Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Today's research snippet: A Medieval cloth called burel

Today's research snippet. A medieval cloth called Burel.

Burel was the name of a coarse everyday woollen medieval cloth, grey in colour. 'Burel seems to have been a three-shaft twill, with the warp predominating on the outer face and a softer matted weft face worn on the inside.' (Elizabeth Coatsworth; Mark Chambers. " Burel." Encyclopedia of Medieval Dress and Textiles).
In the 12th and 13th centuries Winchester was an important centre of burel production. On the occasion of Henry II's expedition to Ireland in 1171-72, he sent 2,000 ells of burel from Winchester to Ireland. Burels were also made in quantity in London, and the merchants of Winchester and London were in contact with each other. Burel cloths were also sent to Winchester from Cornwall in 1178-79. Burel was seen as excellent ordinary wear for soldiers and the like. In 1327, Welsh merchants were coming to Winchester to buy burel cloths to sell to their fellow countrymen.
Burel had more uses than clothing. It was often used as a protective cover over more costly items. William Marshal on his deathbed was pondering the matter of the final procession of his body from his manor at Reading to the Temple Church in London. He had already arranged for his body to be wrapped in the silk shrouds he had brought home with him from the Holy Land 30 years before. Then he said 'If there is snow and bad weather, go and buy lengths of 'bureils' I don't mind which, attractive or otherwise, and cover the silk with them, so that it is not damaged or dirtied by the damp weather. And after I'm buried, give the cloth there to the brothers, and they will do with it as they wish.'

For those of you wondering about the measurement of an ell, here's a decent article on Wikipedia (never believe all you read on Wikipedia, but at the same time it's not all rubbish)

Today's research photo.  Sadly I don't have a photo of an ell of Burel, so instead and rather more blingy, here is a detail from a chasuble circa 1425.  The background is Spanish or Italian silk damask brocaded with metal thread. The embroidery is Southern French and linen with silk and metal. 
click to enlarge

1 comment:

Kasia Ogrodnik said...

Dear Elizabeth,

I know it's only a cloth, but how fascinating! Especially the part concerning William Marshal. I love how you described his stay in the Holy Land after Henry the Young King's death. And I'm grateful that in the Greatest Knight you've managed to prove that, in Professor Crouch's words, 'the Marshal had a spiritual life (although the Histoire does not rhapsodize about it)'.

Thank you,

Kasia Ogrodnik