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January 27, 1999:
Gary Hobbs :
I am trying to find out exactly what a bliuant is. In the many books I have read with a medieval background, this womanly garment has been mentioned. I have inferred that it is a looser garment but maybe not as loose as an overtunic. I may have the spelling wrong and if anyone out there can help me, I would really appreciate it. Thank you for your help.
I then checked a variety of dictionaries, but found no mention. However, the 1998 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia (Grolier Interactive Inc.) has an article on costume which mentions the bliaut. It says:
“A fitted tunic remained the basic item of apparel for both men and women. An over-tunic, or bliaut, covered the under-tunic, and by 1200 tight lacing drew the woman’s bliaut into a form-fitting shape which, girdled at the hips, created a long-waisted appearance.”
In Medieval Costumes Paper Dolls (by Tom Tierney, published by General Publishing Company, Toronto and Dover Publications in the US), the author mentions “Over her chainse, Maud is wearing an overgown or bliaud, with a low-cut neckline and long, tight sleeves (often this overgown had looser, elbow-length sleeves).”
My search then took me to the Internet where I two really good web pages with articles on medieval costume by women who are either in the Society for Creative Anachronism or who’ve done lots of research into costume. Both articles include bibliographies. So what do they say about the bliaut?
Lydie LaBarthe from Australia (who has a degree in History and Visual Arts & Archaeology) starts her article on 12th and 13th Century Clothing by saying:
“The bliaut is a much disputed garment of clothing. While it is unlikely that a corset was worn underneath the gown, as there have never been any primary sources found to indicate this, and tight lacing did not become fashionable until the 15th century, it is obvious that this gown was, for women, cut more fitting to the figure than gowns of the previous period. It was not popular long, but was worn well in to the 13th century, after its fashionable period, 1140-1160 had ended.” (http://www.geocities.com/Area51/Lair/5459/bliaut.html)
Her article is quite lengthy and she looks not only at various discussions by earlier historians, but uses statues and paintings from the period to illustrate her points. She backs everything up with an impressive list of primary and secondary sources.
The University of South Dakota has a Society for Creative Anachronism chapter with an impressive website. Included there is an article called Gunnas to Houppelands: A Thousand Years of English Dresses by Affreca McNaven. About the bliaut she says:
“One thing the invasion changed was the name of the overdress. It was now called a bliaut. It was tight at the top with a very full skirt. The sleeves were still very wide. It was not made of one rectangular piece, like the earlier dresses. The top, or bodice, was sewn to the skirt (Harris and Johnson 140). It was a dress made to show off the body, not hide it.” (http://www.usd.edu/~socrean/arts/gunnas.htm)
She then goes on to explain later developments in clothing including the introduction of the cotehardie etc. Her bibliography is also quite extensive.
I’ve seen a variety of terms used to describe a woman’s gown, including just that “gown.” If the person who asked is writing a book, the most important thing to remember is to pick one term and use it consistently. I also keep a bibliography of my sources, so if I’m asked, I can explain where I found the vocabulary I’ve employed.
March 2, 1998:
What would a person of 10,000 pounds a year be worth in todays terms? I realize an exact accounting isn’t possible but I would be interested in a ballpark figure.
For a more recent answer to this question, please see Ellen Micheletti’s Crowns, Pounds and Guineas: A Quick Guide To British Currency; she addresses the £10,000 question. To see the earlier answer, read on.
Jo Beverley responds: I think academics have various formulae for this sort of thing, but I don’t know them. They are of limited use, anyway, when no fortune then could buy the speed of travel that we have today, or the health care. And only an immense fortune now could buy the number of servants a modest regency family would consider the norm. (The equivalent that I like is that a medieval knight’s good warhorse would be the same as a sports car today. Gives a good picture of how unlikely it is that an ordinary knight would have the top model, and how big an investment it was for any of them.)
In Pride & Prejudice, which may be where the reader is coming from, Bingly is reputed to have £4-5,000 a year, and be considered an excellent catch – country estate, coach and four etc etc. Darcy is said to have £10,000, and is a magnificent one. That accords with what I know, because that would put him in the upper ranks of incomes. Not Bill Gates, but certainly a couple of million. (Huge houses, servants, private jet, yachts, etc etc)
The weekly wage for a farm laborer was about 15 shillings (20 shillings to the pound) So their annual income would be about L40. What’s the poverty level figure in the States? Close to $20K per annum? x200 = 4 million, which is probably not a bad estimate.
Jean Mason responds: there is no simple equivalency, but what you have to do is try to make comparisons, based on lifestyle. For example, we know that Mr. Darcy in Pride & Prejudice was worth 10,000 pounds a year. Ask yourself what kind of income one would need today to live like he did – with a gorgeous estate, a house in London (?) etc. I guesstimated that one would need an income of at least $2,000,000 to live like that.
OK, 200 to 1 is a good ratio. Now, the next question is “How much would this person be worth,” which means capital, not income. Since a safe investment at that time would have yielded perhaps 5%, Mr. Darcy would have been worth about 200,000 pounds which, using our ratio, would be $40 million.
November 16, 1997:
I need to know exactly what a quarantine entails. In 1873, Galveston, Texas, a case of yellow fever was discovered, and a quarantine resulted. But my question is – just how far would this go? Galveston is a port city, so would just the port be involved? Or could no one leave the island? If only the port of Galveston would be quarantined, how was this enforced?
