Saturday, April 5, 2014

medieval matters

The following snippets about the 1500s may or may not be true, but whether they are or not, I'm happy to be here and now rather than there and then:

Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May and still generally smelled decent by June. However, they were starting to smell a bit so brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odour. That's where the custom came from.

When taking a bath the man of the house had first privilege of the big tub of hot, clean water. After him the other sons and menfolk bathed, followed by the women and finally the children - last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it. Hence the saying, "Don't throw the baby out with the bath water."

Did you ever wonder where the term 'raining cats and dogs' came from? It turns out small animals often slept in the straw of thatched roofs. When it rained it sometimes became slippery enough that they fell off.

The fact there was nothing to stop things from falling from the thatched roof into the rooms of the house posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could make a nasty mess on the bed. Then someone came up with the idea of making tall posts with a cloth hung over the top for some protection. Apparently, that's how canopy beds came into existence.

Most people had floors made from compressed dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt and looked down on others, who they said, were 'dirt poor'. The wealthy had slate floors but these would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on the floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they kept adding more thresh until opening the door would let it all start slipping outside. A piece of wood placed in the entranceway made a 'thresh hold'.

Sometimes poorer people could obtain pork, which made them feel quite special. When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show off. It was a sign of wealth that a man 'could bring home the bacon'. After cutting off a little to share with guests they would all sit around and 'chew the fat'.

Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or 'upper crust'.

Lead cups were used for ale or whisky - a chemical combination that would sometimes knock a person out for a long time. As often as not being taken for dead they were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days where the family gathered around to eat and drink while waiting to see if they would wake up. This lead to the custom of holding a 'wake'.

England being old and small, places to bury people often ran short. After a certain time had passed coffins were dug up and the bones were taken to a 'bone house' for storage in order that the grave could be reused. When reopening these coffins, 1 out of 25 of them were found to have scratch marks on the inside indicating they had been burying people alive. In order to prevent future incidents they thought to tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (the 'graveyard shift') to listen for the bell; thus, someone could be 'saved by the bell'.

and now for something not so completely different - but still relevant:

♡ :)


Sean Jeating said...

My first thought: Laughing Lhursday. Then I realised: It's Saturday. Then I asked myself: For whom will the bell toll next?

clairesgarden said...

love monty python, endlessly funny. I don't particularly believe the 'hiding the body odour' thing... everyone would be accustomed to the smells and not notice them at all. people nowadays are too clean, I know people who regularly shower two and three times a day.. and I work on a farm and have a shower every two to three days.. I don't think I smell, perhaps everyone else does.. lol

Tom said...

Well, I believe them all except......yes, I'm a teensy-bit suspicious of the bell clanging, "Oy, I'm not dead yet" item. A very amusing selection, rounded off by the superb Monty Python clip. Having read the previous comments, of course, I am surprised, nay flabbergasted, that people have the time and apparent need to shower three times a day. I'm waiting for, "Monty Python's Star Trek - The Groovy Movie" to be released.

Should Fish More said...

On the positive end of the spectrum, back then a person could still have minions, 4 or 5 of them might be useful....I'm thinking fetching coffee, harassing those who've displeased you. Also, it'd be possible to have others address you as "My Liege".

marja-leena said...

I enjoyed this! The sources of so many familiar sayings sound believable, except maybe the bell. Thanks for the smiles, Susan!

Rob-bear said...

The year is 1381. The place is England. In the year following th Black Death, peasants were being pressed to pay overdue taxes. A single event in Brentwood lead to a violent confrontation, which rapidly spread across the south-east of the country. It came to be called Wat Tyler's Rebellion.

Word of the disturbance got to the king, Richard II, who was only 14 at the time.

"Sire," exclaimed a breathless courtier, "the peasants are revolting!"

To which his majesty replied, "They certainly are."

After which the king was apprised of the details of the rebellion, and it's seriousness.

The disturbance came to be known as "The Peasants' Revolt."

Blessings and Bear hugs! Best regards to Crow.

susan said...

Goodness knows there's enough material for me to make a habit of Silly Saturday posts.

I'm sure we can both think of a few who never would be missed.

susan said...

Yes, the Pythons were arguably the best comedy troupe ever. I can still go into fits of laughter just remembering some of their routines.

