A Payre of 16th Century Leather Gloves Worn by Sir Francis Drake


Portrait of Sir Francis Drake by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger. Oil on canvas, c. 1591.  National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, Caird Collection BHC2662


This is a pair of leather gloves inspired by those that appear in the portrait of Sir Francis Drake by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger (above).  Unlike most extant gloves of the period, this particular pair appears to be unembroidered, unadorned, and sports ties to keep them in place.


The origin of the glove has not been actually discovered.  Nearly 3000 years ago, Homer described the father of Ulysses wearing gloves to shield his hands from the thorns as he walked in his garden, although he does not provide a description of the shape or materials of this particular pair of gloves.  Suffice to say that it is very likely that covering the hands with gloves has been a custom that dates from very ancient times until today.

Gloves in the 16th and early 17th centuries were much more than just an accessory to fashionable dress. The wearing or carrying of gloves by either sex was a conspicuous mark of rank and ostentation. They were worn in the hat or belt, as well as carried in the hand. Gloves were popular as gifts and were often given by a young gallant to his favorite mistress. In combat, a glove was thrown down as a gage, or challenge.

Background Information

Gloves required a fine and supple leather. Doeskin and kid were the main types used. Although embroidery was the principal form of decoration for accessories, tapestry was also used. Small tapestry- woven articles, including gloves, were made by professional workshops for direct sale to the public in London shops. Other materials such as linen or velvet were also used.

The majority of extant gloves of either material have heavily decorated cuffs, often set as a separate piece from the hand piece (Figures 1, 2 and 3).  This type of glove would have been perfumed as well.  However, not all gloves were decorated or even cuffed.  The gloves worn by Sir Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, in a portrait in dated 1565, do not have a cuff (Figures 4 and 5).

Pair of gloves c. 1590-1610. White leather, with gauntlet tapestry woven in silk and gold; 33 warp threads per in (13 per cm).  Designer: Sheldon Tapestry Workshops (probably).  Victoria and Albert Museum.  London, England.

Alternate view -- back -- of the same glove as Figure 1

Alternate view -- front -- of Figure 1

Detail of left hand of the portrait of the Duke of Norfolk.

detail of the right hand of the portrait of the Duke of Norfolk.

Figure 1:  Pair of gloves c. 1590-1610.  White leather with gauntlet tapestry woven in silk and gold; 33 warp threads per in (13 cm.).  Designer:  Probably Sheldon Tapestry Workshops.  Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Figure 2:  Palm view of the same glove as Figure 1.

Figure 3:  Alternate view of the same glove as Figure 1.

Figure 4:  Detail of the portrait of Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, showing the short, unlined gloves.  (Left hand.)  Portrait is of the Anglo-Netherland School, oil on panel, and belongs in a private collection.

Figure 5:  Detail of the portrait of Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, showing the short, unlined gloves.  (RIght hand.)

The pair of gloves in the portrait of Sir Francis Drake, which are the inspiration for this project, are completely unadorned. They also sport a strip of leather or other material to tie the cuff in place.  It is also hard to tell whether this is a one piece glove, or one where the cuff has been attached as a separate piece.  In this regard, Gwen Emily Jones, in her book “Glove Making:  The Art and the Craft,” states that:

 “The lines or points to be seen on the backs of gloves these days are a relic of the gloves of the sixteen century.  These were made loosely, but were drawn in to fit the hand by means of laces through round holes in the back of the glove, which were tied round the wrists, so holding the gloves firmly to the hands.  Gloves were laced in this way until in almost modern times gloves were produced to fit.

I am not sure what Ms. Jones’ sources are, as she does not show any bibliography in her book.  However, her description makes a lot of sense and provides a possible -- and sensible -- explanation to the purpose of the lacings in Sir Francis Drake’s Portrait.


From the painting itself, it is hard to guess whether the gloves worn by Sir Francis Drake were made out of leather or some other material such as velvet.  I picked leather as it was a good guess that gloves of these kind might have been made of that material.  In period, kidskin or doeskin would have been used for gloving.  Kidskin being also a name utilized to describe lambskin.   

In this case I found some very supple doeskin from a local supplier.  I would have liked it to be a shade darker than the light yellow/brown I got, but their darker color was buckskin, which is heavier than the doeskin.  Doeskin is from the female deer and the resulting leather is lighter and suppler than its male counterpart.

I also used quilting cotton for putting the gloves together, and a glover’s needle.  In period silk or linen would have been used, but I could not find any in a color that matched the leather.

