Dr Lucy Worsley is Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, English historian, author and TV presenter. Dr Worsley and I recently discussed her upcoming series: ‘Tales From the Royal Wardrobe’ which will air on BBC Four 7 July, 9pm.
Firstly, thank you for once again allowing me the pleasure to discuss another one of your programmes with Royal Central.
My pleasure – I’m glad that your readers are interested in the work we do at Historic Royal Palaces!
You have given viewers insight in the Royal bedchamber and now the wardrobe. What do feel was the impetus that sparked the idea for this new series? Was there a particular moment where you thought, yes this should be the next programme that I work on?
Well, one of the groups of historic objects I most enjoy looking after at Historic Royal Palaces is the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection. It consists of 10,000 items of costume worn by monarchs, or by their courtiers, and it lives mainly at Hampton Court Palace. (You can see highlights from the collection in the revolving displays that we change each year at Kensington Palace). I’d long had it in mind to use this collection to tell the evolving story of royal fashion – and where we had gaps in our own collection, we went elsewhere – to the Victoria & Albert Museum, for example, or the Museum of London – to look at their royal clothing.
Without divulging too many details, can you give our readers a brief preview of what is in store next month?
Starting with the oldest known item of British royal dress – a set of stays (like a corset) made in 1603 for Queen Elizabeth I’s funeral effigy – we run right through to the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, examining royal style through the ages. There are some continuities, like dressing to impress, and wearing stand-out colours to be seen in a crowd, but some important changes too. Elizabeth I dressed like a creature from another world, so strange and exotic and different did she look from her subjects. Royalty today, though, in more democratic times, looks at lot more like we do ourselves.
You have Tweeted Queen Victoria’s teenage tartan dress, and the BBC have promotional pictures circulating that show you in Elizabeth I Armada dress from 1588. What other items can viewers expect to see?
George IV’s golden bedroom slippers were a particular favourite of mine – you’d expect no less from the king of bling! And, more movingly, items such as the cap Charles I wore when he was captured by the Parliamentarian army, or the gloves he was said to have worn on the scaffold at his execution, sent a bit of a shiver down my spine.
Many of these garments took a group of individuals to help the Royals dress. Which of the garments was by far the most challenging to put on?
Royal or aristocratic female dress from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries was definitely challenging to put on! That’s partly about getting into a corset: you can do it yourself if you have the knack, but it’s much easier if you have a maid. Then there are things like unwieldy hoops to go under a skirt that are tricky, plus the fact that dresses from this period don’t button or zip up – again, your maid comes in handy to sew or pin you into the outfit. It’s not something to be done in a hurry!
Of the many items you were able to wear, can you share a few of your favourites?
Oh, I was spoiled. I got the chance to wear replicas of: Elizabeth I’s ‘Armada’ dress, the outfit she wears in the famous portrait celebrating her victory over the Spanish Armada in 1588; a gentleman’s suit like those popularised by Charles II in the 1660s; a lady’s court dress from the mid-eighteenth century; golfwear of the type worn by Edward VIII in the 1930s, and finally, an approximation of the Dior ‘New Look’ that Princess Margaret loved in the 1940s.
If there was one particular item in the collection at Historic Royal Palaces you could have in your wardrobe, what would you chose? Is there a particular reason for you choice?
Oh yes. I would choose one of Norman Hartnell’s embroidered satin evening dresses, for Her Majesty the Queen or Princess Margaret, from the 1950s. They are absolutely stunning. Both of them had such tiny waists, though, that I don’t think I could squeeze in.
I do know some of our readers would want to ask if there is a new coat involved for this series and if so, can you give a hint to what colour?
Indeed – I had a lovely rose-pink coat! By coincidence, it turned out to be a very similar cut and colour to the pink coat the Queen herself wore at a service at Westminster Abbey for Commonwealth Day in the very same week we started filming. It seemed like a good omen!
I must ask a silly but somewhat amusing question, if you were to make a television series out of your book Cavalier: a Tale of Chivalry, Passion and Great Houses, who would you cast as William Cavendish?
Hum, tricky. Would have to be someone who could do dashing, arrogant, negligent, handsome and irresponsibly romantic. I’m thinking Dominic West from ‘The Wire’.
Thank you once again for taking the time to discuss the upcoming series: ‘Tales from the Royal Wardrobe’ with me. I certainly look forward to it being aired in Britain on BBC Four at 9pm on Monday 7th July.
Photo Credit: BBC Pictures and Dr Lucy Worsley