61 thoughts on “Top 5 Costume Inaccuracies in Wolf Hall

  1. I love this post. Actually, I love all of your posts. As a former history student, I can never get enough of this kind of thing and I have learned so much from all of you. You have made me want to start re-reading all of the historical biographies on my shelves. Thank you for this daily hilarity. And for all the lovely photos of Sean Bean.

    I did want to say, however, that while I agree Anne’s archery dress was hideous, in the book Mantel did say that Anne was dressed as Maid Marian. It was something directly from the novel – a novel I didn’t completely adore for it’s accuracies, I might add. :-P

    1. Ah ha! That tiny “Where’s Robin?” comment doesn’t really convey what a whole book scene could. And I still don’t get why Anne would be in costume & nobody else would; sure, masques were popular at court functions, & there are stories of Henry dressing up as characters (more during his early reign w/Catherine), but it was a group activity, either as a play or even a practical joke. To have just Anne dressed in costume is like having Michelle Obama dressed as Princess Leia walking around the White House on a random Tuesday :)

      1. I totally agree. As I say, tis only one of my many beefs with the books. But it is fiction, after all…

    2. Yeah, I’m now convinced that this weird costume choice was because of the Maid Marion comment. It’s not exactly explained well in the show, which makes it sound ambiguous, but it sounds like the scene is elaborated more in the book. Those who read the book would get it, but those who didn’t (like us Frock Flicks folks) seem to have missed a lot of that context so her outfit seems odd and out of place.

    3. It’s really difficult to tell what kind of fancy dress was popular in the period because any search will bring you to modern Tudor costumes. I would love to know more about ‘dressing up.’

  2. I think dear old Henry was a believer in the slogan “it pays to advertise.” Also, by the time of that portrait, he was suffering from something nasty which might have made his testicles enlarged or sensitive. However, the brayette on his jousting armour is the size of a #2 tin can, so we’re back to the advertising idea. At least he got some competition from Blackadder.

    1. I did see that one of the reasons for large codpieces was because due to “social disease” there needed to be extra room for extra sensitive man parts and bandages.

      1. Y’all do realize that codpieces are stuffed, and are really just flaps that cover the groin opening on the hose, right? The gentleman’s essentials are not stuffed in there…

        1. This is true. Author Liza Picard once suggested that they were useful places for men to keep a spare orange and such.

  3. I can actually explain the archery dress. It’s a conceit from the book. I am not quoting directly, but one scene, where they’re showing that Cromwell is in the inner circle and continuing to hate on his enemies, he goes out where the Lady Anne is practicing her archery, dressed as Maid Marian. I suspect the gown is a throwback, a costume, to link her to Maid Marian imagery in people’s minds. I am sure there are people here who are more knowledgeable than me about the Tudors and can correct me if I am wrong, but weren’t they big on costumes and masques?

    1. Yes, Henry and Anne were very much into playing dress-up, particularly earlier in their relationship. Henry always loved disguises and masques, and Anne seems to have joined in on a lot of those shenanigans as well. The scene fits in with what we know about them as a couple, but it just isn’t that clearly explained in the show, so if you’re not well-versed in Tudor history to know that they enjoyed playing dress-up, or if you haven’t read the book to know that the scene has a lot more description of her clothing choice, then you’re not really sure what the weird costume is all about. Aside from the “Maid Marion” comment, there’s not much else to explain why she’s dressed in something quasi-medieval.

      It also didn’t help that her archery dress was one of the handful of costumes that were publicized before the show aired, so with just the photo of Claire Foy in this bizarre green outfit while everyone is raving about how historically accurate the costumes are lead to a lot of head scratching around these parts.

    2. Another comment mentioned the book scene, which is great if you’ve read the book, but it’s not contextualized in the show. Plus, Anne’s the only person wearing fancy-dress, so she stands out like a sore thumb (see my reply above re: Michelle Obama & Princess Leia, LOL).

      Plus, let’s not beat around the bush here: the dress itself is lame! It doesn’t look like Tudor masquerade costume; it looks like a modern faux-medieval fantasy gown. It’s weird. Off the top of my head (& before I’ve had coffee, hah), I can’t think of any period images of Tudor masquerade costumes, but there are plenty for late 16th c. & early 17th c., & the designs are based on contemporary clothes shapes, meaning they have a lot of structure, & then add fantasy elements. See Inigo Jones, 1609, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:The_Masque_of_Queens

      1. Thank you! I was looking for something like this. It seems that classical/mythological figures were most popular. It also seems like a pseudo-middle eastern look was preferred- I’m not sure how they portrayed gods and Greco-roman figures. I was surprised to see Maid Marian, as while she existed, she wasn’t as enshrined in popular myth as Robin Hood’s love as she was a little later.

  4. Hi
    Loved the post. I friend who works at the BBC wardrobe said the production lost a truckload of kit due to fire in transit. I don’t know if that had anything to do with some of the issues here…

    1. Yep, I read about that — I think it’s mentioned in the History Extra article (if not, it’s somewhere in here https://frockflicks.com/wolf-hall-news-roundup/ ). Sounded like all the costumes lost were for female extras, not principle characters. But it was still a huge loss! Outfits were burned or smoke damaged, hangers melted into gowns; but they scrambled & it sounded like they only lost a day of production time by shuffling around some shooting schedules.