Overall Design, Pattern and Construction:

 The first question that these gloves posed was whether the cuff would have been a separate piece or not.   Although most extant pieces show the cuff as a separate piece, one piece gloves are not uncommon.  There is, for instance an interesting long glove with no separate cuff that is regarded as having belonged to Queen Elizabeth (Figure 5).  This glove is the property of John Hallam, Esq.  Another good example of one piece gloves is a pair of white leather gloves, dated from the 16th Century that is reputed to have belonged to Lady Sherington of Laycock Abbey  (Figure 6).  These gloves are also embroidered in silver and silk, with a fringe of silver, and a lining of pale pink silk. 

Figure 5:  Embroidered leather glove, 16th Century. 

Redfern, WB.  Royal and Historic Gloves & Shoes, pp. 40-41.

Figure 6:  Pair of embroidered gloves, 16th Century

Redfern, WB.  Royal and Historic Gloves & Shoes, pp. 42-43.

An even more interesting one-piece glove is the pair sported by Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, in a portrait dated 1565 (mentioned earlier in this document).  Those gloves are actually short, unlined gloves in pale brown leather.  I decided therefore to make my gloves as one piece.

The other question was the pattern.  Gloves in period were cut in a different manner than modern gloves.  The biggest difference is in the thumb and the fourchettes or gussets between the fingers.  Unlike modern construction of gloves, fourchettes in period have a “V” shape as opposed to an elongated oval split in the middle.  The thumb is also a very different piece as one can see in the online copy of the pattern published in “Le Gant” in 1984.

“Le Gant” (The Glove) by Fanche Le Reste, was published in Paris in 1984 as a part of a collection called “Archives pour l’histoire de la Mode.”  This book is regarded by many as a classic and it contains descriptions – as well as numerous illustrations and plates – of all kinds of gloves of European origin from various periods.  It also includes notes on the history and the development of the glove, its sexual meaning and social impact.  Regrettably “Le Gant” is out of print.  Fortunately, Francesca V. Havas reproduced the pattern of a 16th Century glove from the pages of “Le Gant” in her excellent website

Once one starts experimenting with this pattern, it is evident that the V shaped fourchette is perfect for accomplishing the deep cut between the fingers that would have made the fingers look unnaturally elongated.  My gloves are not that deep, but I do intend to experiment with my next pair. 

Depending on the glove, fingers could be round and natural looking like the long gloves shown in Figure 5, or exaggeratedly elongated and tapered such as those shown in Figure 1. The cut and construction of gloves was very similar for men and women’s, at least in the case of dress or Court gloves. 

From the painting of Sir Francis Drake it is impossible to guess whether those gloves were constructed with normal length, round-tipped fingers, or elongated and tapered.  I decided to make mine after the more natural looking model like the gloves in Figure 4 because I thought that they would be more comfortable to wear.  Besides, the gloves of a sailor -- even if that sailor was a Knight -- would probably have been more utilitarian than court gloves, whose elongated fingers were not made for working. 

Finally, I cut the long strips for the ties out of goatskin, and threaded it through a pair of slits that I cut in the back of the glove suggested by Ms. Emlyn-Jones.  I tried to make round holes with an awl but it that did not work very well, so I settled for slits.  I will experiment with that with another pair in the future.

I would like to point out one last thing:  Because I used doeskin, which is stiffer than kidskin, the ties do not appear to be necessary to keep the gloves in place.  I decided to add them all the same both for effect and as practice for my next pair of gloves. 

Bibliography and Online Resources:

Arnold, Janet.  Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d, W.S. Maney & Son, LTD, Hudson Road, Leeds, 1988.

Emlyn-Jones, Gwen.  Glove Making:  The Art and the Craft, , Lacis Publications, Berkeley, CA, 94703, U.S.A., 2003.

Gloves for Favours, Gifts and Coronations.  12 September 198713 March 1988.  Museum of Costume, Bath.  Bath City Council, 1987.

Redfern, W.B., Royal & Historic Gloves and Shoes, Lacis Publications, Berkeley, CA, 94703, U.S.A., 2003.

Starkey, David & Doran, Susan:  The Exhibition at the National Maritime Museum.  Chatto & Windus, Random House, 20 Vauxhall Bridge Rd., London, SW1V 2SA. 2003.

Duello Gloves, by Franchesca V. Havas.. 

Victoria and Albert Museum website:  www.vam.ac.uk.   

Kate's Corner  Mistress Kate Maunsel's excellent webpage.


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