chapter  9
14 Pages

Social Fabric in Thynne's Debate Between Pride and Lowliness

This article examines the ways in which an ostensibly late medieval text, revived and published in 1577, intersects with Elizabethan debates concerning identity and clothing culture. The text in question is entitled A Debate Between Pride and Lowliness and details a dispute between two pairs of breeches, one of velvet signifying wealth and pride, and the other of cloth signifying humility.1 The dispute hinges on different interpretations of worthiness: of status achieved through wealth, or through virtue and inherited right. As such the text intersects with contemporary debates concerning social mobility and the definition of gentility in a culture in which clothing is used to signify, to display or mask the moral identity and true social status of the individual. A key aspect of this dispute is the moral significance of attire and the link between clothing, vanity and the cardinal sin of pride, a trope rehearsed in sumptuary proclamations across the medieval and early modern period. Examining the prescriptive purpose of this text, the article highlights the correlation between A Debate and forms of legal address evident in Elizabethan sumptuary legislation and in the public addresses and texts of lawyers and divines.