  5. I suspect you’ve hit the nail on the head about boots being for manly men. Perhaps because the authentic alternative is “panty hose and bedroom slippers”? Would modern viewers understand how virile and handsome a well-turned calf could be?

    1. “Would modern viewers understand how virile and handsome a well-turned calf could be?” — I dream of a filmed production that takes on that challenge!

      1. There is one production which does just that. They have boots on men who are actually riding but shoes on men who at court. Prince & the Pauper 1995 production (Keith Michell reprises his role as Henry VIII).

  6. Thank you for your always insightful comments. I was having a serious meltdown over the french hoods. Here’s all this press about Wolf Hall being so historically accurate, and I can forgive the codpieces, we don’t want to frighten people after all (oh no wait, yes we do that was the point behind having an armadillo on your crotch). I even gave the wrinkly bodices a pass, but the french hoods….oh please make it stop!!!

  7. I totally get the reference to Maid Marion, but those sleeves! Wouldn’t they get caught up in her bowstring? I know I wouldn’t wear them to shoot!

  8. I doubt the American PBS had much or anything to do with the “smaller” or “non existent” codpieces. BBC have already done this with a documentary (Ruth Goodman and team) on Tudor Farm. Apparently BBC didn’t want ANY codpieces or even a hint of one (so not even a cod flap). Some of the hose made were more Elizabethan in inaccurate bagginess for a pre 1530s period.

    The other issue I would have is it doesn’t look like many of the frocks have proper petticoats or any underneath. Of course, we are not in the farthingale period but we do have ample evidence that the skirts are at least over some other layers.

  9. Oooh and the other things that really really grated…earrings. Please. NO EARRINGS.

    *goes off to scratch the itch on her palm that is screaming to grab offensive earrings and to yank….hard*

    1. I agree that the earrings are wrong, but they are beautiful. So, if you do find yourself able to snatch them off, please send them to me!

  10. I have a third theory about Anne’s wrinkled bodices and her ill-fitting baggy “Maid Marian” dress – I think they call attention to Anne’s flat-chested figure, which is literally the FIRST THING we heard about her in the show! All the court ladies look pretty straight up and down in their tight smooth bodices, but Anne’s wrinkles make it look like she has something missing in the bosom area.

  11. I am not a costume expert, but some of the plants were horribly wrong. No one ever pays any attention to the plants.

    1. We’ve been hearing a lot about how the set dressing is also a big mish-mash of periods, too. Sadly, we are pretty much limited to the costumes on Frock Flicks, but we always appreciate it when experts in other areas chime in!

  12. OH THE BOOTS. Thank you, thank you. No one around here understands my utter contempt for boots in the hall or boots on the dance floor. I love this series, but the BOOTS. I do like the way Damien Lewis sprawls on that throne, though.

  13. Holy cow those French hoods. They’re so distracting. I think even before my obsession with historically accurate clothing those hoods would have made me wonder.

    Thanks for this analysis. I need to put this show on my to-watch list!

  14. They do the boots versus shoes thing in Regency era things all the time as well. Everyone dancing in boots! It drives me insane. I think it just looks feminine to modern eyes to see a man in stockings and slippers. The hoods I think just look too nun-ish to modern eyes so they make them sheer and put on a headband with some bling to make it sexier. And codpieces? To modern eyes they are distracting and look comic, not sexy. So they get toned down to the point that they don’t exist. That archery dress is also the least flattering thing she wears. She looks so flat chested in it, no wonder crom makes fun of her.

    This was such a wonderful, funny read! Thank you.

  15. The Tudors’ costumes were inaccurate, but even the worst ones I like better than anything in Wolf Hall. It just looks cheap and even though it is technically more accurate, it looks unauthentic.

  16. YES, thank you! Have pity, as I am vastly older than you all and so have suffered for literally decades over the French hood-in-film dilemma. It remains my absolute favorite article of Tudor clothing so I am militant on the subject. If I recall correctly, the ones in “A Man For All Seasons” and “Anne of a Thousand Days” (late 60s/early 70s) were beautifully done. Those in the drecky “Other Boleyn Girl” drove me nearly mad, perched on top of the head, shaped like the St. Louis Arch! Ears did NOT show.

    As for the superb “Wolf Hall” I agree that they were badly-made, especially the indifferent way the veils were attached. And what’s with the milkmaid braids?! Judging from contemporary art (I SO love Holbein) hair was not meant to show under the French and gabled hoods, except on the brow. At first I thought the rumpled bodices were some sort of lattice pattern. Perhaps the costumers were going for a handmade look, but that does a disservice to what must have been the most excellent Tudor needlework. “Maid Marion” was just bizarre, especially that ridiculously baggy snood.

    I’ve just found this fascinating site and I’ll be checking it often. Thanks again!

  17. Why did Henry only have one hat? Same hat in every scene at every stage. I reckon he’d have had a couple more. One for special.

