THE SUMPTUARY LAWS

Dancewear of the Middle Ages

What the Sumptuary Laws Were:

The Sumptuary Laws were a set of laws that prevented extravagance in private life by limiting expenditure for clothing, food and furniture. These laws were made to control behaviour such as: wearing certain apparel, consuming certain foods and beverages (usually of alcoholic nature) and, hunting game in certain areas.

The word sumptuary comes from the Latin word which means expenditure.

Some of the Laws:

During the Reformation in the early 1500šs the English Parliament restricted the number of courses for a meal to 2, except on holidays. It also regulated the amount that members in each class of society could spend on clothes.

In those day when you had company over for a meal you had to serve a specified number of courses depending on their class in the feudal system. If you were inviting a high church official to dinner, such as a cardinal, you would have to serve 9 courses. For guests such as bishops, archbishops, or counts you had to serve 7 courses. An ordinary government official would have just 6 courses.

In 1460 the government decided to ban wedding and social banquets in Venice, because they were considered too excessive. Foods such as partridge, pheasant and peacock also were banned.

Clothing and household goods were also included under the Sumptuary Laws, outlining to each class what they could own or wear. These laws were often directed to the growing lower and middle class.

Shoes worn by the upper class

Why they had the laws:

Several motives led to the enactment of these laws.
  1. The desire to preserve class distinctions

  2. The desire to check practices which were regarded as deleterious in their affects, due to the feeling that luxury and extravagance were in themselves wicked and harmful to the morals of people.

  3. Economic Motives:
    • The endeavour to encourage home industries and to encourage the buying of foreign goods and,

    • The attempt to on part of the sovereign to insure his people to save their money, so they might be able to help him out financially in time of need.

  4. Just sheer conversation and dislike of new fashions or customs.

    These laws were largely ignored, and unenforced. There are no written laws other than in journals. These laws were meant mainly for the lower and middle class.

Reference List

Cranny, Michael William. Pathways: Civilizations Through Time Scarborough: Prentince Hall Ginn Canada.1998

http://renaissance.district96.k12.il.us/Town/Clothing/Clothing.html

Riberio Alieen. Dress and Morality. Holmes and Meier 1986


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