Late Medieval Fashion Redressed

The pourpoint of Charles de Blois (Moyen Age Article)

[This article, Le pourpoint de Charles de Blois, is from Moyen Age magazine, no. 4, pp. 44–47. The accompanying images are not available at this time, though their captions are included below.]

In 1364, Charles de Blois, Duke of Brittany, was killed at the battle of Auray. Because of his edifying life, his supporters worked for his canonization; thus his pourpoint, an exceptional medieval garment now in the Musée des Tissus in Lyon, was preserved as a relic.

A war of succession

In 1330, Jean III, the childless Duke of Brittany, arranged a marriage for his niece, Jeanne de Penthièvre. It was an excellent match; the groom, Charles de Blois, belonged to the house of Châtillon, and was a nephew by marriage of the King of France. Before his death in 1341, the Duke designated Charles to succeed him. On September 30, 1341, Charles de Blois was recognized as the legal heir by the Court of Peers of France, according to the custom of Brittany as well as that of France. This succession had the approval of the King of France, Philippe VI Valois, to whom Charles did homage; he was crowned duke at Rennes.

But Duke Jean III had also had a younger half-brother, Jean de Montfort, husband of Jeanne of Flanders. Furious, he did not accept the succession, and went to seek support in England to assert his rights as competitor. Thus began a twenty-three-year, fratricidal war of succession; the side of Charles de Blois and the Penthièvres supported by France, and the side of the Montforts supported by England. This civil war took place within the larger context of the Hundred Years’ War. Jean IV de Montfort died in 1345, but his son Jean V continued the fight. Finally Jean de Montfort triumphed, on September 29, 1364, at the battle of Auray; Charles de Blois was killed and du Guesclin (who supported the Penthièvres, the French party) was taken prisoner (see the article on Dinan in Moyen Age nº 2).

The life of Charles de Blois had been pious and edifying, even though he had been forced to fight and die to defend his ducal crown. Charles’ daughter, Marie de Bretagne, had married Duke Louis of Anjou in 1360, and she lost no opportunity to remind people of her father’s moral qualities. Beginning in 1366, groups of children began arriving, as if on pilgrimage, to pray at the tomb of Charles de Blois, at the monastery of the Cordeliers in Guingamp. They came from the regions of Blois and France held by Louis of Anjou. A few miraculous cures were attributed to Charles’ intercession, and the first one was declared official in 1367. That same year, another miracle occurred at another Cordelier monastery, in the town of Dinan. Once while hearing Mass in the church of the Friars Minor in Dinan (according to witness number seventeen at the canonization hearings), Charles de Blois had shed so many tears that he soaked the carpet on which he was kneeling.

In this church of the Friars Minor, Charles de Blois had commissioned a painting from Brother Guillaume Breton: scenes from the life of St. Francis displayed on a vine, with Charles himself kneeling in the foreground, holding the arms of Brittany. On the advice of the English, after visiting the church in 1367, the new duke Jean IV (who had been Jean V de Montfort, but had changed his number to remain consistent with the ducal succession) had caused the image of Charles de Blois in the painting to be whitewashed over. The day after the effigy was covered, Brother Payen de Quélen, chaplain of the Order of Friars Minor from the monastery in Guingamp, reported that while he was dressing to celebrate Mass, Brother Raoul de Kerguiniou called him to see the blood flowing from the ear of the painting, where Duke Charles had received his mortal wound at Auray. There were several other witnesses to this bloody sight, including the lords of Dinan, Olivier de Vauclerc, Geoffroi Budes, Pierre du Guesclin, and other knights. The knight Geoffroi Budes of the parish of Uzel, a witness at the canonization hearings, reported the following facts: after the Elevation, he turned his eyes toward the painting, which was still faintly visible through the whitewash, and perceived two red lines, seemingly of blood, marking the chest and neck. After Mass, he was at an inn where the English captain Robert Knollys and D. de Montfort [sic] were also present. Someone burst in saying that blood was flowing from the painting of Charles de Blois. Geoffroi Budes returned to the church, where several people were examining this marvel. Numerous Englishmen present were mocking the onlookers for their “credulity.” They placed a ladder against the wall to ascend to the level of the painting and struck it several times with a knife, saying, “If he is a saint, let him bleed now!” But the witness climbed the ladder in his turn and touched the liquid with his finger, saying, “But you can see, it really is blood.” The new duke, furious at all this agitation, had the church closed up, with the aid of the English who, armed with clubs, drove everyone off. The frightened friars did not dare to enter their church again.(1)

