Shoes is a general modern term for a class of costume worn on the feet, ostensibly to protect the feet, although often footwear is worn simply for style.
In the Middle Ages in English, the term referred specifically to a sort of footwear that only came to the level of the ankle, or lower on the foot.
During the Middle Ages there were many types and styles of footwear. These were made from a variety of different styles of construction, the three most common being single piece construction, turned construction, and an early version of modern welted construction. Other forms that appear in the archaeology are wooden shoes, pattens, shoes of woven cord, sandals, and even in some rare cases, shoes with metal soles.
Single Piece Construction
The simplest technology for making a shoe is the single piece construction. In this type of construction, a single piece of leather or hide is used to make a single shoe, usually by wrapping around the foot. This is then either stitched up the back and centre seam, or gathered up around the circumference. They were most frequently made from of undressed, untanned, or rawhide. The ease of manufacture and replacement meant that this sort of footwear was most often worn by the lowest of social classes.
These shoes first appear in the literature and archaeology in Europe during the Bronze Age and were among the earliest of shoes among the Greeks, Romans and early Celtic peoples. They continued to be worn until the 20th century, where they eventually become little more than a part of some traditional folk dress.
These shoes are frequently called, among other names: Brogue, Carbatíne, Hudsko, Kreplau, Llopan, Moccasin, Opanke, Pampootie, Pedules, Rewylynys, Rifeling, Rivelins, Rivilin, Riwelingas, Rowlingas, Rullions, Rulyions, Skin-sko, Culponius, Peronatus, and Carpatinæ. These terms are all accurate for specific regional or cultural variations, but none of them is really correct for the concept as a general term. The terms Ghillies, and Ghillie Brogues are completely inaccurate, as these terms refer to a modern style of dance slipper. The most common medieval English term is Revelin.
During the Classical period, the Greeks and Romans appear to have started making these shoes from oil cured and tanned hides with attached soles. It is from these that eventually turned shoes derive beginning in the 300s.
Turned work indicates a shoe or boot that has been made inside out, then turned right-side out. As mentioned above, turned work first appears in Europe in the 4th century in Roman shoemaking, and remains in use for various sorts of shoes until the middle of the 20th century, at which point they were used for little more than dance slippers, and baby first shoes. It should be noted that the earliest known turned shoes appear in the archeaology during the Egyptian 18th Dynasty at Deir el-Medina.
Turned shoes were often single-sole shoes that to modern sensibilities often seem like slippers. These were most often made on a Last, (or a specially carved wooden form). They were made with specific rights and lefts, as opposed to the much later straight lasted shoes. While it is possible to make turned shoes without a last, these are generally not as well made, and do not reflect the archaeology.
During the Middle Ages, turned shoes were often made with a welt set between the overleathers (or uppers) and the sole, hence the Latin terms Intercucium and Intercutium. The use of this welt (which also first appears in Egyptian shoes) serves to protect the thread in the turned seam, and eventually to create a more snug fit on lasted shoes. This welt is often referred to erroneously as a "rand" by modern Archaeologists, and this usage has slipped into the re-enacting and recreationist communities.
During the High Middle Ages, some double soled shoes were made, with a heavier outer sole, to extend the life of the shoe, and give greater protection to the foot. These soles are sometimes erroniously referred to as "clump soles" and "turned-welt construction" by archaeologists.
Welted shoes is a modern term for shoes that were made right-side out on a last. In this case, the welt is moved from between the Uppers and the inner sole to outside the Uppers, and then layed flat and stitched to the outer sole. This technology made its first appearance during the late 1400s in Germany. This construction makes a heavier, stronger shoe, and quickly pushed turned shoes and boots from the upper classes, relegating turned work to servant's and sailor's shoes.
Although integral "spring heels" are often found through the 1500s, separate raised heels are not found until after 1600 on boots, and later on shoes (except in some rare occurrences regarding carved wooden or cork soles in the 16th century).
Shoemakers (or Cordwainers) and Cobblers are not the same thing. Shoemakers were required to work in new leather, while Cobblers were required to work in old, used leather. There were serious class distinctions between the two. The English term "Cobbler" and German name "Schubach" both mean "repairer of shoes". Schuhster is a contemporary German term for a shoemaker.
Other sorts of footwear
Overshoes called pattens were made of wood, cork, or leather soles with a leather strap. They raise the foot up off the ground, extending the life of the shoes and preventing one's foot from getting wet in damp conditions. Medieval terms for these also include: Clog, Clogge, Galache, Galoch, Galosh, Golosh, Galoche, Galegge, Galliochios, Galloche, Gaulish Shoes, Paten, Patyn, Trippe and in Latin; Calopodla, Calopedes, Callopedium, Crepitum, and Crepita. It should be noted that Crepida has other meanings during the Roman period.
Piked shoes, or shoes in the "Polish fashion", also called Poulaines, are turned shoes that have long pointed toes. The length of the point was often a mark of social class. There is no real evidence of piked shoes that were long enough that they had to be chained to the knees, and were there any such they would have been restricted to the highest of Princes.
Shoes in the SCA
Shoes are given the least amount of effort by most people in the SCA. As they are expensive to have made, many people do not see them as a viable part of their portrayal. However, the making of shoes (particularly turnshoes) is relatively simple once the pattern has been made. There are multiple websites with historical patterns on them.
Shoes in Re-Enactment
Period shoes are considered de rigour for most re-enactment groups. The adage: Clothes maketh the man has been reappropriated to become Shoes maketh the man. Any re-enactment group not making the effort to ensure that their shoes are historically accurate are not generally taken as a serious group.
Making their own shoes is considered a rite of passage by some groups as they learn that shoemaking is not a difficult task nor is it an expensive one.
Movement while wearing period shoes changes slightly and a greater understanding of combat is gained from the experience.
Arguments that period shoes are dangerous are typically based on:
- Supposed ankle injuries while wearing armour, but this does not seem to be born out by the numerous re-enactors wearing them every weekend.
- Many archaeological examples of shoes and that have been modified to relieve painful foot ailments, as well as corresponding examples of damage found in bones of people buried in the period. However, it is likely that these were caused by the prevalence of second hand shoes and shoes made in limited sizes worn by the poor.
- Anecdotal incidents of modern people complaining about problems with wearing poorly fitted or badly made shoes that cause pressure on the tarsals from using improper lasts meant for heels, but have been used to make flat shoes.