The Festival of Tethys took place at Whitehall Palace on the 5 June 1610 in celebration of the investiture of Prince Henry as the Prince of Wales. Like most court masques which had become increasingly popular since the days of Queen Elizabeth I, it was a lavish affair played by, and for the amusement of the premier echelon of courtiers.
Sir Henry Unton (c. 1558-1596). Elizabethan English diplomat. Painting by an unknown artist. Oil on panel, c.1596.
After Anne Boleyn’s success with exhibiting her charms at court masques had ensnared her a royal husband, the opportunity for graceful display could not be missed. Especially as flattering costumes were provided in the finest fabrics by the Revels Office, a dedicated department of the Royal Household that had a handsome budget to commission works, employ companies of actors, designing and providing costumes and scenery as well as overseeing all productions.
As masques were frequently set in enchanted forests with a cast of nymphs, masque costume was often a little risqué. Queen Anne of Denmark took the role of Tethys Goddess of the sea presiding over her river nymphs in a shell grotto.
Only a couple of Inigo Jones’ costume designs for the Tethys Festival have survived to show that the skirts were short and diaphanous over a bell farthingale with a bodice so sheer that the breasts can be clearly seen. Queen Anne was extremely proud of her perfect bosom and her deeply cut décolletage inspired quite a vogue at court causing the Venetian ambassador to comment that ‘English women dress so well and lasciviously as to defy exaggeration’.
Image: The Tethys Festival. Costume for Tethys by Inigo Jones 1610 from Fashion in the Time of William Shakespeare. Image courtesy of Sarah Jane Downing Collection.
In the early 17th century it became extremely fashionable for the young ladies of the Jacobean court to have their portraits painted in masque costume helping the narrower bell shaped skirt with draped mantle from the left shoulder as seen in the Tethys costume design to transition into fashion for ladies of such renown as Mary Sidney Countess of Pembroke.
Image: The Festival of Tethys. Portrait of Mary Sidney Countess of Pembroke by Paul Van Somer (c1610) from Fashion in the Time of William Shakespeare. Image courtesy of Sarah Jane Downing.
Read more about masque costume in my article Sequins and Spangles (click on the link to read the full article) for Selvedge issue 73, more about Elizabethan fashions in my article Feeling Ruffled (click on the link to read the full article) in issue 62 of Selvedge and Sarah Jane Downing's book Fashion in the Time of William Shakespeare.