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Clothes lines fluttering in 14th century Moorfields? I fear not….

 

from Splendor Solis, 1531
Clothes lines of some sort are visible on the left

Writing historical fiction involves a lot of research…well, it does if the resultant book is to be taken seriously. So when it came to describing medieval Moorfields, just north of London’s city wall, I came upon the inevitable mention of drying grounds for washing. Yes, I knew all about them, because they turn up in all sorts of ways. Washerwomen cleaned the clothes, sheets or whatever, and then spread them on the ground or over bushes. Dry weather was therefore somewhat essential…as it was over the centuries until the invention of dryers of various kinds.

I remember that when my Welsh grandmother was robbed of a suitably dry Monday (always washing day) she would arrange the well wrung washing on the rack that was then hauled up on a rope to hang over our heads in the always warm kitchen. But, if the Monday weather was good, out it all went on the clothes line, pegged up to catch the breeze on a Welsh hillside.

So there you have the relevant words: pegs and line. Such things seem so very obvious that it’s tempting to imagine they’ve always been around, but no. Inventive as the medieval mind was, it didn’t dream up such a novel way to do the business of dry what had been washed. Well, it did from around the 16th century onward (see image above), but still most washing was dried in the time-honoured way, on the ground or in bushes. The object, too, was to let the sun bleach materials that were off-white.

detail from Woman and Child in a Bleaching Ground by Pieter de Hooch, 1650s

If you go to this piece about the clothes peg and this piece about laundry, you’ll read all about this.

So, much as I’d like to describe the clothes lines fluttering in 14th-century Moorfields, I can’t. Everything would have been on the ground or draped over suitable bushes. Or, I suppose, hanging over low tree branches? Whatever, no medieval CleverClogs seems to have come up with the idea of suspending a line between those branches and then hanging out the washing with a little peg of split wood! It would apparently be well over a century before such inspiration came. And even then the ground and bushes remained the overwhelming preference.

EVERYTHING YOU WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT MEDIEVAL BEDS..

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Opulent beds could be used to entertain friends and even shared with  guests staying overnight.  Well at least you would be warm..

A very interesting article here on medieval beds including a glossary …

 

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I haven’t a clue as to what is going on with this lady and gentleman  but, as it shows a medieval bed  I thought  I would just leave it here…

 

Hygiene in Medieval Times

Have you ever asked yourself how people washed and perfume themselves in Medieval time? And what about the smart and noble Plantagenets? Was there a difference between rich and poor people? You will be surprised to discover that Mediaeval people were cleaner than we can imagine and they smelled good.

As you can imagine, hygienic habits differs from peasants to royals even though every class used to bathe and clean clothes. Of course, peasants and poor people in general, were at the lower level of hygiene due to several reasons, first of all status and income. They were not so rich to afford the cost of fuel to boil water or at least, to warm it as it was used to cook and staying warm. However, they washed themselves in some way using cold water or damp cloths. In summer, streams and river, made the difference. In order to avoid waste of hot water, they used to have a bath every couple of weeks following a sort of criteria. As the bath tub was filled, the head of the family had a bath at first followed by all the male relatives in order of age. After that, women could have a bath starting with the oldest. Babies came at last. It is not difficult to imagine that at that point, water was so murky that was even difficult to find the baby in the bath tub. It seems that the expression “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater”, that today is an idiomatic expression, seems to come from this debatable habits.

In monasteries, things went a little bit worse as monks were allowed to bathe only 3 or 4 times a year but there are some records that show in reality they washed themselves regularly at least partially that means face, hands and feet. Being something related to the body, Church didn’t encourage bathing a lot.

As regards nobles, royals and in general healthy people, things were totally different. As they could afford the cost of hot water and accessories for bathing, they had some portable wooden bathtubs with a curtain where they stay standing. Water was often scented with flowers and herbs. They also have bathtubs very similar to those we have today cased in, with tiles around and in horizontal position.

As regards shaving, men shaved regularly but it was not that easy because mirrors were not clear and wide so they prefer to be shaved by a barber instead. In a household account about Edward IV, every Saturday night, he had a shave and head, legs and feet washed. It seems that Edward was also interested in smelling good. To this purpose, not only he washed himself but also he had his linen boiled in water into which orris root and violets were tied to linen. In addition to these plants, he should have used lavender, roses and rosemary as well. We have reason to believe that Richard and the other men and women of the court, might have followed this trend.

