Smell the Gloves, Part 2

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18 March 2017
· Uncovering the origin of the Oxford glove meme, with some pentameter at the end ·

I never thought to obtain Letters Patent from the Queen for a monopoly on Oxford Gloves®, or a licence to distribute The Earl of Oxford’s Perfume™. Nobility’s disdain for trade and all, but I missed out on some serious branding. Think of the fees. The income side of financial management was never my forte.

I was curious to see how my glove story morphed over forty-four decades, from what really happened in 1576 as I related in Part 1, into what people find today when they read it in a biography of Elizabeth, or in tales of life at her court, or in books about Elizabethan fashion. I wanted to trace it back from the present, to uncover the beginning of the Oxford glove meme.

This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive survey, though it may be exhausting. There are breaks. Sources are listed at the end, after the pentameter.

● Most recent first. The Ephemeral History of Perfume: Scent and Sense in Early Modern England, by Holly Dugan, published in 2011.
Ephemeral History of Perfume p132 highlight - scented Oxford gloves history

Facepalm Lewis chessman - squareThis is a bad beginning. I’ve been called a lot of things in my day and many more since, but Sir Edward of Nevarre is a new one. Not a single one of the other widely recounted sources we’ll be looking at made this inexcusable mistake.

Ms Dugan has me back home in 1566 after my fifteen-month trip, when I would have been all of sixteen years old. A decade too soon. Don’t people fact-check these things? I’m almost certain that the internet existed in 2011. If it’s a typo then it’s still a proofreading error, and that doesn’t explain the butchering of my surname.

My Italian gloves were not the first perfumed pair in England, as I explained in Part 1. Only the scent was novel. As for the fashion’s spread, Oxford gloves were well established well before the 1590s. Ms Dugan is again a decade off, in the opposite direction.

The last sentence is a nugget of gold among the dross. It was news to me that at the end of 1592, a Dr Thomas Holland, Rector of Exeter College, Oxford, sent my ex-father-in-law [Anne had died in 1588] a pair of Oxford gloves as a New Year’s gift. I had a fine laugh 425 years after the fact. Was Holland playing a prank, or was he just clueless? I can’t imagine that it went over well at Theobalds. I’d have paid money to see Burghley’s face when he opened the package.

Chapter 5, Oiled in Ambergris: Ambergris, Gloves, London’s Luxury Markets, from which this excerpt comes, is an interesting read. But when in such a short selection of such a recent work you see this many statements so carelessly written or demonstrably incorrect, you wonder how much else in the book is also wrong. Caveat lector.

● A tome from 1938, reprinted in 1997. Tudor Costume and Fashion, by Herbert Norris. It’s a 900-page illustrated reference of, well, Tudor costume and fashion.
Tudor Costume and Fashion highlight - scented Oxford gloves history

The date’s less wrong – here I return from the Continent only two years before I left. All those other pleasant things became pirate plunder, so perhaps Norris or his source is referring to the replacements I had made after I got back. Everyone expected souvenirs, I had to improvise. He’s wrong about the odour of the Queen’s gloves being common unless he’s counting the knockoffs, but he makes the correct point that Oxford gloves had nothing to do with Oxford the place.

There’s a brief, not-too-judgmental bio of me in this book. I’ve read much worse [1]. Norris uses a drawing based on my Paris portrait to describe the new fashion in 1570s hats. (The drawing is the basis for my Twitter avatar.) He links the hat to my tour of Italy, though I bought it in France on the way there. And the year’s still wrong.

Norris line drawing from Welbeck portrait - scented Oxford gloves history

Those hats were a mistake. In blustery weather they took off like kites. Urchins chased them in the street, and refused to give them back until you paid. I must have bought that one four times over. My fashionable friends were similarly extorted.

Norris doesn’t source the meme, so no help there.

● The 1 January 1852 issue of Godey’s Lady’s Book, an American women’s magazine popular in the mid-19th century. In A Gossip About Gloves, the author ‘Mrs White’ propagates the meme.

Godey 1852 clip 1 - scented Oxford gloves history

Godey 1852 clip 2 - scented Oxford gloves history

There are clear similarities to Norris, pointing in the same direction.

A connection back to Part 1: after referring to gloves in the works of Shakespeare (not shown here, but see the source link below), Mrs White gives her genteel readers the vapours with this florid description of unbridled female malevolence in the person of my olfactory benefactor the French Queen Mother. Perfumed gloves are the pretty fashion.

Godey 1852 clip 3 - scented Oxford gloves history

Small wonder that people get such bad reputations. The poison isn’t in the gloves or the flowers, it’s in the pen.

Despite the assertions that the queen sat for pictures wearing her Oxford gloves, I haven’t seen them in any of her portraits, most of which date from later in her reign. There are of course no photos – aside from the non-existence of photography, the gloves simply wore out from use. The royal glover finally refused to repair them any more. Even when they looked like Bess’s Guinea pig had been at them, the scent of Acqua della Regina still lingered.

Here’s a different glove, one that survived. It was only worn once.

