Livery - Etymology

Etymology

In the 14th century, "livery" referred to an allowance of any kind, but especially clothes provided to servants and members of the household. Such things might be kept in a "livery cupboard".

During the 14th century specific colours, often with a device or badge sewn on, denoting a great person began to be used for both his soldiers and his civilian followers (often the two overlapped considerably), and the modern sense of the term began to form. Usually two different colours were used together, but the ways in which they were combined varied with rank. Often the colours used were different each year. As well as embroidered badges, metal ones were sewn onto clothing, or hung on neck-chains or (much the most prestigious) livery collars. From the 16th century, only the lower status followers tended to receive clothes in livery colours (whilst the higher status ones received cash) and the term "servant", previously much wider, also began to be restricted to describing the same people. Municipalities and corporations copied the behaviour of the great households.

The term is also used to describe badges, buttons and grander pieces of jewellery containing the heraldic signs of an individual, which were given by that person to friends, followers and distinguished visitors, as well as (in more modest forms) servants. The grandest of these is the livery collar. William, Lord Hastings the favourite of King Edward IV of England had a "Coller of gold of K. Edward's lyverys" valued at the enormous sum of £40 in an inventory of 1489. This would have been similar to the collars worn by Hastings' sister and her husband Sir John Donne in the Donne Triptych by Hans Memling (described in Sir John Donne). Lords gave their servants lead or pewter badges to sew onto their clothes. In the 15th century European royalty sometimes distributed uniform suits of clothes to courtiers, as the House of Fugger, the leading bankers, did to all employees.

The sense later contracted to servants' rations and distinctive standardized outfits, often in a colour-scheme distinctive to the family, like the coats worn by footmen in grand houses until World War I, and sometimes later.

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