Royal Children’s Dress, 1635-1637


History of Costume III 1500-1660

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James I and Queen Anne may not have been the two most likely model parents, but their three children possessed charm, intelligence and moral fibre never matched by royal offspring. The compassionate prodigy, Prince Henry, died young but Charles I and his sister Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia, passed on these qualities to their children. Ironic that Charles was removed too early from his family for us to see a satisfactory conclusion to his parental influence. What we know from written records is that these children were natural and happy, and what we see from Van Dyck’s pictures matches the impression of grace and charm. Anthony Van Dyck, himself of an upper-class family, has left us an enviable record of this fleeting, Cavalier period of distinction and elegance in a small section of society. Reflecting on this period one wonders if the painter produced the image of the time or if society influenced the painter. By the 1630s a similar type of dress had been accepted by fashionable society in all the northern countries. The French, very clothes conscious, took their ideas from Holland but added exaggeration that distinguishes the fashion model from the ordinary well-dressed person. The younger generation of the Dutch regents embraced the French style with enthusiasm but the English Cavalier, wearing the same shape of clothes, had an ease and distinction that comes from an appreciation of line and balance. Perhaps the natural line and beautiful materials of Italian clothes influenced the artist during his time in Genoa. The English nobility received his rendering with approval. From these children’s garments, the exact replica of adult clothes, we can trace how the design had been simplified into a becoming costume. The breeches narrowed and lengthened to under the knee where they were set into bands with ends long enough to make fine bows. The doublet hung easily, close to the figure, very much now like a jacket and cut in one piece without a seam at the waist and with little flare to the skirts. The side seams continued to be open to the high waist. Sleeves were slit too, for ease, with braid- or button-trimmed edges open to show fine shirts underneath. With the spread of the collars on to the shoulders the armhole trimming of caps or tabs gradually disappeared. Collars and cuffs were now the most important detail of dress, made from lace. These collars are a legacy from art and probably developed in England. It can be traced to the poets of the early years of the 17th century who liked the turned-over collar. These garments now fitted easily and were fastened by buttons and buttonholes, even up the new fly-front of breeches. To defeat the effect of skirts on a small boy, the robe was cut more like a man’s doublet, and the old method of fastening breeches to it, from underneath with tags, was now used as a decoration of bows round the waist. The small princess graces a gown in the very latest mode, with wide spreading neckline and simple bodice finished by the large basque-like tabs. Leading strings are still built into the back of her dress, decorated by pointed scallops – another detail that takes its name from the pervasive Van Dyck.

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Dimensions 38.1 × 25.5 cm