Studying Up on Tudor Footwear

Shoes from the Mary Rose
Mary Rose Shoes – via

Tudor shoes are old. They’re about as old as we get for extant shoes, with the exception of a very few Medieval examples. It’s quite extraordinary, really, and even more mind-boggling that a lot of our Tudor shoes come to us from beneath the water.

The best collection of in-tact Tudor footwear is from the Mary Rose, the famous wreckage of King Henry VIII’s warship raised in 1982. The ship was originally built in 1510 and sank in 1545, taking with it a historical treasure trove (literally treasure, but of course I mean the artifacts of life as a 16th c. sailor!) of tankards, spoons, hammers, combs, … and shoes.

Mary Rose sailor’s shoes

The interesting thing about Tudor shoes is that they’re pretty basic, almost modern-looking. However, there appear to have been quite a few styles of upper – slippers, mules, clogs, bar shoes, latchet shoes, tie shoes – a few styles of toe – square, cow-mouthed, and round – and all sorts of slashing designs used for decoration. They’re robust, sturdy shoes with thick soles and coarse construction. They’re workmen’s shoes, but commoner’s footwear of this period doesn’t appear to vary between the sexes.

In the upper classes, aristocracy, and royalty, we have the same shapes, but made in much more delicate materials – silk, velvet – and less “clunky.”

Henry VIII in “cow-mouthed” slippers slashed and with a slight spring heeled sole.
Henry’s slippers are a lot like this incredible pair from the V&A – 1520s-1540s

I’m studying up on Tudor shoes because the latest Exclusive, Cycle 5, is a pair of Tudor slippers. These:

Recorded as French, 1500-1550, but construction and design is inconsistent with footwear of this period. MFA

The interesting thing about these slippers, though, is that they are probably not actually Tudor. The consensus among historic cordwainers and footwear historians is that this particular pair was probably made in the 19th century for theater or fancy dress. The construction, patterning, and particularly the application of the stacked heel are all inconsistent with real Tudor shoes, but very consistent with Victorian construction.

MFA, recorded as French, 1500-1550

That being said, the overall design is actually pretty correct. So for the Exclusive design, I’ve “retrofitted” them so that our version will be closer to an original example.

Fascinating stuff! Gotta love History’s Mysteries, and when you get this far back in time, things start to get squiggy. All part of the fun. 🙂


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