The Wardrobe of Margaret of Denmark, Queen of Scotland

Margaret of Denmark, Queen of Scotland from the Trinity Altarpiece painted by Hugo van der Goes.
Margaret of Denmark, Queen of Scotland from the Trinity Altarpiece painted by Hugo van der Goes.

King James III of Scotland was very good at collecting revenues. He was also very good at holding on to his revenues. However there was one item in the royal budget he didn’t skimp on and that was his wife’s wardrobe. Margaret of Denmark dressed at the height of fashion in mid-15th century Scotland.

King James’ mother, Mary of Guelders began a project of building the Church of the Holy Trinity in Edinburgh. Mary died when she was thirty and James took on the project and finished it. The first provost of the church Edward Bonkil commissioned a unique altarpiece, painted by the Flemish artist Hugo van der Goes. The central panel has disappeared but one of the wings has a portrait of Margaret dressed in royal robes. The mantle and skirt now appear very dark and may have been royal blue, azure or violet. The mantle and her jacket are trimmed in ermine, a symbol of royalty. The jacket seems to have been a tawny or gold brocade. Her headdress completely covers her hair and is made of a wide, crown-like band set with jewels over a hairnet having clusters of pearls and pendant pearls. There is a gold band beneath this. Around Margaret’s neck is a gold collar set with diamonds and pearls with a diamond suspended with another pendant pearl. From her shoulders down the front of the opening of her jacket is a heavy band of gold set with rubies and diamonds separated by pairs of pearls. This portrait accurately portrays the Queen’s regalia.

Altarpiece from the Church of the Holy Trinity in Edinburgh, Scotland
Altarpiece from the Church of the Holy Trinity in Edinburgh, Scotland

Margaret’s jointure, settled on her with her marriage to the King, was the highest allowed under the law of Scotland. The Lord Treasurer was entrusted with the task of paying the Queen’s expenses and because we have his records from 1473-4, we have a brief glimpse into the everyday life of a Scottish queen consort. The accounts for this year show Margaret spent the vast amount of £757:9:10 on clothing (equivalent to £498,000 today).

The fashion of the time was for women to wear long dresses called kirtles underneath gowns. These gowns were like indoor coats. During the time period of records that we have, Margaret had at least fifteen gowns. Ten of these were in regal colors: six in black, two in purple and two in crimson. Black was used for mourning but was also considered very fashionable. Other colors of her gowns were tawny, brown and blue. The materials varied. Five were velvet, five were damask, two were satin and one was made of silk.

Each gown required three to five ells of fabric. An ell was equivalent to 36”. The gowns had different linings such as cloth, fur, velvet, buckram and silk. In August of 1473, Margaret wore a new black riding gown on pilgrimage after the birth of her first son James. This gown had a velvet collar and trimmings on the sleeves. In the next month she had a gown made of crimson satin that was trimmed with no less than forty grey squirrel skins. Large numbers of grey squirrel furs were purchased in 1474 to line gowns and cloaks and to make collars. She had five new cloaks created all in black. Two of them were lined with the grey fur and two with damask. The documents record that on one occasion the Queen personally bought ermine skins.

We know less about her kirtles but these would have required six or seven ells of material. During the time period of the records she had at least a dozen kirtles crafted. They were black, crimson, green and blue and made of satin, damask, silk and velvet and were usually lined with cloth or satin.

King James III of Scotland and his Queen Consort Margaret of Denmark
King James III of Scotland and his Queen Consort Margaret of Denmark

The headdresses worn by the queen were very elaborate and we know one of her “dress bonnets” was lined with crimson satin that had been used for one of her kirtles. There is a record of her buying gloves from a Stirling skinner and she also owned a large ostrich feather, probably used in a headdress. She also owned a “poke of lavender” meaning a small bag, possibly a sachet. Margaret had a royal shoemaker named Hude and some of her shoes had cork heels. The records show she wore black hose and had some white foot socks which she may have worn when riding horses.

One of Margaret’s remarkable outfits was manufactured for her to wear to Parliament in May of 1474. The records show seven ells of red crimson for her long gown were purchased for £31:10/- and another ten ells were needed at a cost of £40. For another gown in the same year, fifteen ells of damask were acquired for £28:10/-. Twice the amount of material was needed for a ceremonial gown due to the long train the occasion demanded. These gowns would have been worn with the Queen’s impressive jewelry.

There is an inventory record which has survived of what Margaret owned when she died at Stirling Castle on July 14, 1486. This record is the first list of jewels belonging to a Scottish Queen. The list includes a crimson belt decorated with gold and braid. She had four other gold belts. She owned two gold chains with one having sixty-one links and another fifty-six links. One of her collars was made of chalcedony which is a translucent or grayish semiprecious stone that is a variety of banded quartz. Hanging from this collar was a pendant in the shape of a filigree pomander. She had a collar made of gold enameled roses. Another collar was set with sixteen rubies and had diamonds and double pearls and was also engraved. The main feature of this collar was eight white enameled swans.

There were two ‘edges’ that were maybe something like what she wore in the Trinity portrait from her shoulders down the front of her jacket. One of these was gold with four great pointed diamonds and twenty-eight pearls. The second ‘edge’ had eight rubies and thirty-six large pearls. Margaret had several strings of pearls, one of which had fifty-one pearls. There was also a small chain having a pendant in the shape of an M, set with diamonds and a great pearl. She had a splendid hairnet with pearls set in fours. Her collection of diamonds included many brooches and pendants with up to twenty gold pendants set with rubies. She had fifteen rings set with diamonds, rubies, sapphires and turquoises.

Also listed in the record are several items of plate including a round silver-gilt ball which was probably filled with warm water used to warm her hands. There was a silver gilt basin with a cover and a silver gilt cup and lamp. There was an embroidered linen cloth to wrap the communion Host in. And there were other various items mentioned: a pair of mittens for hunting, the surplice of a ‘robe royal’ and a covering, roof and hangings of shot purple silk and embroidered with a unicorn and thistles. This may possibly have covered the royal bed or the walls. One other unusual item listed was purchased in 1473. She purchased eight ells of broadcloth to cover her bathing tub. Another three ell sheet was made to put around the Queen in the bath tub.

These records give us an interesting view of the opulence of a Scottish Queen as well as some knowledge of her everyday life. And we know she took baths!

Further reading: “Scottish Queens 1093-1714” by Rosalind K. Marshall

9 thoughts on “The Wardrobe of Margaret of Denmark, Queen of Scotland

  1. Hi Susan, I have nominated The Freelance History Writer for a Blog of the Year Award 2012. You don’t have to do anything! But you can view my post on The Hazel Tree under ‘Comment’. If you wish, you can nominate your own winners. Just a bit of fun, I guess! But your blog is deserving of an award – I enjoy it very much. Kind regards, Jo


  2. Absolutely fascinating! Who knew that such money was spent adorning this one woman!! Do you have any clue as to where the clothes, belts, bands, are now? It would be interesting to learn if there are any surviving pieces in a Scottish museum, in a library, at the Smithsonian, at a castle in Scotland.


    • Glad you enjoyed this post Nancy! I don’t have any information on what exactly happened to all the items. I’m guessing the clothing was recycled. The jewelry may have been pawned, sold or melted down to fund other expenditures. Some may be in other collections. It would be great to know where the items are. 🙂


    • I was thinking the same thing when I was writing this post Kalli. 🙂 Especially all those belts and bands and edges full of diamonds and rubies. I’ll bet it was a sight to see her dressed in these things.


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