Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Cordwainers or Cobblers?

The term cordwainer comes from the French word for shoe-maker, cordonnier and is derived from the old French form cordouanier, referring to the cordovan leather. It first appears in English after the Norman invasion in 1066. The word was derived from the city of Cordoba in the south of Spain. Moorish Cordoba was famous for the production of superior quality cordouan leather (cordwain), made from the skin of the Musoli goat. Cordovan leather was supple and brightly coloured (red) and from the 9th century onwards, became the material most in demand for the finest footwear in all of Europe. By the late 13th century Cordwainers were divided between alutari, who used only alum "tawed" cordwain, and basanarii, who used an inferior "tanned" sheepskin which was only used for long boots.

The first English guild of shoemakers called themselves "Cordwainers" and was founded 1131 in Oxford. When London shoemakers organized a guild (1160), and receiving its first Ordinances in 1272, the London shoemakers, used the title the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers. The Cordwainer only works with new leather whereas a Cobbler works with old leather. At first, Cobblers were frequently prohibited by law from making shoes although they would collect worn-out shoes cut them up and re-manufacture cheap shoes. By the 16th century, London cordwainers and cobblers resolved their conflicts when cobblers greed to be put under the authority of the cordwainers’ guild.

Cordoba, in the south of Spain, was a stronghold of the mighty Omeyyad Kalifs until its fall in the 12th century. Moorish Cordoba produced cordouan (cordovan) leather, called "cordwain" in England. Originally made from the skin of the Musoli goat from Corsica, Sardinia, the leather was "tawed" with alum after a method known only to the Moors. English Crusaders introduced the English shoemakers to the finest leather. Finest Cordovan leather was prized for bright red colours and elegant shoes made from this material. Nowadays cordouan, or cordovan leather, has been applied to several varieties of leather.

Cordovan leather today is a "vegetable tanned" horse "shell," and like the Medieval cordwain is used only for the highest quality shoes.

Tastiania were boots and shoes made from goat skin. They were Greek in origin and date from late Antiquity onwards. Tastianuia are thought by many experts to have influenced European footwear in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and may well have been taken to Cordoban. By the 15th century cordovan leather remained high in demand during the height of the Burgundian dominance over Northern European. The Burgundian party was a political allegiance in France that formed during the reign of Charles VI (1368-1422) during the latter half of the Hundred Years War. According to Gay (1887) The King of France owned 131 pairs of chausses seamless (hose with soles) with long whalebone-stiffened poulaines; 189 pairs of slippers in white, black, and red; 109 bottines (ankle boots); two pairs of high boots; and six pairs of soft high boots to wear at night.

Throughout history shoemakers have commanded a unique class of respect. Starting with the clandestine sandal makers of Ancient Rome, many of their number were early Christians converts, and kept the secrets of their clients, selling their wares by night to spread the gospel during the day. In the Middle Ages, shoemakers forged the beginning of unionism; not to mention the many men of letters and statesmen who rose from their ranks.

Interesting Sites
Kippen C. 2019 St Crispin, St Hugh & Chiron: The Patron Saints of Shoes
The Corporation of London Ward of Cordwainer Club What Is A Cordwainer And What Is Their Background?

Reviewed 11/02/2020

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