Thursday, February 20, 2014

Lord Clapham’s Justacorps and a Marlburian Uniform

Lord and Lady Clapham, London, circa 1700

Looking for an example of a Marlburian uniform I came across this happy looking couple from circa 1700.  Known as Lord and Lady Clapham, they reside in the collection of the V&A and are, I am sure, well known inhabitants of South Kensington.  Never met them until now, but happy to make their acquaintance.  Dolls normally leave me cold, whereas dioramas captivate me, odd since both essentially represent life in miniature, but that’s the mind for you. However, this couple enchanted me lock, stock and barrel.  The description from the V&A notes that these belonged to the Cockerell family who were related to Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) through his grandniece who married into the Cockerell family of Clapham (south London).  The dolls were named the ‘Lord’ and ‘Lady’ after the family’s resident town.  Dolls of this age are rare enough, as is the clothing for either a doll or a person, so this is a rare artifact indeed.

Lord Clapham, the wee man and his clothing

Lord Clapham’s justacorps immediately caught my eye. The flare of the wee man’s coat is dramatic. In part this may be due to the flattening of the fabric over time and the exaggerated pressed bell-shape that results, but also due to the circumference, which displays the stylistic difference between the beginning and end of the 18th century.  This early 18th century justacorps has a lush fullness that is the antithesis of the shadbelly silhouette of the 1790s.  Men must have moved differently in this part of the century, or rather clothing moved differently on them. Perhaps it can be likened to the shimmy of a woman’s fringe tiered dress from the 1920s, which encapsulates a style, a period, and a way of moving through space. I look at this coat and the term swagger comes to mind, the self-possessed not the pompous definition of the word.  It illuminates that moment of confidence that propelled the 18th century out of the turbulence and political quagmire of the 17th century and into the enlightenment, inquiry and reason that become the hallmarks of the 18th century.  To my eye there is a raw exuberance in this period’s clothing, which disappears with the studied elegance of its fin de siècle cousin. 
Conceptually, they are of the same family, but the stylistic refinement of the later leaves me a bit cold.  It is a personal conceit and I can understand the fascination with the end of the 18th century, but perhaps I am too much of a Whig at heart to surrender to the opposition.  

As this started with a quest for an example of a Marlburian justacorps I need to be mindful of the military aspect of this period with the triumph of Marlborough and the allied armies. England entered the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714) as a realm fearful of French and Spanish Continental domination, but finished it as a united kingdom of England and Scotland triumphant on the European battlefield.  This engraving by Jean Dubosc, created after a painting by Louis Leguerre, of the battle of Taniers (currently Malplaquet) (1709) shows how voluminous justacorps could be.  The pleating of the coat skirts displays a kilt-like density. This color version done later is easier to read than the black and white original, at least for my purposes and close-ups follow.

The Battle of Taniers, after Dubosc, Robert Wilson

Close-up center

Close-up right of log

Lord Clapham's justacorps interior view

While only a vestige of the full scale rendition, Lord Clapham’s justacorps and vest with their tight but closable tubular torsos and voluminous skirts are indicative of the of the stiffened coat skirt that waxes and wanes for the next fifty years.  Was the use by men of coat skirt stiffeners a martial fashion response to this triumphant military decade? Was the reintroduction of side padding by women at this time a nod to martial influenced fashion?   Questions for another time I think.

Jeffrey Hopper is an author, editor and the Manager of the Warner House, in Portsmouth, NH.


  1. "Marlbrough s'en va t'en geurre, mironton mironton mirontaine"? :)
    This is such a unique resource with an interesting story! I reenact at French and Indian War events, so my boyfriend is currently making a mid-century justaucorps and I'm making a coordinating riding habit .... of course this is later than your example but I definitely see what you mean with the connection between justaucorps skirts and ladies' wide skirts! From what we've seen justaucorps don't require you to move differently, but there certainly is a lot of fabric movement going on! It looks very dramatic when worn with a sword and gesturing commands on the battlefield.

    1. Alexa,
      I'ld completely forgotten the old French song, so thank you, it made me laugh. Thanks for your comments. I agree with you that the clothes probably do not make us move differently, but I wonder if that has more to do with our place in time. That is, we may no longer move as we once did because as we no longer live as we once did and it may impossible to recapture that experience. I'm reminded of the Versailles shuffle, supposedly a modified step-glide, that was the gait of the women of the Court of France. Was it a shuffle or was it small steps like Ukrainian folk dancers make it look as if they are gliding across the dance floor? Did this ‘shuffle’ make the voluminous court gowns and the women in them appear to float through the galleries? I'm fascinated by what is missing as much as what we see. The sound of leather soles and heels on wooden and stone floors and how a person's gait can announce their arrival before they do, the weight of layered wool garments and internal construction that determines carriage, or even the posture a rider develops after years on horseback. There are so many subtle influences that we may never fully appreciate the past, but then again that’s the fun of the chase, trying to discover as much as we can! Good luck with French and Indian War and the justaucorp and habit.
      As an aside, I once wore an English riding jacket from the 1870s for an evening event and it was the most constricting garment I have ever worn. The construction only allowed me to move in the English style of riding, movement at the elbows, but not much at the shoulder and my posture was ramrod straight. Eighteenth century habits look similar are they also that constricting?
      With Regards,

  2. An Historical Lady,
    Thank you for your comments. I guess the old adage is true: ‘never say never.’ I’ve been lucky to see several dolls from this period and a little later, and I have to admit they were all memorable. Perhaps it’s the original makers approach to the approximation of the human form, slightly off, but recognizable—balancing art and artifice.
    With Regards,


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