Elizabeth I coronation glove - scented Oxford gloves history

Elizabeth wore this glove (and its missing mate) for her coronation on 15 January 1559. I was eight years old and away at Cambridge, but my father did his duties at Westminster Abbey as Lord Great Chamberlain of England. The glove is now owned by Dents, a glove purveyor.

Elizabeth I coronation glove detail - scented Oxford gloves history

● In 1822, clergyman and philologist Robert Nares published a Glossary. Or to use his own title,

A GLOSSARY; or, Collection of Words, Phrases, Names, and Allusions to Customs, Proverbs, etc., which have been thought to require illustration, in THE WORKS OF ENGLISH AUTHORS, particularly SHAKESPEARE AND HIS CONTEMPORARIES.

As part of the entry for GLOVE, we find, after a Winter’s Tale reference:

Nares 1822 clip - scented Oxford gloves history

We’re getting closer.

…the sort which perfumed the queen’s gloves refers to the knockoffs of Acqua della Regina that I spoke of earlier. Nares cites the continuator of Stowe, and Mr Warton [2]. He gives the year of my return from Italy as the 15th of [the reign of] Elizabeth. That’s 1573 again; 1576 was the 18th of the reign. But the name Stowe rings a bell, and there’s a page number, 868. Remember that.

Percy gloves Alnwick - scented Oxford gloves history

These gloves are said to have been Elizabeth’s. They’re in the collection at Alnwick Castle in Northumberland, stronghold of the Percy family. Elizabeth never travelled that far north, but they could have been brought in from elsewhere. The Percies had some doings with Elizabeth’s mother at one time, so who knows.

There are photographs of gloves from the 16th through the 21st centuries at the website of the Glove Collection Trust, whose trustees are appointed by The Worshipful Company of Glovers of London. They’ve been around since 1349.

● In 1580, antiquarian John Stow published his Annales, or a Generale Chronicle of England from Brute until the present yeare of Christ 1580. We’re in my own lifetime now. The Annales was updated several times between 1580 and Stow’s death in 1605, then ‘continued’ by Edmund Howes, who published his extended editions in 1615 and 1631.

The first Annales I found was from 1603 – the date is presumed because the title page is missing, but the volume ends with Elizabeth’s death so it’s a good guess. If Nares was correct, I had overshot my target. I thought I’d look around anyway.

Stow 1595 2pg Derby wedding - scented Oxford gloves historyClick on the image to see a higher resolution.

Textualis, Gothic bookhand, blackletter. Whatever you call it, it’s very old-school type. This book is only twenty years older than the First Folio, but visually it’s closer to Caxton. This is the type of type that I grew up reading, when I wasn’t reading manuscripts.

As expected, my meme was absent from this edition. But on page 1279, the recto (right-hand page) above, which chronicles events from early 1595, I happened to notice:

Stow 1595 clip Derby wedding - scented Oxford gloves history

In case your eyes aren’t used to this sort of thing:

The 26. of Januarie, the Earle of Darby married the Earle of Oxfords daughter at the court then at Greenewich, which marriage feast was there most royally kept.

Lizzy (Elizabeth), my eldest daughter (probably, though I still have my doubts), was born in July 1575 while I was away on my travels. In 1595 she married William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby, at Greenwich Palace. The Queen and all the court attended. Grandfather Burghley arranged the match. Don’t get me started.

You know the debate over whether A Midsummer Night’s Dream was written to be the entertainment at a marriage feast most royally kept? It was. I wrote it for my daughter, who adored it. Sometimes it’s so simple.

Back to gloves. I considered describing young Willy Shakspere picking up tradecraft as a boy, hanging around his father’s un-recreated glove shop in Stratford-upon-Avon when he wasn’t busy translating Ovid and Aristophanes at the grammar school for which there is no particle of evidence that he attended. I decided not to.

● I needed to find a Howes-continued copy of Stow. Most of the time I’m limited to what’s on the internet, as it’s difficult for me to gallivant around the globe in search of dusty volumes in libraries and old archives. I don’t get grants.

I got lucky.

In 2010, Google digitised a copy of Howes’s 1631 Annales from the Bayerische Staats-Bibliothek in Munich. The PDF was free to download. Next time you’re annoyed by adverts at the top of your Google searches, remember this. [5]

Annales 1631 cover - scented Oxford gloves historyClick to see a higher resolution.

The king up top in the regalia is Charles I, the monarch whose exalted opinion of himself caused his head to swell beyond popular limits, prompting its removal. Charles’s fate is explained in the following musical history lesson. Any excuse to include Python in a post.

The tune is Chopin’s ‘Heroic’ Polonaise in A-flat major, Op. 53.

The scans of the Annales were low-res, not in colour, and there appeared to have been much water damage or other misfortune. Even if 868 was the correct page, would it be readable? I held my breath and scrolled.

Annales 1631 full p868 - scented Oxford gloves history

BINGO. [3]

You don’t need to see the whole page blown up, it’s a mess. Here is what all this effort was for:

Annales 1631 p868 detail - scented Oxford gloves history

Transcribed (my poor eyes):

Annales 1631 p868 transcribed - scented Oxford gloves history

I see little risk in concluding that all the later references derive from this source. I’ve found my meme. [4] Even the mistakes are here, excepting Ms Dugan’s. Edmund Howes’s lack of full stopsBurghley wrote the same way. Tortured, suffocating paragraphs. caused the misdating of my return from Italy, which no one in four centuries bothered to check for themselves. There is the list of things I had to replace after the originals were stolen at sea.

