Grooming Zones

In the 700 years between c.800 and 1500 the urge for constant domestic improvement is visible in the steady separation and multiplication of spaces—something we now recognize as a sign of increased personal refinement. For families that had achieved that extra economic margin, rooms were added, others were divided, second storeys added, window-bays and chimneys invented, and 'dirty' service areas separated and put out of sight, usually in outdoor yards or courts. From the eighth century onwards water engineering had become an architectural essential for the wealthy and self-confident church foundations. Monasteries had rows of latrines, their lavatoria (washrooms) were large, and they often handed on their considerable expertise to the local nobility, or town councils.22 Where money and expensive stonework was no object, external drop-latrines with indoor seating were loved for their convenience and were installed in most new-built castles (even the most isolated knightly residence in Wales in the 1450s required an indoor latrine for its guest bedrooms);larger castles had up to twenty latrines, sometimes arranged as three-and four-seaters. England's King Edward III (1327-77) had hot and cold running water installed in two of his palaces.23 For the rest of the population, stone-built conduits and drop-latrines were rare, and the old dry sewage system sufficed. In the country, cesspits and middens were relatively easy to manage; in town they had to be regularly emptied and scavenged by the local authority.24

Inside the medieval bedroom the 'close-stool' discreetly enclosed the evacuations, while the simple 'jerry' was pushed underneath the bed. It was also at this time that the fixed stone washbasin, or laver, with a can of water hanging above it and a cloth hanging by, reappeared as a common domestic fixture; along with the portable washstand; and the portable wooden bathtub made from a sawn half-cask, lined with linen cloth, possibly with a richer fabric draped over an iron hoop above, making a draught-free private enclosure, or private grooming zone. The new enclosed bed recesses, or personal garderobes (dressing closets), were like the new bay-window recesses that became popular in many chateaux—they both created a separated intimate space. Two chambers, a garderobe, a private oratory, a study closet, and a 'generous provision of latrines' was the ideal logis, or private suite, in late fourteenth-century France.25

Most grooming would have taken place on or near the bed, wherever it was situated. The bed was usually the focal point of the main living room on the ground floor;but if the household was really wealthy, it would be in a chamber above. The bed was easily the largest display piece in the medieval house, a major item of expenditure, and was usually lifted up on a dais, with heavy curtain drapes that were as much to display the cloth as for privacy or keeping out draughts. Following Roman precursors, many types of tall wooden furniture were developed in Europe—stools, benches, chairs, tables, sideboards, and cupboards, in a proliferation of styles—which lifted the body and other objects high off the floor and away from the dirty or dusty surfaces below.26 Wooden floors in upper storeys and bedchambers could be covered with straw matting or rugs; ground floors were kept strewn with hay, rushes, sand, or other absorbent materials—although with more funds, more resources, you could have a stone, wood, or tiled floor, as many wealthier households did.

Cloth was one of the great new staple trades of Europe, and medieval culture is inconceivable without it. More work now went into one piece of cloth, ornamented with deep dyes, precious stones, and minute embroidery, than ever before. For the housewife pure white linen was one of the most coveted luxury domestic products, requiring yet more careful preserving and cleaning. In Christine de Pizan's sermon for laywomen The Treasure of the City of Ladies (1405), virtuous women should have fine wide cloth, tablecloths, napkins and other linen made. She will be most painstaking about this, for it is the natural pleasure of women [to be] not odious and sluttish, but upright and proper... she will have very fine linen—delicate, generously embroidered and well-made... [and] will keep it white and sweet smelling, neatly folded in a chest; she will be most conscientious about this. She will use it to serve the important people that her husband brings home, by whom she will be greatly esteemed, honoured, and praised.27

Underlinen was now standard. During the Roman Empire, Tacitus had noted that the 'wild tribes' of Germania thought it 'a mark of great wealth to wear undergarments';only a few centuries later linen garments were worn more or less regardless of social rank—linen shirts, gowns (cottes), leggings, trousers (braises), caps (coifs), and veils—even if there was no expensive outer cloth to go over them. The only time linen was not worn was at night.28 If the grooming was good, and the underlinen regularly 'shifted', the vermin and dirt load would be significantly reduced, and could be controlled.

'Shifting' linen was obviously not a problem for anyone of high rank: Edward IV's court accounts show regular money given for the 'lavender-man' (the launderer or washing-man) to obtain 'sweet flowers and roots to make the king's gowns and sheets brethe more wholesomely and delectable'. But shifting his shirt and picking out vermin from the seams of his clothes was a major chore for the poor student Thomas Platter, in Germany in 1499: 'you cannot imagine how the scholars young and old, as well as some of the common people, crawled with vermin... Often, particularly in the summer, I used to go and wash my shirt on the banks of the Oder... whilst it dried I cleaned my clothes. I dug a hole, threw in a pile of vermin, filled it in, and planted a cross on top.' Delousing was more usually done by wives, mothers, and intimates in the slow leisured hours—something that perhaps Platter, like other urban scholars and apprentices, had left behind with his faraway family. A rare description of delousing customs in the French village of Montaillou was fleetingly captured in a fourteenth-century Inquisition testimonial:

Pierre Clergue had himself deloused by his mistresses... the operation might take place in bed, or by the fire, at the window or on a shoemaker's bench... Raymonde Guilhou also deloused the priest's mother, wife of old Pons Clergue, in full view of everybody in the doorway of the 'ostal', retailing the latest gossip as she did so. The Clergues, as leading citizens, had no difficulty in finding women to relieve them of their insect life...29

Delousing was rarely recorded as minutely as that. A single fifteenth-century manuscript shows a well-dressed older woman brushing the downturned head of a young man outside in a garden with a large hand-brush, with the lice flying into a bowl he is holding. In one medieval romance a nobleman enters the damsel's chamber and removes his shirt so that they can scratch him with combs made of wood, bone, and ivory 'with two rows of teeth', and brush his hair with their 'small brooms'. It seems that the privacy of this sort of bedroom activity was well respected; a well-known passage from the fourteenth-century bourgeois classic The Menagier's Wife gives some timeless advice:

Whereof cherish the person of your husband carefully, and, I pray you, keep him in clean linen, for 'tis your business... and nothing harms him because he is upheld by the hope he has in his wife's care of him on his return . . . to have his shoes removed before a good fire, his feet washed and to have fresh shoes and stockings, to be given good food and drink, to be well served and well looked after, well bedded in white sheets and nightcaps, well covered with good furs, and assuaged with other joys and amusements, privities, loves, and secrets, concerning which I am silent; and on the next day fresh shirts and garments. Certes, fair sister, such service

10 Bedbugs and head lice—a rare illustration of these ubiquitous bugs from the medieval encyclopedia Hortatus Sanitatis.

. Ulrf^jtU.Oitlil.rt.^liU'titovoMtf ►funtroff In ?u[Mtt magic rmrtmnfi f i> ¡attpuKcfiOctoir.intlu miniitu quidcm.fcdfald e pwti giritiu jnflHms

XI t fan -<r fftitm iTfilnnrali.^alinrif flf:r r fl

10 Bedbugs and head lice—a rare illustration of these ubiquitous bugs from the medieval encyclopedia Hortatus Sanitatis.

maketh a man love and desire to return to his home and to see his goodwife and to be distant with other women.30

0 0

Post a comment