Thursday, 2 August 2012

Exposing the Truth about cleanliness in the Middle Ages

This is my original premise regarding Hygiene in the Middle Ages. It has evolved since it was written back in about 2005, but it is useful (for me at least!) to see where I started from.

It was originally inspired by a comment in a book about the history of cookery, Food and Drink in Britain from the Stone Age to Recent Times by C. Anne Wilson. Wilson decided to deal with each food type separately, rather than giving an overview of, say, Roman food then 'Dark Ages' food. I was intrigued by a mention of problems with wood meaning that less was available for non-essential uses to preserve it for more important functions like cooking. 

This sparked the question in my head as I thought back to studying Latin Culture at school and remembered visiting villas like Fishbourne and Bignor, and later studying Brading. Each of these sites had highly developed hypocaust systems and bath houses. This just sat in the back of my head until I was taking part in a re-enactment event with friends, and a member of the public commented that "well, everyone knows medieval people were smelly". I'm not good at just accepting assumptions, and started digging around for evidence to either corroborate or deny this. More on this later.

To investigate the role of personal hygiene and cleanliness in the Middle Ages – from the departure of the Romans to the coming of the Tudors

Britain -> England 410 – 1485 = over 1000 years Bathing; toilets and teeth Gentry and nobility
  1. Hygiene in literature
    1. Chaucer; Pizan; de Troyes etc.
    2. Romances
    3. Salacious tales / Satirical / Aesop-esque
    4. Manuscript illustration?
  2. Hygiene and religion
    1. Ancrene wisse
    2. Hagiography for saintly lives
    3. Papal edicts – any mention / lack of mention?
    4. Monastic rules
    5. Contemporary satire and criticism?
    6. Knighting ceremonies?
  3. Royal hygiene
    1. E.g. Last days of Queen Isabella contains bath details – look for similar records
    2. Architecture of royal palaces => contemporary accounts, maps, plans etc.
  4. Architecture and hygiene (castles and manors)
    1. Toilets and garderobes
    2. Bath houses
    3. Maps and plans (as for Royal palaces)
  5. Archaeological evidence
    1. Toothbrushes and other oral hygiene equipment
    2. Hygiene and personal care objects recovered
  6. Other mentions in contemporary documentation.

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