SLEEPING - SOCIALISING - PROCREATING - BIRTHING
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 and convalescing?
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. A
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 connection.
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 reason.
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 unwell
were usually attended by other women.
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 are entirely wrong. It appears
that even underpants were discarded at night.