Glorious Gloves! The Latest Addition to the Museum Collection

13th May 2022 / Museum blog

Costume and textile items from the 17th century are already extremely rare, but what makes these gloves even more special is their possible link to an important local family, the Sharington-Talbots of Lacock Abbey.

During the Tudor and Stuart periods, gloves such as these were symbols of wealth and sophistication. They were unlikely to have been worn to protect the hands or keep warm. Instead they were displayed either hooked into the belt or rim of a hat, or casually carried in the hand where they would be seen. When new, you can imagine how vibrant the multi-coloured silk flowers would have been and how the spangles (another name for sequins) and the silver thread would have sparkled in the light.

In 1904 Prof. W B Redfern, who was a highly regarded author and collector of historic costume, included these gloves in his book ‘Royal and Historic Gloves and Shoes’. They were described as Lady Sherington’s Gloves (sic), late 16th century. A handwritten note that accompanies the gloves takes this attribution further, suggesting they had in fact once belonged to Queen Elizabeth I. In 1574 Elizabeth I did stay at Lacock Abbey, where she supposedly either neglectfully left the gloves behind, or generously gifted them to the Lady of the house, Olive Sharington.

Although we would love this story to be true, two things rule this out. Firstly, although difficult to date accurately, these gloves most likely date to the early 17th century, possibly around 1625, and so after Elizabeth I’s death in 1603. Secondly, the gloves almost certainly belonged to a man. Although ruling out an association with royalty, the link with Lacock Abbey remains plausible. There are two possible contenders for the owners of these gloves, Olive’s son or grandson, confusingly both named Sharington Talbot. While the father would have been around 50 when these gloves were purchased, the more likely candidate is probably Sharington Talbot the younger who was born in 1599, and may even have bought them for his wedding in 1627.

Although unlikely, the links to Queen Elizabeth I are not that surprising. Their floral motifs are typical of the decoration used during the late Tudor and early Stuart period. These include a prominently placed violet, or wild pansy, and smaller silver-thread wrapped flowers that resemble the tudor rose. The wild pansy was a favourite flower of Queen Elizabeth I. It also appeared in William Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer’s Night Dream’ (first performed in 1605) as ‘love-in-idleness’, the liquid from which, when dropped into the eyes, makes the person fall in love with the next person they see.

The use of such flowers makes even more sense as gloves like these were also commonly exchanged as love tokens, meaning you could almost hold the hand of your lover, when they were not there. On a less romantic level the floral motifs may also evoke the scent frequently applied to gloves at this time. These would have then been used like a pomander or scented handkerchief to cover the unpleasant smells of daily life!

Purchased in 2022 with support from the Museums Association Beecroft Bequest