The Victoria and Albert Museum

The Victoria and Albert Museum

Object Type
This formal, heraldic purse associated with marriage has more significance than a purse used simply for money, or a 'swete-bag' used for carrying perfumed herbs to sweeten the atmosphere. Both men and women carried or wore pouches or purses. The long strings of this example suggest that it was intended to hang from the waist, but it is uncertain whether it was ever actually used as a container. English purses of this date are extremely rare and the survival of this one may be due to its formal role, which meant that it was rarely used and thought worth looking after.

Makers & Making
The workmanship of this purse is extremely fine with 1,250 silk stitches per square inch (194 per square centimetre). Most surviving canvas work is much coarser. Whether this suggests that a professional hand was involved or that the woman who made this was particularly skilled is not known.

Ownership & Use
Heraldic devices were displayed in many different ways, and their use on even small personal belongings such as this little purse indicates the important role that they had in proclaiming ownership and lineage. The heraldry on this purse reflects four marriages (that is, four family alliances), culminating in that of Sir Henry Parker and Elizabeth Calthorpe. This shows the significance attached to the family 'pedigree' by the parties involved.

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  • Title: Purse
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Date Created: 1535/1544
  • Location: England
  • Physical Dimensions: Height: 15 cm including tassle, Width: 10.2 cm, Depth: 15 cm
  • Provenance: Bought with the aid of H. J. Oppenheim
  • Medium: Linen, embroidered with silk in tent stitch

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