A codpiece is a covering flap or pouch that attaches to the front of the crotch of men's trousers and usually accentuates the genital area. It was held closed by string ties, buttons, or other methods. It was an important item of European clothing in the 15th and 16th centuries
As time passed, codpieces became shaped and padded to emphasize rather than to conceal, reaching their peak of size and decoration in the 1540s before falling out of use by the 1590s. Scholars have noted that the appearance of Renaissance codpiece was coincident with aggressive spread of syphilis in the early 16th century, and suggest that it may have first served to allow extra room in the clothing for bandages or other dressings for the afflicted male member.
Armor of the 16th century followed civilian fashion, and for a time armored codpieces were a prominent addition to the best full harnesses. A few of these are on display in museums today: the Metropolitan Museum of Art in
Wolf Hall TV show uses 'too small' Tudor codpieces for fear of baffling US audiences
Mark Rylance, the star of BBC's Wolf Hall, reveals the impressive codpieces of the Tudor court were made smaller out of respect for audiences
Hannah Furness By Hannah Furness, Arts Correspondent7:00AM GMT 12 Dec 2014 /
They may have been the crowning glory for any right-thinking Tudor gentleman, but it appears the traditional codpiece may be a little too much for American television viewers.
The stars of Wolf Hall, the BBC’s new period drama based on the novels of Hilary Mantel, have disclosed they have been issued with “smaller”-than average codpieces, out of respect for viewers' sensibilities.
Mark Rylance, who stars as Thomas Cromwell in the forthcoming BBC series, said programme-makers had decided on “very small codpieces” which had to be “tucked away”.
He suggested allowances had been made amid concerns about the taste of modern audiences, particularly in
who “may not know exactly what’s going on down there”. America
It is one of few concessions permitted by programme-makers, who have otherwise gone to remarkable lengths to ensure historical accuracy, including trips to Shakespeare’s Globe to learn sword-fighting, lessons in etiquette and bowing, and a comprehensive study on spoons.
Mantel has given her seal of approval to the production, issuing a statement of glowing praise for how it has been adapted on screen.
Saying she was pleased programme-makers had resisted the temptation to “patronise” the Tudors to make them “cute”, she said: “My expectations were high and have been exceeded.”
When asked about the costumes in a Q&A to launch the BBC show, alongside actors Damian Lewis and Claire Foy, Rylance said they “did take a while to put on” but praised the overall effect.
“I think the codpieces are too small,” he added. “I think it was a direction from our American producers PBS [the
public service broadcaster] – they like very small codpieces which always
seemed to be tucked away.” US
When asked to clarify, he said: “I wasn’t personally disappointed by the codpieces: I’m a little more used to them than other people from being at the Globe for ten years.
“But I can see for modern audiences, perhaps more in
, they may not know exactly
what’s going on down there.” America
Lewis, who plays Henry VIII, hinted there had been some on-set “giggling” over the matter, with the curtain-like effect of the male costumes finally making it a moot point.
“Codpieces at the time in the Tudor period were a symbol of virility and actually men of the court were encouraged to wear prominent cod pieces,” he said. “It was a symbol of your virility, your derring-do, your sense of adventure.
“They were encouraged, it was a fashion, and Henry liked them.”
Colin Callender, the executive producer, later clarified there had been “no hidden codpiece memo” handed down by PBS or the BBC.
Foy, who plays Anne Boleyn, added costumes had been created and worn with meticulous detail, with no zips or Velcro added for ease and constant vigilance about whether everyone on set had the correct attire.
As well as teaching the cast to swordfight and being taught the difference between the bows suitable for Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, programme-makers also paid particular attention to who would be joining in the relatively new fashion for using a spoon.
“We had to make a decision on whether Thomas More was a spoon kind of guy,” Peter Kosminsky, the director, said. “Anne Boleyn went for spoons in a big way.”
The team relied heavily on the scholarship of Hilary Mantel, who spent five years researching the Tudor court before writing the Man Booker Prize-winning novels.
Peter Straughan, the Oscar-nominated screenwriter, said had known “absolutely nothing” about Tudor history beforehand, joking he had kept a copy of the “Dummies Guide to Elizabethans” on his desk to help him along.
Callender added he hoped the drama would perfectly suit modern audiences, who have already enjoyed high-tension programmes such as Breaking Bad.
Referring to Cromwell’s mixed reputation, he said: “Modern audiences are fascinated by characters that cross moral lines, trapped between doing the right thing and surviving.”
Wolf Hall, a six-part series covering the first two novels of Mantel’s trilogy, is due for broadcast on BBC One in January.
A little article on the history of the codpiece…
‘There is no hidden codpiece memo.’
So says Colin Callendar, executive producer of the upcoming BBC Two drama series Wolf Hall, denying claims that the size of his stars’ codpieces were reduced beyond the point of historical accuracy to avoid offending or baffling an American audience.
Actor Damian Lewis did indeed describe the black velvet codpiece that came with his costume as Henry VIII as a ‘little dinky one.’ But it was Mark Rylance, playing Thomas Cromwell himself, who provided a possible reason why, claiming that ‘modern audiences, perhaps more in
‘not know exactly what’s going on down there.’ America
So what exactly is this controversial garment? The codpiece is buttoned, or tied with strings, to a man’s breeches. It takes its name from the word ‘cod’, middle English for both ‘bag’ and ‘scrotum’, and arose because medieval men wore hose – essentially, very long socks – beneath their doublets, and nothing else in the way of underwear.
When the fourteenth-century fashion for very short doublets emerged, the codpiece was invented to cover up the gap at the top of those hose. If you believe ‘the Parson’ in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, it was a much-needed innovation. He disliked the short doublets of his day because ‘Alas! Some of them show the very boss of their penis and the horrible pushed-out testicles that look like the malady of hernia’.
Originally just a triangle of cloth, the codpiece became more substantial and more decorative as time went on, until its decline in the late sixteenth century.
The codpiece, of course, forms part of the picture of Henry VIII that we all carry round in our heads. In the portraits after Hans Holbein the Younger, Henry’s enormous codpiece emphasizes his virility, and hence his capacity for providing
with heirs to the throne. It forms the very centerpiece of Holbein’s
drawing (‘The England
Cartoon’) that gives us Henry’s definitive image. Whitehall
None of Henry’s fabric codpieces survive, but the suit of his 1540 armour displayed at the
also has an enormous codpiece in
metal, and its size suggests that Holbein was not exaggerating. Female visitors to the Tower used to stick
pins into its lining in the hope that this would increase their own fertility. Tower of London
Codpieces also functioned a useful little purse for storing precious items like coins, or jewels, and tradition claims this as the origin of the expression ‘a man’s family jewels.’
They are garments that tend to arouse wonder and disbelief in post-Tudor viewers, so much so that the
has a whole
drawer of codpieces that were catalogued, by a bashful Victorian curator, as
‘shoulder pads’. Museum
But none of them were quite as big as the one worn by Rowan Atkinson as Edmund Blackadder, in his first, late-medieval, incarnation. For his installation as Archbishop of Canterbury, Blackadder decides to wear his best and biggest codpiece.
‘Let’s go for the Black Russian,’ he tells Lord Percy. ‘It always terrifies the clergy.’