Sumptuary Laws in Early Modern England: Background information when reading A Net for Small Fishes

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A Net for Small Fishes

by Lucy Jago

A Net for Small Fishes by Lucy Jago X
A Net for Small Fishes by Lucy Jago
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    Nov 2021, 352 pages

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Sumptuary Laws in Early Modern England

This article relates to A Net for Small Fishes

Example of Jacobean era fashion in portrait of woman wearing embroidered lace jacket The heroine of Lucy Jago's A Net for Small Fishes, Anne Turner, has a unique claim to fame: she holds the patent for the saffron-yellow starch that is taking the Jacobean fashion world by storm. Jago beautifully depicts the colorful world of the court at Whitehall, where all the courtiers are constantly trying to outdress each other. However, there were rules to follow in the court when it came to clothing, and they weren't simply a perceived matter of taste. Rather, these rules, which were in the "sumptuary" category — from the Latin sumptuarius, or "belonging to cost or expense" — were codified into law. This was done both to prevent overspending on luxurious materials and to create a visual stratification between social classes.

Some of the first recorded sumptuary laws are from Ancient Greece and Rome. For example, Athenian sumptuary laws, were, according to Encyclopædia Britannica (1911), "directed principally against the extravagance of female apparel…...

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