Dress linking Elizabeth I to Welsh confidante displayed

By Huw Thomas
BBC Wales arts and media correspondent

image copyrightSteve Parsons
image captionThe Bacton altar cloth on display with a portrait of Elizabeth I at Hampton Court

A dress linking Elizabeth I to her Welsh confidante has gone on display in London.

Known as the Bacton altar cloth, it is the only surviving piece of the queen's clothing and was discovered in a church in Herefordshire.

It was thought to have been a gift in memory of Blanche Parry, who spent a lifetime alongside the queen.

The dress has been restored at Hampton Court Palace and will be displayed there until February 2020.

It is the first time the dress has been displayed in public since it was discovered hanging on the wall of St Faith's church in Bacton, Herefordshire, where Blanche Parry had worshipped.

image captionBlanche Parry commissioned this monument of herself with Elizabeth I for the church which, in Tudor times, was in a Welsh-speaking area

The cloth had long been connected locally with Parry, but its royal credentials have only recently been confirmed.

St Faith's also contains a monument to Blanche Parry and Elizabeth I which was commissioned by Parry before her death.

While the church lies a few miles over the border in England, in Tudor times it was a Welsh-speaking part of the marches and Blanche came from land-owners who entertained Welsh bards at their home.

Parry attended to the young Elizabeth before she became queen, and spent a lifetime alongside the monarch.

Her duties included sharing a bed with Elizabeth, and she is known to have been a faithful servant and companion.

image captionThe Rainbow Portrait of Elizabeth I by Isaac Oliver shows her wearing a dress resembling the embroidered cloth found at Bacton church

Local historian and author Ruth E Richardson became interested in the cloth while attending church, and researched the connection with Blanche Parry.

"Blanche spoke Welsh. It's quite possible that Elizabeth I, who spoke a number of languages, understood some words of Welsh," she said.

In 2016, the cloth was taken to Hampton Court Palace to be restored and conserved, and was in remarkable condition despite having been framed and hung on the church wall for more than 100 years.

image copyrightPilley
image captionAn old photo of a portrait of Blanche Parry - the painting has been missing for a number of years

The use of gold and silver thread mark it out as an item of "elite court dress", according to the palace, and conservators believe it is the only surviving clothing from Elizabeth I's wardrobe.

Eleri Lynn, curator of the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection, Historic Royal Palaces, said: "It's made of cloth of silver, which itself by law would have been reserved for the queen or the very upper level of the court."

image copyrightHistoric Royal Palaces/David Jensen
image captionThe garment is made of cloth of silver

The cloth has been dated to shortly after Blanche Parry died, and it is believed that it was given to Bacton in memory of one of the queen's closest friends.

It was kept safe for centuries, having been transformed into an altar cloth and kept in dark conditions which helped to protect it.

In 1909 it was framed and hung on the wall of the church, where it remained until 2016. It has since been replaced by a detailed copy.

image captionLocal historian Ruth E Richardson researched the connection with Blanche Parry

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