Belts or girdles have been used by mankind for centuries, millennia even. Whether it was twisted rope, braided leather or studded with precious metals and gems it has the purpose of being the single most utilized accessory by men or women since the need to hold up a skirt or pair of pants. They come in a variety of thicknesses and materials that nearly boggles the mind. Archeological digs have discovered them as far away as China, and as close to home as the peat bogs of Ireland and ship burials in the Norse Countries. They have been represented in carved marble, early portraiture, miniatures in manuscripts and tomb effigies. They have evolved from pure utility of the peasant and middle classes to the almost useless bling of the upper-class in the middle ages.
When doing research for this item I wanted to make sure that it was within the period for my persona and the SCA. I have found many pictures supporting the 15th-century use of this belt, but few actually in the 14th century. I kept entering search criteria ” 14th-century girdle belt” and it would bring up pictures of one type being the long, decorated buckled style. This simple round the hips with hooks and chain was pictured in 15th-century illuminations but not 14th. I knew it had been in use in the 14th century but was having difficulty finding it under the search criteria. That is until I went to La Cotte Simple and read her lovely article “Building a 1480 English Lady’s Outfit” and she had the correct name for the girdle. Demysent. With that one word, I was able to find at least 1 picture supporting the notion that it was worn in the 14th century, and it was in the same museum as the Well of Moses in Dijon France. The Retable de la Crucifixion carved in 1390 by Jacques de Baerze. That Wonderful Sculptor of wood carved a side panel full of Saints and one of them is a lovely lady wearing the Demysent (Picture1a).
So, this one style was worn in three centuries, 14th, 15th and 16th. This one style of the belt can be used to accessorize three centuries of garb and not be out of place.
Where I found my inspiration:
The style of the belt that I wanted was to be found in a manuscript of plays written in 1400-1500 Item 12148 The comedies of Terence: folio 66r. It is not said at the website of the BnF Gallica as to which play this picture belongs but it is her belt which she holds in her hands that I really had the hot’s for. and the illuminator did a really good job showing the clasp at the end of the belt, for lo, it is a hook.
Housed in the National Museum of Antiquities Leiden is a lovely fragment of a studded leather belt with fittings. It’s got pretty bits nailed to it in a flower pattern, which is a center stud surrounded by six more flanked by a stud on either side and another stud between each flower set. The metal belt mount at the end shows that it may have been an add-on from a larger belt as it isn’t the same width of the belt and has two loops but no tongue and the mount is made to be used with a buckle that has a tongue.
The buckle is not what drew me to it, the studs and their pattern are.
On making my belt:
I chose not to go with a flower pattern, though it’s pretty, because of costs. I used turquoise sparkle rivets because by the time the Church in Rome finally allowed anyone not of the clergy, mainly Bishops, to wear “Turkey Stone” it had reached English shores in the 14th century. Nickel rivets to emulate the studs and chose instead of making metal mounts to use leather to hold the pouch hanger and “D” rings at each end. Why, because metal work requires skills I have yet to learn safely. when cutting the metal sheeting for the mounts I could not control my hands and cut myself when I got distracted. This is Not to say that I won’t try to make my own mounts at another time, but for now, the leather wrapped around the “D” Rings at each end will be just fine and look just as “peri-Oid” as any other modern made belt.
Materials, tools, resources/links
I tend to work with scraps and left-over’s for my persona’s belongings to keep the cost low. Living with a leather crafter has an advantage that I sometimes shamefully take advantage of: This is not one of them. To make this belt I am dipping into his business supplies and therefore will be paying for them, once done, so that his inventory will not suddenly become short.
Here is the basic supply list and the cost of the materials:
Turquoise sparkle Rivet: 14=$3.15 (because I like even numbers and have left the center back rivet as nickel)
Nickel D Rings 3/4 inch: 3=$0.43
307 D Solid Brass Nickel Rivet: 88=$5.60
3/4 inch wide 54 inches Black Bull hide Strap: $2.00
Mounts, S Hooks and Chain: To be researched and made at a later date.
Materials: $ 11.18 Time: 1.5 hours at $15 dollars per hour. This information is important should I decide to start making them for sale.
Leather Strap: Made using a large leather strap cutter while cutting bulk lengths of straps for belt making and other leatherworking projects. The leather itself is cut from a large bull hide purchased from Weaver Leather.
Hole Punch: I used a standard hole punch and mallet to put the holes for the decorative rivets measuring between each center hold of the design the width of my left palm. The design was then punched around the center holes the length of the belt blank. The rivets were then set in the holes and the backs put on with a set and the mallet. When setting the rivets I started with the turquoise rivets first as they are domed and would need extra care in setting, so a hunk of leather was placed on the anvil to protect the stones. I left the leather on the anvil when setting the non-stone bearing rivets to allow a dimple to form, while not a practice in the period that I know of, it looks pretty in my opinion.
To form the purse hanger I used a length of half inch wide polished leather strap and a “d” ring, held in place by two nickel rivet.
The Belt at each end is set with a “D” Ring so it can be worn with a ribbon until I can find the proper belt mounts and hooks for it, which can be found online, or I make them myself.
Belt Fragment with mounts:
Museum of Antiquities Leiden
BnF Gallica: Illuminated Manuscript MS664 The Comedies of Terence:
1. CJ’s Metal Detecting Pages:
2. Rosalie’s Medieval Woman:
Images of the Belt in 14th, 15th and 16th Centuries:
2. Jacques de Baerze: 14th century Wood sculptor
b. Retable de la crucifixion Right Side Photo commissioned 1390: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacques_de_Baerze#/media/File:Retable_de_la_crucifixion-volet_droit-Jacques_de_Baerze-MBA_Dijon.jpg
c. Musee des Beaux-Arts: http://dijoon.free.fr/retable.htm
3.British Library: Edgerton 1070 f. 29v The Visitation http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/ILLUMIN.ASP?Size=mid&IllID=51666
1. 1390-1399 Retable de la Crucifixion Jacques de Baerze
a. Close Up
b. Whole Right Side
2. Egerton 1070 f. 29v 1410 The Visitation
3. Tapestry / Wall hanging 1520 Cluny Item #: 2823