How much did Elizabeth I spend on her dresses?

It’s nearly impossible to translate amounts spent on Elizabethan clothing into modern money, as it represented so much more of someone’s overall income than today.

Elizabeth I, Queen of England and Ireland, c1588 © Getty

Fabrics were prohibitively expensive and, in many cases, prohibited full-stop – there were strict rules dictating which fabrics, and even colours, could be worn by whom.

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Although she owned a lot of clothes, Elizabeth often didn’t spend anything at all. Instead, her subjects would present her with gloves, sleeves, ruffs, jewels and bolts of costly fabric. As well as receiving such luxurious gifts, it was common for Elizabeth to give away clothes – paying her ladies-in-waiting with her wardrobe rather than her wallet.

New Year was an especially giving time for Elizabeth’s courtiers, who would vie for attention with heavily-codified gifts. One year, she upped the ante after receiving silk stockings. She declared that she liked them so much, she’d never wear cloth versions again. The hint was taken.

An inventory from 1600 shows some 2,000 gowns in Elizabeth’s royal wardrobe, containing imported silks, furs and damasks, decorated with precious jewels and gold and silver thread.

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This content first appeared in the Christmas 2015 issue of History Revealed and was answered by one of our Q&A experts, Sandra Lawrence