Monday, April 24, 2017

Rennaissance Beanies?... The Monmouth Cap

 While I was looking at Youtube videos the other day, I stumbled across a scene from AMC's Turn, Washington's spies. In it, the main character, Abraham Woodhull, played by Jamie Bell, wears what looks like a gray beanie.

While researching for my historical fiction novels, I have learned never to assume something is an anachronism. So many styles, inventions, etc. predate our assumptions. So, curious, I decided to find out what I could about knit caps in the eighteenth century.

I was surprised that not only did such "beanies" exist, they were a prevalent style among the working class from the 15th to 18th centuries. Because of their popularity and production in Monmouth and its surrounding areas, the hats are now referred to as Monmouth Caps. There is only one known surviving example from the 16th century, pictured below.

This particular cap was knitted with two-ply woolen yarn. The loop at the bottom right was used for carrying. It is difficult to see, but one top there is a decorative button in matching color to finish off the work.

Interestingly, the knitters of these caps were predominantly male and attached to the Weaver's Guild. Though their cost was low and their wearing ubiquitous among laborers, sailors, and soldiers, their production seems to have created enough revenue to be of concerns to Parliament.

The Cappers Act of 1488 forbade the wearing of foreign-made caps in England. Another Act of Parliament in 1571, stated that every person above the age of six years (excepting "Maids, ladies, gentlewomen, noble personages, and every Lord, knight and gentleman of twenty marks land") residing in any of the cities, towns, villages or hamlets of England, must wear, on Sundays and holidays (except when travelling), "a cap of wool, thicked and dressed in England, made within this realm, and only dressed and finished by some of the trade of cappers..." This legislation was repealed in 1597.

For those of you interested in living history, I did a little extra digging. I can't verify its authenticity, but I did find a free replica pattern online for those of my readers who knit. My own knitting abilities are abysmal at best, but if I ever give it a try, I will update this post. Jas. Townsend and Son (who run one of my favorite Youtube channels) also have a replica available in multiple colors and made of 100% worsted wool on their online shop.  

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