Shepherds Purse: Tapestry - La Main Chaude

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This is the portrayal that first piqued my interest in the topic. My original curiosity is recorded in some sketches I made while visiting the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1981.

Digby has the following description of the tapestry:

"H. 10 ft 8 1/2 in. (3.26 m) W. 18ft 1/2 in. (5.5 m).

"Wool and silk: 12 warp threads to inch (5 to cm).

"Condition: Good. cleaned and repaired in the Tabard workshops, Aubusson, 1960-1.

"Description: Shepherds and shepherdesses are playing the game of la main chaude in a woodland scene, with woodcutters at work in the background, where swine are routing; sheep in the middle ground and a dog. A finely dressed lady is with the peasants and a nobleman, hawk on fist, with a lady and an attendant bearing a flask , advance from a drawbridge. It has been suggested that the characters are in fact gentry dressed up as peasants. the game of la main chaude is defined in Larousse exactly as played by the central pair here; when not a childrens' game it was obviously suggestive of elaboration as in the game of 'forfeits'. the shephers' staves, with crook at one end and spade at the other for diking, have been studied by L.F. Salzmann who illustrates shepherds with 'staves with weeding spuds for digging up roots' in his English Life in the Middle Ages, p.53; their French name is houlette. A variety of implements and containers hang at the peasants' waists. Museum acquisition. 5668-1859. Bought with 5668A from the Soulages Collection £25."

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There is a group of three nobly-dressed figures in the background who wear no visible pouches of any kind.
The remainder are "rustic" figures of two types: woodcutters (both male) and shepherds (male and female).
The two woodcutters are semi-undressed and wear no pouches, however nearby one of them several items have been draped over a branch of a stump: a round (ceramic?) canteen on a strap, and what appears to be a white cloth object that may contain something.

The five male and four female shepherds all wear pouch-belts with attached objects. There are no clear marks that would indicate a flap, but there are folds marked that would be consistent with a pouched sash-like object. No fastenings are visible due to folds in the clothing and the fact that all pouches are slung towards the visible side. The attached objects are suspended by short cords or straps from dark rings which in turn are fastened to the upper part of the pouch by a dark stitch-like mark. The attached objects are as follows (working from left to right in the tapestry):

Man: hand-sized pruning hook(?), double-sided comb, small round lidded box.

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Woman: small square object, string of 23 beads ending in a cross, small round lidded box, pair of hinged shears, double-sided comb.

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Woman: small round lided box, pair of hinged shears, small single-edged knife in sheath.

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Man: 3-holed fipple flute, round lidded box, double-sided comb unidentified round object.

Man: knife in sheath, round lidded box, unidentified round object.

Woman: small square object, ?knife in sheath?, round lidded box, double sided comb.

Woman: double-sided comb, round lidded box, small square object, small cyllindrical object (doesn't look like a knife).

Man: knife in sheath, round lidded box, 5-holed fipple flute.

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Man: small square object, round lidded box, knife in sheath.


Digby, George Wingfield. 1980. The Tapestry Collection: Medieval and Renaissance. HMSO, London. [Victoria & Albert Museum] Plates 30-31 (catalog no. 19) "La Main chaude"

Jones, Heather Rose. Personal sketches and notes.