A MEDIEVAL WOMAN'S LIFE - AT HOME
- BIRTHS - WEDDINGS - DIVORCE - DEATHS - MANNERS - EDUCATION - EMPLOYMENT
CLOTHES - ITEMS OF CLOTHING - DRESS ACCESSORIES FABRICS & SEWING BEAUTY, HEALTH & HYGIENE MY TALKS MY SEWING MY ARTIFACTS BIBLIOGRAPHY LINKS
Cleanliness, Personal Hygiene & Bathing
BATHING - DEODORANT - SOAP - PERFUME
general standard of medieval cleanliness was considerably higher than
Hollywood movies would have us believe. The poorer person was just as
concerned with personal hygiene and cleanliness as the wealthy, perhaps
more so. A person who worked with animals or out in the fields all day
would be more in need to wash their hands and face before a meal than
a person who had not worked at manual labour. A
lack of money and possessions did not preclude the lowest classes from
basic good hygiene.
Pictured at left, is a detail from a 14th
century illuminated manuscript, Tacuinum Sanitatis showing two
women washing the lower legs in a shallow basin of water; the kirtle
drawn back up to the thighs.
In the 14th century Boccaccio's the Decameron we read about bathing-
Baths or stewes were almost a popular pastime for the townsperson or noble. Scented bathes might also include music, a meal or refreshment served on a tray which reached from one side of the tub to the other. Bathers would be attended by men and women who would supply the patron's needs. Although patrons bathed nude, headwear was still worn to preserve modesty.
The church, whilst favouring cleanliness of mind, body and spirit were very quick to denounce public stewes as dens of iniquity and moral looseness, which it seems, they often were.
Early soaps were usually made with tallow, ash and beef or mutton fats making them rather unattractive to look at. Techniques for the production of soap improved during the next two hundred years but cakes of soap remained relatively soft. By the 12th century, hard soap came into use which was said to be an Arab development later imported into Europe. The best soaps were known as castile soap having originated in Castile, Spain, and made using olive oil instead of fats.
Roses and lavender lavendula vera and lavendula spica were especially cultivated for distillation of their oils in the medieval period as much as they are today. Myrtle was known and also used in recipes for perfuming. Musk was known and used as a fixative as was the extremely expensive ambergris which was imported.
Copyright © Rosalie Gilbert
All text & photographs within this site are the property of Rosalie Gilbert unless stated.
Art & artifact images remain the property of the owner.
Images and text may not be copied and used without permission.