14th December 2021
by Yannick Koch
This article is supposed to treat the topic of accessories that can be worn upon a belt in the 13th century as well as alternatives that can be used.
In re-enactment nowadays, one of the biggest mistakes that can downgrade an already pretty decent impression, is wearing a lot of useless and out of context accessories, like pouches, purses, rosaries, drinking horns and knives etc.
This article will be split in 3 main categories defined by social statuses being “Lower class”, “Bourgeoisie” and “Nobility”. There will be a category about particularities as well
As “Lower class” should be considered the “working class people”..peasants…craftsmen..or in general the people who earn little money.
As “Bourgeoisie” should be considered the people living in cities with a considerable income which could reach levels of Nobility
As “Nobility” should be considered Knights, Counts, Dukes etc…in general everyone of noble descent.
Most sources that depict lower class don’t show any accessories worn on the belt. If they are working, the cotte is mostly tucked into the belt so that it doesn’t bother them. (Fig. 1)
There are a few sources which show daggers or knives attached to the belt. This depends strongly on the context though. These illuminations show the individual while doing an activity where a knife is needed (hunting, cooking) or in a fight / military context. (Fig. 2)
To this day there is only one known textual and visual source for lower class people to wear an alms purse (or purse) (Fig. 3). The said textual source also mentions a knife and a purse.
“Chaperon et chapel,
Corroie et couteliere,
Et borse et aumonsniere,
Et moufles bien cuiriés”
De l’oustillement au Villain, 13th c. Fable
There are a few more textual sources citing purses for lower class people.
“Por que mieus samblast vilain
une borse grante acheta,
douze denier dedenz mis a”
Bovins de Provins 13th c Fable
In a few cases where the displayed person isn’t wearing his undershirt and neither his cotte, you can see a purse hanging from the belt of the individuals’ braies. This might have been done to prevent theft as the purse is far more inaccessible under, than over your cotte. (Fig. 4-5)
Fig. 1 - Pierpont Morgan Library - MS M.638 - France - 1244-1254 - f.12v
Fig. 2 - Fécamps Psalter - The Hague, KB, 76 F13 - France - 1180 - f.12v
Fig. 3 - Apocalypse glosée - BNF Francais 403 - 1240-1250 - f.1r
Fig. 4 - Add MS 15219 - 2nd half 13th c - f.12r
Fig. 5 - Rutland Psalter - Add MS 62925 - 1260 - f.5r
Finding sources about Bourgeoisie is difficult as very few sources show them explicitly. One can’t be sure if they depict a noble or a bourgeois and if they represent clearly a bourgeois (on effigies for example) they are mostly wearing an overcoat and therefor the belt is hidden. What can be said though is that, at least the high bourgeoise tried to imitate the Nobility so I suppose the same rules apply.
In the book “Le quotidien au temps des fabliaux”, Danièle-Alexandre Bidon writes about a fabliau in which the lover flees hastily from his mistress and mistakenly puts on the husband's trousers. The next day, he is very annoyed when, when it is time to pay, he does not have his purse hanging on them.
The state of source material for nobility is by far the best. On countless effigies, nobles are displayed with alms purses (Fig. 6). There are quite some extant alms purses as well. They are made of Cendal, Samite or silk-embroidered linen, often garnished with tassels and fancy knots (Fig. 7-9). Most extant alms purses are rather small in size.
“Qui mout font les gens gracïeusez ;
Sainturestë et aumosniere
Qui fu d'une riche segniere.“
Le chevalier au Lion, Chrétien de Troyes, late 12th c
Fig. 6 - Guilleaume de Naillac - ✝1266 - Limestone - Church of Gargilesse, France
Fig. 7 - Alms Purse - 1201-1300 - Embroidered Silk and Gold thread - M: 10cm x 8cm - Tongeren, BEL
Fig. 8 - Alms Purse - 1201-1300 - Woven Silk and Gold Thread - M: 12cm x 10cm - Sint-Truiden, BEL
The Alms purse can either be immediately worn on the belt or on a special purse hanger (Fig. 10-11)
“De la ou ele estoit pendue,
Puis la ratache a une afiche
Quarrée, a pierres, bêle et riche“
L’escouffle, Jean Renart, early 13th c
In the Holy Roman Empire, there are a few statues or effigies which show a very distinct kind of alms purse that resembles a folded fan. They are always shown on male statues and in conjunction with a knife, except on the effigy of the Son of Adelheid von Thüringen, after 1274.
