Sweet Bags
Sweet Bags

Elizabethan Stitches: A Guide to HIstoric English Needlework

Following are links to small embroidered square purses from the 16th and 17th centuries, known as “sweet bags,” in museum collections. I've also included some descriptions of sweet bags from contemporary sources.

For more styles of purses from the Middle Ages and Renaissance, visit the purses & pouches linkspage.

  • From the 1561-1562 New Year’s Gifts to Queen Elizabeth:
    By the Lady Raclyef, a peire of sleeves of cameryk, all over sett with purle, and two sweet bags.
    By the Lady Gresham, a boxe with foure swete-baggs in it.
    By Mr. William Huggyns, a greate swete bag of tapphata, with a zypher, and a border of rosses and sphers embrodered with Venice gold and pearles.
  • From the Wardrobe Warrant September 24, ER 13 (1571), Egerton 2806, fol. 36v:
    Item Delyverid to Elizabeth Stafforde Fyve yerds of crymsen taphata to make eight lardge sweete Bagges: And sixe yerdes of white bayes of our greate guaderobe.
  • Met 1986.300.1, last quarter of the 16th century (also here)
  • MFA Boston 43.1077, c. 1575-1650
  • From the 1577-1578 New Year’s Gifts to Queen Elizabeth:
    By the Lady Shandowes, Dowager, a dublet of peche collored satten, al over covred with white cut worke, and leyed with a lace of venice gold, lyned with orenged colored sarceonet, and a swete bag of crymson taphata enbrawdred with Venice golde and spangills.
    By the Lady Ratclif, five creppins of lawne, garnished with golde and silver purle; two swete baggs of sylke; and a night coyf of white cutworke, floreshed with silver, and set with spangills; and five to the pykes, beinge quilles.
    By William Huggans, a grete swete bag of purple taphata enbrawdred, and nineteen small baggs of sarcenet.
  • A sweetbag and pincushion of Queen Elizabeth; could this be the aforementioned “grete swete bag of purple taphata enbrawdred”?
  • From the 1578-1579 New Year’s Gifts to Queen Elizabeth:
    By the Lady Ratclyf, a vale of white worke with spangles, and a smale bone lace of silver, a swete bag, beinge of changeable silke, with a smale bone lace of golde.
    By William Huggans, a fere grete bad of sarceonet, enbraudered, sixteen smale swete bagges.
  • From the Wardrobe Warrant for April 10, ER 21 (1579) Egerton 2806, fol. 141r:
    Item for Two yerds of chaungeable doble sarceonett to make us sweete bagges of our greate warderobe.
  • From the 1588-1589 New Year’s Gifts to Queen Elizabeth:
    By Mrs. Fyfield, a sweete bagge all over ymbrodered, and six handkerchers.
    By Mrs. Huggens, 24 small sweete baggs of sarsenett of sundry cullors, and six handkerchers of camberick wrought with black silke, and edged with a passamayn of gold.
    By Mr. William Huggens, a large sweete bagg of white satten, ymbrodered all over with Venis gold, silver, and silke of sundry cullors.
  • MFA Boston 43.1075, late 16th-early 17th century
  • MFA Boston 43.1076, late 16th-early 17th century
  • MFA Boston 63.1368, late 16th-early 17th century
  • MFA Boston 43.1079, late 16th-early 17th century
  • From the 1599-1600 New Year’s Gifts to Queen Elizabeth:
    By Mrs. Huggyns, widowe, one large swete bagge of sarcenet, embrothered on thone side.
    By Mr. William Huggyns one large swete bagge of ashe-color satten, embrothered all over very faire with a branch of eglentyne tree.
  • Elizabethan red silk purse embroidered in gold and silver thread, c. 1600; see p. 57 of The Needles Excellency
  • MFA Boston 38.1344, early 17th century
  • Cleveland 1944.283, early 17th century
  • Cleveland 1946.416, early 17th century
  • Burrell collection, early 17th century
  • Met 29.23.15, early 17th century
  • Met 29.23.17, early 17th century
  • Met 29.23.19, early 17th century
  • Met 64.101.1259, first quarter of the 17th century
  • Met 64.101.1260, first quarter of the 17th century
  • Met 64.101.1261, first quarter of the 17th century
  • Met 64.101.1262, first quarter of the 17th century
  • Williamsburg 1956-554, c. 1600-1625
  • Williamsburg 1971-1465, c. 1600-1625
  • Williamsburg 1991-489, c. 1600-1625
  • V&A 316&A-1898, c. 1600-1625
  • V&A T.127-1992, c. 1600-1625
  • V&A T.247-1960, c. 1600-1630
  • Purse with pastoral scenes, c. 1600-1630; also, reverse (from another bag)
  • V&A T.10-1922, c. 1600-1635
  • V&A T.17-1957, c. 1600-1650
  • V&A T.87-1935, c. 1600-1650
  • V&A T.52&A-1954, c. 1600-1650
  • V&A T.53-1954, c. 1600-1650
  • From the inventory of the effects of Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton, 1614 (see The History of English Secular Embroidery):
    One small sweet bagge of Tentwork the ground silver with pottes and flowers
    A small white satten sweet bagge embrodered with flies, wormes and flowers in silke and golde
    Two verie large sweet bagges embrodred with embosted worke of silver, gold, and coulored silkes, and filled up with ovals of divers personages.
    A smaller sweet bagge embrodered with highe embosted mosse-worke havinge two sea nymphs upon dolphins and other figures of fowles.
  • Embroidered but uncut purse, c. 1620; see p. 57 of The Needles Excellency
  • Museum of Bags and Purses, c. 1620-1630; see also these photos for more from this museum
  • Manchester 1951.441, c. 1620-1640
  • Manchester 1948.4, c. 1620-1650
  • Manchester 1984.60, c. 1620-1650
  • Manchester 1960.246, c. 1620-1650
  • From the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of London:
    Inventorye of Edmd Waring of Lea Esq deceased taken and apprised in May 1o Caroli, Nov. 1625. (…)
    In the Said Presse
    Imprimis eyghteene course towels Item six course table clothes fowre Dresser Clothes tow course towels seven dozen of Diaper napkins fifteene finer Cubert clothes flaxen three courser six dozen and tow napkins course eight paire of flaxen pillow beares one course Pillow beare six finer tablecloths five courser and fowre shorter with a blew taffaty sweete bagg fowre tenne Dozen of napkins flaxen three odd ones with a greene taffaty sweete bagg nyne table clothes Tenn Diaper towels twelve flaxen eyghteene flaxen towels one payre of gersy blanketts one payre of fustion blanketts fowre payre of Holland sheets seven payre of pillowbeares and one odd one eight Cubert clothes of diaper tow towels tow damaske and one Diaper table clothes one shorter Damaske table cloth tow Damakske towels seven Course Diaper table clothes one lynin table cloth six dozen and five napkins Damaske Diaper and whitework tow linge wyndow cushings fowre lesser
  • V&A T.51&A-1954, c. 1625-1650
  • British Library c17a21, an embroidered bag associated with a 1639 copy of The Whole Booke of Psalmes
  • From the inventories and valuations of the King's goods, 1649-1651:
    A Sweete Bagge of white Sattine embroydered with gould and silke And one other Sweete Bagg of white sattine wrought with knotts of silver and valued att 30 li.

Thanks to Genevieve d’Aquitaine for the suggestions for additional purses for this page!