Perpetuana was a woollen fabric made and used in early modern England and elsewhere for clothing and furnishings including bed hangings. It was lighter than broadcloth and resembled serge, some varieties had a glossy finish.[1] The name seems to advertise its long-lasting qualities.[2] A fabric called "sempiternum" or "sempiterna" for the same reason was perhaps a similar weave.[3] Like another English-made fabric "Penniston", perpetuana was used for the clothing of slaves in Jamaica and the Caribbean.[4][5]

New drapery

The cloth was one of the "new draperies" first made in England at Norwich, Colchester, and Taunton in the last half of the 16th century.[6][7][8]

Perpetuana was permitted as an export to India by Charles I in 1631.[9] Large quantities of English perpetuana were shipped to Hamburg in 1640.[10] Also known as "perpets", perpetuana fabrics were made in France and Holland (Leiden). An English author in 1713 considered that the English version of the cloth had better success as an export to Spain than the French, as it was cheaper and possibly of better quality.[11] By this time, Crediton and Sandford in Devon had become centres for weaving perpetuana and other woollens.[12]

As country clothing

Two park keepers in Thomas Campion's entertainment at Caversham Park on 27 April 1613 for Anne of Denmark were "formally attired in green perpetuana".[13]

Perpetuana was suitable for country workmen and servants. Lord William Howard of Naworth Castle bought broadcloth in November 1617 and six yards of lighter green perpetuana in June 1618 for the clothes of his servant George Armstrong.[14]

The account book of William Fitzwilliam of Milton Hall includes the making of two pairs of perpetuana hose trimmed with gold and silver lace around the year 1610.[15]

On the stage

There are references to perpetuana in 17th-century drama. In Ben Jonson's Cynthia's Revels of 1600, a character Hedon suggests that courtiers should wear silks rather than perpetuana, and the gentleman ushers of the court ought to exclude such tough "terrible coarse rags" and "rubbing devices" from the royal presence.[16] Perpetuana was the name of a character in John Marston's 1599 play Histriomastix, (at first) the wife of a merchant "Velure", a French word for velvet.[17] A textile-based insult in Barnabe Barnes' The Devil's Charter of 1607 has the alliterative "My perpetuana pander". Black perpetuana was used to make a costume for a madman in Thomas Campion's Masque of Lords and Honourable Maids, performed at the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Frederick V of the Palatinate.[18]

Bed hangings

Despite negative associations presented on the stage, perpetuana was chosen for warm winter clothes and bed curtains by aristocrats. In 1606, William Cavendish, a son of Bess of Hardwick, bought a suit of green perpetuana for his teenage son, also William Cavendish.[19] There were four perpetuana beds decorated with lace with matching chairs and stools at Petworth House in 1635.[20] In 1639 at Gosfield Hall in Essex there was a French (style) bed of green perpetuana, and a red perpetuana bed in a nursery.[21] Henrietta Maria owned some crimson damask window curtains lined with red perpetuana.[22] Blue perpetuana hangings and a blue perpetuana bed at Ham House were trimmed with gilt Spanish leather.[23]

In church

Green perpetuana was used to back or "bottom" a cushion with green silk fringes for the pulpit of St Laurence's at Ludlow in 1621, and to make a decorative border for the pulpit.[24] Blue perpetuana was chosen for a new chapel screen at King's College, Cambridge in 1633.[25]

Perpetuana and slavery

Richard Cocks an officer of the English East India Company stationed at Hirado in Japan received a bale of English perpetuana from the cargo of the Adviz in 1617.[26] Hard-wearing perpetuana was exported to America.[27] The cloth was exchanged for slaves at Ouidah in Benin and at Accra in Ghana.[28] Olfert Dapper, a 17th-century writer, mentioned that men of the Guinea Coast wore outfits made from a variety of fabrics or stuffs including perpetuana in his Description of Africa (1668).[29] West Africans rejected plain blue and black perpetuanas offered for sale in 1660, preferring brighter colours.[30] In the 18th-century clothing for slaves in Jamaica was made with perpetuana fabric.[31] Female slaves on several estates had petticoats of perpetuana.[32]


