It is often thought that medieval men and women did not care too much about personal hygiene or keeping clean. One nineteenth-century historian writing about daily life in the Middle Ages commented that there were no baths for a thousand years. However, a closer look shows that baths and bathing were actually quite common in the Middle Ages, but in a different way than one might expect.
There are stories of how people didn’t bathe in the Middle Ages – for example, St Fintan of Clonenagh was said to take a bath only once a year, just before Easter, for twenty-four years. Meanwhile, the Anglo-Saxons were believed that the Vikings were overly concerned with cleanliness since they took a bath once a week. On the other hand, we can also see many literary references and works of art depicting people taking baths, and noting that it was part of daily activity.
Personal hygiene did exist in the Middle Ages – people were well aware that cleaning their face and hands – health manuals from the period note that it was important to get rid of dirt and grime. They also explained that it was important to keep the entire body clean. For example, the fourteenth-century writer Magninius Mediolanesis stated in his work Regimen sanitatis that ”The bath cleans the external body parts of dirt left behind from exercise on the outside of the body.”
He also adds a second reason for bathing: “if any of the waste products of third digestion are left under the skin that were not resolved by exercise and massage, these will be resolved by the bath.” There was a strong connection between bathing and eating, which could affect one’s overall health (these ideas have not quite left us – many people might remember their mother telling them not to go swimming for an hour after a meal). Baths could relieve digestion, stop diarrhoea – but taken improperly cold lead to weakness of the heart, nausea or fainting.
Medieval writers saw bathing as a serious and careful activity. One medical treatise, the Secreta Secretorum, has an enitre section on baths. It notes that the spring and winter are good times for bathing, but it should be avoided as much as possible in the summer. It also warns that excessively long baths lead to fatness and feebleness. Meanwhile, Magninius Mediolanesis offers over 57 bathing prescriptions to use in specific conditions, like old age, pregnancy and travelling and his rules for bathing run 1500 words long.
Some famous bathing sites had their own rules. In 1336, Pietro de Tussignano formulated twelve rules for those coming to the Italian town at Burmi, which lies near Switzerland, to get the healing effects of its bath. They include that the person should beforehand not to have too much sexual intercourse nor have abstained from it, and that he should also enter the bath with an empty stomach (if they had to have food it could only two spoons of raisins with a little wine). You could only pour the water over your head if you were clean-shaven, otherwise your hairs might impede the effects of the water. The person should take the baths for fifteen days, spending up to an hour a day getting washed, but if all goes well, the bather will benefit for over six months with improved health.
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.
He adds that if the lord has pains or aches, it is good to boil various herbs like camomile, breweswort, mallow and brown fennel and add them to the bath.
Records from medieval England show that its kings often enjoyed these baths. When King John traveled around his kingdom, he took a bathtub with him, and had a personal attendant named William who handled it. Meanwhile, in 1351 Edward III paid for taps of hot and cold water supply to his bathtub at Westminster Palace.
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.”
Wealthy monasteries often could pipe in water and have baths as well. Some monastic rules suggest that monks did not take regular baths. The monks of Westminster Abbey, for example, were required to have a bath four times a year: at Christmas, Easter, the end of June, and the end of September. It is hard to know if these rules were being followed, or if they were intended to mean that the monks could only bathe then. We do know, however, that Westminster Abbey employed a bath-attendent who was paid daily two loaves of bread, as well as a stipend of £1 per year, which seems to indicate his services were regularly used.
For most people, having a private bath was not an option – it was simply too costly and too time-consuming to have their own baths. That does not mean they went without bathing, for public baths were very common throughout Europe. By the thirteenth-century one could find over 32 bathhouses in Paris; Alexander Neckham, who lived in that city a century earlier, says that he would be awakened in the mornings by people crying in the streets that ‘that baths are hot!”
In Southwark, the town on the opposite side of the Thames River from London, a person could choose from 18 hot baths. Even smaller towns would have bathhouses, often connected with the local bakery – the baths could make use of the heat coming from their ovens to help heat their water.