Thus, the news of the sanctity of Charles de Blois spread throughout all of Brittany, where he was as much venerated as St. Yves. His cult assumed real importance beginning in 1368. An investigation for his possible canonization took place in Angers, under the authority of the aforementioned Raoul de Kerguiniou, who had been close to Charles and a brother of the Cordelier monastery at Guingamp which had benefited so greatly from the dead duke’s generosity. The investigation ended on December 18, 1371. His sainthood was proclaimed, but it was never recognized by the Church; even though the life of Charles de Blois had been holy, he had also been one of the leading partisans of a twenty-three-year civil war.

The records from the hearings allow us to reconstruct the conditions of his death. Charles de Blois had been executed by one of Jean de Montfort’s men, with a dagger thrust to the throat, as the bloody image in Dinan corroborated. A witness, Charles’ confessor Geoffroy Rabin, said that he had not had time to pronounce the name of God before expiring. The documents also established that Charles wore a hair shirt day and night, proof of his piety. Geoffroy Rabin reported that the English took no note of the hair shirt, and threw it aside. Rabin later recovered it, “because someone, out of devotion, had saved it,” an indication of the veneration surrounding the relics of Charles de Blois. The hair shirt was later found in Angers, a city controlled by the duke of Anjou, Charles’ brother-in-law, where the canonization hearings took place. The Franciscans in Angers did much for the veneration afforded Charles de Blois.

The Pourpoint

But, though the hair shirt has been lost, another relic of Charles de Blois was preserved in Angers: his pourpoint. This garment, nearly intact, has survived to the present day. Now housed in the Musée des Tissus in Lyon, it bears two inscriptions on parchment, sewn on to attest its status as an “authentic” relic. The first is written in a script from the end of the fourteenth century. According to François Avril (2), it may date from very shortly after Charles’ death. It reads: “C’est le pourpoint et de la haire mons. Sainct Charlie de Bloys” —“This is the pourpoint and hair shirt of St. Charles de Blois.” The other inscription, probably dating from the reign of Louis XIV, reiterates the first, which by then had become difficult to read: “C’est le pourpoint de saint Charles de Blois tué en la bataille d’Auray par Jean de Montfort son compétiteur au duché de Bretagne le 29 septembre 1364” — “This is the pourpoint of St. Charles de Blois, killed in battle at Auray by Jean de Montfort, his rival for the duchy of Brittany, September 29, 1364.” The hair shirt is not mentioned in this second text, establishing that at that time it had been lost or was preserved in another place.

The pourpoint is a magnificent garment, in the style of the sumptuous clothing of the period. But a discussion of the evolution of medieval fashion is necessary to understand its importance. In the fifth century, with the arrival of the Franks, Burgondes and Visigoths in Gaul, the Germanic style of dress supplanted the previous Roman fashions. It consisted of a bliaud (from blialt, “fabric”), a tunic which was short (reaching just to the knee) and belted at the waist, worn over a chainse (shirt). This costume was worn during a long period of eight centuries, until the end of the twelfth century, when it underwent its first major change: men’s clothing, probably owing to a Byzantine influence, lengthened to become almost robe-like. Male and female fashions were thus relatively similar. This would be the case for the next century and a half. A further revolution in men’s fashion occurred around 1340. Like the first, it caused great scandal.

