost three shillings and fourpence.

When Mary I joined England to the powerful Habsburg dynasty in 1554, she stood with her husband Philip of Spain wearing a gown of embroidered purple with wide sleeves, a high collar and a white satin kirtle. She did send Philip a gown studded with jewels but he later remembered he decided not to wear it on their wedding day as it was 'too ornate'.

In April 1558, Mary, Queen of Scots married the Dauphin of France at Notre Dame Cathedral in a dress that was, according to one source, 'whiter than the lily'. Her marriage was short-lived of course, but she went on to take two more husbands once she returned to Scotland.

This was just a quick look through the records - maybe you know of other wedding dresses of Tudor history? Let me know all about them in the comments below. 

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Notes and Sources

Green, Mary Anne Everett. Princesses of England from the Norman Conquest, volume 4. 1849. 
'Henry VIII: January 1512', in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 1, 1509-1514, ed. J S Brewer (London, 1920), pp. 502-510. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol1/pp502-510 [accessed 22 May 2024].
'Venice: November 1514', in Calendar of State Papers Relating To English Affairs in the Archives of Venice, Volume 2, 1509-1519, ed. Rawdon Brown (London, 1867), pp. 202-213. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/venice/vol2/pp202-213 [accessed 22 May 2024].