In her book Clean: A History of Personal Hygiene and Purity Virginia Smith explains,”By the fifteenth-century, bath feasting in many town bathhouses seems to have been as common as going out to a restaurant was to become four centuries later. German bath etchings from the fifteenth century often feature the town bathhouse, with a long row of bathing couples eating a meal naked in bathtubs, often several to a tub, with other couples seen smiling in beds in the mid-distance.”
Public bathhouses were very popular throughout medieval Europe but they also raised controversy as some objected to the fact that men and women could see and be with each other naked, and that this could lead to illicit sex. A thirteenth century church writer made this prohibition: “Hast thou washed thyself in the bath with thy wife and other women and seen them nude, and they thee? If thou hast, thou shouldst fast for three days on bread and water.”
However, it seems that church officials had little influence on bathhouses in the Middle Ages. Medieval people, in fact, seems to have accepted that the bathhouse was not only a place to get clean and healthy, but it could also be a place where sex and prostitution could occur. The bathhouses in Southwark were called the Stews, and were largely seen to be just fronts for brothels. These practices were usually overlooked by local authorities, who believed that it was best to allow some level of sexual outlets for its young men, otherwise risk more serious problems.
The prominence of the public bathhouse went into rapid decline in the sixteenth-century. Several suggestions have been made to as why – were more puritanical religious people able to impose their moral values on the community, or were the diseases that struck Europe since the Black Death convincing people from to avoid them. The disease of syphilis, which broke out in Europe the late fifteenth-century, would have also motivated people to stop their sexual promiscuity, thus reducing the other reasons for having a bathhouse.
The Dutch philosopher Erasmus, writing in 1526, notes the fall of the public bathhouse. “Twenty-five years ago, nothing was more fashionable in Brabant than the public baths,” he remarked. “Today there are none, the new plague has taught us to avoid them.”
This is the web address for this article, http://www.medievalists.net/2013/04/13/did-people-in-the-middle-ages-take-baths/
Archibald, Elizabeth, “Did Knights Have Baths? The Absence of Bathing in Middle English Romance,” Cultural Encounters In The Romance Of Medieval England, edited by Corinne Saunders (Boydell, 2005)
Caskey, Jill, “Steam and “Sanitas” in the Domestic Realm: Baths and Bathing in Southern Italy in the Middle Ages,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 58, No. 2 (1999)
Harvey, Barbara, Living and Dying in England, 1100-1540: The Monastic Experience (Clarendon Press, 1993)
Holmes, Urban Tigner, Daily Life in the Twelfth-Century (University of Wisconsin Press, 1952)
Lucas, A.T., “Washing and Bathing in Ancient Ireland,” The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Vol. 95, No. 1/2 (1965)
Newman, Paul B., Daily Life in the Middle Ages (McFarland and Co., 2001)
Smith, Virginia, Clean: A History of Personal Hygiene and Purity (Oxford University Press, 2007)
van Dam, Fabiola I., “Permeable Boundaries: Bodies, Bathing and FLuxes, 1135-1333,” Medicine and Space: Body, Surroundings and Borders in Antiquity and the Middle Ages, ed. Patricia Baker (Brill, 2012)
van Winter, Johanna Maria, “Medieval Opinions about Food and Drinking in Connection with Bathing,” Spices and Comfits: Collected Papers on Medieval Food (Prospect Books, 2007)
2014 has arrived and it is once again time to begin the planning of the Alabama Renaissance Faire. This year the Faire is going to take place on October 25th and 26th and it will be held at Wilson Park in Florence, Alabama. This is the same location that it has been held at for the last 27 years.
This coming Thursday marks the first of our monthly meeting, we will be meeting from noon to one at the Richards Center, which is located 541 Riverview Drive.
