Clothing from 1600s Shipwreck Shows How the One Percent Lived

The contents of a lady-in-waiting's wardrobe are recovered from the sea after more than 350 years. Sunday, 5 November

By Kristin Romey

The regal contents of a 17th-century shipwreck have gone on display in a Dutch museum, 374 years after the vessel that was transporting the luxury clothing and objects sank in the North Sea.

Artefacts from the shipwreck include an elaborate silk gown, stockings and bodices, an embroidered purse, and a lice comb. Experts consider this to be one of the most important clothing discoveries ever made in Europe.

The shipwreck was discovered in 2015 by a local diving club based on the island of Texel, approximately 60 miles (100 kilometres) north of Amsterdam. Shifting winds and currents have sunk hundreds of ships in the area. The wreck was covered in sand for centuries, resulting in the remarkable preservation of the textiles.

Sister-in-Law's Letter is the Smoking Gun

A leather book cover embossed with the crest of the House of Stuart led researchers to suspect that the objects have a royal connection. But when the artefacts were put on display a few weeks ago at the Kaap Skil Museum in Texel, the owner of the dress was unknown.

Since then historians at Amsterdam and Leiden Universities have zeroed in on a letter written by the sister-in-law of Henrietta Maria, the French queen consort of King Charles I, who ruled England from 1625 to 1649.

Written in 1642, the letter describes how a baggage ship was lost in March of that year, when Henrietta Maria's retinue was sailing from England to the Netherlands. The baggage ship contained the wardrobes of her two ladies-in-waiting and their maids, as well as items from the queen consort's private chapel.

Researchers believe clothing found on the wreck belongs to the older lady-in-waiting, Jean Kerr, Countess of Roxburghe, based on the size and style of the items. According to the museum analysis, "[t]he first impression is that the lady in question had a pretty hefty figure."

Queen Henrietta Maria was allegedly travelling to Holland to hand over her 11-year-old daughter to William II, Prince of Orange, who had married the princess a year earlier. However, the queen consort's primary goal was to sell the crown jewels in return for arms to support her husband the king, who was embroiled in a civil war with the English and Scottish Parliaments.

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