What about teeth? It seems that in Medieval times, the oral hygiene was not so bad as we could think. First of all, teeth at that time were almost perfect as not so many people could access sugar and not so often. In addition to this, they want to appear smart and smell nice so they clean their teeth using linen-cloths to rub them with salt, pepper, rosemary, mint, powdered charcoal, and many other herbs.

Due to the high waste of candles made out of animals fat, castles smelled damp and not exactly good. To avoid this, herbs and flower were strewn across the floor especially lavender, marjoram, thyme and rosemary. This last was used also as a perfume for men.

At this point, many of you are wondering if women removed hair from their body and the answer is yes. They shaved their armpits, legs and the so called “Head Down There”. This practice was common among Western women especially prostitutes who were considered more appealing without hair as this could have given them a sort of “innocent” air. They normally used quicklime for this purpose.

Finally, what was the main smell in Medieval times? There were many flowers and herbs to perfume the air and the body as rosemary, sage, marjoram, lavender, violets but the typical, Medieval smell was rose. To wash their hands and the hands of their close friend before eating, bowls of rose water and petals were put on the table for people to use. Roses are always so fascinating flowers preferred especially by nobles and monarchs and not only for hygienic reasons but also to conquer the heart of a woman. We have not changed a lot after all…

All about medieval pets….

Cats doing what cats must do…chasing and disposing of unwelcome rodents.

Humans have always kept pets…or so it seems to me, anyway. We simply like to have certain animals around us. I can’t imagine that the likes of rhinos, bulls or camels were ever on anyone’s list of must-have pets, but there have always been cats, dogs, birds and so on.

“…. Pets were a rarity in the medieval world – people in the Middle Ages did keep domestic animals like dogs and cats, but most of them served a purpose. Dogs would be used to guard homes or assist in the hunt, while cats were needed to catch mice and other vermin. Still, the relationship between these animals and their keepers was often an affectionate one….”

The above is a quote from this website, an interesting article with which I am not entirely in accord. I believe pets were far more popular than being rarities. Yes, cats and dogs had to work for their living, but I’ll bet that a lot of them were fussed and cuddled too. It’s human nature, and animals are canny enough to know how to win us over.

Nevertheless, I recommend the link, which is informative…and which contains other links to similar sites about medieval pets.

One of the recommended books is Medieval Pets by Kathleen Walker-Meikle, which I have and can recommend. If you want to know all about our medieval ancestors and their relationships with their pet animals, this is the place to go. There are also separate books by the same author, dealing specifically with cats and dogs.

MEDIEVAL PARENT MAGAZINE

56481792_2376095609089349_6567171421271752704_o.jpgAn amusing mockup of what  the front page of Medieval Parent Magazine would have looked like…Particularly liking the Quiz…”Is your Childe a changeling or just ugly?’

With thanks to Maks Viktor Antiquarian Books..

Artist Gemma  Correll.

An Honest Bed: The Scene of Life and Death in Late Medieval England.

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Death bed of Richard Whittington…London 1442-1443.

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A link to an interesting article covering all things about the medieval bed including childbed, deathbed and much, much  more …

 

 

The merry widows of medieval England….?

The above illustrations show two royal widows. On the left Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, mother of both Edward IV and Richard III. On the right an imagined meeting between Edward IV and the widow he was to marry, Elizabeth Woodville.

In this modern age, when we are striving to live longer and longer, it’s hard to imagine what it could be like in the medieval period if someone, especially a widow, lived on into their eighties. Oh, yes, some did. We are always told that medieval widows had much more freedom than other women, but that is questionable. Merry widows? Not necessarily.

The following is based on Medieval Women by Henrietta Leyser.

In the twelfth century, Maud be Bohun was widowed at the age of ten. She married again, but through her long life (she was an octogenarian) she retained the dowry she had inherited as a child. This was to the considerable dismay and disadvantage of her first husband’s family, who had to wait for her eventual demise. The same can be said of Margaret of Brotherton of Framlingham, who survived two husbands, four children and died in the same year as her grandson (17-year-old John Hastings, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, who was killed in a jousting accident at court of Richard II at the end of December, 1389).

