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Hampton Court Palace puts rare Elizabeth I dress on display

By Public Domain, Wiki Commons

It is thought to be the only surviving remnant of the famous wardrobe of Elizabeth I. Now visitors to Hampton Court Palace can see a fragment of one of her most famous dresses for themselves.

The exquisitely embroidered fabric is now on show at the Tudor palace, next to one of the best known portraits of the Virgin Queen which is believed to show her wearing the material. For the first timem history fans will be able to compare the silver chamblet silk, long claimed to be part of an outfit worn by Gloriana, will the famous Rainbow Portrait which shows the Tudor queen as the ultimate power in an England she had made her own.

The material is now known as the Bacton Altar Cloth and the story of how it ended up in a parish church highlights an important relationship in Elizabeth’s life. For years, she was served by a woman called Blanche Parry who acted as Chief Gentlewoman of the Bedchamber to Elizabeth. The queen was known to have passed many clothes on to Blanche who had looked after her since her earliest years and who retired to the village of Bacton as she entered old age. The dress was turned into an altar cloth which ended up in Bacton parish church where Blanche had also commissioned a memorial to herself underlining her service to Elizabeth who is shown in the monument as the glorious Virgin Queen.

In 1909, the rector of Bacton, Charles Brothers, made the first claims that the material was in fact a gown once belonging to Elizabeth I. After much research, that theory has been accepted. In 2016, experts from Historic Royal Palaces which looks after Hampton Court, began the delicate process of restoring and preserving the fabric for display. Their work is now complete and from October 12th, visitors to Hampton Court can see the material themselves.

The material now sits next to a famous painting of the queen in which she wears a gown bearing a striking resemblence to the Bacton Altar Cloth. The Rainbow Portrait, loaned by Hatfield House, is one of the most famous images of Elizabeth from the later part of her reign. It was commissioned by Robert Cecil, one of her chief advisers, and it’s filled with symbolism including the use of eyes and ears on her outfit denoting that the monarch heard and saw all that went on around her.

The Bacton Altar Cloth and the Rainbow Portrait are on show at Hampton Court Palace from October 12th 2019 until February 23rd 2020 and admission to the exhibition is included in the ticket price.

Royal Central will have more on the Bacton Altar Cloth in the coming week.

About author

Lydia is a writer, blogger and journalist. She's worked in the media for over twenty years as a broadcast reporter, producer and editor as well as feature and online writer. As well as royals and royal history, she's a news junkie and podcaster.