Mi-parti clothing is shown in several medieval manuscripts, with mi-partied fabrics listed in wardrobe accounts for the fourteenth century; however, they are not necessarily used in the same fashion or as commonly as they are in use within the SCA. At Robin Netherton’s “Women’s Heraldic Dress” lecture in 2006, there was a discussion about the theory of usage of mi-parti and heraldic clothing using Newton’s examples as occurrences of actual clothing instead of as a symbolic tool or a way to identify the owner of something. The use of mi-parti was discussed, but without research into that aspect of the concept and documentation, it was encouraged as something I could look into for myself and write up. This was repeated when I attended her lectures a second time at Costume College in 2011 when she was a guest speaker, with a repeat result. In “Fashion of the Age of the Black Prince,” Stella Mary Newton references the usage of mi-parti for livery, especially for Welsh archers, and includes notations from wardrobe accounts for costs and yardages in both England and France during this period. (Newton, 102) The Museum of London book, Clothing and Textiles, references textile finds in the digs of London throughout the entirety of the book, breaking them down by textile type, dyes and weaves. More recently, Camilla Luise Dahl and Katherine Vestergard Pedersen have also published articles specifically researching textile finds and documentation of mi-parti, marbled, and patterned clothing in Scandinavia. (Pedersen, 122 – 151) I believe that mi-parti was used for both male and female garb, as well as more elaborate embellishments for heraldic display.
Looking at 14th Century Records and Illustrations
Looking at clothing for the mid-fourteenth century has some interesting textile challenges, especially in England and its holdings of Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Clothes were often given as bequests or part of wages, and then likely made over and over until the cloth was no longer usable. There are numerous entries in household accounts for robes to be embroidered with badges or scenes, such as the golden squirrels added to the purple velvet for the robe (set of five garments) completed by William de London and John de Cologne for Queen Philippa’s first embroidered garments made in London in 1330. (Staniland, Embroiderers, 28) The robe went to Ely Cathedral in 1332/2 where it was turned into three copes for John Crauden, Prior of Ely (1321-4). (Staniland, Embroiderers, 68) In the 15th and 16th centuries, many of the garments that we do see listed in wills or wardrobe accounts as bequests to the church were sold to recoup the pearls and precious metals, or so damaged from improper storage that they were destroyed. (Staniland, 68) Textiles found in the London dig middens are damaged by the damp, most are stained beyond recognition of original color and limited by what could survive the adverse conditions. (Textiles and Clothing, 2-5, 26)
Archaeological textiles found in the Scandinavian digs such as Lodose also have similar preservation issues, seldom showing any color other than brownish-black, but red and blue colors can be seen, and chemical analysis has detected yellow, green and brown pigment dyes. (Pedersen, 138) Commonly we see illuminations for clothing showing a solid color, yet there are numerous examples of mi-parti, marbled, and patterned clothes found in Scandinavian written accounts. Camilla Luise Dahl gives a brief list of examples from the 14th century drawn from Danish, Swedish and Norwegian wills and other accounts. (Appendix A) She traces the occurrences of striped, marbled, and mi-parti clothes in the 13th and 14th century, which peter out in the early 15th century with the different opinions held in Scandinavia regarding multi-colored clothes and the vagaries in trying to directly translate the terms used to describe this type of clothes within all the European languages. Camilla references parts of Norwegian sumptuary legislation from 1315, which specifies that ‘German fashions’ such as lappeklaeder (pieced clothes) made with two or more colours or more than two colours, and skackeran (checked), were prohibited (um skackeran, parteran ok leppa klaetha skurth). Skackeran could refer to clothes made from cloth with a woven checked pattern or from garments pieced together in various colours; it is not easily referenced to be specifically one or the other. (Pedersen, 123 – 135.)
