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
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