Beware Of “Glove Money”

cn_gloves-textDid you know that there’s nothing new about gloves? You may have thought they were a modern invention, and it seems they have petered out now, but wait and watch they may make a comeback…as a murder weapon. After all they’ve had a long and checkered past.

Gloves were mentioned by Homer, who said Laertes wore them in his garden. Xenophon speaks of the effeminate Persians, who wore thick gloves. Musomius at the end of the first century A.D. says, “It is shameful that persons in perfect health should clothe their hands with soft, hairy coverings.” Was he saying that gloves are unmanly? Pliny’s secretary, a very hard worker, wore worsted gloves in frost weather in order to write at top speed. In the East gloves were a sign of supremacy and a mark of prestige. The custom drifted westward, and in the 11th c. the Kings of France received purple gloves at their coronation.

In the Middle Ages, gloves were de rigeur at weddings. White gloves at weddings were originally a fee to the bridesmaids and groomsmen for their services, often filled with gold pieces. This fee was called “glove money,” and this fee was given to the sponsors at christenings, mourners at funerals, and eventually to all the guests at a wedding.

Until relatively recently, an old Belgian marriage custom dictated that the priest must give a pair of red gloves to the bridegroom, who then placed them in the bride’s hands, as a token of her subordination or to the protective role of the husband, as protection is one of the roles of the glove. It was the custom in country fairs at Exeter, Portsmouth, and Barnstaple for a huge stuffed glove to be raised on a pole, to signify the fair was open and while it lasted all debtors were safe from arrest.

Beautifully sceneted and embroidered gloves came into vogue for men and women during the reign of Elizabeth I. A posy sent with a gift of gloves meant “love.” Also, the custom was that a pair of gloves could be claimed as forfeit for a kiss snatched from a sleeper.

Poisoned gloves were a favourite means of murder in Italy, often practiced by the Borgias and the Medicis. Many of these murders occurred in France under the regime of the Italian Catherine de Medici, wife of Francis II.

In the 18th c. gloves were fine and dainty, and often they were made of chicken skin so thin so that they could pass through a wedding-ring. In 1791, Kettles of Cornhill made eighty dozen pairs of fawn skin for the Queen of Portugal, warranted to last just one week. In Limerick, chicken skin gloves cost five shillings and were sent out packed into walnut shells.

In Victorian days, servants were given “glove money” on Lammas Day, usually one penny to eleven pence, to buy cotton gloves.

— Mrs M

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