Sumptuary laws give additional evidence for possible uses of fabrics, or what types of textiles were in use. England’s Edward III increased taxes for many reasons, not only to increase revenues but also because of a possible war with France, but the belief that regulations on wool or woolens would keep English money in England, while also keeping a visible social strata between classes because the merchant class was spending more money on expensive ( usually imported) fabrics and making it more difficult to easily tell who was nobility versus merchant class. The first of these laws came in 1328, specifying how specific types of cloth were to be measured, including acceptable lengths, widths and costs, and that they were to be measured specifically by Aulnegeours, King’s officers, in the presence of the Mayor and Bailiffs. Two types detailed within the law were Ray Cloth, a multi-colored striped cloth that was to be 28 yards by “6 quarters of measure by the yard,” approximately 1 and a half yards wide; and “coloured cloth” was to be 26 yards by “6 quarters and a half,” or approximately 2 yards wide. These are approximate widths for broadcloth, which is not made on a single-person loom, and both are fabrics used in the robes commonly used as livery for household members.
In 1336, Edward III put into law the next major English Sumptuary Statute. This Statute prevented anyone not of the royal family from purchasing or using cloth made from outside England, or its holdings of Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. This applied to all cloth purchased after the Feast of Saint Michael of the year 1337. This statute could be an additional reason for why we have so little to work with as far as extant garments for the fourteenth century, as it might be an additional encouragement to make over robes to reuse the cloth or embellishments as an attempt to stretch budgets.
Annual livery was part of the wages for most household members, and varied in cloth, color and style based upon rank. In the 1358-59 accounts for Elizabeth de Burgh, the household knights and her wards dressed in the same material chosen for Elizabeth and the countess of Pembroke, Mary de St Pol. The squires were given outfits of azure blue and striped cloth; officials had green and striped medley. Clerks and damsels wore a brown marbled cloth called mabryn, with “bruskyn” medley belts or bodices. Servants wore mixed colored wool and tan stripes, different from the “little clerks” in green or the manorial bailiffs and household pages in red and green. Elizabeth also imported 182 ells and 100 yards of russet from her Welsh estates and provided shoes or boots. (Underhill, 81-82) Elizabeth and Mary exchanged identical robes often between 1331 and 1358, as a symbol of friendship, including occasions such as Christmas and even Elizabeth’s birthday. Elizabeth first bought these for Mary in 1331, with at least six other instances recorded in surviving records. (Underhill, 104, 187)
Mi-parti was often listed in wardrobe accounts for livery, whether to show household affiliation, or a specific rank within a household. The 1355 Register for the Black Prince includes an entry to deliver not only the monetary wages for the Welsh archers of Flynt, but green and white cloth. This follows the instructions in 1346 where the green and white cloth for the Flynt Welshman is delivered in a courtepie and chaperon each of both colors, with the green on the right side. (Newton, 70) The Christmas 1360 livery of the royal household servants was a mi-parti combination of coloured shortcloth and striped cloth (3 ells of each) . Two newly created knights were given mi-parti suits of marbryn and green longcloth, while other knights of the chamber were made of tan longcloth and striped cloth. The Royals wore marbryn longcloth, differing in length and type of fur for the King, Queen, Princes and Princesses. (Newton, 65-67) This is different from the common usage in the SCA, where both pieces of cloth are solid fabrics, and there is very little usage of striped, checked, or other patterned fabric.
Mi-Parti in ‘The Romance of Alexander’ Manuscript
One of the primary medieval manuscripts used by costume historians and re-enactors for fourteenth century clothing is the Flemish Romance of Alexander (Bodleian M.S. 264 c 1330 – 1350). Most of the 274 folios are illuminated, with a varied use of mi-parti, heraldic, or designs on clothing. There are two different styles of illumination in the manuscript, one seemingly much later than the other and in a different hand for the text, showing clothing more akin to the 1390’s very short tight cotes or houppelandes, and the bulk of the manuscript in the 1330 – 1350 style range with the majority of men’s cotes closer to the knees with a fuller skirt. Out of the 274 folios (or 548 page images), up to folio 209 is of the earlier style and I have tabulated 273 images with human figures, only 47 of which belong to the later illumination style of the manuscript, leaving 226 images for use. I’ve further broken the concepts into male and female usages for hoods, cotehardies or gowns, mantles, tabards, giorneas, and hose, as well as notating whether the usage was in a primary scene or initial or in the marginalia. Most of the marginalia seem to be of a lower class than the primary pieces, but there are a few instances of knights, royalty or nobility in the margins.
