Who Wore It Better? Queen Elizabeth I’s Wired Veil & Ruff


It seems to be practically de rigeur to include a wired veil and a huge standing ruff in any of Queen Elizabeth I’s movie costumes.

Ruffs are a relatively common Elizabethan accessory — starting with a small pleated frill in the first half of the 16th century, and ending the century huge and dramatic. Late in the 16th century, a wired veil was sometimes added for even more drama — a floating, wire-supporting, standing, unpleated, frequently-heart-shaped, collar-y thing that stands up from the wearer’s shoulders and are often worn under a ruff. They were popular in the very late 16th century and early 17th century, at least in England.

Almost every screen Bess has a huge ruff and wired veil. Notable exceptions being Cate Blanchett the first time around in Elizabeth and Queenie from Blackadder. Queen Elizabeth I’s movie costumes are noted for their bling, and the wired veil IS a really cool item. It totally does its job of making Good Queen Bess look regal and goddess-like!

Most costume designers seem to be drawing on these two portraits of Queen Elizabeth I:

The Hardwick Hall portrait of Elizabeth I, 1592.

The Hardwick Hall portrait of Elizabeth I, 1592.

The "Ditchley Portrait" of Queen Elizabeth I by Gheeraerts, c. 1592

The “Ditchley Portrait” of Queen Elizabeth I by Gheeraerts, c. 1592

In order to answer one of the more vexing questions of our age, we ask you:

Which Queen Elizabeth I wore her wired veil and huge ruff best?



1937 Fire Over England

Flora Robson in Fire Over England (1937)

1937 Fire Over England

Flora Robson again in Fire Over England (1937)

Errol Flynn, 194, The Sea Hawk

Flora Robson in The Sea Hawk (1940)

"Elizabeth R" - Ditchley portrait recreation

Glenda Jackson in Elizabeth R (1971)


Glenda Jackson in Mary Queen of Scots (1971)

1992 Orlando

Quentin Crisp in Orlando (1992)

1998 Shakespeare in Love

Judi Dench in Shakespeare in Love (1998)

1998 Shakespeare in Love

Judi Dench again in Shakespeare in Love (1998)

1998 Shakespeare in Love

Judi Dench a third time in Shakespeare in Love (2007)

2005 Elizabeth I 1

Helen Mirren in Elizabeth I (2005)


Helen Mirren again in Elizabeth I (2005)

2006 Virgin Queen

Anne-Marie Duff in The Virgin Queen (2006)

Doctor Who: "The Shakespeare Code"

Angela Pleasance in Doctor Who: The Shakespeare Code (2007)

Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)

Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)

2011 Anonymous

Joely Richardson in Anonymous (2011)

2011 Anonymous

Vanessa Redgrave in Anonymous (2011)

Bill (2015)

Helen McCrory in Bill (2015)

4 Responses

  1. Loren

    Helen Mirren. It’s not my era, so I can’t speak to accuracy, but they seem right and look beautiful instead of silly like some of the others.

  2. Lisa

    Let’s give Glenda Jackson and designer Elizabeth Waller for doing it on a BBC TV series budget!

  3. Karinne

    The second image of Judi Dench for the size, angle and ratio of the wired veil and ruff. Then Glenda Jackson.

    I must admit a soft spot for the Bete Davis version, more Italianate than Elizabethan, but still a lovely frock.