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The seal of Margaret of Brotherton

 

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This late medieval carving of a woman’s head is one of five at Framlingham Castle that may be likenesses of the Mowbrays, Margaret Brotherton’s descendants

More about Margaret of Brotherton, see http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/learn/histories/women-in-history/womens/margaret-brotherton/

During the long lives of such widows, their families and in-laws could suffer great hardship because the widows held large parts of the inheritance. The two ladies above were from aristocratic backgrounds, but those in lesser circumstances could cause penury! Mind you, even rich widows could find themselves forced into remarriage. They had to do all they could to stay one step ahead of forceful, unwelcome suitors. (see https://wordpress.com/post/murreyandblue.wordpress.com/27858) Or, of course, they could deliberately seek another marriage because of the protection afforded by a man. It depended on the woman, and was all a case of swings and roundabouts.

But under the Anglo-Norman and Angevin kings, widows had no choice in the matter, because they were in the gift of the king. Yes, really. Would-be suitors paid handsomely into the royal coffers for this gift of marriage to a particular widow of their choice! It must have been like selecting from a menu. Eventually, the coronation charter of Henry I contained promises regarding widows’ rights of dower and that they would not be forced into marriage. Then Magna Carta further supported the rights of these women, who were not to pay for their dower or be compelled to remarry. Empty promises, it seems, because the practice continued to fill the treasury. Of course, it could work the other way too, and a widow could (if she had sufficient funds) pay the king not to give her away. In either case, the king profited.

Then came the growing practice of holding lands in jointure, which gave widows greater financial security. Unfortunately for them, this also made them more desirable as wives. According to the Merriam-Webster Unabridged dictionary, jointure is:

A – (1) : the joint tenancy of an estate; (2) : the estate so held

B – (1) : an estate settled on a wife to be taken by her in lieu of dower; (2) : a settlement upon the wife of a freehold estate (as in lands or tenements) for her lifetime at least to take effect upon the decease of the husband and to act as a bar to dower.

Yet another aspect of a widow’s trials came when they were urged in their late husband’s wills to “take the order of widowhood”. That is, not go into a convent, but to take a public vow of chastity. Failure to embark on such a course could result in the terms of the will severely reducing the widow’s income. The reason was not always male spite from beyond the grave, but could safeguard her and any children from a new husband who might not have their best interests at heart. Or whom she definitely did not want! Not so good if she wanted a physically loving relationship.

In the case of a third Margaret—Lady Margaret Beaufort—she was too powerful to be pushed around, and when it came to her final marriage, she took the public vow of chastity. A physical relationship cannot have appealed! She chose to marry Thomas Stanley, who presumably didn’t care if she was in his bed or not. A definite marriage of convenience and an alliance of great fortunes and power that was to cost Richard III his life when Margaret’s Tudor son usurped his throne. As you will see, Margaret and her boy were not high on the list of beautiful people. Sour pusses, both. Thomas Stanley, if this is a reasonable likeness, was better looking.

Margaret Beaufort, Henry VII and Thomas Stanley, who became 1st Earl of Derby

A medieval widow could therefore be caught in a vicious circle, and unable to rule her own life as she saw fit. That is something we just accept these days. Well, we do in the West, it is still very different in many other parts of the world.

So, as I said at the beginning, the freedom of medieval widows is debatable. Truly merry widows were probably rather thin on the ground.

Two more medieval widows, in the regulation black and white

Beauty tips from the Middle Ages, including how to get a huge, freckle-free forehead ….

 

Beauty tips

The following article is from here. It is a light-hearted look at the things our medieval sisters did to make themselves look beautiful:-

Longing to know how to hide your devil’s marks and dissolve your hairline? Step this way!

Strictly speaking, the Middle Ages extend from the 5th to the 15th century, but here, I’ll be focusing on the late Middle Ages. Best to clear that up and avoid any mishaps. I mean, imagine what a fool you’d look if you turned up to a 12th-century-themed party in 6th-century makeup. How your friends would laugh!