But what’s it doing under The life and Raigne of King James? I can offer a hypothesis. Page 868 describes how increased immigration and the expansion of foreign trade in the late 16th century fostered prosperity in London during James’s reign in the early 17th. Howes seems to have felt that my exploits as an early, though non-commercial, luxury-goods importer deserved special mention.

It’s the only answer I have. Read it for yourself if you like. [5]

“God’s bodykins, when is he going to explain why the Dutch pirates didn’t take Elizabeth’s gloves when they stole everything else?”

Now. They nearly did.

Two of the scabrous blackguards held their daggers to my throat while three more argued over who should have the gloves, which they all knew would fetch a pretty price. It was a stressful moment, but I rose to the occasion and responded with some extempore oratory.

  • What’s he that wishes these?
  • You poxy Dutchmen here? No, think again:
  • For I am Edward Vere, of Oxford, Earl
  • And Lord Great Chamberlain of England too.
  • These gloves you fight to steal are for my Queen,
  • Who anxiously awaits my safe return.
  • He that outlives this day shall ne’er see home
  • If you abduct myself or this her gift:
  • Her royal wrath will fall upon on your heads!
  • She’ll send the Lord High Admiral to sea
  • With three fast ships and orders not to rest
  • Until they hunt your scurvy arses down,
  • Which they will do. And truly I avow
  • That all you Wims and Joops, who soon will swing
  • From all the yards it takes to string you up,
  • Shall think yourselves accursed that you were here;
  • Your manhoods held so cheap, first to be hang’d
  • Then after to be naught but food for fish.
  • You few, you wretched few, you band of robbers;
  • Use sense, reflect, and balance worth to cost:
  • Let Oxford give Elizabeth her gloves.

They did. A Scotsman among them served as translator, who knew who I was and that I meant every word. All my handsome Italian clothes were taken, and all the other giftsThey did pass up a heavy trunkful of books which, had they been smart, they’d have inspected. They weren’t. That tale is told here., but the Queen’s gloves made it home.

Some of that speech came in handy later on.

[back to Part 1]

[1]  In the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, to name but one. Talk about a poisoned pen. Monstrous.

[2]  Warton eluded me. Thomas Warton the Younger, literary historian and Poet Laureate, 1728 – 1790. Since he followed Howes by over a century, and considering what Nares credited to him, I figure he was retelling Howes anyway. If I knew what work Nares was citing I might have kept on with the search, but without a title the game wasn’t worth the candle.

[3]  I played an early sort of Bingo while I was in Italy. Tried to teach my literary minions at Fisher’s Folly to play it for stakes, but they were too addicted to their card games and bowling. It caught on later, though.

[4]  I wasn’t able to ascertain whether my meme also exists in Howes’s earlier 1615 continuation, since I didn’t find a copy of that edition. If the meme is there too, would the page number be the same? It doesn’t matter much. The only question it would answer is the date of the meme’s origin, 1631 or 1615. I’m not losing any sleep over it.

April 2021: The 1615 Annales has finally crossed my path. My meme is on page 868, in the same words although there are differences in spelling and punctuation. How about that. [1615] [1631]

[5] June 2020: I finally found a healthier copy of the 1631 Annales, uploaded to the Internet Archive more than a year after this post was written. I’m not going to replace the images above, but here’s my meme on page 868 from the colour scan of the undamaged page.

Annales 1631 p868 COLOUR detail - scented Oxford gloves history

The title page with its elaborate illustration can be seen here. I can’t speak highly enough of the Internet Archive. Time for another donation.

Sources/Additional Reading for Part 2

  • • Godey’s Magazine
  • · Louis Antoine Godey, Sarah Josepha Buell Hale, editors
  • · Godey Company
  • · Volume 44, issue for 1 January 1852 [Google Books]
  • · A Gossip About Gloves
  • · by Mrs White
  • · pgs 313-317, Oxford reference pg 314
  • Annales, or a Generall Chronicle of England [Google Books]
  • · by Edmund Howes, begun by John Stow
  • · Richard Meighen, 1631
  • · pg 868, the Ur-Meme
  • Annales (Annals of England to 1603) []
  • · by John Stow
  • · publisher unknown (title page is missing), presumed 1603
  • · pg 1279 re Elizabeth de Vere’s wedding
  • Guinea Pigs Were Widespread as Elizabethan Pets [PDF]
  • · by Christine Dell’Amore
  • · National Geographic News, 9 February 2012
  • · I saved this as a PDF because the page link at kept reporting as timed-out or broken when it wasn’t – I got tired of checking it. The link is at the top of the PDF, or use this Google search and it should come back as the first result.

Oh yes, the banner.

If I have to explain a Spinal Tap pun to you in 2017, then the Shakespeare Authorship Question might be the least of your worries.

Here’s the clip.