Ruff Theory

Ruff Theory explores the relationship between fashion and history, focussing on an accessory that became overwhelmingly popular in England under Elizabeth I, at the end of the Tudor lineage.

This series was borne from a personal theory that the Elizabethan ruff arose from the subconscious desire of a queen and her subjects to protect their necks. Elizabeth I’s journey to the throne was perilous; famously descending from a king who beheaded her mother, she was later imprisoned by her rival and older sister Mary, and upon her succession, she took the unprecedented decision, for a monarch, of bringing an end to her family line; choosing never to marry or produce an heir. And for the people who had lived through the English Reformation, which saw the religion of the country flip-flopping with each new sovereign this, too, was a precarious time, as a brutal penalty could be placed upon on the head of anyone who disagreed with them.


The ruff quickly became the fashion accessory during Elizabeth’s reign and for those who could afford it, they became stiffer, wider and more elaborate. And the ultimate psychological barrier between one’s head and an axe.


The series is divided into two parts. The first depicting Elizabeth I and Sir Walter Raleigh, one of the queen’s favourites, who she imprisoned in the Tower of London for a time, but who was eventually beheaded under the reign of her successor: James I. The first portraits show the pair exposed and bare-necked, but the subsequent portraits show them with their ruffs, as protective blockades enabling their unwavering facades. The second part presents the ruffs and an axe as though exhibited as courtroom evidence in support of this curious and intriguing theory.