At the San Jose Renaissance Faire this August, Sarah and I finally came up with a fantastic idea for what our renfaire personas and gig would be. This was the first renfaire either of us had worked in a million years, and the first one all of us were working together under the “guild” of the Chateau Rose (which is really our SCA household). Francis wanted to test out faire as a place to display his cordwaining skills, and we came along for the ride without having a plan of what to play.
See, we couldn’t be a group of nobles because there’s already a bunch of those. The local faire circuit already has a tailor’s guild too. And our dear friends of the Bella Donna Venetian Courtesans aren’t taking applications either. So Sarah and I were at loss at first.
Until she mentioned reading that Elizabethan tailors could tell their trade secrets to their wives. Which reminded me of the profile of Janet Fockart that I read in Mary Stewart’s People, by Margaret H.B. Sanderson. Fockart was a wealthy widow who took over her deceased second husband’s business of importing fabric and luxury dress goods. This husband, John Fowler, had prospered in Edinburgh selling these fine materials and fancy items. Janet ran the business well enough after her husband’s death to also start lending money as a “wad wyfe” on the side.
On page 94-95 of Sanderson’s book is an excerpt of the inventory made at Fowler’s death in 1572. The book reports on the many fabrics left in his warehouse, then describes the stock of small luxury items that seemed to be his bread and butter: “There were a good many dress accessories, which would be sold to shopkeepers or to tailors who chose them to match their customers’ garments,” items such as:
- Belts, “bends” or sashes (“sashes for women were of lawn edged with gold thread”)
- Collars (“Collars were made of crape or lawn edged or embroidered with gold or silver. These were extremely expensive articles costing between 23s and 30s each, as much as an ell of some fabrics. White collars corded with gold, which arrived from France, cost 50s each.”)
- Ruffs and material to make ruffs (“Items in William Fowler’s stock which are described as ’17 ells schorne warkis,’ ‘5 ells of schorne warkis,’ 5 ells of shorne warkis for ruffs’ and 7 braidis (?breadths) plane for ruffs’ may be lengths of material to be goffered and made up into ruffs … William Fowler’s stock contained no fewer than 200 ells of ‘Dantellis’ or narrow scalloped edge lace for ruffs. He also sold sets of ruffles; ‘a neck and hand with ruffis, 12s,’ ‘4 neckis and handis with ruffis, 25s’ and ‘2 handis and neckis with ruffis, 5s,’ the variation in price suggesting different types of fabric.”)
- Coifs (“He had women’s and children’s coifs in quantities up to two dozen, made of fine materials such as silk, lawn and ‘net’ and embroidered with gold, silver or coloured thread. A ‘stand’ of three coifs for children, in lawn and silk embroidery, cost 30s. There were also black silk coifs of the kind worn under their hats by older men.”)
- Hats (“Bonnets were made of burret, velvet and taffeta and hats were of velvet, taffeta, felt and ‘velour wob,’ embroidered and trimmed with tassels and hat-strings.”)
- Buttons (“some of them made of gold and English silk”)
- Garters (“silk and worsted garters ‘of the smallest sort’ and ‘of the mid sort'”)
- Lacings (“points and ribbons, broad and narrow and many-coloured, including some Florence ribbons used ‘to knit gentilweminis hair'”)
- Bags (“leather bags and locked velvet purses”)
- Sewing implements (“needles and thimbles in cases, one of these being fitted inside and gilt, papers of pins”)
- Various personal items (“cases of bone combs decorated with gold, mirrors, including 11 crystal mirrors, pen knives and tooth picks”)
What fine and fabulous things for us ladies to sell! It’s similar enough to tailor’s work that we already know a lot about it, the items themselves are high quality, which satisfies our interests in upper-class material culture, and it’s historically accurate employment for two ladies of middling to good station. A new renfaire gig was born!
Best of all, our names: Mistresses Fockett and Cox, purveyors of odd and fancie goodes. I’m Constance Fockett (widow of William “Will” Fockett) and she is Charity Cox (widow of Henry “Harry” Cox).
Not sure when we’ll have our first full setup, as we need to make some new display items, plus the means to display them. But either Sebastapol or Folsom faires this year might see us at “work.”