This morning I found myself unexpectedly wondering about medieval bathing habits, and I found this grand page:
All the answers to your never-asked middle ages hygiene questions!! Well, not all the answers. But a lot. (And some medieval sexytimes too!)
This is the kind of detail that intrigues me:
“If people could afford a to have private bath – and not many could – they would use a wooden tub that could also have a tent-like cloth on top of it. Attendants would bring jugs and pots of hot water to fill the tub. In John Russell’s Book of Nurture, written in the second half of the fifteenth-century, he advises servants that if their lord wants a bath they should:
hang sheets, round the roof, every one full of flowers and sweet green herbs, and have five or six sponges to sit or lean upon, and see that you have one big sponge to sit upon, and a sheet over so that he may bathe there for a while, and have a sponge also for under his feet, if there be any to spare, and always be careful that the door is shut. Have a basin full of hot fresh herbs and wash his body with a soft sponge, rinse him with fair warm rose-water, and throw it over him.“
Sounds good to me! Regular folk went to bathhouses, where they often got up to some scandalous secretive scootly-pooping, by which I mean illicit sex. Also, the all-bros hot-tub phenomenon (and oh, my, I hope this is a phenomenon) is not new:
“Royalty throughout Europe often entertained guests with baths, often trying to impress each other with how luxurious they could make it. This tradition even goes back to the Carolingians – Einhard says that Charlemagne loved taking baths, and that “he would invite not only his sons to bathe with him, but his nobles and friends as well, and occasionally even a crowd of attendants and bodyguards, so that sometimes a hundred men or more would be in the water together.”
Oh, Chuck, you crazy Carolingian you.
The image above, by the way, is by Albrecht Dürer, and was painted in Nuremberg in 1496. I found a fascinating blog post by a blogger who is committed to revealing “The Hidden Secrets In Albrecht Dürer’s Art And Life”. I haven’t read far enough to see what these putative secrets might be, but the entry about the bathhouse image is fairly – if you’ll pardon the expression – steamy. The post also contains interesting information about bathing habits around that time, including the thought that many people in Nuremberg received a bathing stipend to be spent at the bathhouses, and may have been let off work early once a week to go and get clean. If you’re interested in more, it’s here.
And in case two wasn’t enough for you, here’s one more:
Well!! There you go. I have an urge to set up a tent over my bath tub and strew some herbs and flowers about so I can have a good royal sort of soak… but I’d have to clean the tub first. Where, oh where are my minions?