There are 174 folio pages with males in the initials or scenes, almost 77% of the decorated pages being counted. Many of the images have groups of males packed tightly together, particularly of mounted knights, making it challenging to count the number of humans. To simplify things, I determined to count an image only if I could see enough of a piece of clothing to determine if it was parti-colored or not. This could be a bust of a musician or by-stander touching the frame of an image, not only an entire figure. There were six items of clothing which were shown as parti-colored in these pages: hoods, cotehardies, tabards, mantles, giorneas and hose. A figure could have one or more items shown in parti-color, and they did not need to match in color scheme, even on a non-musician. If parti-colored, hoods generally were in a vertical division down the center seam, with 77 instances, with the next most common division being a solid color with a different color of dagging or fringe at the hemline having 13 examples. The least common division, with four instances, was a horizontal division, usually with the hood being a different color or a non-dagged border. Cotehardies were the most common article of clothing to be shown in parti-color, whether this was simply two solids, a rayed cloth, or interesting patterns. In this portion of the manuscript, vertical divisions were the most common at 73 images and the next most common at 36 images was a horizontal division near the hipline where belts were also worn. A bendy sinister, or diagonal lines from left shoulder to right hem, was the next most common at 20 instances, then we see a drop to bendy (right shoulder to left hem) at seven, barry (horizontal lines) at five, rayonny (a zig-zag effect down the center front) with four and two with a double mi-parti with a vertical division having a bendy sinister on one side. Coming in with one image each were divisions of quarterly, piley (having triangles coming up from the hem), a barry wavy, lozengy, a horizontal with a vertical below, a vertical with a horizontal below, a barry coupled with a vertical, and one with just one sleeve in a different color than the rest of the cotehardie. Most of these were overtunics, but a few were undertunics–with just the parti-colored sleeves, usually a bendy or barry effect, showing from underneath the shorter sleeved overtunic. Two tabards were shown in mi-parti over armor, one in a horizontal division and one in a per pall. One mantle is shown early on in a vertical division and near the end there are two giorneas shown as outer garments in parti-color, one in vertical and the other in a bendy sinister pattern. There were 27 instances of men in parti-colored hose, which might or might not be in combination with a parti-colored cotehardie.
As can be seen so far, the ubiquitous vertical division used in the SCA is indeed the most common, but there are others which can make for a flattering figure and help someone visually stand out more in the crowd, yet the total number of figures wearing mi-parti is less than 24% of the population within the manuscript. There are 17 instances of men wearing something with a heraldic design, usually a tabard or surcoat. Newton’s translated summary of the image accounts has that almost all of the knights (chivaliers) attending on Alexander are wearing mi-parti as it was part of high fashion of the time (the Romance of Alexander being completed in 1344), and when used as livery such as the Welsh archer’s tunics, it was a sign of their attachment to a royal or noble house. The stripes worn by these knights usually appear diagonal, a much more expensive process than the striped cloth of Ghent, one of the cheaper cloths in the great wardrobe accounts. (Newton, 102) Whether these stripes or other patterns were woven with stripes on the diagonal, something cut on the bias, or painstakingly pieced together is really unknown, since we have no extant garment pieces, only these images or wardrobe descriptions. Looking at the variations on hoods, there are several examples of details there as well, in mi-parti or embellishments, that would make ones worn now more personal and help someone visually stand out at an event.
