A Quick Look At Late Elizabethan/Early Jacobean Shoes

Today we kick off a series on European footwear at the end of Elizabeth I’s reign, and beginning of James I’s, culminating on Friday with the pre-order release of our latest early-period shoes, “Virginia.”

What better place to start than by looking at originals?  Those of you familiar with our Stratford shoes will be interested to know that flat shoes and heeled were contemporary, and that the aristocracy wore flat shoes as well as heeled, but heeled shoes for classes further down the food chain did not come into common wear until later in the 17th century.

For “Virginia,” I worked with the costume designer at Jamestown to develop a unisex style that was similar to a shoe that was excavated from a well at the settlement, seen here:

Shoe leather from an early Jamestown well, with a sketch of the original design

This type of shoe was nothing new. Similar, simple shoes were found on the Mary Rose, dating from 1545, and brought up from the Thames, some exhibiting slashing, cow-mouth, round, or softly square toe shapes, slippers, strap closure, tie closure, and latchet closure. There was quite a variety.

Shoes from The Mary Rose
Mary Rose shoes – via
Mary Rose shoe

Moving towards the end of the 16th century, both men and women start wearing open-sided shoes that are either flat, wedged, or with a short, blocky heel. Toe shapes, slashing patterns, and colors varied:

Sir Jerome Bowes, by an unknown artist, c. 1584
Sir Anthony Mildmay, by Nicholas Hilliard, c. 1585 – he’s got quite pointed toes
Elizabeth I, by an artist of the English school, c. 1592
The Browne Brothers, by Isaac Oliver, 1598 – you can see not all shoes were white (that was a very aristocratic/royalty/court thing)

Round about 1600 is where we get our closest “Virginia” ancestor:

V and A, English origin, c. 1600

And after 1600, folks of all classes were wearing some version of this shoe (but not exclusively this type, remember!). The side openings gradually got larger later into the century:

Prince Henry, sone of James I, c. 1608
Charles-Alexandre de Croy, Flemish, 1610
Sir Thomas Pope, c. 1635 – still flat, square-toed, quite large opening on the side, and black. Love his jaunty pink stockings, too!

There are still some stragglers later in the 17th century, but by about the 1670s, shoes started to change significantly, and we’re moving into high, French-heeled territory.

So there’s a basic primer on this particular shoe style of this specific time period. Next time, I’ll share more about Virginia’s development, with tantalizing photos, and enticing reasons why you simply must have them for your next Renaissance Fair!


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