Back in 2015, I wrote a blog post about the decision to depict the female characters in Wolf Hall wearing French hoods with gauze veils in a variety of colours (with their hair visible below). The new Channel 5 drama Anne Boleyn throws up a new take on the French hood – the hood worn on a bare head without veil or cap.
All the surviving evidence shows that French hoods were worn with white linen caps and with (black) veils. The costumes for this production have clearly been designed to be visually striking and are perhaps best described as interpretations of Tudor dress rather than replicas. The decision for Anne and the ladies of the court to wear their French hoods much like oversized headbands should be seen in this light rather than as historically accurate.
If you want to read more about dress at Henry VIII’s court, I recommend:
Maria Hayward, Dress at the Court of Henry VIII and Rich Apparel (the former is full of photographs which does make it expensive so worth looking for a library copy)
The publications produced by The Tudor Tailor which include patterns to make your own garments (they also make YouTube video tutorials)
One question that I have been asked about the BBC version of Wolf Hall is whether the headdresses worn by Anne and her ladies are accurate. In particular, whether they would really have been made of such light, gauzy fabric with very narrow hoods?
It has taken me a while to get round to looking into this and I have to say that, given how well most of this production was researched, I am not entirely sure where they have got this idea from. They are not the only ones to go with this interpretation. The stage production of Wolf Hall also seems to use a lightweight fabric in headdresses, although it is more substantial. It is possible that they have been inspired by contemporary portraits where the French hoods (with their distinctive horseshoe shape set far back on the head) appear less bulky than the gable hoods favoured by Catherine of Aragon and the English hoods worn by Jane Seymour.
However, accounts and inventories relating to Princess Mary, Catherine Parr and Jane Seymour all refer to velvet French hoods, which would likely have been more substantial than those seen in the images above. Furthermore, whilst costume makers seem to like producing colour coordinated headdresses, the veils would invariably have been black – this can be seen in portraits. The final problem I have with the BBC version of the hoods is that the hair is visible through it and, when Anne is executed, they take her hood off to replace it with a white cap. In reality, a linen cap would have been worn under the headdress to protect it from the oils in the wearer’s hair – portraits sometimes show the edge of this cap peeking out. Whilst, the stage production shows this white edging, they make the error (also popular with the makers of the The Tudors) of showing Anne with her hair loose and visible over her shoulders.
Period dramas are often known for their stunning costumes but in this case their take on the French hoods slightly miss the mark.