24 September 2009

Hat Crime

Once upon a time, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (r. 1558-1603), in England, it was a crime to fail to wear an English made wool cap on Sundays and holidays. Specifically, the law, enacted in 1571 when Queen Elizabeth I was 38 years old, stated:

Every person above the age of seven Years shall wear upon the Sabbath and Holiday . . . a Cap of Wool knit, thicked and dressed in England, made within this Realm, and only dressed and finished by some of the Trade of Cappers, upon pain to forfeit for every Day not wearing three Shillings four Pence: except Maids, Ladies, and Gentlemen, Noble Personages, and every Lord, Knight and Gentleman of twenty Marks land and their Heirs, and such as have borne Office of Worship in any City, Borough, Town, Hamlet, or Shire; and the Wardens of the Worshipful Companies of London.

Elizabeth I instituted many policies that would be condemned as authoritarian and ruthless today. Being queen (and before that a crown princess) has its privileges. Many young women, in fairy tales and reality, grow up in a home with an evil stepparent. Few realize the fantasy of beheading him when your mother dies and he starts to get out of control as a result.

But, she was not an isolationist, was not opposed to trade per se, and was not particularly crazy as British monarchs go. Her navy defeated the Spanish Armada, in 1588, in one of the most storied military victories of world history. She established trade with the Ottoman Empire, the Barbary states of North Africa, Morocco, India and Japan. Her speeches changed hearts and minds at the time, and are still recalled as examples of exemplary rhetoric.

She did not herald a major wave of feminism or undue love of private enterprise, however. Rome had free bread for the masses. English Devonshire during Elizabeth's reign, in contrast, settled for wife scolding services at public expense:

[T]he lord of the manor was required to provide and these instruments in repair at his own expense. Thus we are told by an early writer on Devonshire that the manor of Daccombe which enough belonged to the Dean and Chapter Canterbury had the custom of free bench and "the lord was obliged to keep a cucking stool the use of scolding women."

One wonders if the expansive reach of juvenile justice hasn't brought us close to a system of publicly administered child scolding today.

No comments: