Let’s find out how the English ploughmen dressed in the 14th century. This particular costume is known thanks to the Psalter of Sir Geoffrey Luttrell, lord of the manor of Irnham in Lincolnshire. He has left drawings of people of the time and their way of life. Because of this book, we can make a reconstruction of a ploughman’s clothing, used in the 1340s. It was a simple, comfy, and durable outfit that suited the hard labor of the 14th-century villagers.
In England, around the year 1340, Sir Geoffrey Luttrell, lord of the manor of Irnham in Lincolnshire, commissioned and had made a Book of Psalms with margins decorated with religious imagery in grotesques. He also included images of himself, his family, his clerical advisers, his domestic staff, and his villagers, going about their everyday life throughout the seasons. Among them, was the ploughman.
The agricultural year began in early January, with the blessing of the plow and the ploughmen at mass. So, at this most bitter time of year, the ploughman would prepare for plowing the village lands.
For the Medieval peasant, there was no special night garment. His linen undergarments would serve that purpose.
His underdrawers or breeches were loose-fitting and tied at the waist with a breech girdle.
The hose were 2 separate legs and could be worn with the linen breeches tucked into them. There were gaps in the waistband of the breeches to allow access to the breech girdle, so that the hose could be attached and tied into place.
The illustrations in Sir Geoffrey’s Psalter revealed 4 different styles of men's underdrawers or breeches in 3 different colors of linen: white, natural, and wood blue. They could be long or short, but all tied at the waist with a breech girdle.
The ploughman's unbleached linen shirt or smock was knee-length for warmth and full-skirted to allow freedom of movement.
The tunic or coat was pulled on over the head. It was made from a natural colored wool and lined with a colored linen. The length reflected his role as a worker. And it had splits at the side, which revealed the lining.
The cut of his coat, with its sleeves tapering towards the wrist and the hint of a curved seam at the shoulder, suggests that the new fashionable cut was reaching into all aspects of society.
The ploughman wore a decorated leather belt to hold his clothes in place and to help enclose warmth around his core. The belt also provided a place to hang tools, such as a knife, a pouch, or his mittens and hood, when they were not in use. It also served as an expression of individuality and showed that he was successful and made a small profit for his years of work.
He wore leather turned shoes that were high at the ankle to cope with the mud of the fields and had leather straps or laces to bind them into place.
His hood covered the neck opening of his coat and could be worn up or down. It had a liripipe at the back. When the hood was not being worn, the liripipe could be tucked into the belt and the hood left hanging.
The ploughman's hat was made from dense felted wool to keep off the wind and rain and could be worn forwards or backwards.
Split mittens helped to protect the hands from the elements and from the hard work. They allowed more dexterity than conventional mittens.
The work of the ploughman was skilled and demanding. It was tough work – keeping the plow true. And it's noticeable that the oxen goader needed an extra layer of clothing in the same conditions. The ploughman was a respected and vital member of the Medieval community. Chaucer describes the ploughman in The Canterbury Tales as an honest hard-working man, who pays his tithes to the church and who is willing to plow the fields of a man too poor to pay.
But the Luttrell’s Psalter was never completed. It was begun on the eve of the Black Death and in 1348, the great pestilence arrived, killing up to half the population in Europe. So many people died in England that villages were depopulated and gradually abandoned and the fields, last plowed by the Medieval ploughmen, were left to turn to grass. To this very day, the traces of lost villages and the curving lines of the ploughmen's ridge and furrow remain visible in the landscape – a testament to a lost population and way of life.