400 year old colour

“The Bacton Altarcloth” was recently determined to likely be made from a dress that belonged to Queen Elizabeth I, c. 1600.

1 Screenshot

It’s on display at Hampton Palace, with The Rainbow Portait of the Virgin Queen.

https _historicroyalpalaces.picturepark.com_Go_ctrueOYG_V_44997_13 Elizabeth_I_Rainbow_Portrait

Inscribed non sine sole iris (no rainbow without the sun) it’s questionable whether the eyes and ears on her saffron yellow cloak actually existed beyond symbolizing her as all-seeing and knowing. The bodice embroidery, however, compares to that of the Bacton cloth.

4 er-bodice

The silver woven into the heavy silk base is also visible in the painting, with even more striking similarity to the Bacton cloth. Tudor law was, only the very highest levels of nobility and royalty could wear dress containing gold and silver.

Bacton altar cloth
“Remnants of a dress belonging to Queen Elizabeth I may have been found in a richly embroidered altar cloth in Bacton, Herefordshire. Historians believe the monarch could have gifted the garment to one of her most faithful servants, Blanche Parry.” Claire Collins/Historic Royal Palaces/PA Wire

The altarcloth embroidery is more varied, with insects and small animals scattered among flowers and foliage.5 Bacton_cloth_samples

Apparently some pigments were found to be from far-off places, like cochineal from Mexico and and indigo from India.

7 silk thread

I think the lighter blues could be woad, like the thread above that I dyed. Yellows could come from any number of native flowers, this one is tansy.  The pink is cochineal, and the green is yarrow, also locally abundant.


In this 1592 portrait, Elizabeth’s skirt shows bolder and more fantastical embroidery,  with sea creatures and botanicals.

harwick detail

Screenshot (1424)

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