Tudor Era Sumptuary Laws Definition
The Sumptuary Laws were also known as the Statutes of Apparel and were passed as a means to limiting the amount of money that people spent on clothing, furniture and other items. The rules were strict as they defined just what a person could wear and purchase in relation to their social standing. The sumptuary laws dictated the colours that each level of society could wear, as well as the trimmings and accessories which could be used to complete an outfit. Ermine for example, was a type of fur that only members of royalty could wear, with lesser nobles being restricted to the use of fox or otter fur.
Definition of the Sumptuary Laws in Tudor Era
To define sumptuary laws you need to understand what 'sumptuary' means. It is simply a reference to the Latin word for expenditure. Therefore these were laws related to personal expense. The laws covered not only how much individuals could spend on clothing and furniture, but also food, drink and jewellery. The laws were a way of controlling the behaviour of the population and ensuring that the class structure of the time was maintained. The theory and application of such a law dates back to the Roman era, and ensured that by appearances alone the class or rank of an individual could be easily recognised.
Tudor Times Sumptuary Laws of Henry VIII
A new social class started developing during the reign of Henry VIII, these were rich merchants. As a newly rich and new social class they were eager to establish themselves in society, and used their new found wealth to buy clothes, houses and belongings that were somewhat above their true social status of the time.
This new class of people suddenly found that they had access to the kinds of luxury items that had previously only been available to the nobility. Thing king realised that this new social classed needed to remain separate from the upper classes, and away from the nobility. He therefore passed new laws regarding the clothing and personal adornment of all of his subjects. He simply updated the existing laws to suit his needs, as did both Mary and Elizabeth after him.
Sumptuary Laws of Elizabeth I
Elizabeth made more additions to the law than her father did. She began in June 1574 and made a royal proclamation to the people outlining what was no longer acceptable. The use of unnecessary foreign wares was restricted, as were extremes or excesses of fashion. Vanity was frowned upon as was waste; whether this be food or linens. Wastage, as well as abuse of status and wealth was seen as detrimental to the wealth of the realm and was punishable to the full extent of the law at the time, which included several forms of punishment from fines to imprisonment. Elizabeth was serious in her desire and would not stand to let any of her laws be broken whether it be a sumptuary law or a religious law. She was queen and her laws were absolute.