Altar Cloth Last Surviving Gown Of Queen Elizabeth I, Called ‘Holy Grail Of Fashion History’

An altar cloth has been found which has been called the “holy grail of fashion history” after evidence points to this piece of fabric being the last surviving gown of Queen Elizabeth I. Experts on the subject of Tudor garments have spent over one year gathering clues about an embroidered textile which was cut and used to cover the altar of a parish church in Herefordshire.

Historical experts are now saying that all possible evidence points to this Herefordshire parish church altar cloth having once been a skirt belonging to Elizabeth I, which would make it the only survivor out of the queen’s immense wardrobe, according to the Independent.

Eleri Lynn, who is a curator of historical dress at Historic Royal Palaces, states that she first discovered the cloth of this dress when it was hanging on a wall in a church in St. Faith, Bacton, last year. The church dates back to the 13th century.

“When I saw it for the first time I knew immediately that it was something special. As I examined it, I felt as though I had found the holy grail, the Mona Lisa of fashion. None of Elizabeth I’s dresses are known to have survived, but everything we have learnt since then points to it being worn by Elizabeth.”

Queen Elizabeth I knights Sir Francis Drake on April 4, 1581.

On the altar cloth, there is a botanical pattern, which is extremely similar to the pattern of a bodice which Queen Elizabeth I wore in the Rainbow Portrait of 1602. It is Eleri Lynn’s opinion that it is “not inconceivable” that the skirt, which cannot be seen in the painting, is also part of the same costume.

The fact that this piece of altar cloth hanging in a glass case once belonged to a skirt of Elizabeth I is not as odd as you might think. Eleri Lynn explained that due to the expense of Tudor clothing, garments were frequently given away for others to wear, and sometimes the clothing was also used to construct other items.

“We have 10,000 items of clothing and accessories in storage here, including many items worn by kings and queens, but there is almost nothing from before the reign of Charles II. In Tudor times, clothing was so expensive that it would be passed on from one generation to the next, or taken apart and reused for something else, like cushion covers.”

Before Lynn discovered the altar cloth which may have once been the skirt of Queen Elizabeth I, she had been busy researching a blog which dealt with Welsh connections to the Tudor court.

She then found the altar cloth inside of the St. Faith, Bacton church. She stated that the embroidered design with daffodils, roses, and various other flowers was common in 16th-century fashion, but also noticed that some of the cloth was constructed from silver. Under Tudor sumptuary law, only those who are immediate members of the royal family or the monarch themselves can wear such clothing.

As many may wonder how an altar cloth which was once a skirt of Elizabeth I made it to this Bacton church, it would most likely be because of Elizabeth’s lady-in-waiting, Blanche Parry, was one of the church’s parishioners.

Judy Dench playing Queen Elizabeth in "Shakespeare in Love."

Queen Elizabeth I was known to have given items of her clothing to Blanch Parry in the past, so it makes perfect sense that one of the skirts she would have given to Parry would eventually have been made into an altar cloth as time went by.

Once the St. Faith, Bacton church were told about the historical significance of this altar cloth, they loaned it to HRP, which is set to begin an 18-month restoration of it. Once the restoration is complete, it will be put on display at Hampton Court.

Are you excited to see this altar cloth that was once a costume of Queen Elizabeth I go on display at Hampton Court and will you visit to see it?

[Featured Image by Alastair Grant/AP Images]