Codpiece History

watchA Briefe History of the Codpiece
Part the First
by Lord Samuel Piper

The codpiece has held a certain fascination, as well as other important items, for those of us in the Society for Creative Anachronism. It has been regarded with fear and ignorance by many men and a certain reverence by some women. This timely bit of scholarly research should help dispel the fear and ignorance. Any ladies having problems with the “reverence” bit will need to speak with me personally.

Many have assumed that the “cod” in “codpiece” referred to a fish. Because of modern slang usage, or perhaps due to total loss of touch with reality, some have assumed that “piece” meant a firearm. Such suppositions are as far from the etymological truth as can be imagined without rattan blow induced hallucinations. fish
Not a cod fish

In Middle English, “Cod” (or “Codd” in Old English, “Coddd” in Exceedingly Old English) meant “bag” or “scrotum”, which led to some interesting moments when dining out at the Renaissance equivalent of Long John Silver’s. “This is the tastiest codd I’ve ever had in my mouth” was a guaranteed show stopper, bringing about numerous jokes and a homicide or two.

Also not a cod fish
The codpiece began as a flat piece of material covering an improvement in men’s fashion — a well placed slit. This new, “easy access” region in men’s pants allowed men to relieve themselves while standing without lowering their pants. Soon after this technological breakthrough was coined the popular after ale phrase “Once more into the breeches.”

The simple flap was buttoned closed, laced closed, tied closed, or occasionally glued closed after a particularly exciting night at “The Yellowe Rose Publick Howse.”

The codpiece remained flat cloth for a number of years. While visiting England, Duke Fabrizio of Bologna, dressing hastily after a quick romantic interlude, used the flap to contain (or perhaps restrain) his nether parts while appearing before King Henry VIII and Queen Anne Boleyn.

Queen Anne Boleyn

Queen Anne, amused at the Italian’s conspicuous bulge, remarked “Be that thine codling or art thou glad to see me?” Of course, “codling” is 15th century English for either a “small, immature apple” or “any of several elongated greenish English cooking apples,” so we may never know if the Duke’s fruit was being ridiculed or complimented.
King Henry was very distressed by the whole business and assumed this bulge (from Middle French “boulge” meaning “leather bag” or “curved part”, or perhaps “curved part in a leather bag”) to be the latest Continental style in courtly fashions. He immediately ordered his codpieces padded in order that he not look out of date by comparison to Duke Fabrizio, commanding, “My codpieces must compare favorably to Bologna.” Those tailors, very literal-minded fellows all, envisioned pork sausages and thus began the whole size contest that continues to this day. hen8100
Henry VIII


Common or
“bologna” codpiece


Egg-shaped or
“huevos rancheros”

Be-ribboned or
“foofy” codpiece


Armored or
“sausage o’ steel”


Richard III
Coming in Part the Second :
More word origins – What happened when the codpiece of King Richard III (Dick to his friends) came unbuttoned.