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  • Arts & Culture
  • Issue 42

Object Matters

A modest history of the codpiece. Words by Stephanie d’Arc Taylor. Photograph by WBC ART / Alamy.

According to Cambridge academic Victoria Miller, the BBC’s 2015 adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Henry VIII palace procedural Wolf Hall was not only “fantastic” but generally quite historically accurate—except for one, not-so-small omission. The codpieces, she told The Guardian, were “way too small to be accurate—they should be at least double the size.” 

Miller is a leading expert on the codpiece, a relatively flash-in-the-pan fashion trend that no chivalrous young gentleman in the early- and mid-16th century would have been caught dead without. Initially, incredibly, the codpiece—a pouch of structured fabric placed over the genitals—was designed to be a modesty garment as more revealing styles of hose and doublets came into vogue. But as the advent of chivalry required men to loudly herald their gallantry, the codpiece changed also, into an attention-grabbing showpiece. 

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This story is from Kinfolk Issue Forty-Two

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