Belt Chapes

Although the belt chape had been in use since at least the Roman occupation, as yet there is not enough known about these earlier chapes to give a guide to their no doubt varying styles. It does however become possible from the 13th century and it is from this date that I shall begin. The belts of the medieval period when buckled, had an excess of about a foot or more in length. This excess would be tucked into the belt and left to hang freely from the waist. It was to the end of these leather or woven belts that the chape was attached. The chape itself consisted of two identical shaped piece of metal which were partially joined together, the belt would be slotted into the open end and held in place by one or two brass rivets . The main function of the chape seems to have been purely decorative and as a decorative object its use was mainly restricted to the upper and middle classes. Although some chapes of the upper classes were highly decorated and gilded, many more were plain or partially decorated. During my researches into the belt chape I have only seen two styles of decoration, which were used regularly. These are the zigzag, used during the late 13th and early 14th century, and the rose used around 1500 onwards. Until the late 15th century the wearing of belts was restricted to men, the belt being used as a normal waist belt or in turn a sword or shield belt, the latter used so that the shield could be conveniently slung over the shoulder when not in use. By he late 15th century it had become fashionable for women to wear belts, these were worn with a much longer drop and a longer chape. These chapes were lozenge shaped and carried a small decretive drop linked to its end the length of the belt originally nearly reached the ankles but as time passed it became shorter . The chape remained the same except that the decretive drop was now having links added to it. As the chain lengthened the belt end disappeared. This led to the belt with long chain and pomander, a style at its height during the late Tudor and Elizabethan periods. It was also during this period that the old style of belt went out of fashion, being replaced by a type which did not need a chape as both ends hooked directly onto each other.


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