Following on from her documentary last year, Tales from the Royal Bedchamber, Dr. Lucy Worsley this time explores the significance of the royal wardrobe.
As ever, she makes her history playful and fun, prancing about replicas of various royal get-ups down the ages and describing Cromwell as a bit ‘rufty tufty’. Firstly, I have to say I agree with that interpretation, and secondly, this jolly hockey sticks approach doesn’t mean there isn’t any real history to be had…
Worsley explores how royal fashion shaped, and reflected, the life and times of our rulers. Whilst tracing four hundred years of royal fashion history, from Elizabeth I to Diana, Princess of Wales, Worsley comments on the changing image and role of the monarchy. Elizabeth I, we learn, used her clothing to reinforce her position as a female rule, and to impose her interpretation of her rule on her people.
By the time we get the Stuarts, we are already seeing a change in the monarchy. Elizabeth I happily underlined her power (and her virginity, one thinks) with a dress bedecked in 800 freshwater pearls. Charles I, in contrast, found his extravagant clothing became a symbol of excess, vice and the seventeenth century equivalent of an expenses scandal.
Moving on (and cutting out rather a lot of history) we come to Edward VIII, who committed the deadly sin of wearing brown in town. Again, this is not just a repeating of contemporary gossip (or an excuse for Worsley to dress up in knitwear and a silly hat and play golf) but turns into a discussion of how Edward VIII’s relaxed approach to clothing reflected a discord between the life he wanted and the life he was expected to lead.
While much of the analysis is brief, this can only be expected in an attempt to discuss such a large about of history in a sixty minute slot. There was also the impression that someone had hit the ‘fast forward’ button when it came to dealing with the nineteenth century. However, this was a bright and engaging piece of history; interesting to listen to and fun to watch. Hopefully, there will be another follow-on to this show as well. Tales from the Royal Nursery? Tales from the Royal Dressing Table? Tales from the Royal Kitchen? The possibilities to seem to be endless…
Initially shown on BBC 4 in September 2014, it is no longer available on iPlayer. However, if you want to see clips and read more from Dr. Worsley on this subject, please find the relevant links below.