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The back of a kirtle (c. 4th century C.E., sense 1) from Thorsberg moor, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, on display in the Schleswig-Holsteinisches Landesmuseum in Gottorf Castle
Jonathan Richardson, Lady Anne Cavendish (daughter of Elihu Yale?) (c. 1725), collection of the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut, USA. The portrait depicts a woman wearing the fur-lined kirtle (sense 3) of a peeress’s coronation robes, and so is thought unlikely to be Anne, the daughter of Elihu Yale, since her husband was not a peer.

From Middle English kirtel, from Old English cyrtel, cognate with Old Norse kyrtill (tunic) (whence Icelandic kyrtill, Danish kjortel (gown, tunic), Swedish kjortel (petticoat, skirt)), from Old Norse *kurtil-, supposedly a diminutive of *kurt-, from Latin curtus (short, shortened). Compare German Kittel.



kirtle (plural kirtles)

  1. A knee-length tunic.
    • 1590, Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Qveene. Disposed into Twelue Books, Fashioning XII. Morall Vertues, London: Printed [by John Wolfe] for VVilliam Ponsonbie, OCLC 960102938, book I, canto IV, stanza 31, pages 53–54:
      All in a kirtle of diſcolourd ſay / He clothed was, ypaynted full of eies; / And in his boſome ſecretly there lay / An hatefull Snake, the which his taile vptyes / In many folds, and mortall ſting implyes.
    • 1816, Ben Jonson, “Cynthia’s Revels: Or, The Fountain of Self-love”, in W[illiam] Gifford, editor, The Works of Ben Jonson, in Nine Volumes. With Notes Critical and Explanatory, and a Biographical Memoir, by W. Gifford, Esq., volume II (Containing Every Man Out of His Humour. Cynthia's Revels. The Poetaster.), London: Printed for G. and W. Nicol [et al.]; by W[illiam] Bulmer and Co., Cleveland-row, St. James's, OCLC 4365914, Act II, scene i, page 260, footnote 5:
      Few words have occasioned such controversy among the commentators on our old plays, as this; and all for want of knowing that it is used in a two-fold sense, sometimes for the jacket merely, and sometimes for the train or upper petticoat attached to it. A full kirtle was always a jacket and petticoat, a half kirtle (a term which frequently occurs) was either the one or the other; but our ancestors, who wrote when this article of dress was every where in use, and when there was little danger of being misunderstood, most commonly contented themselves with the simple term, (kirtle,) leaving the sense to be gathered from the context.
    • 1832, “the original editor” [pseudonym; John Wade], “Church of England”, in The Extraordinary Black Book: An Exposition of Abuses in Church and State, Courts of Law, Representation, Municipal and Corporate Bodies; with a Précis of the House of Commons, Past, Present, and to Come, new edition, London: Published by Effingham Wilson, Royal Exchange, OCLC 669217875, section III (Sinecurism.—Non-residence.—Pluralities.—Church Discipline), page 33:
      Many of the church dignitaries are distinguishable by peculiarities of dress, as the shovel hat and kirtle.
    • 1842, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “The Quadroon Girl”, in Voices of the Night; and Other Poems, Boston, Mass., published 1852, OCLC 680866469, page 98:
      Her eyes were large, and full of light, / Her arms and neck were bare; / No garment she wore save a kirtle bright, / And her own long, raven hair.
  2. A short jacket.
  3. A woman's gown; a woman's outer petticoat or skirt.



kirtle (third-person singular simple present kirtles, present participle kirtling, simple past and past participle kirtled)

