The Public Nuisance of Hoops & Underpants

It is said that 16th century women began to wear knickers because of Catherine de Medici’s love of riding to the chase side-saddle on windy days. The Medici was small of stature and rather well-built but she had beautiful legs and a fine degree of modesty.


Catherine de Medici


These underpants were called calçons and they caused a bruhaha amongst some moralists of the day…

“Women should leave their buttocks uncovered under their skirts. They should not appropriate a masculine garment but leave their behinds nude as is suitable for their sex.”

Others were of a different opinion. Henri Estienne believed...”These calçons are useful for women – they help to keep them tidy, prevent the onslaught of dust and cold and stop them showing too much of their body whenever they happen to fall off a horse. It also affords them a certain measure of protection against dissolute young men who, when they stealthily slide their hand under a lady’s skirt, will no longer come into direct contact with her flesh.”

Also condemned by some were the vertugades or hoops that women wore under their skirts from about 1530. Satirized, and finally declared a public nuisance, the hoop remained in use for several decades.


Marguerite de Valois

Catherine de Medici’s daughter, Marguerite of Valois apparently had a novel use for her hoops. She wore one of great width in which she had pockets made large enough to hold a little box. Inside each little box lay the embalmed heart of a deceased lover. And each night, Margot would hang her hoop in a cupboard behind her bed which she kept firmly locked.

Mob Football

Unknown malefactors to the number of over one hundred assembled themselves unlawfully and played a certain unlawful game called football, by means of which there was amongst them a great affray, likely to result in homicides and serious accident.’

Quarter Session Records of the County of Middlesex 1576

Mob Football

Mob Football

They get the bladder and blowe it great and thin, with many beanes and peason put within, It ratleth, shineth and soundeth clere and fayre, While it is throwen and caste up in the eyre, Eche one contendeth and hath a great delite, with foote and hande the bladder for to smite, if it fall to the ground they lifte it up again… Overcometh the winter with driving the foote-ball.’

In 1526 King Henry VIII ordered a pair of leather football boots. It is not hard to imagine this king playing such a violent game for fun even though it was later categorised as unlawful.

The aim of the game was to get the ball from a middle point to one or other side’s ‘home’ point through kicking, punching, tripping and generally beating up your opponent. In London in the 16th Century the game was usually played between the apprentices of London and the apprentices of Westminster.

In 1615, James I was treated to a match in Wiltshire causing him to announce – ‘From this court I debarre all rough and violent exercises, as the foot-ball, meeter for lameing than making able the users thereof.’

And a few years later, a young Oliver Cromwell was described as ‘one of the chief matchmakers and players of football’ at Cambridge University.

The sturdie plowmen lustie, strong and bold,

Overcometh the winter with driving the foote-ball,

Forgetting labour and many a grievous fall.