After the return of the Crusaders, small pouches began to be attached to girdles called amonieres sarrasimoises (Saracen almsbags.) These bags were meant for carrying money and bits of food to distribute to the poor. Purses have existed since ancient Greek times, but the actual archeological record is rare. Before the Crusades, small purses have been found in Saxon burial sites. They were attached to girdles along with many other trinkets and useful objects like mirrors, knifes, combs, and keys.
The alms bags became common among men and women. They were usually made of silk and leather. Embroidresses were members of crafts guilds, signifying the importance of their work. The purpose of the bag veered into being multi-functional. A common use was for devotional prayer books, like the Book of Hours. These bags would have been rectangular.
The more secular purpose of these bags is hinted at in the embroidery themes of lovers playing in gardens, like the aulmoniere below:
The poem, Romance of the Rose, provided many romantic motifs.
This purse is another example of a secular theme, hinting that the name alm’s purse may have been vestigal.
These purses eventually became pouches ( worn at the belt, flatter, smaller) They were still intricately made, and sometimes employed a bronze or gold clasp or frame. The metal clasps were often inscribed with moral and religious sentiments.
Purses soon began to hold great variety of items: keys, combs, pincushions, cosmetics, strings of beads, scent apples, and medicinal remedies.
* I found this blog
pretty interesting because the intricacy of embroidery is very palpable in her modern day reconstructions. She had some good examples of medieval purses in art as well (http://medievalpurses.blogspot.com/search/label/purses%20in%20art)