Tudor Christmas was a time of great celebration; grand feasts, games and entertainment could all be expected, and gifts were also a central part of the festive season.
The ritual of gift-giving in the Tudor court was a significant event. As in medieval times, gifts were more commonly exchanged on New Year’s Day rather than 25 December and Christmas celebrations continued until 6 January. The records of presents received by Henry VIII and Elizabeth I are extensive and, luckily, meticulously recorded. Common gifts exchanged at court included jewels, money or clothing but may have been as original as a pair of Shire horses.
Gifts were brought for the King and Queen in a ceremony, and the monarch gave gifts back in return (usually worth a greater sum). Among the rewards listed as given at Hampton Court Palace on New Year’s Day in 1541 is the sum of 64s. 4d to “divers poor men, women, and children that brought capons, hens, eggs, books of wax, and other trifles” for the King. That year, Henry also received a gilt sword, a casket of iron, and numerous embroidered purses and perfumed gloves.
Henry also gifted many items of his own extensive wardrobe to members of his court throughout the year, particularly in the last six years of his reign. Many of these items are since lost, largely through being sold or remodelled by the Stuart courts. However, the Bristowe Hat is thought to be an original Tudor hat from the court of Henry VIII and was preserved through having stayed in the Bristowe family for centuries. The story goes that it was among the items of clothing given from Henry VIII to Nicholas Bristowe, Clerk of the Royal Wardrobe and the King’s confidante.
In style and quality, it is likely to be an item that belonged to Henry. The thick-pile appearance of the hat is created by thrumming, a common style in the 1530s. In 1539, Edmund Harman, the King’s barber, gave Henry a ‘crimson hat thrommed with a band of pirled gold’. There are evenly placed pierced holes around the crown of the Bristowe hat, which may have been where such jewels were attached. Though we’ll never know if the Bristowe hat belonged to the King, it illustrates the practice of gifting select items of clothing, so common in the Tudor court.
Don’t miss Elizabethan Christmas at Hampton Court Palace, 22 to 23 Dec & 27 Dec to 1 Jan: bit.ly/ElizChristmas