A Little History of Mary/Marlowe Elizabethan & Jacobean Shoes

Anyone who has ventured down the Renaissance Rabbit Hole has at some point run into The Shoe Problem™. What the heck did the Tudors, Elizabethans, and Stuarts wear upon their feet? And where can you get shoes like that?

One of the surviving examples of late 16th century shoes from the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

We don’t have a lot of surviving examples of late 16th century footwear simply because of the age, but what we do have are a lot of portraits showing off some pretty stellar shoes. In the time of Henry VIII, shoes were flat and fairly simple in shape with either round or very square “cow mouth” toes, the primary decoration coming from slashing and perforation. Around the 1580 and 90s, though, heeled shoes come into vogue.

Charles I circa 1616, © National Portrait Gallery, London

It’s a common misconception that Louis XIV introduced heeled shoes in the mid-17th century. In fact, both men and women had been wearing heeled shoes for a good 80 years already. Early on, these heeled shoes were a status symbol and appear in full length portraits of both men and women, sometimes sticking out oddly from the hem of one’s skirt, and often decorated with slashing and huge rosettes or pom-poms. They were also very commonly white or ivory, even when worn with a dark-colored outfit and stockings, denoting privilege and wealth. The shoes were clearly meant to be seen, even featured, in these portraits. Moving on into the 1620s and 1630s, heeled shoes disseminated down into the lower economic ranks and were rather extensively depicted in Dutch paintings and scenes, the most common color being, of course, black.

1613 Catherine Lyte Howard by William Larkin
Merry Company by Isack Elyas, 1629 Rijksmuseum Amsterdam
Detail of Militia Company of District XI under the command of Captain Reyniet Reael, known as The Meagre Company Frans Hals, oil on Canvas, 1637 – Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

In developing our version, I looked for the hallmarks of these heeled 16th/17th century styles: rounded toes, a short heel with that unique shape, and open latchet sides. How round, how tall, and how open had to be considered with modern use in mind – that is, knowing our shoes will be used outside at Renaissance Faires certainly affected all of these points.

Many years ago we produced another Elizabethan design called “Stratford”. For our revamp, it was important to take the feedback from Stratford. We omitted the slashing, lowered the heel, changed the heel material, shrunk the side openings and widened the tongue. The resulting “Mary” and “Marlowe” design is simpler in appearance, but perhaps a little more practical in use.

Shoes – Swedish – c 1630 Livrustkammaren 27471 923-a. This is one of my more primary references with the stacked wooden heel and rand design, as well as the wider tongue.

Another major change is that we are finally able to offer our Elizabeth/Jacobean shoe in both women’s and men’s sizes. Historically these were indeed unisex shoes. Everybody wore them, and while boots may always be the footwear of choice for gentleman of the RenFaire, having the option to wear very historical low shoes is a nice change. Plus we’re really, really hoping that all the Robert Dudleys out there sport some utterly massive ribbon rosettes.

We also have a lot more color choice. Black will always be the most practical and best-selling, and it’s also plenty historical. We also have dark brown and oxblood red, naturally, but for those portraying nobles, I encourage you to sport the ivory shoes. Don’t worry about ruining them with outdoor wear – leather, even light-colored, is very resilient, and easily cleaned. Just look after them. Pom-poms for you too, please!

For the women’s size range, check out “Mary” in the Renaissance section. We’re offering US women’s 5 -12, B width (regular women’s width) and these are easy to stretch.

For the men’s size range, see “Marlowe,” available in US men’s 6 – 15, D width (regular men’s width).

Most importantly, there is cross-over in the size ranges. For instance, if you typically wear a USA women’s 7.5 Wide or X-Wide, a USA men’s size 6 will likely fit you better. If you typically wear a USA men’s 9.5 Narrow, a women’s size 11 may work better for you. We encourage you to check out the size conversion charts here (at the bottom).

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