by Sarah Corbett
A chatelaine is a decorative belt hook or clasp worn at the waist with a series of chains suspended from it. Each chain is mounted with a useful item.
The earliest record of the use of chatelaines was by Roman women whose collection of useful items would include, ear scoops, tweezers and nail cleaners. One of the photos in the gallery below shows an excavated Roman chatelaine from Leicestershire in the UK
There is also evidence from burial records of their use by Anglo Saxon women. Historian Michael Wood in his book ‘The story of England’ tells of the arrival at the end of the 5th century of a group of Saxons and a woman amongst them wearing a chatelaine of the Roman style. The keys of which were symbolic of here status as ‘hlafdig’ ( lady of the house)
The chatelaine is a popular piece of adornment for Dutch women in the 16th century, and until much later in the Zeeland Region. The style returns again to England in the 17th century when the Chatelaine ( the lady of the castle) wore one to carry her keys and some valuable keepsakes. These were styled in a medieval fashion, and had romantic associations with damsels and knights.
In this decorative form they remained in vogue until around 1830.
by the 19th century chatelaines had become the adornment in a most practical sense of the housekeeper.
The chains would now display an array of useful household items such as scissors, needle cases, keys, thimble etc.
They became a badge of authority in the serving classes of a household.