Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Lyon in the Lap of Luxury (Fabric)

Sustained by the quarterly trade fairs that attracted merchants from all over Europe, the city of Lyon rose to prominence as one of the most important cloth markets in sixteenth-century Europe. Lyon served as the point of departure for domestic fabric exports, such as the prized woolen cloth originating in Languedoc, Poitou and Berry and the sturdy linen canvas produced in the Lyonnais region itself. More importantly, royal decree designated Lyon as the sole depository for all unwoven and woven silks entering the kingdom. Merchants transported raw silk grown in Spain, Italy and the Middle East from the port of Marseilles up the Rhône River to Lyon, where silk weavers, invited by François I in 1536 to settle in France exempt from tithes and taxes, transformed it into fabric. Other merchants imported finished luxury fabrics directly from Italy: taffetas and cloth of gold from Lucca, figured silks from Florence, ciselé velvets from Genoa. Taxed at a hefty 5%, these luxury imports contributed significantly to the economy of the city and of the kingdom as a whole.

Considering the flow of fabric through the city, it is not surprising to find textile producers and merchants heavily represented on Lyon's tax rolls. In 1545, there were 103 dyers, 51 weavers, and 100 drapers listed. One of these drapers could easily have been Thomas Guillaume, the father of Jollande Carlet, the main character of my novel The Measure of Silence. Thomas makes a tidy living selling serviceable domestic fabrics to the city's inhabitants from his shop at the sign of the Feathered Needle. He cautiously branches out into cloth production by marrying Jollande off to the son of a local felt manufacturer. But when Marsilio Rocini, an Italian cloth merchant, convinces Thomas to enter into a partnership with him, Thomas abandons his natural reserve. Beguiled by Marsilio's talk of instant riches, Thomas stakes all he has to purchase a shipment of luxury fabrics he is convinced will make his fortune. It is up to Jollande to save her father from looming financial disaster-- if she doesn't wind up unwittingly hastening it.

(Sources: Silk, by Jacques Anquetil; Grand commerce et vie urbaine au XVIe siècle, by Richard Gascon; Histoire de Lyon et du Lyonnais, by André Latreille)

9 comments:

Catherine Delors said...

I love the "Feathered Needle" as a name. What is it in French?

Sheramy said...

I enjoy these historical tidbits and plot hints. You're such a tease, Julianne! :-)

cindy said...

i absolutely love fabrics and textiles. it's too bad i'm not more of a clothes horse. the colors and patterns and different feels draw me.

of course, i mention brocades and silk in my own book, but one of my favorite things about historical books and films is to see the clothing of that time.

so gorgeous!

Julianne Douglas said...

Catherine,

I suppose in French the name of the shop would be l'Aiguille empenne (accent aigu on the final e). If I understand correctly, empenne means feathered like an arrow; emplume (accent aigu) means "covered with feathers." I was trying to combine the idea of writing and fabric in the sign (since Thomas's wife wrote poetry and tended the shop) and imagined a needle that tapered into a feather pen. Most of the time in the story, the characters simply refer to the shop as the Needle.

As a native speaker of French, which translation do you think works better?

Julianne Douglas said...

Sheramy--I'm glad you like the historical bits. I think showing how I work them into the story makes them more interesting for readers.

Cindy--It's kind of hard to be a clothes horse when you have little ones running around (I know well!)

There is a fabulous textile museum in Lyon if you ever get a chance to visit there. I should find a link and add it to the main body of the post.

cindy said...

julianne, i never was one before, either. and the fabrics of today really don't do some of the older clothing justice!

i *do* hope to get a qi pao, a traditional chinese dress, for an upcoming writing conferece to wear to the big bash party! =D

Julianne Douglas said...

That sounds like fun! Be sure to post a photo.

Catherine Delors said...

I would call it "L'Aiguille empennée." Beautiful name. You are right, "emplumée" wouldn't do at all.

Julianne Douglas said...

Catherine,

Whew, glad I chose the better translation! (Although I'm thoroughly embarrassed at my agreement oversight.) Thanks for the input.