The Renaissance continued the love affair with domestic bodily delights begun in the ancient courts and continued throughout the Middle Ages. Between 1500 and 1750 the European population doubled to around 127.5 million, most of this growth occurring before 1625. There was an explosion of ostentatious fine art and architecture as kings, noblemen, and merchant princes spent fortunes in a tidal wave of brick and stone— palaces, town and suburban mansions, with parks furnished with elegant knot gardens, water features, and little pavilions set by lakes. In 1500 only four cities (Paris, Milan, Naples, and Venice) had populations of more than 100,000 inhabitants;by 1700 there were twelve, with London and Paris containing over 500,000 inhabitants.4 Over the next two centuries in Europe, urban fresh-water and riverine sources were extended, and water-carrying became an important service industry; the public fountain ('conduit' in English) was the basic and most popular public facility, often equipped with large laundering tanks. But the public pipes were also being tapped by increasing numbers of private pipes; in England the medieval prohibition on private tapping of this scarce communal resource had gradually eroded from the thirteenth century onwards, although generally for privileged persons only.5
By the mid-1500s the grander European palaces were installing plumbed water supplies with full drainage, in the neoclassical style. The built-in bath or grooming suite was a luxury many princes and nobility were eager to acquire, as in Duke Frederico da Montefeltro's palace at Urbino, which had a fixed stone bath, latrine, and a small reading closet set in an external tower adjoining his large bedroom and public antechambers. Francis I of France had a full suite of baths installed in his ground floor suite, leading out into the garden, at his new palace at Fontainebleau;and there is no doubt that bathtubs held a special place in the sixteenth-century artistic School of Fontainebleau.6 Not to be outdone, Henry VIII of England also built to modern Renaissance standards of convenience at his new palace at Hampton Court, and in renovations at Whitehall and other palaces. At Hampton Court he built an extra tower— the Bayne Tower—with a bath, drop-latrine, and private suite; he also had cold-water cisterns installed on the roof above the upper-level suites to give them piped-water facilities, for fixed stone hand-basins if not fixed baths (though well supplied with the usual portable, upholstered, hooped bathtub). Another of his sanitary innovations at Hampton Court was the Great House of Easement, a four-tier, twenty-eight-seater communal latrine block set over the west arm of the moat. He also laid out two tennis courts, two bowling alleys, and a tilt-yard, having a great humanist passion for sporting exercise.7
Italy was the epicentre of the court life until the rise of Paris in the mid-seventeenth century, and Baldesar Castiglione's famous etiquette manual The Book of the Courtier (1528) was a courtesie for its time—a new type of Ovidian self-cultivation using classical authors instead of Christian ones, foreshadowing the rise of what historians have called 'affective individualism', or a new psychology of 'intimacy'.8 Elizabeth I of England, educated as a
humanist princess, was a perfect exemplar of this new Italian civility (and almost a royal ganika).9 Elizabeth was known to be fussy about her health—she hated being ill. She preserved her health and lived to old age by apparently following a sensible humanist health regimen;she ate and drank abstemiously, took plenty of exercise, and undoubtedly owned a copy of Sir
Thomas Elyot's hugely successful Castel of Helth (1539;five editions by 1560), dedicated to her father's chief minister Thomas Cromwell. She always travelled with her bed and hip bath, and had bathing facilities in all of her palaces, including a sweat bath—her 'warm box' or 'warm nest'—inherited from her father at Richmond, her favourite palace. At Richmond she also installed a prototype of the water closet, the invention of her godson 'Boy Jack', Sir John Harington (translator of the Salerno Regimen). At Whitehall, Elizabeth also had a hot room with a ceramic tiled stove, as well as a large bath and grooming suite, both inherited from her father, in which to spend time with her intimate companions. This suite was effectively her Cabinet of the Morning. It contained her bedroom, and next to it 'a fine bathroom... [where] the water pours from oyster shells and different kinds of rock'. Next to the bathroom was a room with an organ 'on which two people can play duets, also a large chest completely covered in silk, and a clock which plays times by striking a bell'. Next to this was a room 'where the Queen keeps her books'.10 Indeed royal baths were so a la mode that a bathhouse was specially built for Mary, Queen of Scots, at Holyrood Palace in the late 1560s;so there is no reason to think that Queen Elizabeth I did not thoroughly enjoy her monthly bath 'whether she needed it or no' (probably at the time of the menses) and was certainly likely to have taken them more often than that, when returning to Richmond or Whitehall after a long cold journey or a dusty ride on a hot afternoon.
In any case she would have known all about baths, being well versed in the 'arts of adornment' and having a passionate interest in Italian cosmetics. The whole edifice of practical therapeutics stood firm during this very late phase of medieval culture. Galenic traditions were firmly built into domestic medicine—as seen especially in early modern descriptions of childbirth, where the mother was supplied with a battery of hot relaxing foods, drinks, washes, and anointments, in a heated chamber, by her family, female neighbours, and friends.11 'Social' grooming affected rich and poor alike. At the lower end of society, the political hierarchy of a village was as complex as any court, and it imposed its own rules and festivities on its participants on all important occasions—at birth, marriage, and death—when grooming would have been lengthy, giving great attention to all the parts (hair, face, hands, feet) and using whatever simple cosmetics could be made, gathered, or borrowed. Daily grooming with basins, combs, and cloths may have been more limited, and was probably non-existent among vagrants or the lowest ranks of the 'shame-faced poor' (except for the most ancient basic manual actions);but family sickness would have been the time when such old cosmetic and herbal skills of 'kitchen physik' as the household had were brought into play. The symbolic division between long periods of work and short periods of play was marked by the now near-universal habit of having (wherever possible, and certainly among the godly) two sets of clothing: dirty work clothing, and Sunday or festive best.
