Analysing Myth and Material: Charles I’s knitted waistcoat
by Beatrice Behlen and Dr Jane Malcolm-Davies
For almost 100 years, the Museum of London has owned a garment knitted of fine blue silk (inventory number A27050) believed to have been worn by King Charles I at his execution. This ‘wastecoat’, the contemporary term for an undergarment, which was not usually visible in wear, was said to have been worn by the king to prevent him from shivering in the cold January air, so as not to appear fearful.
A grant from the Society of Antiquaries’ Janet Arnold Award in 2022 has inspired a major re-investigation of this iconic object – although this is not the first time the waistcoat has been analysed. Research over the past 30 years focused on the nature of the stains on the garment’s front with inconclusive results. Using a combination of traditional methods for object analysis and more recent scientific tools, as well as practice-based research, the aim of this project has been to find out more about the materials used, and to establish when and how the waistcoat was knitted.
Samples of the waistcoat have been taken to laboratories in Switzerland and Portugal for radiocarbon dating and other material and dye analysis techniques. The garment has also undergone microfading to guide decision making on lighting for future displays. These scientific analyses were complemented by systematic examination and description of the waistcoat according to the Knitting in Early Modern Europe protocol as well as comparison with similar extant examples of men’s underwear. Historic spinning and knitting experts will test assumptions about how the garment was made with the aim of achieving a full reconstruction. The purported provenance of this relic, particularly its very early history, has also been scrutinised.
The project team looks forward to sharing the results of these different strands of research in a richer story of this rare survival.
Research informing the topic of this lecture was made possible by the Janet Arnold Award 2022/23. A brief article on the project will be printed in the SAL magazine in March 2023.
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