Male Clothing VI – The Belt

Dada a extensão deste artigo, achei por bem publicar as versões inglesa e portuguesa em separado. Para a versão portuguesa, cliquem aqui.

Now that basic garments are done with, we arrive at other – but just as important – pieces of male attire: purses and pouches, belts, hats, and a whole host of complements to a late 15th century ensemble. And today we begin with belts.

I should preface this post by stating: research on medieval belts in Portugal has been little to nonexistant. In spite of several archaeological specimens of buckles and other fittings, there are (as far as I’m aware) no comprehensive studies of belts for any point in time in the Portuguese Middle Ages. With that caveat, let’s move forward.

The Essential and the Accessory

Contrary to contemporary usage,  belts (‘cintas’, in 15th century Portuguese) weren’t simply fashion statements during the Middle Ages. Without belts, there were no pouches or purses; without pouches and purses, 15th century men (and women) had no way of carrying their day-to-day belongings with them (it would be another two or three hundred years before someone came up with the idea of trousers with in-built pockets. Who would have thunk?) [1]. In addition to purses, “throughout the Middle Ages it was usual to carry knives and small daggers in the girdle, both for defense against attacks and as utensils for eating; knights even hung swords and larger daggers from their belts” [2]. Belts, in their many shapes and forms – narrower or wider, highly decorated or plain –  were indispensable for men of all walks of life.

e25b4dbedd9f1c682dd8d62ccb0c3229 (1)
The belongings of Hermann von Goch, a merchant from Cologne, executed in 1398. Before his execution, he was divested of all his belongings, which were then safely stored away up to the present day. Most of the objects in this picture (all of which can be seen in the Kölnisches Stadtmuseum in Cologne, Germany) hung from the green silk belt on the top of the picture.

Buckles, Strapends and Mounts

Belts were made in two types of material, essentially: leather, of various types, and a wide range of textiles. The leather could be profusely tooled and decorated, using stamps or stitching, for example. Likewise, fabrics could be plain (wool fabrics, velvets, silks) or luxurious brocades – or even made out of silver or gold cord, as some of the belts in the Saint Vincent Panels [ 3]. There were woven belts, too, tablet-woven in several colours and patterns – though these seem to have been worn  exclusively by women.

Fivela 1
15th century buckle from a well at the old Town Hall of Torres Vedras  (no inv. no.).

As with modern belts, most medieval belts were fastened with buckles – sometimes very ornate ones – usually cast out of copper, silver, or gold alloys [4]. Unlike modern belts, however, no medieval belt was complete with another essential bit of hardware: the strapend, as ostentatious as the buckles (and then some), which served to keep the end of the belt fashionably hanging straight down from the waist. Both of these pieces were fixed to the leather or fabric using small rivets, or small prongs protruding from the pieces themselves.

In addition to these two elements, belts were often added other bits of hardware, called mounts. The most frequent of these were small and utilitarian in nature, with holes in the middle, to accommodate the buckle’s prong: a good example of this type of mount is the plain belt (partially cut; it retains its strapend, but the end with the buckler is missing) of the princess Saint Joana, from the end of the 15th century [5]. But purely decorative mounts abounded, in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, metallic and otherwise: amongst the estate of the late D. Afonso Pires, bishop of Porto, in 1372, there was an ‘old narrow belt of London cloth with thirty and five rosettes, its buckle and strapend’ [6].

Cinto 2
Saint Joana’s belt (no inv. no.).

T-Fasteners

Afonso Henriques Cinto
Detail of the portrait of D. Afonso Henriques showing a T-belt fastener, in the ‘Leaves from the Genealogy of the Royal Houses of Spain and Portugal’ (ca. 1530-1534).

In addition to these belts, common to the whole of medieval Europe, a special type of belt was worn this side of the Pyrenees. Or, rather, a type of belt with a special closing mechanism: T-fastener belts.

I’ve already showcased one of these fasteners here, which would have hooked both sides of the belt together. Both Castilian and Portuguese iconography [7] – a good example of which is the portrait of the first king of Portugal, D. Afonso Henriques, on the right – as well as archaeological finds in Portugal (Torres Vedras [8], Coimbra [9], Lisbon [10] , Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo (Guarda) [11], Amares (Braga) [12], Beja and Porto [13], among others) suggest that these belts were very popular around these parts, for all men (though they tend to turn up more frequently in portraits of the elites – like so many other things…). These distinct and ornate fasteners were generally set in relatively wide belts of tooled leather or fabrics, sans additional decoration as a rule.

Status and Decoration

The more ornate the belt, the higher the cost, of course, but also the greater the prestige for anyone wearing it. Thus, to curb the excesses and grand airs of some of the moneyed rabble, sumptuary laws were devised that included belts and other accessories: ‘It was costumary to load the belts with massive decorations of gold, silver and precious stones, to the point that the pragmatic of 1340 establishes rigorous rules against excessive display’ [14]. Of course, for the wealthier classes, these laws were more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules (yes, that was a reference).

Belts in Reenactment

As usual, belts are a breeding ground for errors. I can’t exactly fault reenactors who buy good 15th century belts that weren’t in use in Portugal at the time. On the one hand, they are correct for the period, and the details aren’t usually that far off from what could’ve been found over here; on the other hand, with no in-depth studies to guide them, it is almost impossible for reenactors to have a decent idea of appropriate types of belts/buckles/strapends /mounts without spending dozens of hours of independent research. Much less excusable, but unfortunately much more frequent, is the use of belts from other periods (Romanesque or Celtic buckles, for example), highly decorated belts for poor personas and poor belts for affluent personas; or even the use of fantasy belts, as is the case with pseudo-medieval ring belts.

