A Questions On Trews

Viking, Saxon, and Early Christian Irish cultures

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A Questions On Trews

Postby Sean-Hogan on Mon Feb 02, 2009 2:03 am

I was reading again the Early Gaelic Dress PDF by Scott Barrett for the SCA, most notably the section on trews. He says trews were worn, generally, by the lower class, were as the upper class didn't. However he shows a picture of a seemingly noble man who appears to be wearing trews. Now I know that most sources note that the Gaels prefered to go barelegged. However, keeping in mind the assumption that the lower class wore trews more than others, making trews was probably easy, but I wonder how hard it was to actually decorate them.

I'm by far no authority, but what I know of Ireland's early medieval period shows them as being fairly concerned with class and indications of class. So if decorating trews was hard, I imagine some might not bother with it.

So, bottomline: Does anyone know how difficult it would have been to decorate trews in Early Christian times?
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Re: A Questions On Trews

Postby the_power on Mon Feb 02, 2009 3:10 pm

That's a really good question. I don't have any good evidence that the EarlyIrish.org PDF doesn't already mention. So, in the absence of evidence, I'll make something up, and see what you think!

Look to the Norweigans of the same time. Woolen breeches were usually shunned by high-status folk; the richer people were in long tunics & socks/leg-wraps. Sound familiar ? Irish weren't that different! However, there are indications that some richer people wore linen breeches outside of Scandinavia - this might be something they picked up in continental Europe, or maybe just a practicality. Linen trousers are *cold* in an arctic winter.

There is a town in England, Brocklesbey, possibly named after a local jarl - it's a modern version of the word 'bróklaus' or "breechless". Seems very similar to Magnus Barelegs of Irish fame; Magnus just opted out of the stockings part, more inline with the Irish families he'd married into.

In Njal's saga, Fló��man of wealth) made a big deal out of *choosing* to wear breeches because he's going on a long walk with his men. I don't really remember the passage anymore, but if I recall correctly he was trying the "man of the people" angle at the time, trying to get them to fight at his side for some stupid vendetta. It certainly seemed that it was uncommon for Norse men of rank to wear breeches, though if needs must, they would.

There are also mentions in various sagas of rich vikings wearing what sound like complete hose, made out of linen - fitted feet. Some finds have found belt loops - usually just two, though, at each hip. It's a pretty wide variety of trousers.

While it's not helpful to assume that whatever the vikings wore here, the Irish could have too, it's worth considering that Irish nemed could have worn trousers. It's likely they weren't rough wool, like soldiers/peasants, but fine linen. As for decoration; I wouldn't imagine there would be much. Most of the top of them are shrouded in a leine/tunic. I'm not sure how much you can read into the checkered breeches in the Book of Kells; all Norse breeches of the time were described as monochrome...though I'll leave that up to you.

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Re: A Questions On Trews

Postby Sean-Hogan on Mon Feb 02, 2009 4:27 pm

Thanks for the reply.

From what I know of countries like England and France, where they did wear trousers/leggings, their leg-wear in the early medieval period never seemed to be much to write home about, at least not compared to their cloaks, robes, tunics, belts and other things. Of course, kings of England and France were kings simply by divine favor, which gave some room; indeed, Henry II of England was known for not wearing fancy clothing unless it was for a ceremony. Where as the Irish and Norse kings had to mantain their powers. However, I doubt some of the rules about Irish kingship were so strickly enforced, many of which give the impression that if an Irish king so much as got a spot on his tunic that mad, wild Irishmen would come screaming out of the bushes, give him a few good clots on the nose and run away with his crown. Still, keeping one's appearance would be important. But it makes me wonder if it's possible that the time and effort put into decorating leg-wear wasn't worth it. Of course a king wouldn't make them himself, it would be handed off to someone else, but time isn't a refillable cup. So I wonder if they just said to heck with it; perhaps even justifying it as making them look different to the lower classes.
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Re: A Questions On Trews

Postby claimhteoir on Wed Feb 11, 2009 12:14 am

That's interesting...
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