Within the marginalia we have even higher numbers for the male figures, at 188 pages with males to count. Most of these are of a non-noble status, showing musicians, huntsmen, pages or kitchen staff; however, they also include knights, squires, guards and kings or other nobles. Not surprisingly, with the additional classes being illustrated, we see even more styles of mi-parti divisions in the hoods and cotehardies. Hoods have 96 vertical divisions and eight of dagging, three each of a horizontal or a barry style of partition and one each of paly, per pall, rayonny and checky. Cotehardies have a substantial increase in occurrences, starting with 112 horizontal and 63 vertical divisions occurring. We then see eight barry, six each of quarterly, rayonny and bendy, five of a vertical with a horizontal division on the right side, two with one sleeve separate, and one each of checky, paly, and per pall. Eight giorneas are shown in particolor near the end, three in bendy sinister, two in barry and one vertical, and there are 51 figures with parti-colored hose. The percentage of parti-color increases to 42% within the marginalia, again mostly being in cotehardies, but more of it being a horizontal division rather than vertical.
Women are shown within the primary illumination pieces of the Romance of Alexander on a far less grand scale than the men, showing up on only 73 folio pages with 239 images. Of these images, only seven gowns are shown in mi-parti, all in a vertical division, and two undergowns show a deep border of a colored or embellished fabric on a gown of white, this is a total of just under 4% in mi-parti, none in the more interesting variations seen on the male images. The undergowns were most likely a frugal way to extend a clothing budget, utilizing a less costly fabric for the bulk of the undergown and having the more expensive portion where it was most likely to be shown off. This restraint could be an unconscious reflection of the emphasis on men and their importance in life as opposed to women, but the Romance of Alexander does differ from many other manuscripts by showing more detail in the patterns of fabrics used on women’s clothing. Overall detailing is much more restrained on the female images than for the men, even when a larger focus or a crowned personage. which seems at odds with the numerous entries in household accounts for robes to be embroidered with badges or scenes, such as the golden squirrels added to the purple velvet for the robe (set of five garments) completed by William de London and John de Cologne for Queen Philippa’s first embroidered garments made in London in 1330. (Staniland, Embroiderers, 28) According to Stella Newton, the English wardrobe accounts of the early 1340’s detail some embroidered garments, not only the time on the workmanship, but details of the actual patterns. The detailing shown in the Romance of Alexander for the gown fabrics is not repeated on this scale in any of the other manuscripts that I’ve reviewed at this time (Manesse Codex, Macclesfield Psalter, Luttrell Psalter, Taymouth Hours, and Queen Mary’s Psalter).
The percentage of mi-parti occurrences for women in the marginalia in comparison to the primary images is nearly four times as great, although it still only shows a vertical division for overgowns. We see four hoods, two vertical, one barry and one horizontal, one sideless surcoat and eight gowns. There are 15 undergowns showing the deep colored or embellished border at the hem with a plain white upper section and one overgown which almost appears to have a lighter band at the hem. The washing out is in an even line across the gown, without additional fading above or below the image outlines, so I do not think it is simply a case of fade or water damage to that section. Many of the women are seen dancing, but several are hunting either on horse or with hawk. Once again, the overall detailing for the women pictured is far less detailed than that of the men, although we occasionally see buttons on hoods, bezants or mounts on girdles and a few more possible quick lines hinting at a turned up lining or simple line of embroidery.
