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What the Buske?!

Sarah posted a totally, fabulously, fantastically AMAZING bit of research based off Drea’s equally fabulously, fantastically AMAZING database of wardrobe warrants. (Seriously, is this the best time for a costumer to be alive or what?) Go read them both. I’ll wait till you’re done with with Sarah’s points about the “pair of busks” entries….

Ok, back? Cool… I think the pair of busks concept is brilliant. I’ve been doing research for a while about the apparent changes in the meaning of the term busk throughout the 1500s. And change it did…. Sometimes it’s a singular thing of horn or whalebone presumably meant to go into the central channel of a Pfalzgrafin style corset, sometimes it’s referenced as a compound construction of whalebone and wire covered with sarceonet (meant to provide wider support between two layers of bown, perhaps?). Now Sarah’s turned up this use of “pair of busks” and made the point that that sounds a whole lot like period grammar for a corset. Neat!

I’ve been chasing down this hair-brained theory of mine that “busk” is sort of used interchangeably in period to refer to anything that lends straightness to the front of the body. So the information in Drea’s database just about settles it for me.

Until I ran into this one:

“Item to the said Roger Mountague for theise percells of Stuff […] fyve hundreth of Troneye Nedells. iiii doz & two lardge paste bourds. Two Reames of writinge paper. one buske of whale bone. one pottell of ynke.” (

I’ve edited rather a lot out – the entry is huge, and I’ve spend the last three days looking at it going “Huh…” I know, it shouldn’t take three days to read these things, but I keep having to walk away and ponder what I’ve just read….

Here’s the thing: in this case, “one buske of whale bone” is listed in with general supplies. There are general sewing supplies (needles), supplies for construction (pasteboard, whalebone), and office supplies (paper, ink), and none of them are listed as part of a specific project. (The wardrobe warrants are pretty OCD about listing what all is meant to be used for what purpose.)

For me, this reads like “buske” is being used as a unit of measure.

But I don’t know if I’m being distracted by knowing that in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the task of splitting chunks of baleen into actual bones for corsets was done in the tailors or corset maker’s shop.

Also, I ran into this in the same entry:

“for mendinge wasshing & starching of a payer of bodies…” (

Starching a pair of bodies? Neat! The cloth itself is stiffened! I feel slightly vindicated about another of my hairbrained theories…  ;)

Oh, hey, would you look at the time? I guess I should get ready for work…. Poop.


  1. Sarah
    Sarah April 11, 2011

    Yes! That is freaking AWESOME! It seriously is the best time to be alive and be a costumer. :)

    If you want, I can copy all of the OED entries pertaining to the different uses of the word “busk” throughout history. The slight drawback is that while the OED gives a lot of help in the historical dating of terms, it doesn’t always give enough information to make it completely understandable when you’re talking about practical application of historical research.

    I havent had my coffee yet, so I dunno if that makes any sense…

  2. missa
    missa April 12, 2011

    Too cool! Can you email me the OED info? Not to be that girl, but sometimes a little edit helps readability…. ;)

    Ps- I keep trying to post on your thread about the pairs o’ buske, and it never shows up. :( No idea what’s up, but I think your blog hates me!

    Pps – have you noticed that too much time zenning out with the wardrobe warrants totally destroys your ability to sort modern “official” spelling? *laugh* I keep fighting the spell check now……

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