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QE1’s Only Existing Dress Found At the Altar

Updated: Aug 29, 2019

An embroidered church altar cloth has been identified as one of Queen Elizabeth 1’s gowns, making it the only piece of her royal wardrobe to have survived the centuries.

Queen Elizabeth I had so many dresses gifted to her over her lifetime that it was said that she wore a different gown for every day of her reign. At her death in 1603, she had 2,000 gowns in her closet, each made by the best tailors in the kingdom, and with the finest fabrics. But none of these royal gowns have stood the test of time, as they were so valuable that they ended up either being gifted to a favored courtier or repurposed upon her death.

Was the altar cloth silk made from part of the fabric worn by QE1 in the famous Rainbow Portrait?

Such was the case with a 6x3-foot embroidered piece of silk, which was once believed to be a section of skirt, bodice, and sleeves of a gown worn by QE1. Worked in gold and silver thread, the cream silk was finely embroidered with plants, deer, flowers, bear, and even caterpillars, and researchers believe that this piece of silk may even be a part of the gown worn by the Queen in the famous “Rainbow Portrait.”

Moreover, the silk was dyed with blue indigo and cochineal, a rare red dye made of insects, thus making it quite expensive. But perhaps most surprisingly, the embroidery was worked directly on the silk rather than the usual method of sewing the designs on cheaper material and then appliqueing the designs to the dress. This makes the find even more unusual and valuable.

The back of the silk shows the original vivid coloring of the embroidery.

Once the Queen had worn the dress, it is believed that she gifted the fabric to the church in memory of Blanche Parry, who was one of QE1’s favorite attendants and the Chief Gentlewoman of the Bedchamber. In fact, local lore has it that Parry helped embroider the designs on the silk herself.

In October 2019, after 1,000 hours of conservation work performed over three years, the silk will be put on display at Hampton Court Palace, one of QE1’s former residences.


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