I'm sure you're right about people not really noticing body odour in those days and I'm sure you're also right about people today being somewhat too fussy. One shower in the morning is enough for me because there are so many more interesting things to do. :)

susan said...

I just figured the sheer fantasy of medieval life offered by Game of Thrones needed a bit of reality injected. Even the idea of ringing a bell to say, 'I'm feeling better', worked well in that context.

Yep, showering three times a day does seem excessive, doesn't it? Yet there are a number of people who seem to have nothing better to do with their time.

I'd like to see that movie too. Meanwhile, it looks as if somebody made a start :)

susan said...

I'm sure there were many advantages to be had as a 'Liege Lord'. Then again..

The knight returned to the king’s castle with prisoners, bags of gold and other riches from his victories. “Tell me of your battles,” said the king.

“Well, sire, I have been robbing and stealing on your behalf for weeks, burning the all of the villages of your enemies in the north.”

The king was horrified. “But I have no enemies in the north,” he said.

“Well,” said the knight, “you do now.”

susan said...

They all do sound quite logical, don't they? I'm delighted you enjoyed them, Marja-Leena :)

susan said...

A British photographer, Red Saunders, has been making tableaux vivants pictures of historic scenes with contemporary Britons as models. A couple of years ago he photographed a version of 'the Peasant's Revolt' to great effect.

happy Sunday, Bear :)

Interestingly, the peasants never went after the king himself but his advisors didn't fare so well.

Ol'Buzzard said...

I believe all of them; but I a gullible. Great entertaining post.
the Ol'Buzzard

susan said...

They do all sound perfectly reasonable to me too.

okjimm said...

huh, and all this time I thought medieval meant you were only semi-bad, and middle ages were 45-65...boy, yas sure can learn lots on the web, is what I am thinking!

susan said...

and I used to think contemporary meant being temporarily conned..
whereas, evidence suggests it could be permanent :)

Should Fish More said...

Well, a knight's gotta do what a knight's gotta do.

susan said...


Life As I Know It Now said...

Showering once a day is plenty good enough but as a woman I must say I would not like to be one back then. Sex must have been awful and short. Yeah, I'm thinking about the sex ;P

susan said...

Even worse than the sex is thinking about the childbirth! A convent would have been the only recourse and they likely weren't nice either.

Andrew MacLaren-Scott said...

Fun to read but I am dubious of the accuracy of pretty much all of them. (But then I am dubious about the accuracy of most historical accounts, even, or perhaps especially, the ones in the newspapers about what happened the day before.)

susan said...

Whether we believe these to be true or not they at least have some internal coherence (as well as humour) - unlike a number of news stories of more recent vintage.

Lindsay Byrnes said...

Hi Susan
Highly entertaining but some of these sayings more likely err on the side of exaggeration. As you might say never let the facts get in the way of a good story! Another account, woven into Gothic tapestries has bathing with great gusto by both poor and rich in public baths, often while eating from floating tables.

But public baths were relatively common then as was hand and face washing with soap. Although families bathed together the practice was frowned upon by the puritan preachers. Marriages were arranged in May or June as prescribed by the Church during the Lenten season and babies were usually washed in basins. You certainly couldn’t sleep dogs and cats in the tightly woven thatched roofs constructed from long reeds, long straw, or Norfolk reed by the peasants then.
Best wishes

susan said...

Hi Lindsay
I'm sure those people had the Romans to thank for their public baths but most would have had to rely on far simpler means of bathing.

Thanks for the information about baby washing, marriages and where the house pets didn't sleep. I'm sure you're likely right but the ideas here were definitely more amusing.
All the best

linda said...

haha, these were fascinating. i sat here reading and wondering just how long it took for you to collect them all! the 'saved by the bell' was very chilling so won't be thinking upon that one. in fact many were rather gross to ponder, such as the bathing ritual. ugh... and chewing the fat and and and... :)

guess we've got it better in our present conditions for the most part tho i still find myself pausing to question that wisdom often enough.


susan said...

Hah, another creepy one I've read about that's very true is that people in the 1800s put iron grill into the ground over new graves in order to protect the remains from grave robbers who were selling bodies to medical schools. I don't know about the rest, except that a number of them seemed pretty logical in their own ways.

Yeah, we've got it better, but there's also a good argument that we have more than might be good for us - never mind all the other poor creatures.