Newly Discovered Skirt of Queen Elizabeth I to Go on Display at Hampton Court Palace

An expert has billed it as 'the Mona Lisa of fashion.'

© Historic Royal Palaces/ St Faith’s Church Bacton

The sole surviving item of clothing belonging to Queen Elizabeth I has recently been discovered, after spending hundreds of years as an altar cloth in a church in Herefordshire, England.

The priceless garment will go on display at Hampton Court Palace, the Tudor manor that was once home to Henry VIII and his six ill-fated wives.

The historic cloth and its royal provenance was first identified last year by Eleri Lynn, the sharp-eyed curator of historic dress at Historic Royal Palaces (HRP), as it was hanging in the 13th-century church of St. Faith in Bacton.

“When I saw it for the first time, I knew immediately that it was something special. As I examined it, I felt as though I had found the Holy Grail, the Mona Lisa of fashion,” Lynn told the Telegraph

“None of Elizabeth I’s dresses are known to have survived, but everything we have learnt since then points to it being worn by Elizabeth,” she added.

Lynn stumbled upon the precious piece of garb through online research. Upon visiting the Bacton church, she knew immediately that her suspicions were correct, as the cloth features silver—which Tudor law dictated could only be worn by the upper echelons of the royal family.

Furthermore, in comparing the skirt’s pattern to the bodice worn by Queen Elizabeth I in the Rainbow Portrait (c. 1600-1602), Lynn asserted that it was “not inconceivable” that the fabric extends to the skirt below, which remains out of sight in the painting.

Rainbow Portrait (c. 1600-1602). Artist Unknown. Courtesy Wikimedia commons.

Rainbow Portrait (c. 1600-1602), artist unknown. Courtesy Wikimedia commons.

How the monarch’s skirt came to serve as an altar cloth could be explained by the high expense of clothing during Tudor times: garments were often repurposed for other use, like cushion covers, or in this case, to adorn a church.

While HRP is in possession of 10,000 items of clothing and accessories, “there is almost nothing from before the reign of Charles II,” according to Lynn. Thus, her discovery is of notable significance.

“This is an incredible find—items of Tudor dress are exceptionally rare in any case, but to uncover one with such a close personal link to Queen Elizabeth I is almost unheard of,” Tracy Borman, HRP joint chief curator, said in a statement.

“We’re thrilled to be working with St. Faith’s Church to conserve this remarkable object, which will now be further examined by our conservation experts at Hampton Court Palace,” she added.

Hampton Court Palace, which is due to undergo an 18-month renovation, will display the skirt—which suffered from a crude Edwardian make-over—after it is fully restored, although the date for the unveiling remains unspecified for now.


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