  18. A) I got to the part about people using The Tudors as a standard reference and got the vapors. I had to rest my eyes and start over later.
    B) I shot traditional bows for years and I can only imagine those sleeves getting fouled in the bowstring and throwing things off. If I was going to have to wear that dress, I would tie them behind me, not let them hang like that.

    1. “The Tudors” as a standard would be a hoot, as costumes in that series were way off. One example: in several scenes we saw Sir Thomas More with Cardinal Wolsey, with More wearing the chancellor’s chain of office that he didn’t get until after Wolsey’s death.

      1. I’ll never forget their Hot N Sexy Cromwell with leather pants and a perfectly outlined butt. Then again, James Frain is pretty cute.

  19. I adore “Wolf Hall” (the books and the series), but as soon as I saw Anne I thought “Sweet fancy Moses, what is on her head?!” >.<

  20. Can you settle an argument between my wife and me?:). There is a scene where Rafe Sadler is outside wearing straight black trousers. He is outside and I think had just ridden in, so he is wearing boots as well. Are these trousers correct for the period? Thanks!

    Love your site!


    1. I don’t know the scene off hand but I can sort of picture what you’re talking about. I think they’re not trousers, but hose that aren’t particularly tightly fitted. I’ll have to see a pic to say for sure, though!

        1. Those are early Tudor hose, pointed to a doublet. They didn’t always wear the big poofy slashed hose. If he hadn’t just been riding, he would be wearing stocking and shoes that would show off his manly calves.

  21. Sorry for this, it’s off topic, but you mention “The Tudors” series at the very end, and this unhappily came to mind. When watching “The Tudors” (I had to stop, I didn’t like it) I noted a glaring costume inaccuracy, one of many: Cardinal Wolsey was Chancellor of England. Sir Thomas More became chancellor after Wolsey’s death, but who do we see wearing the chancellor’s chain of office when the two of them are several times shown together? Thomas More.

    (Then there was that episode of “Vikings” where we see an 8th century priest wearing his stole over his chasuble while saying Mass. We see the same thing in the film, “The Field”, set in 1930’s Ireland, a priest with his stole over his chasuble: something not done until the 1960’s….:)

  22. Hello,

    Very interesting article. Thank you!

    I was wondering if you know if it’s historically accurate that men would wear hats indoors, and in particular, in church, in that time period. They do in the show, and I have always found that to be rather odd, though maybe the custom of men removing their hats indoors, and again, particularly in churches, arose later.



    1. Hi Adrian,
      It was the custom to keep your hat on (men) indoors. Various reasons, some practical (its colder than now), hygiene (yes, hygiene was observed), traditional (we’ve always done it), fashion (this is fashionable to do but that tends to be more in terms of style of headwear), but also of respect. You remove your hat to your social superiors (lord or king) when bowing, and then replace it, keeping the inside of the hat to yourself.
      It is not removed in church either.

      More elderly men, or churchmen/clerics/Admini type men or Scholars (children/adult) often had a coif under the hat but this was not universal and was largely personal choice.

      Women never removed their headwear even to social superiors (this is very much a practical element as most of those headwear are practically nailed to the head!! (lots of pins, bands etc). The hair on women is crowning glory and rarely seen in public (except where dressed at the front). Even a working class woman has to take time to put her hair up for practical reasons and its a right pain in the whatsit to undo it/remove headwear.

      There would be times, when in private, headwear would be removed but never with visitors around or in public places – whether indoors or outdoors. Some men would replace one coif with a night cap – for the wealthy man, these were often beautifully embroidered and exquisite.

      1. Hi Bess,

        Thank you very much, that is very informative. I wonder, then, when it became customary to remove one’s hat in church at least.

        Thanks again,

  23. I’m late to the party; the lack of rushes on the floor cause me a minor nervous twitch. There’s only one scene I can recall in the production that shows grass thrown down to catch debris and waste, and that was the episode where the musicians are denegrating Cromwell and gossiping about him having killed a man.
    That aside, I really did enjoy this miniseries, and for the reasons so many others disliked it: the somber, natural lighting and closer-than-most attempt to get the period right.

  24. I noted costume inaccuracies regarding religious vestments. At Anne’s coronation, we see a bishop – wearing a chasuble – with his stole over it, something not permitted by the Vatican until the 1970’s, and even that is seen less and less. It should have been worn under the chasuble. Another gaff: a different bishop is seen wearing his miter with a black cassock and cotta, or surplice. NOT DONE! The miter is worn with a cope and stole, or with a chasuble and stole, not with anything else.

  25. I heard it first hand from people who made the lead costumes that they made the right stays for the actresses then the dressers didn’t put them on. The costumers were really annoyed about it and hated the wrinkled look, especially as they didn’t;t make them to look like that!

    1. They did wear the kirtle(the boning was in the underdress itself)though.The problem was they used unboned placards that were literally pinned on the bodice for versimilitude,but messed up smoothening it.The characters are clearly having some boned support,the bust silhouette and the straight posture confirms it.They did use boned placards for most characters but not for Anne which caused so much wrinkling.They lined the gowns in silk(there is an interview with Eatwell showing the inside of the gowns)so I assume they did the same with the placards,when they should have stiffened them with buckram or flannel.

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