Madder root dye

Meaning of the colour Red

Colours in the Elizabethan era had a special significance and were governed by the statutory laws of the country. These laws were called the Sumptuary Laws. They dictated the colours that could be worn by men and women in those times.

The clothes, colour and fabric were directly related to the rank, status, and position of a person in the society. People belonging to a particular profession or skill set wore specific colours. It helped to identify them.

The English Law was designed to put a restraint on moral behaviour and also to restrict unnecessary expenditures. The colours were extremely helpful in understanding the social structure of the society in those times.

The colour Red in Elizabethan Era
The colour Red in the Elizabethan Era

Meaning of colour Red

The colour Red was worn only by a particular section of society. The colour red exuberated power, courage, passion, health and was of great significance. It was often associated with fire and symbolized warmth, joy, and strength.

Scarlet, another version of red was an important colour of medieval Europe. The colour is a little less red and had a hint of orange in it and was very popular. Scarlet was associated with sacrifice and many Catholic Churches adopted the colour. The Cardinals of the church wore scarlet coloured robes during that time.

What is the meaning of wearing red?

During the medieval Christian era and the Renaissance period, scarlet red was considered the royal colour and was worn by the rich and wealthy. There were a lot of variations available in the market, out of which the Venetian Scarlet was considered to be the finest. The colour was produced in Venice. It was made from Kermes, a red dye obtained from insects and was very costly.

Bright red was the official colour of the nobles. Royals including kings, princes and noble families wore red. There are pieces of evidence which show that Queen Elizabeth I liked to wear the colour in her gowns. There were portraits of the Virgin Mary wearing the scarlet red painted with vermillion red.

Queen Elizabeth I
Queen Elizabeth I

Scarlet Red: The colour of British nobility

During the 17th and 18th century, scarlet was the colour of the British nobility and was worn by the members of the Parliament. They wore ceremonial red gowns.

Red military uniforms were worn by the British army officials obtained from cochineal dye. The lower rank soldiers wore red coats made from madder, a dye plant. The “redcoat” military uniform was used extensively throughout generations and is still widely used in the 21st century.

British Redcoat Uniform
British Redcoat Uniform

There is an inherent cause to the use of red as soldier uniforms. The bright red colour will help soldiers to quickly distinguish among friends and opposite cavalry units. The colour scarlet made from insect dyes lasts longer and does not fade away. So red was considered as a valiant colour or the colour of the army.

What does the colour crimson represent?

Red was associated with the qualities of power and authority. It typically symbolised fire. People wore red to stand out and it was, therefore, reserved for people with special importance. Thus, in the Elizabethan era, the people of absolute upper classes and the ones from totally lower classes wore red.

What does the colour red mean spiritually?

The red colour usually symbolised bravery and valiance. It was, therefore, made the colour of the British army.  The crimson colour also had a great religious significance. Click to read more about the importance of the colour crimson.

Red for commoners

Red obtained from the madder dye was cheap and were used by the people of the commoners and were available in a variety of shades.

Dyes used to produce the colour red

Red was mostly extracted from the madder dye, which is a pigment obtained from the root of the madder plant. It produced many shades of red like pink, coral, light and dark red, russet and brown. Madder was also used to dye the redcoats worn by the ordinary British soldiers.

Madder root dye
Madder root dye

The more expensive dye was obtained from kermes and cochineal which were extracted from insect parts. These dyes produced rich and vibrant variations of red and were worn by wealthy communities. They were also used to dye the military uniforms of British Army officers.

The Vermillion pigment produced in Venice was especially used for colouring clothes of the noble families and was quite costly.

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