The Talk of the Town is… codpiece!


Well, there has been one single most important controversy about Wolf Hall that got everyone talking about for months now… The codpiece 🙂

It was during the filming of Wolf Hall this past summer that I noticed some unusual interest in the codpiece. Historian Lucy Worsley, who interviewed Damian Lewis on the set of Wolf Hall, tweeted:

source: Lucy Worsley twitter

Codpiece? Now, where did this come from?

I don’t know where it came from, but I know that it turned into a never-ending story.

The Telegraph reports about what Damian Lewis said when asked about wearing a codpiece at the Silent Storm Premiere at the BFI London Film Festival:

“The 43-year-old actor raised eyebrows in the summer, when filming the drama on location at Chastleton House in Oxfordshire, wearing an enormous red codpiece.

Lewis said: “I’m glad to say I didn’t suffer from wilting codpiece and Henry was fully functional at all times, being the slightly, erratic, unpredictable king that he was. A fabulous, fabulous part to play.”

Well, here is THAT infamous pic for you 🙂

source: Daily Mail

Oh, and I have to add… When Damian Lewis guest-hosted Have I got News For You this fall on BBC, this very pic was the Caption Competition! Watch this clip, it’s soooo FUNNY!

And, from an interview with the Times, mostly on Lewis’ new indie film Silent Storm:

“Looking at Lewis’s jeans, neither McFarlane (Silent Storm director) nor I are convinced he had the bulk to carry off the part of Henry VIII. As usual, Lewis knows his stuff. “Before you ask, I did like playing a genocidal lunatic, and you should know that Henry had a 34in waist until his late thirties, when he had an accident and stopped hunting. Then it was 13-course meals and he went up to a 54in waist. He was the Elvis of his day and I played him like Elvis,” jokes Lewis. “I just put on a fat suit and got on with it.”

“And a large codpiece?” “I came with that already.” Lewis laughs, and disappears into the street.”


LA Times reports that Mark Rylance complained about the codpiece at the Q&A following the press screening of Wolf Hall: ““I think it was a direction from our American producers PBS — they like very small codpieces which always seemed to be tucked away…. I can see for modern audiences, perhaps more in America, they may not know exactly what’s going on down there.”


Damian Lewis also comments on the codpiece in the Q&A “as a symbol of your virility, your derring-do, your sense of adventure. They were encouraged, it was a fashion, and Henry liked them.”

So, seriously, what was the codpiece about? Was it about status? Was it about fashion? Was it just a show off to compensate for some insecurity? What was it about?

Jane Hugget who has made reproductions of historical clothes for heritage sites, and also co-wrote a book on Tudor children’s clothes has written an article for the Guardian about what the size of the Wolf Hall codpieces should be.

She argues the codpiece was a fashion item. For the Tudors, the size of the codpiece was all about status not sex.

“In the 15th century men wore hose (a garment like a pair of tights but made from stretchy woollen cloth) and a triangular-shaped flap covered the front opening. Towards the end of the 15th century this flap started to be padded and gradually became a more prominent feature.

The codpiece reached its maximum size in the 1530s, the period in which Wolf Hall is set. Then, as fashions in men’s clothing changed it gradually shrank, disappearing completely by the end of that century.
So what was the reason for this strange fashion? Clothing trends reflect social conditions, and the Tudor period was a time of war, change and insecurity. In response to this, men adopted a style of clothing that emphasised their manliness and virility to mask their inner insecurity.

How big was the codpiece? For most ordinary men it was fairly moderate; surviving examples in plain wool have been found in excavations of London, and they are not overly prominent and are unlikely to have shown under the knee length woolen coat that middle-class men wore. However, for the wealthy and powerful, in this extremely status-conscious society – and especially for courtiers for whom advancement depended on being noticed – extravagant clothing was a necessity. Their padded shoulders needed to be broader, their hose tighter and codpieces larger than those of their competitors. But size isn’t everything, and the quality of the fabrics counted for a great deal too, and this is where the king could set himself above his court by using extravagant fabric and expensive decorations. So Henry VIII may not have had the biggest codpiece at his court – but you can be certain he had the most expensive one.”

According to an article by Guardian’s art correspondent Mark Brown, “in later centuries Henry’s codpieces found a new life with barren women pricking pins into the lining in the hope it would bring them babies.” Ha ha it seems the codpiece frenzy has been going on for a long while 🙂

LA Times reports that the executive producer of Wolf Hall, Colin Callender didn’t exactly deny what Rylance was complaining about, but he also said there was “no hidden codpiece memo” from either BBC or PBS.

In the meantime, enjoy the Top Ten codpieces in Art, and maybe take a closer look at this Whitehall Cartoon of Henry VIII by Holbein the Younger.

King Henry VIII by Hans Holbein the Younger
source: Guardian

Guardian comments: “Henry VIII is a monster of a man in Holbein’s lifesize design for a mural of the Tudor dynasty. His porcine tree stump of a head and vast chest are meant to terrify those approaching the king’s presence, but all eyes are drawn to his magnificent codpiece, which unequivocally equates power and sexual prowess. The dagger at his side mirrors its symbolism and signifies his masculine readiness to harm those who cross him.”

Lucy Worsley on her conversation with Damian Lewis on the Wolf Hall set in a Daily Mail article:

“My final request of Lewis is to see his codpiece. It is black velvet and really rather small.

‘It’s not massive, is it?’ he says. ‘It’s a very nice little dinky one.’

If you’re after codpieces and campery, Wolf Hall will disappoint.

But if you are looking for a magnificent, yet penetrating and carefully researched portrait of people who lived 500 years ago, this production of Wolf Hall can’t fail to excite.”

Oh, I know will be STUNNING! I also know we will keep hearing more and more jokes about the codpieces. And, I sincerely hope that this funny discussion will not overshadow the brilliant political drama in Wolf Hall.

Author: Damianista

Academic, Traveler, Blogger, Runner, Theatre Lover, Wine Snob, Part-time New Yorker, and Walking Damian Lewis Encyclopedia :D Procrastinated about a fan's diary on Damian Lewis for a while and the rest is history!

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