In case you missed it during the Faire last year, once again the curse upon our land has required us to select a new monarch. This curse has prevented any monarch from sitting upon the throne for more than one years time. And so we have a new monarch for 2014. I would like to introduce to you to Her Royal Majesty Angelia from Andalusia, Spain. This dress was made with the aid of JoAnna Scott.
Well, the 27th Annual Alabama Renaissance Faire is behind us. Now, it is time to take a short break, during which time we will prepare for the Florence (our home city) Christmas Parade on December 12th, then we will resume our short break until January. At which time we start all over again!
If you are already trying to get your calendars set up for next year, hear are some dates for you to jot down and add to your event planning. In January, the 16th, we will be turning our official attention to planning the next Faire. The Roundtable (the group of volunteers who bring you the Renaissance Faire) will be meeting at the old Florence Board of Education (aka the Richard’s Center) building at 541 Riverview Drive here in Florence. We will be meeting monthly on every third Thursday, until September rolls around. In September we will meet two times that month, on the 1st and 3rd Thursday and then in October we will meet every week (lots to do and time is getting short. Also in October, two weeks before the Faire we hold a costume making workshop, that should be on the 11th and the next weekend is our Royal Autumnal Feast, it will be held on the 18th. Then on the following weekend, is the 28th Annual Alabama Renaissance Faire. To be held on the 25th & 26th.
There are other events that occur during the year. We, the Roundtable, will be asked to come into schools, cub/boy scout functions (where we conduct a history lesson that may not be in the history books, with armor, and weapons, like swords that will be used by real live sword fighters). We also participate at a Ring Joust held at the Bluewater Creek Polo Club. So, as you can see, we tend to stay a bit busy during the year.
We can be found on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/alarenfaire.org?ref=hl. If you wish to keep up with us throughout the year, you can visit our webpage, www.alarenfaire.org, and read minutes from our monthly meetings as well as check out the Calendar (but don’t forget to explore more of the page).
If you wish to become a volunteer or want to ask us to come and conduct out historical demonstration then please contact us. Our contact is Billy Warren, he can be reached at P.O. Box 431 Florence, Al. 35631 or by email, email@example.com. We look forward to hearing from and seeing you during the next year, all the way up to the Faire! Huzzah!
THE 27TH ANNUAL ALABAMA RENAISSANCE FAIRE WILL TAKE PLACE ONCE AGAIN THIS WEEKEND AT FOUNTAIN-ON-THE-GREEN (WILSON PARK) IN DOWNTOWN FLORENCE. HERE ARE THE DATES AND TIMES:
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 26, 10:00 A.M. UNTIL 6:00 P.M.
SUNDARY, OCTOBER 27, 12:00 NOON UNTIL 6:00 P.M.
ADMISSION IS FREE!
HERE’S JUST A SAMPLING OF WHAT YOU’LL EXPERIENCE:
EXPECT TO HEAR MUSIC OF THE RENAISSANCE PERIOD: HAMMERED DULCIMERS, THE HURDY GURDY, MADRIGAL SINGERS, SEA CHANTIES, BALLADS, WANDERING TROUBADOURS, BAGPIPE, THE GLASS HARMONICA, ETC. WATCH PERFORMANCES BY THEATER GROUPS, MAGICIANS, JUGGLERS, AND OTHERS. BE ENTERTAINED BY BEGGARS, WENCHES, TROLLS, WOOD SPRITES, ETC. ENJOY FOOT PARADES AROUND THE PARK LED BY THE REIGNING MONARCH AND HIS ENTOURAGE. WITNESS THE CROWNING OF THE NEW MONARCH. PARTICIPATE IN MEDIEVAL DANCES YOU CAN LEARN VERY QUICKLY. VISIT THE BOOTHS OF CRAFTS VENDORS OF ALL TYPES (JEWELRY MAKERS, BAKERS, RENAISSANCE CLOTHIERS, ARMOR AND CHAIN MAILLE MAKERS, CREATORS OF FAIRY WINGS, MAKERS OF MEDIEVAL-STYLE FURNITURE, TO NAME JUST A FEW). ENJOY THE VARIED ACTIVITIES IN THE CHILDREN’S SECTION – FROM A HAYSTACK WITH HIDDEN PRIZES TO A CHILD-SIZE SWORD-IN-THE-STONE. PATRONIZE THE FOOD COURT FOR TURKEY LEGS, FUNNEL CAKES, FRESH-ROASTED PEANUTS AND OTHER DELICACIES.
