Choosing the Correct Fur

A guide to choosing the correct type of fur for your 15th century English portrayal

Written by Lara Greene-Vaught with the majority of quotes and information from the book:  The English Fur Trade, by Elspeth M. Veale  –  ISBN 0 90095238 5

The climate of the 15th century is reputed to have been colder then to what we are now accustomed. Fur lined garments were common for people of all classes. “The brisk trade in second-hand furs which went on during the Middle Ages made it easier for those with little money to wear furs.”  The type and quality of the fur is was what separated
the upper classes from the lower, or at least were supposed to.

Beale says on page 5 of her book: ” During the 15th century, when living standards were rising, Peter Idley, a gentleman falconer who wrote some verses for his son, complained that it was hard to tell ‘a tapster, a cookesse, or a Hosteller’s wife fro a gentilwoman’.”
Sumptuary Laws were passed throughout the 15th century making it illegal for certain classes to wear certain types of fur. It was obviously a problem. Below I list appropriate furs according to the law. Whether you would have or could have afforded to break the law
and pay the fine is a matter to be discussed with the group.

The quality of the fur pelts themselves determine their worth more then the species of the fur. “In the Winter months the fur fibre is thicker, fuller and more lustrous. Later in the mating season, when animals are shedding some of their hair, skins are poorer in quality
and the fur is often marked; it is scantier still in Summer.” -Beale, page 22

It was not uncommon to combine specific furs for economical reasons.
“It became customary for the lining that showed, known as the purfell
of a gown, to be made of more expensive skins then those used for the
rest, although of the same color.”  – Beale, page29

Furs even the lower classes could afford:

  • Lamb – often called budge, was by far a favorite for it’s value and a popular choice for hood linings
  • Coney (rabbit), common and found locally. Grey was the most common, brown/reddish were available and black was most desired. Rarely used in upper classes of clothing.
  • Otter – common and found locally
  • Squirrel – many shades (grey, grey & white, dark grey, black and
    reddish brown but red streaked was the cheapest)
  • Fox – Common red fox. found locally
  • Beaver – often sheared (p.27 of Beale’s book)
  • Goat
  • Deer – imported from Ireland
  • Door mouse – also called loirre or leron
  • Wolf – (Beale, page 66)

 

Middle/Merchant Class furs:

  • Higher qualities of the above furs
  • Pine Martin – brown
  • Stone Martin – also called by it’s French name, foynes
  • Stoats – (ermine in Summer, when their coat is brown with a white belly)
  • Polecats – also called fitch or fichew (numerous colors, resembles mink). As squirrel populations declined polecat became more common and popular.
  • Mink – numerous shades – dark was the most desired
  • Weasels – brown (turns white in Winter and that fur is called lettice)
  • LynxUpper class furs:
  • Higher qualities of all above furs
  • Black Fox
  • Sable – dark brown to black  (the most Admired fur of our period)
  • Civet Cat – also called genette

 

Furs for the Highest social ranks of Knights and higher:
(Well beyond the portrayal levels within our group)

  • Ermine
  • White Fox