The late Middle Ages liked its maidens with high foreheads, long necks, sallow complexions and lacklustre eyebrows. Added to that, the babeliest of Medieval babes rocked low sloping shoulders and protruding stomachs. This might seem a touch… um… surprising, but in the name of fairness (both kinds) let’s give these ladies the benefit of the doubt and try to unravel their beauty commandments.

Hide your hair

It is a truth universally acknowledged that hair is sexy. So, naturally, it was seen as sinful by the Medieval Church, and decent women hid theirs with veils, nets, hoods and hats. In warmer European countries, women might get away with braiding since hot weather rendered head-covering a bit of a nightmare. Elsewhere, the only women who left their hair unconcealed were peasants, prostitutes and very young unmarried girls.

Hand in hand with the desire to hide hair was the belief that the higher the hairline the better. Many women resorted to potions of vinegar or quicklime to erode their natural hairline (often taking skin with it), whilst to keep foreheads as unsullied as possible, eyebrows were tweezed within an inch of their lives.

Unsurprisingly, all this hiding only made hair a more potent symbol of temptation, and most tempting of all was blonde hair. We know that women tinted their hair blonde with saffron, stale sheep’s urine, onion skins, or by spending time in the sun (often wearing a hat to maintain modesty, but with a sneaky hole cut in the top). Chaucer’s Virginia (from “The Physician’s Tale”), a “maid in excellent beauty,” has “tresses resembling the rays of [Phebus’] burnished sunbeams.” Whilst the Old Woman from the “Roman de la Rose,” a 13th-century French poem, advises: If (a lady) sees that her beautiful blonde hair is falling out (a most mournful sight)… she should have the hair of some dead woman brought to her, or pads of light coloured silk, and stuff it all into false hairpieces.”

Remove all distinguishing marks from your skin.

Pallor was preferred (as so frequently and boringly through much of history) and smooth skin was highly prized. In a darker turn of events, freckles, moles and birthmarks were often cited as the devil’s mark on those accused of witchcraft–blemishes left by a woman’s erotic entanglements with Satan.

Techniques used for reducing skin to a blank canvas include:

• To remove spots, lick an amethyst and rub the slobbery stone over offending areas.

• To remove freckles, boil oatmeal and vinegar together and smear it on. Alternatively, if you were out of porridge, you could use bull’s or hare’s blood.

• To eradicate redness, apply cucumber or strawberry juice.

• To soothe sunburn, use the squeezed juice of the waterlily.

The potency of all such unguents could be increased by the application of a plaster/band-aid made from sheep’s leather.

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Use enough makeup to keep your husband, but not enough to tempt the husbands of others

Just as women were encouraged to hide their hair so as not to lead men astray, excessive makeup was frowned upon. However, the views of Thomas of Aquinas show what a minefield makeup was.

On the one hand, Tom thought, yes, a woman should be allowed makeup in order to look her best for her husband, thus discouraging him from the sin of adultery. On the other hand, he cautioned: she should not make herself too pretty, thereby luring other women’s menfolk into an adulterous trap.

In terms of what was available to those willing to tread this very fine line, women could apply foundation, often lead-based, sometimes flour-based. Here’s a recipe from the 13th-century L’ornement des Dames:

Put very pure wheat in water for fifteen days, then grind and blend it in water. Strain through a cloth, and let it crystalise and evaporate. You will obtain make-up which will be as white as snow. When you want to use it, mix it with rosewater, and spread it on your face which has first been washed with warm water. Then dry your face with a cloth.

Eye makeup, despite being available since forever, simply wasn’t very fashionable. Most paintings and sculptures show women with pale, undefined eyes and thin eyebrows. However, we do know that women used to drop deadly nightshade into their eyes to dilate the pupils and make them appear bigger, which is possibly where the plant’s common name Belladonna, “beautiful lady”, comes from.

We know that a fair few women used rouge. Indeed, the 12th-century monge de Montaudon (monk of Montaudon) sang about statues in churches who complain that there is not enough makeup to decorate them “because of all the ladies who use rouge.” It was mostly made from ground plants (angelica or safflower), but the physician Gilbertus Anglicus mentions the effectiveness of brazilwood chips soaked in rosewater.

In terms of lip colour, similar rouge could be used, and also crushed berries to make stains. The 21st-century Lipstick Queen, Poppy King, named her famous Medieval lipstick in honour of the medieval trend for rubbing lemons on your lips to get a deeper colour.

