Why was Flemish Lace Forbidden in France?

by Guest Blogger on October 8, 2012 · 0 comments

in A-C, France, Guest Blogger, Historical Fiction

Guest blog by Iris Anthony, author of The Ruins of Lace

Thank you so much for hosting me on Love Romance Passion! Lace may be linked to both love and romance but it was the passion people in the seventeenth century felt for it that drew me to my story of lace smuggling. People gave entire fortunes in exchange for it and eventually King Louis XIII forbade it altogether.

It seems like such a drastic action to take on behalf of something so innocuous and so…well…pretty. Why would lace be so important that a king would issue a decree against it? Weren’t there more important things to worry about? The answer is an emphatic, ‘Yes!’

Louis XIII had a very turbulent reign. Even though he was a crown prince, he had to steal his throne away from his mother and then, once he was king, he had to figure out how to keep the throne from his brother as well. In the meantime, he was fighting a series of wars with Spain and battling religious heretics inside the kingdom. All those wars took money. As was normal during the period, he looked to his nobles to fund his efforts. Although Louis was a very ascetic King who didn’t look favorably on ostentation, his courtiers did. Power may have been measured by proximity to the throne, but it was displayed through conspicuous consumption (even when…perhaps especially when…there were laws against it).

Lace was an attractive candidate for those intent on displaying their power. It took time to make. You couldn’t just rush out and buy (or even make) lace in the lengths and widths the courtiers draped around their necks and wrists. The fact that it was such tedious work made it expensive and at that time, clothes really did make the man (or woman). All across Europe, those in power went to great lengths to regulate fashion which had the effect of letting everyone know exactly where you stood in the social and political hierarchy. If lace was hard to come by, due to the cost, the supply, and the trade restrictions, the fact that you had some made you one of the elite.

France didn’t have a lace making industry so the demand for lace was fulfilled by Italy and Flanders. At a time when the king desperately needed money from his nobles, they were giving it to neighboring countries in exchange for lace. Of course, human nature being what it is, the moment Louis XIII forbade lace, people began to figure out ways to get it. And the more it was forbidden, the greater the cost became.

When I first stumbled across a reference to lace smuggling, it seemed so oxymoronic. I always pictured smugglers as rough and tumble pirate types. And I always associated smuggling with gold or other ‘important’ goods. Lace seemed so…out of character somehow. But really, nearly anything forbidden is a candidate for smuggling. And fashion has always been serious business as any vendor who imports millions of dollars of fake designer clothing and handbags into the country would attest!

One of the fascinating things about those involved in illicit activities is that they aren’t always completely and utterly depraved. I discovered, in the writing of my novel, that most of the people ensnared in lace smuggling were doing it because they thought they had no other choice. As I wrote, I pondered the question of whose fault it is when smuggling networks grow up around things that are forbidden. Those who make the laws? Those who make the product? Those who buy it or those who sell it?

There is no clear-cut answer and I believe that’s one of the reasons the villain in this book is particularly sympathetic. There were three different incarnations of his character during the various stages of the manuscript, but in each of those roles, though I gave him opportunity after opportunity, he just would not choose transformation.

I think we can all identify with a person who feels they have no other choice but the path they are currently walking. I think we can all root for a character who could so clearly have turned out differently if he could just recognize that there are other options. I believe there’s something deep within all of us that yearns for redemption. No matter what kind of mess we’ve made of our own lives, we hold out hope that someone else can have the strength we didn’t to make the choices we weren’t able to. We cheer, even in spite of ourselves, for the deeply buried or long-forgotten humanity even when it seems to have been eclipsed by monstrosity. I think it’s part of being human. Ultimately, like my characters, we live or die by the choices we make. And if a villain can change, if he can be remade in spite of himself, then perhaps it gives us greater hope that we can too.

Buy: The Ruins of Lace

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