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Scholar, Writer, Mother, Dreamer. Editor of Luminarium, an online library for English Literature of the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Tudors and the Codpiece

The TudorsSomeone on the Luminarium Discussion Forum asked for the "whats, whys, and hows" of the codpiece, and why the costumers had removed it from the costuming scheme of Showtime's The Tudors. I thought I'd share with you all:

The codpiece came into being, according to most historians, due to necessity. Some scholars suggest it was due to the shortening of the doublet to the point that modesty deemed it necessary, since hose were tight, and had to be slit in the front for movement; this could sometimes leave the... umm.... "male parts"... exposed to view.

It became very popular in England during the reigns of the Yorkist kings (Edward IV, Edward V, Richard III), but legends already mention the codpiece in the time of King Edward III. One legend in particular talks of Edward having his codpiece padded to outrageous proportions and ordering his courtiers to do the same, so as to scare the French (they were fighting The Hundred Years' War at this time) by the potency of these "well equipped' Englishmen.

So yes, what started out as a necessity got out of hand over time, as many fashions do; one could think of the codpiece as the padded push-up bra for penises. Henry VIII embraced the fashion enthusiastically, and during his reign the codpiece was "exaggerated in size, the bag was puffed and slashed, and even ornamented with jeweled pins" (Grass, History of Hosiery, 1956). It was the "my codpiece is bigger than yours" syndrome.

Even Henry VIII's armor had a codpiece!

The codpiece's popularity waned after Henry VIII's reign, and disappeared by the end of the century, being replaced by folded material where the parting of the hose was.

To the modern eye, the codpiece is a source of great mirth and ridicule, and that is probably why they removed it from the costuming in the show.

To read more about the codpiece, see:

Modesty to Majesty: The Development of the Codpiece - Beth Marie Kosir
A Brief History of the Codpiece - Renaissance Dance Society
So....what exactly is a Codpiece? - Codpiece International

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Blogger SzélsőFa said...

wow. I have seen armors with codpiece and always thought they were for showing masculinity. A great post on this...uhm...object...
I did not agree though, with the directors of the show. If it belongs to the Tudor era...

May 25, 2007 9:30 AM  
Blogger Jarod said...

That is interesting. You would think with Showtime it wouldn't be a problem - if anything generate free publicity. Maybe they figured there is plenty of cleavage to go around for the missing codpieces.

As someone who actually makes armor, I can tell you it is much wiser to have it than not, although you probably don't want to paint a target on it.

May 25, 2007 9:54 AM  
Blogger Anniina said...

There is indeed quite a bit of cleavage - more than would have been proper during the reign of Henry VIII. It sells :)

So Jarod, would you say that the armored codpiece was the Med/Ren version of the cup athletes use?

May 25, 2007 12:48 PM  
Blogger Jarod said...

Heh, I suppose so.

May 25, 2007 2:26 PM  

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