I actually tried this myself and was amazed with the results. Sorry that these photos were so obviously taken in my kitchen, but that’s where the lemons live. I just cut one in half and squished it into my mouth, which was both yummy and effective; my lips look significantly more blood-filled, which is suitably medieval.

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Lip balm also existed, by the way. The book Secrets of Don Alessio Piemontese gives a recipe for “sweet smelling grease that will keep the lips and hands from chapping and make them moist and soft.” It’s made from suet, marjoram and wine.

I like the sound of wine-flavoured lip balm. I like the lemon trick, too. But I’ll keep my freckles and my hair, thanks.

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It’s so interesting to me that, in the age of Cara Delevingne eyebrows, St. Tropez tans and Big Sexy Hair, there’s a space in our beauty past like the Middle Ages. Just goes to show how subjective beauty can be.

Women were abducted in medieval England….

Stolen women

The above book, Stolen Women in Medieval England, by Caroline Dunn, is subtitled Rape, Abduction and Adultery 1100-1500. This subtitle is well earned, because all three activities become very tangled indeed in those records that survive of cases that reached courts.

The general impression the modern world has of medieval women is that they were “victims” of men who controlled everything in their lives. Whether it was their father, brother, husband, whatever, they were bullied into submission. Hmm, not quite. Many women back then knew exactly how to work the system. So that when we read of raids by armed men to abduct and force into marriage any woman who would bring wealth and property into the “bridegroom’s” clutches, things might not have been as simple and clear-cut as might seem.

Well, yes. A lot of this did go on, especially in the 14th century, when it was all too prevalent, but although there were many genuine attacks of this nature, there were also situations when woman, especially married ones, would connive with her abductor in order to escape from a husband she no longer wanted. Or for love of the supposed abductor, of course. And there were young lovers embroiled in elopements. But if it was a case of getting away from an unwanted husband, the deserted husband’s only course was to make legal complaint against the abductor, since he could not charge his wife with leaving him. Thus the charges had to be fairly stiff, leading to all these supposed instances of abduction and rape. A consequence of the husband’s legal move would be for the wife and abductor to claim to have been previously married, so the abduction was merely a case of the first husband claiming back his wife. Not easy to prove or disprove.

Once a marriage had taken place, and it had been consummated, it could not be undone. The Church frowned on such things, but did not annul the match, provided the exact words/vows had been uttered. These indicated what was called present consent. So, by publicly saying, e.g. “I marry you,” or “I take you” they contracted a valid marriage. Or, if in front of witnesses they said, e.g. “I will marry you” or “I will take you”, this constituted future consent, a form of betrothal, which, if subsequently consummated, became a validly contracted marriage. (Step forward Edward IV and Lady Eleanor Talbot/Butler!)

Another point I did not know before, was that when the word rape (usually variations of raptus) appears in records and rolls, it does not necessarily mean sexual rape as understood in the modern world. These rapists could also be mere abductors, whether with ill intent or if they were illicit lovers. So taking a woman and carrying her off would be termed rape in medieval records, even when sexual assault of any kind was not involved.

Those women probably most at risk of kidnapping were the widows, especially the wealthy ones. The taking by force of virgins was frowned upon, and outraged fathers/families could always disinherit the victim. Widows, on the other hand, possessed land and property of which a new husband would immediately gain control. For good if she had no heirs lingering from her late husband’s family, or just for her lifetime if there were step-children lining up to thwart him of hanging on to it. As you can imagine, these possible heirs would soon kick up if he tried! It didn’t stop the abductions, often by impoverished men, including knights, who wanted to improve their situation and fill their purses.

The above is just a brief summary and sample of the interesting facts to be found in Caroline Dunn’s fascinating book. The chapters have been well laid out and are easy to sort mentally, but there are so many footnotes that I for one began to boggle. Not because of their volume, but because their font was small. The author’s sources and references are amazing. Everything is accounted for.

This book is part of the fourth series of Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought, and I do not hesitate to recommend it.

Medieval Hygiene: Practices of the middle ages.

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A link to an interesting article on medieval hygiene touching on chamberpots and privies, the usefulness of nosegays, laundry and makeup among other things.

 

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