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"Thus is a Needle prov'd an Instrument
Needlework is an art so attractive in itself; it is capable of such infinite variety, and is such a beguiler of lonely, as of social hours, and offers such scope to the indulgence of fancy, and the display of taste; it is withal—in its lighter branches—accompanied with so little bodily exertion, not deranging the most recherche dress, nor incommoding the most elaborate and exquisite costume, that we cannot wonder that it has been practised with ardour even by those the farthest removed from any necessity for its exercise. Therefore has it been from the earliest ages a favourite employment of the high and nobly born.
The father of song hardly refers at all to the noble dames of Greece and Troy but as occupied in "painting with the needle." Some, the heroic achievements of their countrymen on curtains and draperies, others various rich and rare devices on banners, on robes and mantles, destined for festival days, for costly presents to ambassadors, or for offerings to friends. And there are scattered notices at all periods of the prevalence of this custom. In all ages until this of
"inventions rare Steam towns and towers."
the preparation of apparel has fallen to woman's share, the spinning, the weaving, and the manufacture of the material itself from which garments were made. But, though we read frequently of high-born dames spinning in the midst of their maids, it is probable that this drudgery was performed by inferiors and menials, whilst enough, and more than enough of arduous employment was left for the ladies themselves in the rich tapestries and embroideries which have ever been coveted and valued, either as articles of furniture, or more usually for the decoration of the person.
Rich and rare garments used to be infinitely more the attribute of high rank than they now are; and in more primitive times a princess was not ashamed to employ herself in the construction of her own apparel or that of her relatives. Of this we have an intimation in the old ballad of 'Hardyknute'—beginning
"Stately stept he east the wa',
"Farewell, my dame, sae peerless good,
My youngest son shall here remain
To guard these lonely towers,
Sae fast your painted bowers.
"And first she wet her comely cheeks,
And then her boddice green,
Well plett with silver sheen;
Of needlewark sae rare,
Save that of Fairly fair."
But it harmonises better with our ideas of high or royal life to hear of some trophy for the warrior, some ornament for the knightly bower, or some decorative offering for the church, emanating from the taper fingers of the courtly fair, than those kirtles and boddices which, be they ever so magnificent, seem to appertain more naturally to the i( milliner's practice." Therefore, though we give the gentle Fairly fair all possible praise for notability in the
"Apron set with mony a dice
we certainly look with more regard on such work as that of the Danish princesses who wrought a standard with the national device, the Raven,* on it, and which was long the emblem of terror to those opposed to it on the battle-field. Of a gentler character was the stupendous labour of Queen Matilda —the Bayeux tapestry—on which we have dwelt too long elsewhere to linger here, and which was wrought by her and under her superintendence.
* This sacred stan lard was taken by the Saxons in Devonshire, in a fortunate onset, in wh ch they slew one of the Sea-kings with eight hundred of his followers. So superstitious a reverence was attached to this ensign that its loss is said to have broken the spirit of even these ruthless plunderers. It was woven by the sisters of Inguar and Ubba, who divined by it. If the Raven (which was worked on it) moved briskly in the wind, it was a sign of victory, but if it drooped and hung heavily, it was supposed to prognosticate discomfiture
Queen Adelicia, the second wife of Henry I., was a lady of distinguished beauty and high talent: she was remarkable for her love of needlework, and the skill with which she executed it. One peculiar production of her needle has recently been described by her accomplished biographer; it was a standard which "she embroidered in silk and gold for her father, during the memorable contest in which he was engaged for the recovery of his patrimony, and which was celebrated throughout Europe for the exquisite taste and skill displayed by the royal Adelicia in the design and execution of her patriotic achievement. This standard was unfortunately captured at a battle near the castle of Duras, in 1129, by the Bishop of Liege and the Earl of Limbourg, the old competitor of Godfrey for Lower Lorraine, and was by them placed as a memorial of their triumph in the great church of St. Lambert, at Liege, and was for centuries carried in procession on Rogation days through the streets of that city. The church of St. Lambert was destroyed during the French Revolution. The plain where this memorable trophy was taken is still called the "Field of the Standard."
Perhaps, second only to Queen Matilda's work, or indeed superior to it, as being entirely the production of her own hand, were the needlework pieces of Joan D'Albert, who ascended the throne of Navarre in 1555. Though her own career was varied and eventful, she is best known to posterity as the mother of the great Henry IV. She adopted the reformed religion, of which she became, not without some risk to her crown thereby, the zealous protectress, and on Christmas-day, 1562, she made a public profession of the Protestant faith; she prohibited the offices of the Catholic religion to be performed in her domains, and suffered in consequence many alarms from her Catholic subjects. But she possessed great courage and fortitude, and baffled all open attacks. Against concealed treachery she could not contend. She died suddenly at the court of France in 1572, as it was strongly suspected, by poison.
This queen possessed a vigorous and cultivated understanding; was acquainted with several languages, and composed with facility both in prose and verse. Her needlework, the amusement and solace of her leisure hours, was designed by her as "a commemoration of her love for, and steadiness to, the reformed faith." It is thus described by Boyle: "She very much loved devices, and she wrought with her own hand fine and large pieces of tapestry, among which was a suit of hangings of a dozen or fifteen pieces, which were called The PriSons Opened; by which she gave us to understand that she had broken the pope's bonds, and shook off his yoke of captivity. In the middle of every piece is a story of the Old Testament which savours of liberty—as the deliverance of Susannah; the departure of the children of Israel out of Egypt; the setting Joseph at liberty, &c. And at all the cor-