ANNE WANNER'S Textiles in History   /  book reviews, articles

  John Shepley (1575-1631), Embroiderer to the
High and Mighty Prince Charles, Prince of Wales

in: Textile History, 32 (2), p. 133-155, 2001

by: Patricia Wardle

in english, p. 133 - 155,
3 black and white photos  

  In the 17th c. all professional embroiderers were men. A good deal of their work to three Stuart kings James I, Charles I and Charles II is known, but very little actually survives.
The article deals with the embroidery and the conditions under which it was carried out, to be found in the accounts of Charles I as Prince of Wales.

The Prince of Wales position required a grand setting, a portrait shows him in an ermine-lined cloak with the insigna of the Order of the Garter, seated on a throne under a cloth of state embroidered with coats of arms. A table is covered with a border of gold embroidery and gold fringe.

When Charles was Prince of Wales, embroidered clothes for men were no longer fashionable. The Princes requirements in respect of hunting and tilting at the ring were more significant. Accounts contain the expenses for a Tilt in May 1621. Charles ordered new outfits for himself and his entourage.
In 1623 the Prince travelled to Spain to win the hand of the Infanta Maria, daughter of Philipp II (1587-1621). After his arrival in Spain he discovered that he was ill-equipped for the court life there and he sent home for supplies.


Charles as Prince of Wales,
by Daniel Mytens and Hendrick van Steenwyck
the Younger, around 1619-20,
Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen
(photograph by Hans Petersen)

  3 expensive embroidered suits were sent to Spain. The first involved 83 embroiderers working for 6 days and 74 for 5 nights. The second and the third had 84 for 6 days and 48 for 6 nights, they cost around 300 a piece. Moreover the Prince sent for tilting furnitures. This huge job had to be worked in haste. He wanted a pavilion to rest after running, which had to match with his new tilting set. The cost amounted to 881.16.1.

From the accounts of Charles, the embroiderer John Shepley emerges as a supremely practical man, who knew how to command a huge company of embroiderers to carry out large or urgent orders. His detailed accounts provide a unique glimpse of life in a 17th c. royal workshop.
John Shepley was born in October 1575 as son of a rector of Newbury in Berkshire. John Parr had been embroiderer to Elizabeth I and later he worked for King James. After Parrs death in 1607, Shepley was one of the 4 signatories to his will. William Broderick (1558-1621) signed the will also and he succeeded Parr. Shepley, whose wife was Brodericks daughter Margaret, might have been apprenticed either to Parr or to Broderick. In 1615 Margaret died and she left Shepley with 5 children.

William Broderick, by an unknown artist, dated 1614,
London Borough of Wandsworth

  Shepley, as embroiderer to the Prince of Wales first worked together with Edmund Harrison. In 1625 Charles I appears to have granted the post of embroiderer to Edmund Harrison alone.

5 Appendices are published
in the end of the article:

I - Accounts for masque costumes
II - Extract of expenses for the Tilt in May 1621
III- John Shepleys bills for three embroidered suits
IV - John Shepleys bills for the tilting pavilion made for Prince Charles to use in Spain in 1623
V - John Shepley's will

Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, by Nicolas Hilliard, c. 1595, National Portrait Gallery, London


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