Friday, February 26, 2021


 From History Extra:

In Europe, feathers first became common as a hat decoration in the early 14th century. During the 16th century, hats adorned with ostrich feathers were in demand by those wealthy enough to purchase them in the fashion centres of Europe: Paris, Vienna, Florence and Prague. Wealthy ladies, courtiers and high-ranking military officers wore them too.

A famous panache of feathers, comprising no fewer than eight plumes, each over four feet long, was worn by the ever flamboyant King Henry VIII when he rode majestically into Boulogne, his forces having seized it from the French in September 1544. They were probably the tail feathers of a species of Indian peafowl.

This kind of panache, usually comprising naturally white or black ostrich feathers – but sometimes dyed in other colours – atop an officer’s hat was deemed to have a practical function as well, and was not simply an adornment. It made the wearer much more visually obvious to his soldiers. Before the battle of Ivry in Normandy in 1590, King Henry IV of France commanded his leaders “not to lose sight of his white panache, that it would lead them to victory and honour”. His forces won the battle, thanks to his panache or otherwise.

The ostriches whose magnificent feathers were used to make these panaches originally inhabited virtually all of north Africa, much of eastern and southern Africa, the Arabian peninsula and large parts of the Middle East. They had always been hunted for food, but once a market developed in Europe for their feathers to adorn hats, the killing was stepped up. Chased on horseback until they were exhausted, or shot, their populations were soon being depleted. In 1807, an estimated 509 kilos of ostrich feathers were imported into France alone. By 1850, they had been reduced to near extinction across the Arabian peninsula; they had all but disappeared from north Africa before the 19th century was out. (Read more.)


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