The codpiece was a functional part of a man's clothing. It sprung into existence during medieval times and consisted of a triangular piece of cloth which was sewn into a gentleman's hose to fit around his groin. The cloth would be held in place with simple string ties or buttons. This was the codpiece in its most simple form. By the time the Tudors, and their flair for all things lavish and ostentatious got hold of it and it had become something else altogether.
The Tudor Codpiece
Rather than a simple piece of cloth, the Tudors turned their codpieces into fashion statements. They became larger in size, were boned and padded and grew to such a size that they were able to be used for carrying things inside such as a small weapon, money or even jewels, which is why today a gentleman's groin is still called 'the family jewels'. Despite the codpiece having been around since the Middle Ages, it was during the reign of the last Tudor monarch, Elizabeth I that the cod piece fell out of fashion. The codpiece was designed to protect a gentleman's modesty, as the fashion at the time was for men to wear short doublets and tight hose rather than trousers. These hose while fitting tightly to the legs were totally open at the crotch which meant that without the use of a codpiece a gentleman would be exposing himself wherever he went.
Henry VIII Codpiece Represented Status
In many of the portraits that we see of Henry VIII the codpiece is extremely noticeable, if not prominent. This is for a number of reasons. The larger and more ostentatious the codpiece, which not really a representation of how well the man had been endowed but more a representation of his status.
As king of course Henry's would have to be bigger and better than that of anyone else to represent his position as monarch. Not only was the size exaggerated they were often studded with jewelled pins. It was during the reign on Henry VIII that the codpiece reached its peak of popularity. While the fashions changed over the years the codpiece retained its practical uses as well as being an indicator of social status. Cod pieces were used just as we would use a pocket today, though rather than the hands being placed in there it was a safe place for keeping money and valuables.
What is Codpiece Definition?
In Middle English the word 'cod' means scrotum, therefore the cod-piece was a piece of material used to cover this part of the body. During the 15th and 16th centuries it was an important if not essential part of a man's clothing, as without it, due to his short doublet and hose which may have closed at the back, but not at the front would have left him greatly exposed. It is thought that the item became larger in size due to the spread of syphilis, which meant that a man with the disease would need extra room in his codpiece for his bandages.