SLEEPING - SOCIALISING - PROCREATING - BIRTHING - CONVALESCING
What did the medieval woman
wear to bed? Generally it depended on the circumstance of her being
in bed. Was she there to sleep, procreate, give birth or was she unwell
It seems that the usual thing to do when sleeping was to sleep naked-
naked except for some kind of head covering. The latest medical thinking
believed that much of the body's heat was lost through the head and
that for the sake of one's health, the head should remain covered.
Most images show this.
The image at the right comes from a German manuscript, the Manesse
Codex, in the early 14th century and shows a man who is besheeching
his lady love. She is already in bed, wearing nothing but a veil. The
prescence of her chamber maid suggests that this was not an unusual
or unseemly thing.
Wealthy medieval ladies often socialised in their bedrooms or solars,
and when this occurred, a certain richness of dress would be retained.
lady might wish to remain snuggly warm on a very cold winter's day,
but that's no reason to be any less elegantly dressed.
This miniature is from the 13th century,
"Queen Blanche of Castile With Attendants." She herself is
wearing a heraldic gown and so is the smaller woman to her side. Both
have veils and coronets- a crown in the case of the queen. The queen
also wears a brooch, something not necessary for bedwear, showing that
she has dressed in a manner suitable for receiving visitors.
There is a guest with a scroll in his hand
casually leaning on the bed, hinting at a certain amount of familiarity
with the queen. The musician at the foot of the bed also wears a coronet,
although it is likely that one of the two smaller people wearing coronets
could be her child. The similar heraldry hints that there may be a family
When images of a woman giving birth are shown, she is certain to be
naked. Scenes depicting a newborn baby, freshly washed and wrapped in
a towl and ready to be presented to the new mother usually show the
mother fully clothed, which makes medieval mothers incredibly quick
to rise, attend to her post partum needs, dress and return to bed.
This seems extremely unlikely, and I feel that generally it is modesty
on the part of the artist which dresses the new mother. A large number
of birthing scenes have Mary giving birth to baby Jesus and again I
feel that perhaps the artists who were often religious, felt it was
entirely unsuitable for Mary to be nude after birth. She was also a
virgin, remember, and perhaps propriety should be maintained for this
following illness or birth always shows a woman completely dressed,
often in loose-fitting clothes, but sometimes in her regular day clothes.
The image above at the right shows The Birth of the Virgin in
1435 by Uccello. With the baby freshly washed and the mother already
dressed in a loosely-fitting gown, her female attendants are bringing
food and drink. Women who were poorly were usually attended by other
When in bed for the purpose of having babies, there is no clothing worn
other than the hat or headscarf to keep the head warm and prevent sudden
heat loss through the head due to the energetic activity taking place.
As usual, both parties are naked. The concept of cute lingerie especially
worn for wooing in the bedroom does not exist in the medieval period.
Notions that under every gown lies a sexy, laced leather corset or metal
chastity belt is entirely wrong. It appears that even underpants were
discarded at night.