Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A Scottish Tid-Bit Just For The Fun Of It

This post has nothing to do with an item from our Colonial Period, but it came to mind, and I thought readers might enjoy it.

My great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother (that's 27th great-, or 30 generations back, grandmother), Margaret of Wessex, a granddaughter of English King Edmund Ironside / daughter of Edward the Exile, and husband of Scottish King Malcolm III (Caenn-Mor), is credited with initiating the placement of buttons on the cuffs of men's coats.

Margaret, who was canonized as Saint Margaret by Pope Innocent IV in the year 1250, gained her sainthood as a result of her charitable work for the poor and sick of Edinburgh and the surrounding area, and her encouragement in the establishment of monasteries at places including Dumferline and Iona.

A number of stories about Margaret were circulated during her lifetime and after, one of which is the basis for this post. It has been claimed that Margaret was disgusted by the habit of men blowing and wiping their noses on the cuffs of their coat sleeves. She had buttons sewn on the cuffs of the coats of all the men attending at her court. The intention was for them to hurt their noses when they attempted to wipe their noses on their sleeves.
Another tradition claims that it was Frederick the Great, King of Prussia in the 1700s, who started the practice of sewing buttons on coat sleeves when he was offended by seeing his soldiers wiping the sweat from their brows onto their sleeves. He, as stated in the tradition of Saint Margaret, supposedly had buttons sewn on the cuffs so that the soldiers would cut their eyes as they wiped their brows.

Yet another tradition claims that it was Catherine the Great of Russia who started the cuff button practice.

Perhaps the Frederick the Great tradition is correct, perhaps the Catherine the Great tradition is the correct one, but since I descend directly from Margaret through the Mackintosh, Shaw and then Smith lines, I prefer to believe her tradition.

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