Friday, March 04, 2011

Henry VIII to the Commonwealth

Rutt moves on to discussion of knitting from 1509-1547.  He suggests that perhaps knitting moved slowly because knitting needles were hard to make.  this is most certainly possible. 

He states that first hats, then stockings, were knitted on a large scale in England.  i believe he says this because of extant items but he doesn't give those specifics.  He uses several conclusory statements that he likely has a reason for saying--but it doesn't give those reasons.  "Well-dressed people went on wearing cloth hose long after knitted stockings were first made, and it seems likely that before Elizabeth's reign knitted stockings were worn only by children and perhaps some artisans."  why does he say this?  he doesn't tell. 

one of my biggest concerns is that he wrote this book to some degree or another to appeal to a wide audience, but then consistently presents things as if they were fact ("evidence from Henry VIII's reigh shows the word 'knit' simply meant tied even in relation to hose'") he then uses a single example of a quotation to back this.  does this mean what he says?  perhaps.  even his quotation doesn't necessarily give weight to his claims tho.  "the garments were of strange fashion with also strange cuts, every cut knit with points of find gold and tassels of the same, their hosen cute and tied in likewise".  it certainly appears that in this case the person who said this (Edward Hall in his Chronicle) used knit and tie interchangeably.  is this an indication that all people used it thus?  perhaps.  or perhaps not. 

Henry's household accounts were transcribed in 1827 and while the word knit is used "ambiguously" there are a whole variety of reasons this could be.  for example in 1532 someone received  money for a pair of 'nyte hosen' for the king.  while this statement does not of necessity mean that the hosen were actually knitted (nyte could mean a variety of things i suppose) i think this is where Occam's Razor might come into play.  given all things be equal, the obvious answer is likely right.  by 1532 there were knitted stockings elsewhere in the world, spelling had not taken on the absoluteness of today (and doesn't actually for several hundred years), and while Rutt suggests it really might mean "night" (altho he acknowledges that the lack of a 'gh' is just as suspicious as the lack of a 'k') the most likely answer is that the hose were knitted.  can we say this with certainly?  of course not.

one of the things that is interesting in reading Rutt is his propensity to throw off little comments as fact that are largely unrelated to much of anything else he's talking about--and not necessarily true.  ("he not only gives a word for knitting that means 'to lace' or 'to interlace' and mentions bonnets and hose, but notes that knitting is financially unprofitable--as it has been ever since)  what the point of that little last toss off is, i'm not certain. 

in a 1890 publication of Wells Wills it is recorded that Agnes Smythe of Minehead bequeathed to someone "a cape and a knytter" and to someone else "an apron and a knitter".  William also made a bequest of his wife's "best ca, and her best gown and her best knytter".  Rutt agrees with me that there is really no way to tell what a "knitter" was, but suggests that it was probably an article of women's dress.  he fails to suggest it would be a knitted item, or a item used for knitting.  this is perhaps one of Rutt's most irritating characteristics.  he seems intent on proving that nothing was knitting that can not be shown without question to be.  rather than presenting the information and simply admitting there's no knowing what it means--which would have left openings for research, he suggests options that ten to close those doors. 

The Mary Rose, Henry's flagship that sunk in 1545, gives us an interesting view of the world.  a picture of a moment in time.  the ship was lost with all 700 people on board.  Because of the nature of the ocean and silt and such, much was preserved, including some knitting.  2 hats with brims around, a triangular scrap,  and a tube that is missing the bound off edge.  the hats purpose is clear, the triangular scrap is just a scrap, and the tube is likely either a scogger or a hogger--a detatched sleeve or leg warmer that was worn ny sailors.

Other knitted pieces have been found in 16th century digs throughout London.  they include sleeves or gaiters with a row of purl stitches at the ends, socks with garter stitch heels--with no defined seam line down the back, and a child's mitten.

Edward VI (1547-1553)
In this section Rutt again suggests that knitted garments were worn chiefly by children and working folk. It is unclear precisely why he suggests this.  perhaps because many extant items are child sized?  it is difficult to know and had he explained why he believed this it would be much easier to know. 

Regardless by 1552 there is an act of Parliment limiting the times for buying and selling a variety of things including knit hose, knit petticoats, knit gloves, and knit sleeves. additionally, he reports that King Edward had a pair of long Spanish stockings sent to him. so clearly, while knitting may (or may not) have been worn cheifly by children and working folk, royalty wore knitted garments. 

I am noting a significant change from the last chapter to this.  Here, where there is a fair bit of written documentation, Rutt does better.  he does much more "reporting" and makes far fewer conclusory statements.  I suspect that this is where Rutt "comes into his own".  where there is plenty of research to be done, it is primarily research into things that are written down.  He has found many references to knitting (i suspect many where found for him--unfortunately he doesn't tell us if he looked at the books in question, or if he looked at books whose authors had looked at the books in question--so it's still unclear how much of a secondary source Rutt can be considered) throughout literature and history and in this he shines. 

his real downfall was earlier when he should have done original research since no one had, or when he should have found foreign speakers to translate that which could not read, etc.  as we head into the part of history that is much more well-known, not surprisingly his history is better authenticated and more liekly accurate.    Tomorrow---Mary Queen of Scots!

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