Fashion History

What My Ancestors Would’ve Worn: Lady Margaret Donington

Margaret Donington is my 15x Great Grandmother on my mum’s side. I only discovered her recently but I’m obsessed. She was an English Tudor noblewoman who had three high profile marriages. Her first marriage was to my 15x Great Grandfather, Sir Thomas Kitson; together they had five children, including Katherine Kitson, my ancestor.

Margaret was alive from 1509-1561 and lived in Suffolk after becoming the owner of Hengrave Hall with her first husband. She also had the title of Countess of Bath. Her second marriage was to Sir Richard Long, who was a royal courtier in the court of Henry VIII. Her third marriage to the Earl of Bath is where her title of Countess of Bath comes about. John Bouchier was the 2nd Earl of Bath, and the couple had two children together. Margaret had ten children in total over three marriages.

In Tudor times fashion was incredibly important. The clothes you wore were your social status. You could tell the exact status/rank of someone just by looking at their outfit. The colours and embellishment displayed your wealth. Margaret comes from a long line of nobility and money, so wealth is something she was very familiar with.

I want to look at what she would’ve worn during her second marriage to the courtier Sir Richard Long. Their son, Henry Long, became the Godson of King Henry VIII, so you know they had a respectable status among the court. Richard was very close to the King, therefore he would’ve worn highly embellished items of clothing and higher ranking colours. Margaret would’ve been just as respected and embellished because of her husband’s rank.

During his reign, Henry VIII passed four sumptuary laws. A sumptuary law dictated what people could and couldn’t wear. No matter how much money you had and what you could afford, if you weren’t part of the elite then there were restrictions on the fabrics and colours you could wear. Furs, silks, cloth of gold and silver were restricted for use by the elite only, with the colour purple used only for the royal family. In this case, sumptuary laws didn’t apply to women. It wasn’t until Elizabeth I’s reign did the laws apply to women for the first time. More information on this coming in a future post, keep an eye out for that!

So, because of the rank of Margaret’s husband, Richard, and his intimacy to the King, we can assume she had a lot of money. Her outfit, though, would’ve started the same way as every other Tudor woman, with a cotton chemise. She may have had embellishments on her chemise. Even though no one saw it, they often had embroidery on their underwear as another way to display their wealth. The chemise was a shapeless cotton dress worn as underwear, and the closest item worn to the skin.


After her chemise, a bum roll would have been tied around her waist to give her some more shape and making the line of her dress look bigger. Then a petticoat, or hoop, on top, again to enhance the size of her skirt. A petticoat would’ve added more warmth during the winter. The only thing that actually touches her skin is the chemise. Yes, her outerwear would’ve have been washed regularly, but her linens washed daily. Plus she may have changed outfits more than once a day, what a faff!

Next would have been a kirtle. Kirtles were an equivalent to a corset/stay except they were all-in-one with a skirt which acted as a petticoat. The kirtle would provide upper body support. I would say that her kirtle was made from expensive silk and beautifully embellished around the neckline. Silk kirtles would have been very heavy, but fashion was certainly more important than comfort during this time. Because Margaret wouldn’t have worn a stay (corset), her kirtle would have been boned with whale-bone. If you were poorer and couldn’t afford whale-bone, then dried reeds, bunched together, worked just as well. Margaret had a lot of kids, and her kirtle certainly wouldn’t have got in the way. She would have just loosened it.

Kirtle. Tied on the sides

After her kirtle, a skirt would’ve been worn. Not a skirt how you’re thinking though. Oh no, this skirt was basically just a panel of gorgeous fabric worn on her front then tied around her waist. The reason for this was that if it went all around her lower half then it’d have been a waste! You would only see the front so it made sense to just wear the front. It’s a bit of a cheat but at least it’s not wasteful. This panel of fabric would have been made of silk, and have incredible, expensive-looking embellishment. You really wanted to show off your wealth.

Front Panel skirt

Covering the rest of her body would be the gown! This gown would be made up of a silk or velvet dress with a cross tie front, and a stomacher that covered the tied front and made the dress look seamless. Look at the image below as a reference. The gown may have had large fur or velvet sleeves. The gown I have drawn is inspired by the French gown worn by Katherine Parr in the portrait at the end of this post.

Stockings, made from silk or wool, would have been put on before everything else for ease. But her shoes would have been put in before her accessories. Shoes were made from leather, were flat, buckled, and had square toes. Not very attractive, but rather practical.


Next detachable sleeves for your lower arms would have been added. During the time Margaret was married to Richard, slashing on the sleeves became very popular. Slashing was when the top fabric has slits in it so you can pull even more expensive fabric through, again displaying your wealth. They would have been tied to the sleeve of the gown under the fur or velvet.

Detachable sleeves under fur/velvet

A choice of hood next. French or English. I personally think Margaret would have opted for a classic English hood. The English hood was pretty ugly. It had a pointed top, like the roof of a building, and covered all of the lady’s hair. Usually covered in fur at the front with a veil at the back. Alternatively, Margaret could have chosen the French hood made popular by the lovely Anne Boleyn. Definitely the more attractive choice, this hood was smaller and round. The front of your hair would be on show too at the front with the hood sitting a little further back on your head, but this too had a veil at the back. I would definitely pick the French hood.

English hood

Many accessories like rings and necklaces were the last thing added. These were most likely gifts from family, but they too showed people how much money you had, and Margaret seemed like the sort of person to really show people she was rich.


Once she had gone through this horrific time of getting dressed she was all ready for a day of being rich! She would’ve looked beautiful, Tudor fashion has always been a sweet spot for me. Both Margaret and her husband would have looked very sharp and very rich! Due to the sumptuary laws passed by Henry VIII, Margaret would have had more freedom to what she could wear than her husband.

Katherine Parr, attributed to Master John, circa 1545, © National Portrait Gallery, London

Do you think you could handle the Tudor dress code?




(2) Comments

  1. What an interesting post! How exciting to research your relatives and find someone so fasinating! I think I would’ve picked the French hood too, but that’s just my personal preference! Thanks for sharing xx

    1. Thank you! Yeah, it’s definitely more attractive

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