Yng Ngwynedd yr eisteddych
Headwear was important for noble men and women to complete their outfit. Wide caps were worn by men, and women’s head-dresses had become quite experimental by this period. The chaperon was worn by men for the first time in France c.1420; it was a cap with a thick edge and a piece of cloth falling from the head to the shoulders. The word capan came to mean ‘headwear’ by this period. Guto notes that Sieffrai Cyffin wore a fur cap:
Yng Ngwynedd yr eisteddych
O fewn coiff ar y Fainc wych;
Dwyn pân i’th gapan i gyd,
Dwyn hwf yn Llundain hefyd.
In Gwynedd you sit
with a coyfe on the grand Bench;
wearing fur in your cap to the brim,
wearing a houve in London also.
The coiff and hwf were tight caps. The coiff was worn by all social classes, but Guto’r Glyn suggests that Sieffrai Cyffin wore a coiff as a type of headgear worn in court. It is likely that the coiff became part of the uniform of someone who held important positions under the Crown in the later Middle Ages: ‘At a later date it was also a distinctive feature of the head-dress of doctors of medicine, doctors and officers of the law, and ecclesiastical dignitaries, who wore it during the Medieval Period, the sixteenth and seventeenth century’. One of the definitions of the word is: ‘A white cap formerly worn by lawyers as a distinctive mark of their profession’.
Women of this period were very fond of adorning their heads with extreme head-dresses. There are plenty of references in the poetry to women’s hair, especially in love poems, and sometimes the head-dress is also described, see DapG.net, poem no. 156, ‘A Girl’s Head-dress’ which is possibly the work of Dafydd ap Gwilym. It is likely that these head-dresses were extremely uncomfortable to wear. Guto uses the image of a head-dress pressed with pins to a women’s head to depict a roof on a house:
Gwe a rof uwch y gaer fau,
Gwisg ei phen, gwasg â phinnau,
I’ll place a web above my fort,
its head-dress, a squeezing with pins,
There was a wide variety of head-dresses for women by the 1430s. From the simple rolled head-dress that formed a circle around the hair to the more unusual shaped head-dress, they were a very important means of showing noble status and wealth. There are many effigies from the period that illustrate some of the popular head-dresses worn by women. They reflect the individual’s high status as the wife of a nobleman or a knight.
Bibliography: H. Norris, Medieval Costume and Fashion (Dover, 1998), 177.
: ‘The Oxford English Dictionary’, s.v. coive, n.
: I. Brooke, English Costume from the Early Middle Ages Through the Sixteenth Century (New York, 2000). 140.
: I. Brooke, English Costume from the Early Middle Ages Through the Sixteenth Century (New York, 2000), 144.
: See further A.M. Edwards, ''Pen un wisg â'r paun o'r ne'!': Penwisgoedd Merched yn y Canu Serch', Dwned 19 (2013), 39-58.
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