A stunning gown thought to originate from the period of the English Civil War was uncovered from a sunken chest on a shipwreck. According to some estimates, the ship sank 350 years ago near the Netherlands during the English Civil War. This 350-year-old attire was discovered on an unknown Dutch merchant ship, believed to have gone down around 1649.

A Dress for a Millionaire

The lavish style of the dress suggests that it may have belonged to an affluent person. Nevertheless, it remains unclear whether the English Nobility or the Dutch merchant community owned the suit. Crafted from silk and interwoven with silver, the dress was likely lightly coloured before spending centuries submerged underwater. It would have been reserved for special occasions by its wealthy owner.

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However, it found its way to the seabed of the Wadden Sea off the coast of Texel in the Netherlands.

The dress was found in a shipwreck off the Dutch island of Texel.

The dress is currently exhibited at the Museum Kaap Skil in Texel. Alec Ewing, the curator, commented, “This garment was likely owned by only a select few in north-western Europe who could afford such luxury.

“In England, it would have been restricted to the high nobility, individuals who frequented court or had close ties to the highest echelons of society.

“On the other hand, in the Netherlands, particularly in Amsterdam and a few other cities, we can observe an extremely wealthy merchant class that had achieved tremendous success in the Dutch East Indies and the Mediterranean.”

“The individuals who could afford such a garment would have been the millionaires of their time,” Ewing added.

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The dress survived due to being buried under sediment and protected within an oxygen-free environment until the receding sands revealed the chest.

Two of their Kind

In 2016, another dress was recovered from the same wreck. Another chest was discovered that contained over 30 book bindings, including one adorned with the gold emblem of James I. The recovered book bindings included those of French and Polish origin. Such books were considered a supreme luxury during the era, often collected from various locations by the highly affluent.

Two dresses were found in the wreck, both were perfectly preserved.

Additionally, the crew’s belongings were of Dutch origin, with West Frisian pottery being a unique artifact. English vessels were not typically found in this region. Ewing expressed, “It could be either way, but we are undoubtedly looking at a Dutch ship that fits within the Dutch trading pattern. So my bet would be on a Dutch origin.”

“Regardless of the wearer, the dress was designed for style rather than comfort. It is probable that the individual could not even dress themselves and would have required assistance.

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“There are multiple layers of undergarments beneath the dress, including lace accessories in the chest area, a lace ruff, and many other lace embellishments.”

Furthermore, the dress is a statement piece as it necessitates a significant amount of fabric to create the entire garment, which was exceedingly expensive.

“So, by donning this grand construction, it was another way of proclaiming, ‘I am immensely wealthy,’ but it wouldn’t have been very comfortable to walk around in.”

An Oxygen-free Exhibition

Based on typical ship lifespans of the era, the sinking is estimated to have occurred between 1645 and 1670. Although a severe storm wreaked havoc in 1665, the actual cause remains a mystery. A large part of the wreckage remains hidden, making it impossible to study the cause of the sinking.

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Currently, both dresses are showcased in specialized oxygen-free display cases at the Museum Kaap Skil. Maarten van Bommel, a Professor of Conservation Science at the University of Amsterdam, stated, “It is truly remarkable what we have unearthed here.

The two dresses were found in a trunk in the wreck of the ship.

“This is one of the most extraordinary historical discoveries ever made. There may only be two of these dresses in existence worldwide, and both of them are present here on Texel.”

The Dutch Golden Age

In the history of the Netherlands, the Dutch Golden Age spanned from 1588 to 1672.

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During the Golden Age, Dutch art, science, and trade remained widespread across Europe. Many attribute their success to their multiple affiliations with East and West India companies. However, their powerful navy deserves the credit of its own.

The Royal Netherlands Navy protected Dutch colonies and trading posts in the Americas, Asia, and Southern Africa. All these factors combined ensured the survival of the Dutch Golden Age, which prevailed for more than eight decades.