LLB: Because Texas history is outside Jean’s expertise, I posted the questions to readers/authors in general. I received many responses, starting with Berkley author Cynthia Sterling:
I just wrote a short article for Texas Highways on Galveston’s yellow fever epidemic, and I’ve written about yellow fever epidemics for Texas Medicine.
Quarantines were taken pretty seriously – goods and people were not forbidden from leaving the island during the epidemic, but other cities refused to allow traffic from the quarantined area. A newspaper account from 1898 reported that railroad passengers from Galveston were “seized at the muzzle of a six-shooter and tumbled off the train on the open prairie.”
Houston also refused to accept Galveston mail. I honestly don’t know about shipping – I suspect a shipmaster could keep quiet about the point of origin of the goods or people. Galveston merchants actually banded together to finance the building of their own railroad into the Texas interior, in order to bypass Houston and its strict quarantine regulations.
Yellow fever, and quarantines, were pretty much an annual thing throughout the 1800s, until the discovery of the cause of the disease — a mosquito, in 1900.
LLB: I heard as well from the head librarian at a Houston-area college (which is very close to Galveston).
I am a Texas librarian and did a little research in our collection here. We have several Galveston county histories, none mentioning a yellow fever epidemic in 1873. There was an epidemic in 1837 and we have a book on it. There is no mention of the quarantine procedures other than to mention that they were quite stringent.
From research on other topics (specifically an influenza epidemic here in Victoria in 1917), I would suggest that the author contact a library that would have access to any newspapers of the era. If no Galveston papers are available, perhaps Houston’s paper would carry notices of quarantine since Galveston was a major trade port. The Rosenberg Library in Galveston has an excellent collection of historical materials relating to Galveston. A reference librarian there might be able to supply her with all the answers.
LLB: I heard from another reader as well regarding Rose’s question.
The University of Texas (Austin) responded to me today.
Dear Ms. Powell:
I am responding to your inquiry as to the nature of a quarantine. From what I have gathered, it seems that a quarantine can vary widely depending on circumstances. It its most extreme form, it prohibits any travel to and from the zone of infection. As for Galveston, the details are vague in most of the histories. David McCombs’ Galveston: A History states that a Houston militia began a 1870 quarantine of Galveston in order to keep the spread of yellow fever to Houston. Apparently, there was a state quarantine officer who initiated a selective quarantine in Galveston of ships from New Orleans, when yellow fever appeared there in 1876. As for the particular details of the 1873 quarantine, I seems that Galveston newspapers from that period would be the best source of information. If you are interested in pursuing this angle, we hold a number of Galveston newspapers here in the Center.
Please let me know if I may be of any further service.
Center for American History
The University of Texas at Austin Austin, TX 78712
(512) 495-4538 or (512) 495-4532
fax (512) 495-4542
November 7, 1977:
I have a question about what I read in the segment on Queen Victoria’s segment. Why wasn’t her husband addressed as King “whatever his name is” or is he and I just don’t know it?
Jean Mason responds: Regarding the question of the status of a queen regnant’s husband. The issue has not come up all that often. When Matilda vied for the throne during the reign of Stephen, the whole issue of titles was still in flux. Indeed, Matilda herself was never called queen. She was always referred to as the Empress Matilda since her first husband had been the Holy Roman Emperor. Her second husband, Geoffrey, Count of Anjou, was never referred to as King of England, but he did conquer Normandy for his wife and called himself Duke of Normandy. So there is no precedent there.
When Mary Tudor married Phillip of Spain, he was indeed referred to as King Phillip. Indeed, the statutes passed after the marriage bear the name Phillip and Mary. This was not a popular decision and led in large part to Wyatt’s rebellion. The English didn’t want a foreign king.
After the Glorious Revolution, there was some controversy over the title to be held by William of Orange. His wife was the eldest daughter of James II and the Tories wanted her to hold the throne alone. But William wasn’t having any of it and insisted on being recognized as king of England. However, this wasn’t quite as great a departure as it may have seemed because William was the grandson of Charles I and after Princess Ann, the next heir to the throne.
The issue of a title for Anne’s husband never seems to have arisen. I think he was still alive when she ascended the throne, but he seems to have been a simple, retiring man who had no political interests whatsoever. He was a prince in his own right (of Denmark) so he just continued to be called Prince George of Denmark.
There was a debate over what to call Victoria’s husband. Some thought he ought to have the title King Consort (just as the real designation of a queen is queen consort, which indicates that this is a courtesy title.) But that was going too far for the Whigs who were in control of parliament at the time, so the singular title of Prince Consort was developed.
When Elizabeth ascended the throne, there was some discussion as to the title Phillip should have. Although a prince of the royal house of Greece, he had renounced his Greek citizenship (and thus his title) when he became a British subject. Indeed, the announcement of his engagement to Princess Elizabeth referred to him simply as Lt. Phillip Mountbatten. He was given the title Duke of Edinburgh (and an earldom and a barony) at his marriage. On ascending the throne, Elizabeth issued a proclamation that he should henceforth be known as His Royal Highness, Prince Phillip and that he should rank in precedence right after the queen and before the Prince of Wales. But she did not bestow on him the title Prince Consort. I can only assume that her political advisers thought it would be unwise, given the fact that Albert was generally known to have had a great deal to say about political matters. Indeed, Phillip does not have any official access to any governmental documents or matters.
So, there is obviously no fixed title for the husband of a queen regnant and the matter is generally decided in an ad hoc manner.
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