A spot of han­ky­panky

Con­cocted by kings and queens and once used to ar­range ro­man­tic li­aisons, there’s a lot more to hand­ker­chiefs than meets the nose, dis­cov­ers Vic­to­ria Marston

Country Life Every Week - - In The Field -

Prior to the hand­ker­chief, we merely had ker­chiefs—pieces of cloth used to pro­tect the head from the sun as far back as An­cient Egypt, a sim­pler ver­sion of a pharaoh’s head­dress and a pre­cur­sor to the mod­ern ban­dana. In An­cient Rome, the pre­sid­ing of­fi­cial would drop a piece of white cloth to sig­nify the start of public games and, in the Mid­dle Ages, a knight of­ten car­ried a favour in the form of a frag­ment of ma­te­rial given to him by his lady as he rode off to joust.

The word hand was added to dis­tin­guish pieces of ma­te­rial car­ried to mop one’s brow or wipe a runny nose from these head cov­er­ings and Richard II is of­ten cred­ited with this de­vel­op­ment of more than 600 years ago. The King was known for be­ing fash­ion-for­ward and the House­hold Rolls of the pe­riod noted ‘lit­tle pieces [of cloth] for the lord King to wipe and clean his nose’.

Due to the value of ma­te­rial, hand­ker­chiefs be­came a sym­bol of wealth and sta­tus and be­came pre­dictably more elab­o­rate, crafted from silk or per­haps

‘Some­one ex­claimed “Don’t put a cold in your pocket” and the death knell of the hand­ker­chief sounded’

In days gone by, ev­ery lit­tle girl worth her pig­tails had a fine col­lec­tion of hand­ker­chiefs

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