Raleigh’s Pants

I remember well eulogising the excellent quality of Shakespeare’s pants.

Not one English statue of Shakespeare has the magnificence of the pants- by which, Britishers, I mean trousers – Β on Shakespeare in Central Park. Unparalleled pantaloons, they celebrated three hundred years of performing the Bard’s plays on stages worldwide. They were created by a man of considerable fashion-acumen, and they are magnificent. You can find pictures here.

In a brief survey of how artists have dressed Shakespeare, it was ascertained that no-one in Shakespeare’s homeland seemed capable of producing a decent pair of pants for its literary hero.

But I have found some decent Tudor pants on someone else.

You will immediately conclude that I have been cruising Elizabethan statues with eyes only for the pants; and you would be right. I have a quiet life. It passes the time.

So: the lucky pant-bearer is Sir Walter Raleigh.


The Tudor explorer of the new world (who, I notice, has regained his head) stands proudly outside Greenwich’s Old Royal Naval College. He and his pants used to stand outside the Ministry of Defence at Whitehall; but perhaps they wanted to give him a better view of the Thames. His pants are more understated and better ironed than Shakespeare’s New York creations:


In fact, in comparison to Raleigh’s, these look like something British Airways would put in a vanity bag for first class passengers just in case they had mislaid their spare pair after washing up.

The last word in today’s pants survey must, however, go to another Elizabethan, whose circumnavigation of the globe has marked him out as another of the great explorers. But alas, going round the world in a small crate can take a terrible toll on one’s pants.


I bet Frances Drake’s granny made those for him. And gave them to him for Christmas one year, and he knew he had to wear them sometime. Oh, go on then, he said, I’ll wear them today, unaware that some artist would capture the image and share it in the seventeenth century version of YouTube, a portrait; and it was only a matter of time before the couture gaff found its way into the sculptor’s studio.

Oh, dear.

I feel sure that my experience of Elizabethan pant sculpture is limited indeed. And I am equally certain that you will have come across pants of greater stature, even, than these.

Do tell.


42 thoughts on “Raleigh’s Pants

  1. Actually i am looking for boots! I came upon a Diana( the huntress, not the princess) statue in St.Petersburg last fall, she was all naked, expect for her really long boots. I had not seen that before, since then I look for others in every sculpture garden I walk through, was she a one of a kind? As for Raleigh’s pants? They remind me of my grandmothers story about when the elastics of hers suddenly snapped, just keep your head up and pretend everything is OK, was her advice.Seems like he is good at that!

  2. Kate I am, as always, impressed by your multi lingual approach to blogging πŸ™‚ And you’re right about Shakespeare’s unmentionables! They are a very sorry sight. Actually they look like the ones that lurk in the cupboard that you mean to iron but never get round to… πŸ™‚

  3. The pants in the top picture have an uncanny similarity to the inferior part of the baked potato costume, about which I recently wrote. Maybe they were all going to fancy dress parties and we’ve drawn the conclusion that they actually dressed like that. This theory would entail a conspiracy involving every artist, writer, sculptor and illustrator of the period to make it convincing. Makes the Da Vinci code seem dull….which it was:)

    1. It would be novel indeed; it may be that because the potato was such a new arrival, sported by Raleigh himself, that he chose to dress as one and the fad caught on. Potatoes. They were all the rage.

    1. Excellent point; I never really thought of the shorts bit as hose, but they may well be. Must ask when I’m next at The Globe. Such expansive names they had for different hose arrangements… trunk hose or round hose, paned or pansied, slops and galligaskins, venetians: and my favourite, pluderhosen.

  4. Agree with Jamie. A delightful way to begin my day. Have you heard of “no pants” day here? It happens in January on public transit and it’s hilarious.

  5. Dear Kate, with seeming abashment you’ve admitted to searching high and low for statues with men in pants. For me, such infatuation would come with shoes or boots or bootlets!!!! Peace.

  6. Alright! I will have to take up your challenge, Kate! I’m trying to just imagine where I would go to find any statues with such interesting attire. The only pants that come to mind are on Mickey Mouse! πŸ™‚ There is a nice bronze in Disneyland of Mickey holding Walt Disney’s hand. I can picture Mickey’s short pants and snappy buttons. I’m a real cultural sophisticate, aren’t I? (although you’re the one writing about pants.). LOL!

  7. With Downton starting again – Dan Steven’s final line before he croaked was to Lady Mary “There are people panting to see you!” – I now realise he was babbling about Elizabethan shorts.

    1. Ah, yes; of course, I believe the Victorians were most reluctant to use the word trousers. Too close to those naughty legs. Instead, they said ‘ inexpressibles’. It is a good thing Downton was post-Edwardian, or Dan might have had to tell Mary that there were people inexpressibling to see her.

  8. I’m so glad, Kate, that you haven’t decided to initiate a search for Shakespearean codpieces, whether on statues or in paintings. That would be even grosser.

    Mother: Johnny, you’re not to use that dreadful word!
    Johnny: But Mum, Shakespeare uses it.
    Mother: Well, you’re not to play with him again.

  9. I suspect that sculptor / film makers license plays a part here. I doubt that the original article was so lacking in creases and folds – it was very much an over garmet concealing the real pants that Drakes statue shows. I’m waiting for the first statue showing a public hero in Budgie Smugglers πŸ˜‰

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