The detail in the Romance of Alexander is notable when in compared to the Germanic Manesse Codex (Cod. Pal. germ. 848 c 1300 – 1340) which has 137 full page miniatures in the 426 folios, but no marginalia. In the Manesse Codex there are only 42 male figures wearing mi-parti clothing, with 25 more males wearing heraldic surcoats, but no women seem to be in mi-parti garments. Most of the textiles are not detailed as the ones illustrated in the Romance of Alexander, and the styles are of the older fashions with looser long robes for both genders and the armscyse of the cyclas or sideless surcoat closer to the actual underarm. Most garments are colored as if a singular color weave; however, we see wider bands of gold illumination at the neckline and cuffs for both men and women. There are no instances of the floriated or striped effects we saw used in the Romance of Alexander. Almost all of the mi-parti clothing for the men is depicted as the cottes, with one king’s mantle in an argent and sable chevronelly, as well as a cyclas in the same division pattern, and six pairs of hose with patterns or particoloring detailed. Here the most common division is barry, followed by vertically and bendy sinister. There are several unique instances of paly, nebuly, one shoulder, rayonny, chevronelly, and vertical, barry or horizontal divisions with a solid and a different particolor type, but mi-parti is a small percentage of the illuminated figures.
Comparing the Romance of Alexander to the Luttrell Psalter, there are only perhaps 7 or 8 examples of mi-parti clothing, one of which is the heraldic image of the Luttrells. One is of a glove, the rest are outer garments and almost all of them are vertical divisions. There are fabric details for stripes and overall patterns in outer garments, including a detailed checky pattern.
Examples of Mi-Parti Clothing
For personal use, I’ve enjoyed working with a per bend/ per bend sinister variation on the mi-parti style. Using one of the other variations shown, even as a step away from period by using a male version on a female garment, or non-solid colored textiles enhances the pageantry I enjoy so much. While I have used stripes, plaids, and brocades for some of my garments, I have been unable to track down any photographs of those garments at the present time. Having a housefire, a basement flood, and a rather vituperative divorce over the past 25 years makes some of that personal documentation rather challenging. A per bend division is a fairly flattering one, with only a few extra seamlines to consider, as I draft the bend from the shoulder line to the waist point where the gores begin, then add in the correct color division gores. If desired, I can then mark another seam line on the lower body panel to make the bend even fuller, but if made at a sharp “\”, the visual effect both slims and elongates the figure. With my elevation gown, the base mi-parti division is vertical, with the left side having a per chevron division with my personal heraldry, and my primary household on the right.
In conclusion, the usage of mi-parti in the Romance of Alexander shows a wider variety of mi-parti styles for men than is used in the SCA or in the other manuscripts I have been able to access at this time. Additionally, the wardrobe accounts and wills reference a greater variety of mi-parti in usage for livery or as full ensembles of clothing for both men and women, although the only images I’ve seen so far for women are of the vertical division that is the primary type seen on SCA garments. The accounts show a greater usage of striped and rayed fabrics as well, used by themselves or with another fabric, or embroidered motifs where SCA members tend to use solid fabrics almost exclusively. The Taymouth Hours had no examples of mi-parti clothing, but did have a small scattering of textile designs, though most were solid colors. I intend to continue finding complete illuminated manuscripts to compare regional styles further, since my copy of the Macclesfield Psalter did not have any human figures wearing mi-parti, I now own a facsimile of the Luttrell Psalter and recently found a wiki page with a listing of over fifty 14th century illuminated manuscripts that are accessible online. That will greatly increase my ability to add to my reference points. So far, it appears that the Flemish and Northern European styles illustrate more mi-parti images than manuscripts attributed to Germanic, French or English artistic sources.
