Fashion and Belief

Fashion and Belief

 ‘They tell  me they were in fashion last year’:

The portrait of Two Sisters and Their Brother(Wharton children)  c1656 (artist unknown) is courtesy Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository

Dr Danae Tankard of the University of Chichester (and the Weald and Downland Museum) provided a most informative and entertaining evening at East Street on Thursday, June 9th.  The illustrated talk was on Fashion in London and Rye during the late 17th century, focusing particularly on Samuel Jeake II (1662-99) and his wife Elizabeth (who was all of 13 when they married).

The presentation brought surprises, intriguing questions and amusement.  One thing we learned was that men’s fashions in the Restoration Period were every bit as important as women’s, and that (at least some) people in Rye were keen to stay right up-to-date  with changing fashions in London — and did.  As we saw, apparel (and hairstyles) could be elaborate (and uncomfortable?) and tastes could rapidly change. Samuel Jeake defied current fashion in one respect however: though balding he did not wear a wig as most gentlemen did.

But how can one explain the seeming incongruities  in the beliefs and behaviour of Samuel Jeake II?  On the one hand he was a hard-headed merchant in wool, hops, money-lending and shrewd investments. He kept abreast of the latest fashions and spent money on clothes and accessories for himself and his family. (We even saw one of his account lists.)

astrological diary Jeakes practiceYet Jeake was firm in his Presbyterian (Dissenter) beliefs and had fled from Rye to London with his father when the latter was threatened with prosecution for ‘holding forth’ his Non-Conformist views after the Restoration of Charles II –when the Act of Uniformity denied freedom of worship and preaching.

And at the same time he had an almost obsessive interest in astrology!  He turned to the stars for guidance before deciding to become one of the first subscribers to the newly formed Bank of England.   He ascribed injuries to the relative positions of the planets at the time,and  worked out details of the dowry he expected on his marriage but waited for the right ‘Cluster of Planets’ before proceeding. His An Astrological Diary of the Seventeenth Century Samuel Jeake of Rye  contains day-by-day accounts of his business dealings and local events, each entry preceded by the astrological symbol for the day and is  considered an important source for historians seeking to understand the life and thought of the 17th century: social, intellectual and religious beliefs.

This viewer was reminded of Alice in Wonderland’s ‘six impossible things before breakfast’, but this was evening and the audience enjoyed both the sights and the commentary illustrating a local example of paradoxical beliefs and interests within one person.  A further contrast was commented upon at coffee time: The conspicuous difference  between the high fashion we’d seen on the screen and the varied and mostly casual garb of those who shared the evening.

For more information about The Jeake family and their Rye residences click here.


First posted in Featured, Notable People, Rye Town History on 12th June 2016
Last updated: 12th June 2016