Thursday, April 24, 2014

Arnegunde's Shoes

As usual, I came across interesting information while I was looking for something entirely different. The interesting information that I'd like to tell you about today is the blog of the Shoe Museum in Lausanne, France; it can be found here. (The blog has links that will let you read it in German or English, instead of the original French; the above link is to the English version.) 

On the Museum's blog, I found an article about a 2011 reconstruction of the shoes of a Merovingian-era French queen, Arnegunde (spellings of her name vary), who is believed to have died in the late 6th century C.E. Arnegunde was buried in a stone sarcophagus in the Basilica of Saint Denis, north of Paris. Arnegunde's remains were re-discovered about 50 years ago, and have recently gained some media attention as scholars re-analyze and update the standard reconstruction of her costume.  One of my favorite bloggers, Suvia, provides a little biography of Arnegunde here, along with a discussion of her own reconstruction of the clothes in which Arnegunde was buried. 

It is also known that Arnegunde's stockings were cross-gartered with leather straps, largely because the straps were ornamented with fancy silver strap ends that have survived. But little had been published, so far as I am aware, specifically about Arnegunde's shoes--until the Museum in Lausanne began intense research of the shoe remains.

The Shoe Museum (or the Musée de la Chaussure, to give it its correct French name) has written here about the research and analysis it has conducted of the remains of Arnegunde's shoes and their reconstruction. Suvia discusses the shoe reconstruction, and includes an image of the Shoe Museum's summary of the reconstruction, on her blog here.  For interested readers who have no knowledge of French, I have used my combined knowledge of French and of costume (and the Internet to look up French words I wasn't sure about) to translate the Shoe Museum's summary as follows:
The little silver buckles and back plates, with their strap ends, fasten calfskin straps at the knee. The lower extremities are gartered, and the garters are believed to pass over and under the shoes but are not fastened to the shoes. They are held in place with another set of small buckles and back plates, also in silver. Large silver strap ends decorated with zoomorphic motifs are suspended from the garters at the calves. This reconstruction confirms what Michel Fleury and Albert France-Lanord have suggested, that the difference being that the big silver strap ends with zoomorphic decoration do not correspond to the ends of straps that were part of the mantle, but were suspended from the upper part of the garter, and had a strictly decorative function.
In other words, Arnegunde's shoes did not have integral straps over the instep (like Mary Janes, or modern Chinese cloth shoes of the type I used for my reconstruction long ago).  Instead, the leg garters passed under the sole of the foot and over the instep, and were kept from sliding off of the foot by a separate small buckle fastened at the side of the foot. I can't quite figure out, either from the Shoe Museum's drawing or their written description, whether the separate small buckle were affixed to a separate small strap or whether they were part of the garter somehow, but I suspect there had to be a different strap in play, because there is a significant difference in size between the small buckle and the garter strap-ends.

This reconstruction will affect my planned rebuild of the leather garters for my Arnegunde outfit (which is many years old, was made with non-period materials, and should also be redone--but that's a topic for another day).  It makes a difference to how I proceed if the straps go under the bottom of the shoes and not simply around the calves, as I did with my original pair.  More on how I address the rebuild once I start seriously thinking about that project again.


  1. If nothing else, you've given me a nice first name to use in a fantasy universe I'm working on set mostly in what we call France. :-)

    1. Always glad to be of service! Thanks for stopping by.