Some may mistakenly think that pointy-tipped boots were the attribute of a medieval court jester, so silly and ridiculous they looked. However, in fact these boots were considered a fashionable closet item for kings and many other dignitaries like barons, earls and wealthy merchants for over 300 years.
These soft, beak-shaped shoes were called “poulins” and were made primarily of leather on a padded sole. And yes, we agree that this is probably one of the silliest trends in men’s medieval fashion that didn’t go out of style several hundreds of years.
Why did these boots enter European men’s fashion and last for so many years? Read about it in our new article.
How did long-toe boots come to be in Europe?
It is well known that these long shoes have their origins in the time when crusaders returned to Europe after the First Crusade of 1099, and brought with them the national oriental shoes with pointed toes, which were called babushi and sewn from embossed morocco leather.
After that, the fashion of European men for strange shoes with long socks went all over the place and lasted almost four centuries without a break!
Painting of the Marriage of Renaud of Montauban and Clarisse, 1420. Take a look at the fashionable boots in men.
According to the annals of the famous monk, Orderick Vitaly, who lived in the XI-XII centuries, the first European boots with long noses came into fashion thanks to the French Count Fulco IV Le Resnais. This French aristocrat, according to extant chronicles, was “a man of reprehensible, even scandalous habits”.
Count Fulco Le Reschaine developed painful bunions and ingrown toenails at a rather advanced age, so he commissioned his cordwainer (shoemaker) to make him a designer pair of shoes that could compensate for his physical deformities and would not cause pain when walking. The clever shoemaker, taking the idea of oriental grandmother’s shoes, figured out how to improve these shoes by lengthening their nose so that they could be elevated and help the poor count to walk comfortably on the ground. It is known that the Count of Anjou was insanely happy when he received these shoes and did not part with them for the rest of his life.
Also, Friar Orderick Vitalius, who served in the Norman Abbey of Eurycle, documented one high-ranking fool, whom he calls by the name of Robert in his notes, who bought himself long-nosed poulins and began stuffing them with linen so that the end could be bent into the shape of a ram’s horn. He was later given the crude nickname Cornadus, which meant Horner or Horny (denoting a vulgar man).
However, the greatest distribution of such unusual shoes was in Eastern Europe, particularly in Poland. Polish shoemakers began to shoe almost all the rich. And since the XIV century Polish poulins begin to be in great demand throughout Europe.
A pair of poulin (or crakow) shoes, 15th century. Silk linen weave, the shoes are covered with silk velvet on top and decorated with ribbon, thread, and metal nails.
It was after the XI century that boots with elongated toes entered European fashion actively and the rich classes began to wear them on various holidays.
As the centuries passed, the noses of such boots became longer and longer, until in the 14th century Poland invented narrower and narrower poulins, the nose of which was 60 cm longer than the foot itself. Normal walking in such shoes was impossible, so young fashionistas reinforced their boot ends with moss.
It was the Polish poulins that reached their final length and are most often seen in ancient paintings or as historical artifacts that have survived to this day.
Why did men wear such shoes?
Some historians suggest that one of the reasons for the appearance of poulins may have to do with the hidden faith of the existing Phallic cult, which was active in medieval Europe and the pilgrims there could be found in the major cities of France, England, Spain and so on.
The length of medieval poulins varied, and some were decorated with intricate ornaments.
Young men wearing these boots were often punished for standing on street corners, wiggling their long socks defiantly as young ladies passed by, thus suggesting some indecency to them. The church was aware of the impertinence of that shoes and was shocked by the apparent and obscene fashion of wearing them among young people. Often such boots even prevented men from praying.
Many church leaders and some European rulers found the new fashion for such boots ridiculous and disgraceful, sometimes even calling them “the devil’s boots” The clergy could not explain the Black Plague that swept through Europe in 1347, so they constantly preached the idea that it was God’s vengeance on men for wearing the devil’s shoes.
Edward III (1312-1377), who ruled England from 1327 to 1377, succumbed to church pressure during his reign and issued a law limiting the toe length of shoes for all those who had an income of at least forty pounds a year: for example, princes and earls were allowed to wear poulins 2.5 feet (76 cm) long, while knights had to make do with 1.5 feet (45 cm) long. Ordinary citizens and farmers could wear poulins with a length of only half a foot (15 cm).
But the most realistic reason for wearing poulins, oddly enough, is considered to be that prosperous young people in such boots could show their belonging to the rich class, since in shoes with a long toe it was impossible to work in agriculture.
Most of poulins that have survived to this day were made of leather, but medieval Europeans used all possible fabrics. For example, the higher strata of society used velvet and silk. And by the look of such shoes it was immediately clear that the person wearing them earned a lot and clearly was not poor.
Armored knight’s sabatons of Emperor Maximilian I, 1485 Vienna.
But the funny thing is that knightly armor also began to be produced according to the latest fashions, so the gusseted boots sabatons, which were attached to the cuff, were very actively produced in a form resembling poulins with long socks.
Subsequently, however, it turned out to be uncomfortable to fight in them. At the Battle of Nicopolis in 1396, when the Ottomans defeated an army of European crusaders, the French contingent was forced to cut off the tips of their boots in order to retreat quickly.
Some models of poulins were curled in the socks and fastened with a rope or chain to the shin, and sometimes various things like fur or linen were stuffed into the sock to give them a curved shape.
Eventually poulins in Europe began to be forbidden by law for men to wear.
Ordinary people began to joke frequently in the streets that the longer (for example, the earl’s) boot toe, the more he compensated for the size of his small “instrument”. Many people in government did not like what was said in the streets.
After the public began to laugh at the ruling elite, the English crown felt the need to intervene. So the English equated wearing long-toe shoes with public indecency and tried to limit the spread of such fashions: “No lord, knights, squires or other respectable men in English society should wear shoes or boots with noses longer than two inches (5 cm)”, the law of 1463 stated. You can read a confirmation of this at the active link.
The only city known to be most aggressive against poulins was Paris, which banned their production and wearing at all in 1368. By about 1475 the shoes with long socks had ceased to be actively worn in many European countries; in some countries they were forbidden to be worn by common people, and the only exception was jesters, who amused the royal court. During the reign of King Henry VIII, European footwear became more civilized and gradually came to the form that we have now.