While shoes were an essential element of any royal ensemble, they have garnered little attention from scholars. For kings and male courtiers, shoes were highly visible, drawing attention to that part of the leg that showcased their riding prowess – their calves – and the luxury of silk stockings. For women at court their shoes seem to have been largely obfuscated by their long hemlines, although one imagines that the tips of the shoes would have been discernible when walking or when seated or even when standing on a dais. Amongst the portraits of Henrietta Maria, for example, at the Stuart court, there are only very few hints of a shoe in a few early prints but nothing in the portraits of Van Dyck. There are a few tantalising depictions of masquing figures in shorter hemlines that do reveal shoes, but there is nothing comparable to the portraits of Charles I and his courtiers sporting fancy footwear. But we know from the queen consort’s accounts that she had a shoemaker who provided regular provision of shoes in a range of styles and colours. This shoemaker also supplied shoes for some of her male servants, including her dwarfs Jeffrey Hudson and Sara Holton, her six pages and her footboy, Thomas.
Henrietta Maria’s shoemaker appears regularly in her debenture books, which record her debts to various artisans and suppliers. These quarterly bills outline the number of types of shoes as well as the intended wearer, but the descriptions can vary in details in terms of colours and trimming. Thomas Gray supplied her with shoes in Midsummer 1628, but from the following quarter John Fossey is her regular shoemaker and many of his quarterly bills survive from Michaelmas 1628 through Lady Day 1639. His name, variously spelled Fossey, Fausse and Ffussie, was signed Johan Fausse, which suggests he may have been German. Fossey’s quarterly bills seem relatively modest, ranging from £17-£37 per quarter. But when one takes into account that she paid Ben Jonson £40 for working on a masque and Van Dyck charged £40 for the full-length portrait of Charles II as Prince of Wales, Fossey’s bills were not inconsiderable.
The Michaelmas 1628 bill lists dozens of pairs of ‘plain’ shoes (34) as well as seven pairs of galoshes and three pairs of slippers, all for the queen. The six pages were supplied with an astonishing seven pairs of shoes each as well as boots; Jeffrey received nine pairs of shoes and two pairs of boots (including ‘Spanish riding boots’); Thomas the footboy received three pairs of shoes and Sara was bestowed with 3 pairs of shoes. The total billed was £31-7-0. The large quantities of new pairs suggests the importance of fresh shoes for servants who seem to have enjoyed close access and proximity to the queen. Many of the queen’s shoes are described with rich laces and trimming and satin soles and were made of luxurious fabrics, typically velvet and satin. The slippers are often particularly rich and typically made of crimson or watchet velvet and richly laced. These hues are commonly found in the garments, too, of her pages and musicians. Some of the fabrics and trimmings can also be found in bills from her mercers and lace suppliers. Her silkman, Benjamin Henshaw, for example, billed the queen and supplied Fossey with spangles; buttons; ‘purle’ lace; gold and silver spangled bone lace, and sewing silks for shoes and slippers.
Fabric soles feature on many of her shoes – slippers, shoes and even galoshes – making them expensive but more susceptible to wear and damage. Such soft soles for the queen, too, might have been selected for being quiet on hard floors. One wonders how the queen navigated the outdoors with soft soles – and even her galoshes are always described as made of, and lined in, satin or velvet – but it is possible that the ‘plain shoes’ listed had wooden soles or that she was somehow carried or kept off the ground if the weather was inclement. There are no references to boots for the queen or her female dwarf Sara, while boots regularly feature in provisions for male servants. These are sometimes described as ‘waxed’, which would make them sturdier, and there is a useful reference in Fossey’s Midsummer 1638 bill to two pairs of boots for Jeffrey, one of which is ‘strong waxt, the other for walking’.
More work remains to be done on footwear at the early modern court, and we hope others will share with us their finds and ideas on the topic. A pair of shoes in the Museum of London, pictured below, have been associated with Henrietta Maria. Although the provenance is not definitive, the decorative, costly exuberance – crimson velvet heavily embroidered with raised silver thread –certainly points to elite ownership and they would have been an appropriate complement to the queen’s sartorial display.