Have you found a thimble or a small pair of scissors with a ring for hanging on them and wondered why? Well, they may have once been suspended from a Chatelaine.

A Chatelaine was a decorative chain worn around the waist (mainly in the 16th - 19th centuries) by the senior lady in the household. The Chatelaine dates back to Roman times, where ladies would use them to carry nail cleaners, ear scoops and other such grooming items. Later examples held all of the keys to the household, from doors, through pantries to tea chests (tea was an expensive commodity and would be locked away).


The lady who wore the Chatelaine would be in charge of the servants of the house and general day to day running. Depending on the status and importance of the household, it may not have been the wife of the owner but the head servant who wore it.

The most common items to be found along with the household keys on the senior lady's Chatelaine would be, scissors, thimbles, watches, seals (for imprinting sealing wax - proving the origin of any correspondence sent from the household), a small bottle of vinaigrette (smelling salts - usually ammonia based) and often a small pen knife or folding fruit knife. The list of what ladies chose to carry is endless, but in the case of the head of the house the items would usually be functional (yet beautiful).

Chatelaines were often worn by younger (less important) women of the household who wanted to imply or show status, these would contain pretty and bright 'items to provoke conversation'. Some of these items would be useful but not necessarily all of them. In this case it was more an item of jewellery than of function.

The name Chatelaine derives from the French word 'Chateau' and refers to the lady of the house.

Have a look through any pretty little trinkets that you have been keeping...can you find a means of hanging on any of them?