Monthly Archives: January 2016

Ladies of Thread and Ink

Ladies of Thread and Ink– by Valentina S. Grub, University of St. Andrews

Scribes and artists, authors and glossators, priests and monks; they all left their marks on manuscripts. As previously discussed in this forum, manuscripts were intensely collaborative efforts that took many hands and hundreds, if not thousands, of hours to create. However, those hands were often not limited to just making manuscripts. Individuals (and in this article, specifically women) not only worked on manuscripts and other arts, but their professional skill level was such that they were members of multiple guilds.

In 1837, G. B. Depping published an edition of the statutes and rules of the crafts and guilds of Paris that were set down in the late thirteenth century. His work is largely based on a manuscript in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Français 11709, the only complete record of the survey carried out by Étienne Boileau. Boileau was born between 1200 and 1210, and fought and was captured with King Louis IX in the Battle of Al Mansurah in Egypt during the Seventh Crusade in 1250. After being released, the King bestowed many favours on his brother in arms, most notably making him the Lord Provost of Paris in 1261.[1] In this office, Boileau reprimanded and curtailed the excesses of the Parisian abbots, rebuilt the royal coffers, reorganized the guilds and for the first time recorded all of the professions of Paris, whose only original records are in this book.  The second of two record books that Boileau kept was severely damaged in a fire in 1737, rendering it almost unreadable.

Dame Margot and Dame Aalès are recorded as members of the embroiderers guild, and they are cross-referenced in an archival document in the French National Archives, specifically Les Statuts de Brodeurs et Brodeuses Valides (Arch. Nat. KK1336 fcxiii verso) where they are listed as both embroiderers and illuminators. This does not seem to be an uncommon occurrence, as there are anecdotal references to many men and women having multiple skilled jobs. What is significant is that these women were members of both guilds in their own right, while women of the time were more often members under their husbands’ names.

While other evidence points to similarities between manuscript illumination and embroidery, this archival evidence proves that there were individuals who worked in both professions, with enough skill to warrant membership in both guilds. Membership was not lightly given, as the embroiderer’s guild of Paris demanded that each embroiderer have an eight year apprenticeship, have a registered workshop, only work in daylight hours, and only use certain, high-quality materials. [2] The rules in England were even more stringent, where court embroiderers often came under the purview of the armourer, due in part to their heavy use of precious metals and their close connection to heraldry.[3]

[1] Cazelles, Raymond, Nouvelle Histoire de Paris: Paris de Philippe Auguste à Charles V, Paris: Hachette, 1996, pp.179.

[2] Parker, Rozsika, The Subversive Stitch: Embroidery and the Making of the Feminin , London: I.B., Tauris, 1984, pp.13.

[3] Ibid, 22.