The codpieces of Wolf Hall

This spring, viewers of the BBC and PBS will be treated to a video version of the Hilary Mantel book Wolf Hall set in the court of Henry VIII. Since its announcement, there has been discussion of the size of the actor's codpiece, perhaps smaller than is historically accurate. Jane Huggett of The Guardian joins the conversation.

Some believe the size of Henry's codpiece was reduced to humor the sensibilities of American audiences.

In her article, Huggett looks at the history of the men's fashion statement:

The codpiece is just that: a fashion item, and like all fashions it began in a small and insignificant way and gradually grew.

In the 15th century men wore hose (a garment like a pair of tights but made from stretchy woollen cloth) and a triangular-shaped flap covered the front opening. Towards the end of the 15th century this flap started to be padded and gradually became a more prominent feature.

The codpiece reached its maximum size in the 1530s, the period in which Wolf Hall is set. Then, as fashions in men’s clothing changed it gradually shrank, disappearing completely by the end of that century.