At that time, Giovanni Villani (3), a Florentine historian, mentioned a “frightful transformation” which took place in 1342. It was triggered by the arrival in Florence of Gautier II de Brienne, Duke of Athens and nephew of King Robert of Naples, a mercenary who would be killed in 1356 while fighting with the French army against the English. He arrived with the young men of his household wearing a cotte or gonelle so short and tight that they could not dress without assistance. Over this tightly fitted garment, they wore a wide leather belt low over their hips. It seems that this transformation in dress was due to the evolution of military costume. The long hauberks with their…[line missing from original]……were replaced by mail shirts under which relatively short quilted garments (gambesons or jaques) were worn. This pourpoint or jaque was adopted in civilian fashion. It also became a padded traveling garment, a type of tightly fitted surcotte, an overgarment worn by aristocrats, men at arms, and travelers. They might have sleeves which were long or fitted. The jaque was a padded undergarment with a protective role. During this period (around 1360), the terms pourpoint and jaque were sometimes used interchangeably.

This new fashion was also made possible by the growing skill of tailors. It involved the assembly of numerous cleverly cut pieces, which played the role of our modern gores; the pourpoint of Charles de Blois has thirty-two! This type of garment is called pourpoint à grandes assiettes: the armhole (assiette) is very large and encompasses the entire shoulder, while the forearm is molded by the sleeve. The whole garment is padded (with an inner layer of cotton and silk batting held in place by tacking) to help it to fit well on the body.

The cloth from which Charles de Blois’ pourpoint is made is “a reversible brocade with a satin ground, with a decorative weft of gold on a white background.” (4) The decoration is an alternating pattern of eagles and lions. It is closed with thirty-two buttons, fifteen of which are domed and the rest flat. This pourpoint or jaque is a good example of the style of the 1360s. Thus it seems, according to the research of Odile Blanc, that it is relatively contemporary to the death of Charles de Blois, and not to the period of its prominence. It was displayed in Angers because of the cult surrounding him, at the instigation of Duke Louis of Anjou. It is a superb formal garment, quite characteristic of the period, an exceptional witness to the civilization of its time.

[The glossary found in the original article has been omitted here, as the terms are not found in the text of the original (or translated) article.]


Odile Blanc, Le pourpoint de Charles de Blois, une relique de la fin du Moyen Age, CIETA–Bulletin 74, 1997.
Le Costume français, Flammarion, 1996.
François Boucher, Histoire du costume, Paris, (Flammarion), 1965.
M.-E. Monnier, Dinan, mille ans d’histoire, (Editions Yves Floch), Mayenne.


(1) See Dinan, mille ans d’histoire, by M.-E. Monnier, Ed. Floch, Mayenne, pp. 318–321.
(2) See cited article by Odile Blanc, p. 74.
(3) Cited article by Odile Blanc, p. 67
(4) [line missing in original]


Fig. 1: The gallery of the cloister of the old convent of the Cordeliers at Dinan. Rebuilt in the 15th century, it (as well as the 19th-century Neogothic chapel visible in the background) postdates the period of the pourpoint, but it is nonetheless where the “bloody image” appeared.

Fig. 2: The exceptional pourpoint of Charles de Blois, a “pourpoint à grandes assiettes.” The material is a reversible brocade on a satin ground, with a decorative weft of gold on a white background.

Fig. 3: Jean de Vaudetar offering his book to King Charles V, Paris, 1371. Jean de Vaudetar is wearing a fashionable pourpoint, closely fitted with a wide belt worn low over the hips, very similar to that of Charles de Blois. Conversely, the king is dressed as a Master of Arts of the University of Paris, wearing a cap of transparent material. Certain categories of people (clerics, professors, lawyers, etc.) continued to wear longer robes.

Fig. 4: Back of the pourpoint of Charles de Blois. Its fit is due to thirty-two carefully cut and assembled pieces.

Fig. 5: Detail showing the very large armhole (or assiette) which encompasses the entire shoulder. The decoration is an alternating pattern of eagles and lions.

Fig. 6 and 7: The shaped sleeve is closed with buttons. Detail (right) of the back of the left “grande assiette”. The whole garment is padded with an inner layer of cotton and silk batting.

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