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  • Place of origin:

    London (probably, made)

  • Date:

    1520s - 1540s (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Hand-sewn tanned leather

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Messrs Harrods Ltd.

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 62, The Foyle Foundation Gallery, case 8

This man's leather shoe has a broad, square 'horned' toe. This style was fashionable during the reign from 1509-1547 of Henry VIII . It was a complete change from the very pointed toe favoured at the end of the 15th century. The wide shoes echoed the line of fashionable dress for men, who wore broad-shouldered padded jackets called doublets. The slashed decoration made the leather more flexible and therefore more comfortable to wear. The shoes originally had bright coloured linings which could also be glimpsed through the slashes. This shoe has both horizontal and vertical slashes but the lining has not survived. The shoe described is the one you can see on the right.

Physical description

Right shoe of leather with a modest horned or eared toe. The vamp is decorated with three deep horizontal slashes between which are shorter vertical slashes. A heel-stiffener, in the form of an extra piece of leather, reinforces the back quarters on the back seam. It is possible that it was once edged with a leather strip around the back opening. The shoe has lost its outer sole and welt. The size suggests it was for a man.

Place of Origin

London (probably, made)


1520s - 1540s (made)



Materials and Techniques

Hand-sewn tanned leather


Length: 23 cm, Width: 8 cm, Height: 7.8 cm, Weight: 0.14 kg

Object history note

This shoe originally belonged to the collection of Talbot Hughes as did most of the English Medieval and Tudor footwear donated to the Museum. He was a portrait painter who began to purchase costume for professional use (models of historic dress) and spent 30 years building up his collection of historical English costume and footwear. Mr Hughes seem to have bought mucy from auctions but also directly from workmen on building sites.

Historical significance: These shoes are significant as examples of ordinary footwear from the Tudor period, fashionable in style but practical in materials.

Historical context note

The size is of this shoe corresponds to a British man's 5 or 6 today (European size 39).

Fashionable styles of shoe.
In the early 16th century, the shape of fashionable shoes changed: the pointed toe altered became a sensible, broader shape. This width became exaggerated during the reign of Henry VIII with some soles being more than 17 cm wide. These extremely wide shoes, like the extremely pointed shoes of the previous century, fell under the stricture of sumptuary legislation - only men of certain status were allowed to wear shoes of certain width (Pratt & Woolley, p.15). The wide shoes echoed the line of fashionable dress for men, who wore doublets (jackets) with broad padded shoulders. The slashing of the doublet could match the slashing of the shoes. Some shoes had linings, others did not. In either case a bright colour might be glimpsed through the slashes. Shoes for the wealthy and for formal wear were made of silk or velvet. Leather shoes were probably for more practical occasions, everyday wear, travelling and so forth. The many portraits of Henry VIII show him wearing such shoes. The site of the discovery of these shoes in London suggests that these were used by lower and middle class citizens of London.

Shoemaking and trade
At the end of the Middle Ages construction methods changed, the welted shoe becoming widespread. The upper was attached to the insole and to a welt (a strip of leather), and a second row of stitches through the welt attached it to the sole. The other change in construction was the moving of the main upper seam to the centre back, and produced the traditional vamp and pair of quarters

The London cordwainers made most of the medieval and Tudor shoes found in subsequent centuries on sites in the city, but there was also a profitable second-hand trade in old leather shoes. Most shoemakers were capable of doing repairs, but this was usually considered inferior work and left to a different type of craftsmen, such as cobblers. Guilds of cordwainers (or shoemakers) were formed in Oxford in 1131 and in London before 1160. Measurements were standardised in 1305, suggesting that shoes could be sold ready-made, as well as made bespoke. As well as being made for sale in towns, shoes were also sold at the great medeival fairs.
Bibl: Swann, June. Shoemaking. Aylesbury: Shire Publications Ltd., Shire Album 155, 1986.

Context of 'archaeological' finds

A large number of leather objects were excavated in London and its neighbourhood in the early 20th century, notably Finsbury, Moorgate and London Wall, from rubbish heaps and plague pits. Although they were not excavations in modern sense but largely finds made by workmen on building sites and dredges on the river. The Museum of London and Northampton Museum and Art Galleries have large collections, and it may be that the partners to some of the V&A's shoes may be in those collections (see Grew, Francis & de Neergaard, Margrethe. Shoes and Pattens. Medieval Finds from Excavations in London:2. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1988 and A History of Shoe Fashions. Northampton: Northampton Museums and Art Gallery, 1975.

Descriptive line

Shoe of slashed leather with a modest horned toe.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Pratt, Lucy & Woolley, Linda. Shoes. London: V&A Publications, 1999, plate 3
Patterson, Angus, Fashion and Armour in Renaissance Europe: Proud Lookes and Brave Attire, V&A Publishing, London, 2009, ISBN 9781851775811, p. 35, ill.

Production Note

Found at building site or plague pit in London and its neighbourhood in the early 20th century






Accessories; Footwear; Europeana Fashion Project


Textiles and Fashion Collection

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