Guest Author · Spain

13th Century Castile’s Fashion Show

Thank you to our community member Iselen for this post. Please note most of the images come from a book called Museo de Telas Medievales (medieval fabrics museum) published by the National Trust in 1988. This is a catalogue of the pieces you can find in Santa Maria la Real de las Huelgas. -OC

Burgos was the old capital of the kingdom of Castile and the favourite residence of Queen Eleanor Plantagenet (daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henri II of England) who married King Alfonso VIII of Castile in 1170. These monarchs founded a monastery called Santa María La Real de las Huelgas as a family pantheon. Some pieces have been lost due to lootings, but there are still a few beautiful garments left. These fabrics are in very good condition because it is really cold in Burgos and the church has worked as a refrigerator to preserve the materials.

There are two important things to keep in mind when we talk about clothes in the early Middle Age. The first is that both men and women dressed the same apart from war gear. Garments were unisex and differences only started to appear later in the 15th century. The second is that in those times, there really didn’t have a good heating systems so layers were the key to keep warm. 

The first layer was the shirt made of linen that sometimes had visible embroidered cuffs. These shirts also had a round neckline with a vertical cut. Shown below is Princess María’s shirt. She was the daughter of King Ferdinand III the Saint and Elisabeth of Hohenstaufen. Maria died in 1235, an infant. Her shirt is very fancy since it’s made of cotton. At the time, this material was very rare and expensive and was obtained from the Andalusia kingdom. Maria also wore linen breeches and a “garnacha” which is a cream silk dress without sleeves lined with fur. It is a fancy piece of warm clothing as it is embroidered with gold thread.

A “saya” was usually worn on top of the shirt. A saya is a dress without sleeves similar to a garnacha but without the fur lining which is tied on one side with a string. This is Queen Eleanor’s saya made of thick silk in a green shade with a floral and geometric embellishment. It is very long which means it swept the floor when she walked like some kind of train and showed she was a wealthy woman who could pay for a lot of unnecessary fabric. 

On top of the saya they wore a “pellote”. This a Spanish garment unknown in Europe. It’s like a pinafore dress with long and wide skirt that matches the saya. 

These are Prince Fernando de la Cerda’s clothes. He was the son of King Alfonso X the Wise and Violet of Aragon. On top of the shirt he wore an “aljuba” instead of a saya. This is a garment designed to ride a horse with cuts on the skirt and has sleeves made of silk brocade with gold and silver thread. The heraldic pattern shows castles and lions for the Castile and Leon kingdoms. 

On top of the aljuba goes the pellote that matches the fabric. 

He wore a belt across his chest to hold his sword with sapphires, pearls and coral along with a silver gilt buckle with enamel.

And a cap embellished with small pearls, coral, gold, sapphires and garnets.

On top of all those clothes, people of the time wore a cloak made of silk or wool lined with fur. These clothes were really heavy and this is why they had to hold it with their hand to stop the ribbon from choking them. These sculptures show King Ferdinand III getting married to Elisabeth of Hohenstaufen and you can see how she holds the cloak on her neck, the pellote showing the saya under it (the curve line along her chest) and the embroidered cuff of her shirt. 

What do you think about all of these layers? Could you wear them in your day to day activities? Which garment do you think is the most useful? Share your thoughts in the comments, and please feel free to send in any information about your region’s local garments and we’ll get it posted!

Don’t be shy–the Hofdames will help you with photos and formatting!