A piece of fabric that was used as an altar cloth will now become one of the star attractions of Hampton Court Palace after it was identified as the only surviving piece of clothing worn by Queen Elizabeth I. The pattern of the cloth is very similar to the bodice worn by Queen Elizabeth in the famous Rainbow Portrait.
Eleri Lynn, curator of historic dress at Historic Royal Palaces, first discovered the cloth hanging on a wall in the 13th-century church of St Faith in Bacton last year.
She said: “When I saw it for the first time I knew immediately that it was something special. As I examined it, I felt as though I had found the Holy Grail, the Mona Lisa of fashion. None of Elizabeth I’s dresses are known to have survived, but everything we have learnt since then points to it being worn by Elizabeth.”
She explained: “We have 10,000 items of clothing and accessories in storage here, including many items worn by kings and queens, but there is almost nothing from before the reign of Charles II. In Tudor times, clothing was so expensive that it would be passed on from one generation to the next, or taken apart and reused for something else, like cushion covers. On top of that, Oliver Cromwell sold off every item of clothing in the royal stores, so the only things we have, including a hat which might have been worn by Henry VIII, have come back to Hampton Court after they have survived elsewhere.”
Historic Royal Palaces is now set to spend the next 18 months restoring the cloth before it will put up for display. They will unpick stitches from a “crude” Edwardian renovations and will place it onto a new backing cloth.