The elves slipper-up

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If you're a regular reader of the quibble blog, then you'll know that we've locked horns with one of our favourite websites,, before. Another time that they disagreed with us was regarding the make-up of Cinderella's slippers, but this time we have to bow down to their greater authority.

The work on this question was done by QI maestro John Lloyd when the idea of QI was in its infancy, luckily we still have his original files to hand:

"In the "original" 9th century Chinese story "Yeh-Shen" they're made of gold thread with solid gold soles. In the Scottish version "Rashie-Coat" they're made of rushes. In The German version they're embroidered with silk and gold thread. There's one story in which she loses one of her galoshes and, in India, it's her nose-ring.

In the mediaeval French version used by Perrault, so the story goes, her shoes are described as pantoufles de vair - 'slippers of squirrel's fur'. Supposedly Perrault mis-heard the word as verre 'glass' and so it has erroneously remained ever since.

One source says this error occurred before Perrault and he merely repeated it. Others suggest that the mistake occurred when Perrault was translated into English by Robert Samber in 1729. The latter is definitely not the case: the Perrault story is entitled "Cendrillon, ou la petite pantoufle de verre".

Two sources - and Maria Tatar's authoritative "The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales(2002)" - think glass slippers were Perrault's own idea and that he intended them all along.

How anyone will ever definitely know after all this time, I don't know, but the supposed mistake is a good story and I'm reluctant to let it drop without peer review. It would be an awful lot of wasted work."

The work gives an idea of how QI tries to seek both sides of every story, and how we remain sceptical, even, of our own questions. In this case we have to admit that it is true that most fairy-tale historians (yes, they do exist) do not believe our theory that Cinders' shoes were made from fur, rather than glass, but we wanted to put the argument forward. Sadly the confines of a 30 minute show meant that this didn't really come across.


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My comment is about the episode "HISTORY" 14 January 2011, which I've just recently seen repeated. Having heard the title of the episode, I made myself a cup of tea and snuggled under the duvet, content that, at last, I would hear information on history which I would be sure would be completely accurate, and with which I should have no quibble at all. Alas!!! Almost at once I heard something that made my historian's blood rise (if not slowly boil!) In regards to the Bayeaux "tapestry", the QI elves, it seems, believe that medieval (in this case, Norman) embroiderer's guilds were completely staffed by women!!!!! I was shocked speechless. Most guilds, including embroidery, were peopled by men. It was rare indeed to find a woman in a guild, and then usually if her husband was a guild member who had died. (This is not to say that it never happened, it most certainly did, in all manner of guilds, including mining and blacksmithing) It is nearly impossible to determine if a man or woman did embroidery simply by looking at the work. In the sixteenth century, most of those who wrote embroidery books, or provided patterns for "one off" garments, were men (though it was said that "Greek girls" were the best embroiderers...sadly no reason is given for this.) However, it's more than likely that the embroiderers of the Bayeaux "tapestry" were men.
They do, however, get full marks for identifying the guild as the Kentish Embroidery Guild, since Bishop Odo,(half brother of King William of Normandy) was bishop of Kent, and it is believed that he commissioned the embroidery to be made (again, presumably to put him in his half brother's good graces). It's possible that he either got a discount since the guild was within his see, or the guild was given some compensation, a tax break perhaps.

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This page contains a single entry by eggshaped published on January 10, 2011 11:26 AM.

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