But it was the luxury trades that set the pace of popular consumerism, and aristocratic fashions were again the driving force in creating markets. At the beginning of Elizabeth's reign in 1558, the Venetian ambassador noted the court ladies' 'fresh' complexions and general lack of paint, at a time when Venetian beauty boxes were large and elaborate affairs, with waters, paints, patches, and 'even preparations for tinting the teeth and eyelids'. Fifty years later the whole of the English court and aristocracy were 'very Italianate' and cosmetics-mad, with paints, beauty patches, wigs (blonde and henna-auburn), and bejewelled hair. The trade of the barbers themselves was now situated well beyond the professional ramparts; but despite this the barbers and apothecaries were doing a flourishing trade in this period, servicing a needy population from their small street shops. Down at street level, customers were not looking for moral judgements, but were involved in a more 'desperate or cynical search for the means of personal definition and social acceptability'. In London generally, it was 'a rare face if it be not painted', according to one satirical broadside:
Waters she hath to make her face to shine, Confections, eke, to clarify her skin;
Lip salve and cloths of a rich scarlet dye... Ointment, wherewith she sprinkles oe'r her face,
And lustrifies her beauty's dying grace... Storax and spikenard, she burns in her chamber, And daubs herself with civet, musk, and amber.12
More careful skin care went into the later sixteenth-century fashion for low-cut necklines, and even bared breasts, a throwback to the fashions of the late fifteenth century: 'Your garments must be so worne always, that your white pappes may be seene...'. But male fashion was equally sensuous. Young Elizabethan courtiers were peacocking dandies like their medieval counterparts; the courtly English 'Cavalier' of the seventeenth century (albeit often armed for battle) has been described as an 'ornament of conversation, personal beauty and erotic attraction', and his loose flowing locks mirrored the curls and tresses of the courtly women.13 Sixteenth- and seventeenth-century European male and female fashions were ornamented with ribbons and lace and garnished with quantities of important accessories such as fans, pomanders, gloves, and handkerchiefs. These fashion accessories were all objects of refinement (like forks): they defended the user against external dirt. Gloves kept the hands white, clean, and soft, handkerchiefs wiped away dirt; fans and pomanders wafted away bad air. (Interestingly, some of these accessories also defended against extremes of heat and cold;another refinement—or retraining—of the senses.)
Fortunes were made by barbers, apothecaries, wig-makers, perfu-miers, clothiers, and stay-makers—and soap-boilers. High-quality hard-soap imports began to rise steadily in England from the late sixteenth century, and increasingly wealthy local manufacturers such as the London wholesaler Henry Bradstreet manufactured perfumed toilet soaps as well as soft soap for clothes and household cleaning. By 1643 English soap production and consumption had risen so steadily that soap was designated one of the eight staple domestic 'necessities' (namely, soap, beer, spirits, cloth, salt, glass, leather, and candles) that were to be taxed under a new Commonwealth Excise system borrowed from the Dutch Republic; this marked the start of an extensive and long-running 'black market' soap-smuggling trade between England and the northern coast of France.14
Linen was the hallmark of the courtier and the man of distinction: 'It is enough if he always has fine linen, and very white.' According to the historian Georges Vigarello, a daily change of shirt had become normal for men in French court circles by the late sixteenth century, while French probate inventories show a steep rise in numbers of gentlemen's shirts (up to an average of thirty) by the end of the seventeenth century. French court correspondence from women in the seventeenth century show an almost nunlike attention to clean linen, and the word 'clean' (propre) became a significant term of praise: Mme de Maintenon had a 'noble and clean' appearance;Mme de Contie had 'extreme cleanliness';Mme Seguier 'was never beautiful, but she was clean' (the modest epitaph of many a gentlewoman for centuries to come).
White underlinen displayed every trace of dirt, absorbed the waste juices from the pores, protected the skin, and was increasingly seen as a cleansing agent in its own right. So far had the theory of underlinen progressed by 1626 that a fashionable French architect could confidently denounce the necessity for building domestic baths: 'We can more easily do without them than the ancients, because of our use of linen, which today serves to keep the body clean, more conveniently than could the steam-baths and baths of the ancients, who were denied the use and convenience of linen.'15 This was to some extent a self-fulfilling prophecy, as French architects stopped building the old palatial appartements de bains in towers, but replaced them by much smaller and more intimate cabinets de bains next to the bedchamber.16 Two marble-built bath suites went into Louis XlV's own and his mistress's chambers at Versailles, and six cabinets de bains were built in other bedroom suites;but Louis did not like bathing, and rarely took one: 'The King was never pleased to become accustomed to bathing in his chamber.' On the other hand, he was kept perfectly clean by his attendants, who continually rubbed him down with scented linen cloths, changed sweaty shirts at night, and changed his complete costume two or three times a day at least—'the consequence of the king's love of comfort, and fear of being uncomfortable'.17 It is worth noting, however, in comparison to all this courtly daintiness, that for much of the population, one or two rough hemp (rather than soft linen) undershirts or shifts were enough to get by with, for bare necessity. But the peasant economy was also expanding. Linen wares sold by pedlars and packmen to English rural farming households showed a steady rise 'from at least the 1680s';while the French and German peasantry, too, were beginning to accumulate household linen (if not much underwear) for their marriage trousseaus. Linen was a major European commodity, and new cloth industries such as lace-making, or weaving fustian (a new linen-wool mix) brought vital work to many villages, as well as cloth for their backs. But it was the people in the towns who bought most of the mercer's wares.18
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