  1. (transitive) To clothe or cover with, or as if with, a kirtle; to hitch up (a long garment) to the length of a kirtle.
    • 1899, Charles Camp Tarelli, “God’s Magic”, in The Spectator, volume 82, London: F. C. Westley, OCLC 609591893, page 521, column 1; reprinted in Frank M[orrison] Pixley, editor, The Argonaut, volume XLVIII, San Francisco, Calif.: Argonaut Publishing Company, 7 January 1901, OCLC 33214557, page 6, column 2:
      Eastward the Night / Climbs slow with hooded brows, and languid Day / Kirtles her robe fantastical, and leans / To take the embrace of darkness.
    • 1994, Diana Gabaldon, Voyager (Outlander Series; 3), New York, N.Y.: Delacorte Press, OCLC 961901870:
      Father Fogen led the way, his skinny shanks a gleaming white as he kirtled his cassock about his thighs. I was obliged to do the same, for the hillside above the house was thick with grass and thorny shrubs that caught at the coarse wool skirts of my borrowed robe.
    • 1999, Mercedes Lackey, editor, Flights of Fantasy (DAW Book Collectors; no. 1141), New York, N.Y.: DAW Books, →ISBN, page 264:
      I didn't kirtle my skirts above my knees. I'm not wearing breeches beneath my habit, though without a doubt they'd be warmer than my stockings.
    • 2007, Chris Holmes, chapter 28, in Blood on the Tartan (Excalibur Book), High Springs, Fla.: Highland Press, →ISBN, page 212:
      Kirtling her skirts for freedom of movement, she accelerated to full speed and headed for the road, hoping to reach the relative safety of the village.
  2. (intransitive) Clothed or covered with, or as if with, a kirtle.
    • 1637, [John Milton], A Maske Presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634: On Michaelmasse Night, before the Right Honorable, Iohn Earle of Bridgewater, Vicount Brackly, Lord Præsident of Wales, and One of His Maiesties Most Honorable Privie Counsell, London: Printed [by Augustine Mathewes] for Humphrey Robinson, at the signe of the Three Pidgeons in Pauls Church-yard, OCLC 673434718; republished as “Comus, a Mask Presented at Ludlow Castle”, in Thomas Wharton, editor, Poems upon Several Occasions, English, Italian, and Latin, with Translations, by John Milton. Viz. Lycidas, L’Allegro, Il Penseroso, Arcades, Comus, Odes, Sonnets, Miscellanies, English Psalms, Elegiarum Liber, Epigrammatum Liber, Sylvarum Liber. With Notes Critical and Explanatory, and Other Illustrations, by Thomas Wharton, B.D. [...], 2nd edition, London: Printed for G. G. J. and J. Robinson, Pater-noster Row, 1791, OCLC 731591991, lines 252–257, pages 170–172:
      I have oft heard / My mother Circe with the Sirens three, / Amidſt the flowery-kirtled Naiades, / Culling their potent herbs, and baleful drugs, / Who, as they ſung, would take the priſon'd ſoul, / And lap it in Elyſium; []
    • 1845, Thomas Cooper, “Book the Fourth”, in The Purgatory of Suicides. A Prison-rhyme. In Ten Books, London: Printed for Jeremiah How, 209, Piccadilly, OCLC 458004258, stanza III, page 128:
      From out that beaming look, to know what thoughts / Within the barb-leaved hart's-tongue dwell— / The purple eye petalled with snow, that floats / So gracefully:—dost think the damosel, / Young Hope, kirtled with Chastity, there fell / Into the stream, and grew a flower so fair?
    • 1854, Henry W[hitelock] Torrens; James Hume, “Idle Days in Egypt”, in A Selection from the Writings, Prose and Poetical, of the Late Henry W. Torrens, Esq., B.A., Bengal Civil Service, and of the Inner Temple; with a Biographical Memoir. By James Hume, Esq., of the Inner Temple, Barrister-at-law, volume II, Calcutta: R. C. Lepage and Co., British Library; London: R. C. Lepage & Co., Whitefriars St. Fleet Street, OCLC 48539436, page 440:
      [] [W]e had more recently an importation of wild Albanians kirtled to the knee, some eleven hundred of them, the forerunners of larger detachments,—on their way to the Hedjoz on service,—and these things, some folks said, were significant.

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