The most expensive bath parties of all were held in royal or aristocratic circles, in private bath suites and thermae. Charlemagne had held court in the thermae at his palace at Aachen, with his advisers and kin sitting around him, up to their necks in hot water. He had deliberately rebuilt the spring for communal bathing;as local legend later had it: 'At his sole expense immense basins were dug . . . these baths were open to the indiscriminate use of persons of all classes, and he himself frequently displayed his skill in swimming before his court and a numerous concourse of spectators.'53 Most European hot springs were probably never abandoned locally, regardless of whether or not they attracted the attention of the current rulers, and they began to be developed by local kings in this period, as at Bath, which was supposedly reopened by King Bladud around 800. In Budapest the hot baths were founded by the first king of Hungary, King Stephen, in 1015-27. Aachen (Aquisgranum, now Aix-la-Chapelle) had been developed by the Romans, who had found the hot springs of the area much in use by local tribes such as the Mattiaci, who also settled around the hot springs of Wiesbaden, a few hundred miles down the Rhine valley (a substantial Frankish villa was found in Wiesbaden). In Wiesbaden the hot-water rights were much fought over from 496 onwards, but were eventually claimed by the dukes of Austria. Overlords also of course owned the many cold mineral springs and local holy wells where people were 'dipped' rather than bathed;as overlords even the Church could be the proprietors of locally valued hot springs, as they were in Bad Kreuth in Switzerland, or at the Bagni de Vignoli in Italy, where a papal palace was built. Direct ownership of a town bathhouse was a valuable asset, handed down from father to son;wealthy highborn proprietors usually gave it over to another family to manage on franchise, charging them an annual rent, with strict regulations concerning cleanliness and orderliness.54
The overlords were clearly mixing pleasure with politics, and by the early fifteenth century, diplomatic bath feasts were in full swing. In 1446 the bathing arrangements in the Grand Palace of the duke of Burgundy, at Bruges, were overhauled and renewed for the wedding of Charles the Bold and Margaret of York. Steam rooms and barber's shops were provided for the duke and his guests, but the star attraction was a great bathing basin (probably a cauldron made of metal, like the one in the Salerno monastery) brought to Bruges from Valenciennes by canal; this bath was so large that a hole had to be made in the wall of the palace to accommodate it.55 Essentially, many of these aristocratic bath feasts were used for political purposes, and for the ostentatious display that accompanied them. The accounts of Philip the Good show how he used them to give important guests a good time. Throughout December 1462 the duke gave several banquets in the baths at his palace for most of the local nobility, including one for the ambassadors of the wealthy duke of Bavaria and the count of Wiirttemburg, where he 'had five meat dishes prepared to regale himself at the baths'. Philippe de Bourgogne hired both the bathhouse and its prostitutes at Valenciennes, 'in honour of the English ambassador who was paying him a visit'. Nor were noblewomen excluded: in 1476 a reception was given in Paris to Queen Charlotte of Savoy and her court, where 'they were received and regaled most royally and lavishly, and four beautiful and richly adorned baths had been prepared'.56 The larger bath feasts also often took place outside in the open air;as they probably did at diplomatic parties in Baden in the 1480s, where the hot springs were now hosting a rather more select clientele, not just the townspeople:
From the year 1474 the [imperial] confederation held their great assemblies regularly every summer at Baden with many other visitors attending____In the summer of 1474 the councillor of Halle,
Hans von Waldheim, spent four weeks at the baths, and in his report, highly praised the good society of the place, and in the same year, Princess Eleonora of Scotland [attended], and her court.57
Was this article helpful?