In August 2014 marine archaeologists working off the coast of Holland have recovered a remarkable trove of well-preserved artifacts from a ship that sank nearly 400 years ago. Among the items is a beautiful 17th century silken gown that archaeologists now believe belonged to a woman at the centre of Charles I’s royal household: a confidant of the queen who was engaged in the most important task of her life. The vessel it was in, much of which remains unexplored, was the luggage ship of Charles’s queen, Henrietta Maria.
In early 1642 England was at civil war in all but name. With London in anarchy and anti-Catholic mobs taking to the streets, Charles sent Henrietta Maria and her retinue on a desperate mission. Putting them on a small fleet of boats, laden with the crown jewels, they sailed to Holland hoping to pawn England’s heritage to raise funds and support for the coming fight.
Charles watched them leave, galloping along the cliff top until they had disappeared, knowing that their success could be critical for his war.
February in the North Sea is a dangerous time, however. Of the 12 ships that left Dover, historians found strong evidence that one sank. It did not contain the crown jewels, or significant members of the retinue. Unluckily for Jane Ker, Countess of Roxburghe, it contained her wardrobe. Now, archaeologists believe, this has finally been found, along with a wealth of other artefacts.
Museum officials only disclosed these findings to the public this week in order to protect the site from would-be interlopers.
Conservators discovered that the bundle included a unique survival in exceptional condition: a silk damask gown of such fine quality that it must have belonged to a noblewoman of very high rank, perhaps even royalty. Buried under the seabed for 400 years or so, the delicate silk was spared the ravages of both oxygen and animals. The dress has a bodice with loose-fitting sleeves and sleeve caps and a full pleated skirt open in the front. The neck has an upright collar. The style is of a type seen in paintings from the early 17th century
Exquisitely Preserved 17th Century Dress Recovered From Shipwreck – Image: Kaap Skil Museum.
The dress is just one element of an extensive wardrobe that includes a jacket, silk knee socks and silk bodices woven with gold and silver thread.
All of these pieces are the same size, so archaeologists believe the clothes belonged to one full-figured woman. Only the gown shows signs of significant wear, which suggests it was intended for everyday use, as does the lack of rich silver and gold embroidery seen in the bodices.
Book cover with Stuart arms. Image: Kaap Skil Museum.
A leather-bound book was also found in the bundle carrying the coat of arms of the British king Charles I. This suggests that some of the cargo may have belonged to the Stuarts family of England.
Pomanders. Image: Kaap Skil Museum.
Other items included a comb for lice, Italian pottery and pomanders (spheres with pleasant-smelling contents to offset foul odors).
A comb for removing lice made fom cow horn Image: Kaap Skil Museum
The dress and the other items are currently on display at a special one-month exhibit at the museum.
If you understand Dutch there is a video that you might enjoy watching.
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