A small selection of 14th Century Scandinavian examples of multi-colored, marble and patterned clothes in Scandinavian written accounts and wills found in Testamenter fra Damerks Middelalder, Svensk Diplomatorium and Diplomatorium Norwegicum. (Pederson, )
|Type of Garment or Textile||Year||Source|
|Kleder aff marbri (clothes of marble cloth)||1320||DN XVI, 5|
|Halflitr kyrtill ok kaprun (parti-coloured tunic and hood)||1322||DN II, 126|
|Blat menget mottul ok kaprun med huitum skinnum (mantle of blue marbled cloth and hood lined with ermine)||1322||DN II, 126|
|Item raumengen kyrtill maedr lodum (red marbled tunic with embroidery)||1328||DN II, 142|
|Item mottull gr/oe/nmengen maedr gramskinnum maedr salf ok lod (mantle of green marbled cloth lined with miniver, decorated with silver Bezants and embroidery)||1328||DN II, 142|
|Vnam tunicam halwskipftan (a parti-coloured tunic)||1331||SD IV, 201|
|Kyrtil ok tabart ok kaprun af marbri samdredet medr raudt silki (tunic and tabard of marbled cloth lined with red silk)||1331||DN III, 148|
|Sorcocium rubeum cum viridi foratura (red surcot lined with green cloth)||1333||SD IV, 332|
|Kiurtil blamaenigiadr (tunic of blue marbled cloth)||1335||DN IV, 191|
|Item aein raudmaengiadr mattul medr graam skinnum ok safal (a red marbled mantle with miniver and silver bezants)||1335||DN IV, 191|
|Tunicam cum capucio mixti coloris cum serico viridi (tunic and hood of mixed colors, with green silk)||1338||Testamenter, 79|
|Menginn tabaerd med skimmun (Tabard of marble cloth with fur)||1343||DN II, 212|
|Klaedhe gront oc blat (green and blue cloth)||1346||SD IV, 563|
|Tunicam meam maenght bryggist (my tunic of marble cloth from Bruges)||1346||SD V, 573|
|Par klaeda…gullmeghnum ok raudmaeghnum (a pair of garments of red marbled and yellow marbled cloth respectively)||1349||DN V, 166|
|Vnam peciam panni brabantzt per mixti coloris (one pecia of Brabant cloth of mixed colors)||1351||SD VI, 298|
|Tunicam meam mixti coloris cum capucio (my tunic of mixed colours with a hood)||1352||SD VI, 395|
|Cappam varij coloris (cappa in various colours)||1357||SD VIII, 136|
|Tunicam mixti coloris (tunic of mixed colours)||1359||SD VII, 212|
|I tunicam cum capucio mixti coloris (a tunic with hood of mixed colours)||1364||Testamenter, 135|
|Vestes meas novas mixti coloris (my new clothes of mixed colours)||1366||Testamenter, 137|
|Tunicam de panno brunmaenct (tunic of brown marbled cloth)||1371||SD X, 1:59|
|Tunica gramengdan (tunic of grey marbled cloth)||1371||SD X, 1:59|
|Tunicam varii coloris cum capucio (tunic of mixed colours with a hood)||1377||Testamenter, 146|
Brown, Michelle P. The Luttrell Psalter A Facsimile. London: The British Library, 2006.
Crowfoot, Elisabeth, Pritchard, Frances, & Staniland, Kay. Textiles and Clothing 1150 – 1450. Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 1992.
Newton, Stella Mary. Fashion in the Age of the Black Prince. Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 1980.
Pedersen, Kathrine Vestergard & Nosch, Marie-Louise B. The Medieval Broadcloth Changing Trends in Fashions, Manufacturing and Consumption. Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2009.
Silverman, Sarah Kelly. “The 1363 English Sumptuary Law: A comparison with Fabric Prices of the Late Fourteenth-Century.” Thesis: Ohio State University 2011.
Staniland, Kay. Embroiderers. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991.
Underhill, Frances A. For Her Good Estate: The Life of Elizabeth de Burgh. N.Y.: St. Martin’s Press, 1999.
The Statutes of the Realm, Printed by command of his majesty King George the Third. In pursuance of an address of the House of Commons of Great Britain. From Original Records and Authentic Manuscripts, Volume 1, Printed by William S. Hein and Company, Inc. (Buffalo, N.Y., 1993.)
Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 848
Große Heidelberger Liederhandschrift (Codex Manesse)
Romance of Alexander
Oxford, Bodleian Library MS. Bodl. 264: https://digital.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/objects/ae9f6cca-ae5c-4149-8fe4-95e6eca1f73c/ Creative Commons licence CC-BY-NC 4.0.
Wikipedia listing of 14th Illuminated Manuscripts