Fig. 10 - Statue of King Clovis I - ca. 1250 - French
- Limestone with traces of paint
- MET, The Cloisters Collection
Fig. 11 - Purse Hanger - ca. 1250 - Silver -
M : 59mm - Part of the Judengasse treasure - © Salzburg Museum
Fig. 12 - Detail of the alms purse on the effigy of Henry III of Sayn - ✝1247 - Wood with traces of paint - GMN Nuremberg - © Daniel Burger
Fig. 13- Detail of the alms purse on the effigy of Siegfried III. of Eppstein - ✝1249 - painted sandstone - Mainz Cathedral, DE
Evidence for wearing Daggers in a civil context is very scarce.
There are 2 effigies, the one of Gottfried von Cappenberg ca.1250 (Fig. 14) and Henri II of Maria Laach 1260-1280 . On the first mentioned effigy the Dagger is clearly visible…
The dagger on the Effigy of Henri II of Maria Laach on the other hand is nearly gone and only its point is still visible.
Fig. 14 - Effigy of Godfrey of Cappenberg . 2nd half of the 13th century - Collegiate Church of Cappenberg, GER
One “accessory” that can’t really be assigned to a group are messenger boxes.
They are shown in various manuscripts, such as the Maciejoswki Bible (Fig. 15) or La Vie de Saint Denys.
There is one 13th century example (Fig. 16-17) and a few later ones (Fig. 18) which are all made of copper, fitted with locks and enameled or engraved with the coat of arms of the lord.
Fig. 15 - Pierpont Morgan Library - MS M.638 - France - 1244-1254 - f.31r
Fig. 16 - Messenger Box - 1275-1325 - Bronze, copper and enamel - M: 12,5cm x 9cm - Musée de Cluny, Paris - © RMN-Grand Palais / Michel Urtado
Fig. 17 - Messenger Box - 1275-1325 - Bronze, copper and enamel - M: 12,5cm x 9cm - Musée de Cluny, Paris - © RMN-Grand Palais / Michel Urtado
Fig. 17 - Messenger Box with the arms of John the Fearless - before 1419 - Copper and enamel - M: 5,3cm x 4,4cm - Musée de Cluny, Paris - © RMN-Grand Palais / Jean-Gilles Berizzi
There are 2 extant specimen of D-shape purses from the 13th century although they only start to be represented in art in the early 14th century (Manesse Codex f.ex) (Fig. 18)
The first, and probably most prominent example is the Runneburg purse (Fig. 19)
It was discovered in a well in Runneburg Castle, Weißensee, Germany. It is made out of goat leather with bone buckles. In the purse remained some bracteates and bone dices. It is dated 1239-1263 an measures 18cm x 10cm.
The second, less known example, is the purse 13867 from the Schlesvig finds (Fig. 20) which is also dated to the 13th century. It measures 14cm and is made from veal leather. (Mittelalterliche Lederfunde aus Schlesvig. Page 68 Abb. 41.2)
Fig. 18 - Heidelberger Liederhandschrift - 1300-1340 - Der Taler f.303r
Fig. 19 - Runnerburg Purse - 1239-1263 - Goat leather and bone - M: 18cm x 10cm - Runneburg Castle, Weißensee, GER
Fig. 20 - Purse from the the Schlesvig finds - 13th century - Veal leather - M: 14cm - Mittelalterliche Lederfunde aus Schlesvig. Page 68 Abb. 41.2
You should always take care on what you wear on your belt and if it fitting for context that you find yourself in at that moment.
The evidence for this topic is comparably scarce but it remains an interesting beginning of corpus to work and to make reconstitutions