One last note concerning somewhat accurate yet poorly made belts, with buckle straps riveted (and not sewn) in place, or buckles/strapends cast in shoddy alloys, or cheap gilding, or lackluster casting. In belts, as in life, you get what you pay for.

[1] Oliveira Marques, A. (1971). Daily Life in Portugal in the Late Middle Ages. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, p. 72.

[2] Oliveira Marques, A. (1971), op. cit., p. 71, with ‘girdle’ used in lieu of ‘belt’.

[3] More specifically, see the belts of D. Afonso V and of Prince D. João in the Panel of the Prince of the Saint Vicent Panels.

[4] Although pewter – a tin, copper and lead alloy – was commonly used elsewhere in Europe during the 15th century, the use of this alloy in Portugal remains to be studied

[5] Regarding this belt, see Mota, M. (2019). “Tesouros têxteis do cofre relicário da Princesa Santa Joana”. In A. Serrano, M. J. Ferreira, and E. C. de Groot (eds.). Estudos sobre têxteis históricos, 31. Lisboa: Associação Profissional de Conservadores-Restauradores de Portugal (ARP), pp. 164-165.

[6] ‘Hũa cinta streyta de pano de Londres velha en que andavam trinta e cinquo rosetas sua fivela e biqueyra’, in Saraiva, A. (2002). “O processo de inquirição do espólio de um prelado trecentista: D. Afonso Pires, bispo do Porto (1359-1372)”. In Clemente, M. (2001-2002). A historiografia religiosa medieval hoje: temas e problemas. Lusitania Sacra, XIII-XIV. Lisboa: Universidade Católica Portuguesa/Centro de Estudos de História Religiosa, p. 219.

[7] In addition to Castilian pieces such as the Sargas from the monastery of San Salvador de Oña, we have Portuguese depictions in the Pastrana tapestries, in the Saint Vincent Panels, and in the folios of the so-called Leaves from the Genealogy of the Royal Houses of Spain and Portugal, among others.

[8] Cardoso, G. and Luna, I. (2012). “Fragmentos do quotidiano urbano de Torres Vedras entre os séculos XV e XVIII: um olhar através dos objectos do poço dos Paços do Concelho”. In Bettencourt, J. and Teixeira, A. (coords.). Velhos e novos mundos: estudos de arqueologia moderna. Lisboa: Centro de História de Além-Mar, p. 166.

[9] Fareleira, L. (2014). O Estudo dos “Outros Materiais” provenientes do Museu Nacional de Machado de Castro [dissertação de mestrado]. Coimbra: Faculdade de Letras da Universidade de Coimbra.

[10] Banha da Silva, R., Teixeira, A., Villada Paredes, F. (coords.) (2015). Lisboa 1415 Ceuta [catálogo de exposição]. Lisboa: Ciudad Autonoma de Ceuta/Câmara Municipal de Lisboa, p. 98.

[11] Martins, C. (2001). “Sobre a Cronologia dos ‘Passadores em T’ e um conjunto cerâmico dos sécs. XV/XVI (Escarigo, Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo). In O Arqueólogo Português, IV (19). Lisboa: Museu Nacional de Arqueologia, pp. 247-258

[12] Barroca, V. (2003). “Sobre a cronologia dos Passadores em T”. In Arqueologia, 19. Porto: GEAP, pp. 147-152.

[13] Martins, C. (2001)., op. cit., p. 251.

[14] Oliveira Marques, A. (2010), op. cit., p. 71.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Banha da Silva, R., Teixeira, A., Villada Paredes, F. (coords.) (2015). Lisboa 1415 Ceuta [catálogo de exposição]. Lisboa: Ciudad Autonoma de Ceuta/Câmara Municipal de Lisboa

Barroca, V. (2003). “Sobre a cronologia dos Passadores em T”. Em Arqueologia, 19. Porto: GEAP, pp. 147-152.

Cardoso, G. e Luna, I. (2012). “Fragmentos do quotidiano urbano de Torres Vedras entre os séculos XV e XVIII: um olhar através dos objectos do poço dos Paços do Concelho”. In Bettencourt, J. and Teixeira, A. (coords.). Velhos e novos mundos: estudos de arqueologia moderna. Lisboa: Centro de História de Além-Mar, pp. 163-172.

Fareleira, L. (2014). O Estudo dos “Outros Materiais” provenientes do Museu Nacional de Machado de Castro [dissertação de mestrado]. Coimbra: Faculdade de Letras da Universidade de Coimbra

Martins, C. (2001). “Sobre a Cronologia dos ‘Passadores em T’ e um conjunto cerâmico dos sécs. XV/XVI (Escarigo, Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo). In O Arqueólogo Português, IV (19). Lisboa: Museu Nacional de Arqueologia, pp. 247-258

Mota, M. (2019). “Tesouros têxteis do cofre relicário da Princesa Santa Joana”. In A. Serrano, M. J. Ferreira, and E. C. de Groot (eds.). Estudos sobre têxteis históricos, 31Lisboa: Associação Profissional de Conservadores-Restauradores de Portugal (ARP), pp. 155-165

Oliveira Marques, A. (2010). A Sociedade Medieval Portuguesa – Aspectos do Quotidiano. Lisboa: Esfera dos Livros

Saraiva, A. (2002). “O processo de inquirição do espólio de um prelado trecentista: D. Afonso Pires, bispo do Porto (1359-1372)”. In Clemente, M. (2001-2002). A historiografia religiosa medieval hoje: temas e problemas. Lusitania Sacra, XIII-XIV. Lisboa: Universidade Católica Portuguesa/Centro de Estudos de História Religiosa, pp. 197-229.

VISUAL SOURCES

Benning, S. and Hollanda, A. (ca. 1530-1534). Leaves from the Genealogy of the Royal Houses of Spain and Portugal. London: British Library, MS 12531/1

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