  1. ^ Eric Kerridge, Textile Manufactures in Early Modern England (Manchester, 1985), p. 118.
  2. ^ M. Channing Linthicum, Costume in the Drama of Shakespeare and his Contemporaries (Oxford, 1936), pp. 83-4.
  3. ^ Jane Whittle & Elizabeth Griffiths, Consumption and Gender in the Early Seventeenth-Century Household: The World of Alice Le Strange (Oxford, 2012), p. 120.
  4. ^ Steeve O. Buckridge, African Lace-bark in the Caribbean: The Construction of Race, Class, and Gender (Bloomsbury, 2016), p. 136.
  5. ^ 'Only surviving fragment of 'slave' cloth found in Derbyshire record office', Guardian, 2 April 2023
  6. ^ M. Channing Linthicum, Costume in the Drama of Shakespeare and his Contemporaries (Oxford, 1936), p. 83.
  7. ^ Eliot Howard, 'Colchester Bays, Says and Perpetuanas', Transactions of the Essex Archaeological Society, vol. 8, 1903
  8. ^ Stuart F. Elton, Cloth Seals: An Illustrated Guide to the Identification of Lead Seals (Oxford: Archaeopress, 2017), p. 187.
  9. ^ The East Indian chronologist (Calcutta, 1801), p. 6.
  10. ^ Thomas Leng, Fellowship and Freedom: The Merchant Adventurers and the Restructuring of English Commerce (Oxford, 2020), p. 87.
  11. ^ Mercator; or, Commerce retrieved, 106 (26 January 1713).
  12. ^ William George Hoskins, Industry, Trade and People in Exeter, 1688-1800 (Manchester, 1935), p. 40.
  13. ^ John Nichols, Progresses of James the First, vol. 2 (London, 1828), p. 632
  14. ^ George Ornsby, Selections from the Household Books of the Lord William Howard (London, 1878), pp. 100-1.
  15. ^ Kennet Gibson, Parochial history of Castor (London, 1819), p. 137
  16. ^ Ben Jonson, The Workes of Beniamin Jonson (London, 1616), p. 209, III, ii, 28-31.
  17. ^ George L. Geckle, John Marston's Drama: Themes, Images, Sources (Fairleigh Dickinson, 1980), p. 49 fn. 9.
  18. ^ Frederic Madden, 'Warrant for the Apparel for the Marriage of the Princess Elizabeth', Archaeologia, 26 (1836), p. 385
  19. ^ Peter Edwards, CHORD blog: Conspicuous Consumption in Early Modern Provincial England citing, Chatsworth, Cavendish accounts, CA, H23/31r, 175r.
  20. ^ Jeremy Wood, 'The Architectural Patronage of the 10th Earl of Northumberland', John Bold & Edward Cheney, English Architecture Public & Private: Essays for Kerry Downes (Hambledon, 1993), p. 58: G. R. Batho, Household Papers of Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland (Camden Society, 1962), p. 118.
  21. ^ Pamela Clabburn, The National Trust Book of Furnishing Textiles (Penguin, 1989), p. 251.
  22. ^ Oliver Millar, 'Inventories and Valuations of the King's Goods 1649–1651', The Volume of the Walpole Society, vol. 43 (1972), p. 128.
  23. ^ Peter Thornton & Maurice Tomlin, The Furnishing and Decoration of Ham House (Furniture History Society, 1980), pp. 16, 22.
  24. ^ Llewellyn Jones, 'Churchwardens Accounts of Ludlow', Transactions of the Shropshire Archaeological and Natural History Society, 2nd series vol. 2 part 1 (Shrewsbury, 1890), pp. 122-3.
  25. ^ Thomas John Proctor Carter, King's College Chapel: Its History and Present Condition (London, 1867) p. 64.
  26. ^ Edward Maunde Thompson, Diary of Ricard Cocks, vol. 1 (London: Hakluyt Society, 1883), p. 293.
  27. ^ Robert DuPlessis, The Material Atlantic: Clothing, Commerce, and Colonization in the Atlantic (Cambridge, 2016), pp. 63-4.
  28. ^ Lars Sundström, The Exchange Economy of Pre-colonial Tropical Africa (London, 1974), p. 174.
  29. ^ Atlas Geographus: For Africa, vol. 4 (London, 1714), p. 414.
  30. ^ Giorgio Riello, Cotton: The Fabric that Made the Modern World (Cambridge, 2013), p. 139.
  31. ^ Steeve Buckridge, 'Dress: From Slavery to Freedom among Jamaican Colonised Women, 1790–1890', Marc Kleijwegt, The Faces of Freedom: The Manumission and Emancipation of Slaves in Old World and New World Slavery (Brill, 2006), p. 236 fn. 12
  32. ^ Edward Kamau Brathwaite, 'The 'Folk' Culture of the Slaves', Gad J. Heuman & James Walvin, The Slavery Reader (Routledge, 2003), p. 378.