The manners and customs of Charlemagne's court were part-Frankish, part-Christian, and part-Roman. The strongest influence on the dress and manners of his courtiers was wealthy Christian Byzantium, where ceremonial dress and court etiquette held the eastern Empire together. Charlemagne himself liked to fight and feast with his bards and his family gathered around him, but also relaxed in Roman style. He wore Frankish costume with underlinen, bound leggings, a knee-length tunic, fur jerkin, a long military cloak, and was bearded and mous-tached;but definitely rejected any tattooing on his body 'like the pagans who obey the notions of the Devil'. Nor did he wear gilded boots with laces 'more than four feet long', scarlet wrappings round his legs, floor-length embroidered tunics, or the new style of bright blue or white (or striped) short cloaks to the waist: 'what is the use of these little napkins? I can't cover myself with them in bed. When I am on horseback I can't protect myself from the winds and the rain. When I go off to empty my bowels, I catch cold because my backside is frozen.' When Charlemagne died in 816, his tutor and lifelong friend Einhard wrote an insider's account of the reign. Among other things he especially noted his great fondness for thermal baths:
He took delight in steam-baths at the thermal springs, and loved to exercise himself in the water whenever he could. He was an extremely strong swimmer and in this sport no one could surpass him. It was for this reason that he built his palace at Aachen and remained continuously in residence there during the last years of his life and indeed until the moment of his death. He would invite not only his sons to bathe with him, but his nobles and friends as well, and occasionally even a crowd of his attendants and bodyguards, so that sometimes a hundred men or more would be in the water together.2
Einhard was the architect of Charlemagne's new Romanesque villa palace in Aachen, built next to his Byzantine chapel, and had presumably engineered the link between the palace and the hot springs that archaeologists found later, providing the luxury of heating throughout the building.
A new courtly honour system known as courtesie (courtesy) spread rapidly via the Frankish courts throughout northern and southern Europe. Clerical courtly tutors had from the beginning used the Roman canon of educational self-discipline (notably Cicero) to persuade the young offspring of the nobility to curb their barbaric ways, and to inculcate propriety, decorum, temperance, and all the other noble virtues—listed in one medieval encyclopedia as: 'shamefastnesse... trouth... confidence...
suffereance... stablenesse... pacience... devotion... truthfulness ... benignity... wisdom... chastity... fairespeech'.Being'suave of speech and manner, courtly in love-making' (with the accompanying natty dress code) became the fashionable hallmark of medieval nobility and rank, especially among the young.3 Along with courtliness came physical refinement. Early manuscript books on household duties and manners, used for training table and body servants, covered every possible embarrassing social situation and breaches of social etiquette; this is where all the well-known 'abominations' of the medieval body—farting, sweating, spitting, gobbling, sneezing, slurping, burping, etc.— are listed.4 Guest honour rituals like handwashing (donner a laver, offering a wash) at all meals were scrupulously observed; also the washing of the feet of guests on arrival (practised in both abbeys and palaces). A whole raft of complex rituals of courteous etiquette (eating etiquette, linen tablecloths, and napkins) radiated out from the meal table—including the development and use of cutlery. For many centuries metal and glass was expensive and utensils were scarce or made of wood. The metal table fork was introduced into Europe by a Byzantine princess at her wedding in Venice in 955;everyone else ate with their hands. By the 1500s only peasants ate with their hands.5
Was this article helpful?