Secrets of royal fashion history revealed in free online course from Historic Royal Palaces

Figure 1 Full dress second-class uniform worn by George Irby, Lord Boston (detail), 1885. © Historic Royal Palaces

‘A History of Royal Fashion’ promises to uncover how historic kings and queens have used fashion and clothing to impress, to entertain and to control.

Fascinated by fashion? Ever wondered how clothes connect us with the kings and queens of the past? Then why not sign up to ‘A History of Royal Fashion’ on FutureLearn?

Following a hugely successful first run earlier in the year – with over 13,000 participants – the course will return in the autumn, with enrolment open now. Designed and delivered by independent heritage charity Historic Royal Palaces in partnership with the University of Glasgow, this Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) will lay bare the style secrets of the power dressing Tudors, fashion-conscious Stuarts, and the complicated dress etiquette of the Victorians. Taking place online over five weeks – with around four hours of fascinating content each week – in just 30 minutes a day you could become an expert in key royal trends from the sixteenth century to the present day! Including a host of activities and materials to bring the princely costumes of the past to life, the course will also encourage participants to consider the links between these historic garments and their own style choices.

Figure 2 The Rockingham Mantua, c1760‒65 An opulent silk satin dress brocaded in silver thread with silver lace trim. © Historic Royal Palaces

Through rich video content, the course allows learners from across the world to explore some of the greatest palaces ever built – the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace and the Banqueting House on London’s Whitehall – and the fashion styles that were popularised within them. In week one, discover the intriguing story of the Tudor-era ‘Bristowe hat’, which at over 500 years old is said to have once been worn by Henry VIII himself. Then skip forward around 100 years to learn about Charles I’s jerkin, believed to been left behind at Aldenham after the Battle of Naseby in 1645. One of the most decisive battles of the English Civil Wars, this sleeveless leather jacket offers participants a glimpse into the wardrobe of the King at this crucial moment in British history. Week three will trace the evolution of the elaborate Georgian mantua and uncover what it can tell us about courtiers and the wealthy elite at the time, while week four promises to debunk the myth that Queen Victoria only wore black. The final week is dedicated to the ‘Windsor style’, and how the short-lived reign of the fashion conscious Edward VIII influenced a more casual style for monarchy in the twentieth century.

Figure 3- Tudor or early Stuart hat; silk tufting with ostrich feather and silver braid button. This very rare Tudor hat was for centuries passed down through the same family, who are descended from Tudor courtier Nicholas Bristowe (1495-1584), King Henry VIII’s Clerk of the Wardrobe. According to family tradition, the hat belonged to King Henry himself, and was caught and kept by Bristowe after the King flung it into the air

Eleri Lynn, Curator of the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection at Historic Royal Palaces said: “We are delighted to have shared our enthusiasm, expertise and collections with the University of Glasgow, joining forces to explore the stories of royal fashion in this free online course. Caring for the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection is a huge privilege, and as we cannot put all of this remarkable collection on display, it’s amazing that we’re able to showcase it to so many people through this fascinating course.”

Dr Sally Tuckett, Lecturer in Dress and Textile Histories, University of Glasgow said: “Working with the team at Historic Royal Palaces has been a great opportunity to see how history, fashion, and space all come together. We’ve been absolutely thrilled with the response from participants in our first run of the course and how popular it has proven to be. Seeing surviving historic garments, often in the palaces in which they were originally worn, offers a unique insight into the history of royal fashion and we are really excited to show everyone the stories and discussions that the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection can lead to.”

The next run commences on 8 October 2018. Sign up now to explore how historic kings and queens have used fashion and clothing to control, to entertain and to impress in this online fashion course.

Visit to sign up and follow #FLRoyalFashion for the latest updates.

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