IN THE MIDST OF ALL OF THIS, YOU’LL BE SURROUNDED BY LITERALLY HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE IN COSTUMES OF THE PERIOD. SOME WILL BE PEASANTS, SOME WILL BE LANDED GENTRY, SOME WILL BE MEMBERS OF TRADE GUILDS, OTHERS WILL BE ROYALTY, WHILE STILL OTHERS WILL BE MEN AND WOMEN OF THE CLOTH. THOUGH IT’S CERTAINLY NOT REQUIRED, YOU ARE WELCOME – EVEN ENCOURAGED – TO DRESS IN YOUR FAVORITE RENAISSANCE GARB, TOO!
IN SHORT, IT WILL BE A MEMORABLE TIME FOR EVERYONE. FOUNTAIN-ON-THE-GREEN IS THE PLACE TO BE THIS WEEKEND. SEE YOU THERE!
I am interested in becoming a vendor at The Alabama Renaissance Faire, who do I need to contact?
The first thing you should do is contact Billy Warren (Chairperson for the Alabama Renaissance Faire). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or P.O. Box 431 Florence, Al. 35631. If you will supply him with all your contact information, specifically your mailing address, he can mail you a vendor application. After we have received your application, it will go to our Vendor Applicant Committee for review and someone will let you know if your request has been approved.
I am a new or returning vendor to the Faire, where should I park?
There is parking all around the edges of the park itself. The simplest thing to do is find a temporary parking spot, then come in to the park and locate the Lady of Locations (Debbie Martin) to find your designated place to set your booth up at. Then you can either leave your vehicle where you parked it, drive it into the park (if there is an open lane) until setup is complete or you can find another spot closer to your location.
I am a performer and I need a place to store my stuff temporarily, where can I do this?
If you need a place to store your gear while your stage area is still being set up or to keep it out of the weather while you aid in getting your area ready, then get with one of the staff members (we will be wearing Staff badges) who can be found at the Royal Pavilion or the Information Booth. They are located on the East and West sides of the fountain, facing each other. We will aid you as best we can.
I heard there was a fountain at the park?
You have heard correctly. Normally, during this time of the year the fountain is still in operation with water shooting up to it’s top. But, we (the Roundtable) do make sure to get it turned off. There is no playing in the fountain (it does have electricity powering the lights), however, we do have several boats for kids of all ages to play with. These are hooked to sticks, that way the kids can walk around the outside of the fountain, pulling their boat.
When I arrive at Wilson Park, how do I find where to set up my booth or what stage I’m performing at?
The best thing to do is to find the Information Booth, it is centrally located on the West side of the fountain along the inner ring of the park. This is likely the best place to locate the Lady of Locations (Debbie Martin). She may or may not be there, just wait around and she will show back up. She might have been away helping another vendor. Once she has shown you where to set up at and if you want to, feel free to take a walk around the park and get an idea of where things might be.
If my booth/stage is located by the food vendors, will I have to compete with generator noise?
While there is the possibility that you will hear generator noise, it is not overpowering as our vendors do keep them out of the way behind their trailers or booths.
As a vendor or participant, I might like to catch one of the performances. Who would I ask about what shows are going on?
If you have a question about anything going on during the Faire itself, on Saturday or Sunday, you could go to the Information Booth. At the Information Booth, there is always someone there and we do have schedules that list the time and location of the performances.
What about restrooms?
There are port a potties located on the 4 outside corners of the park. Restrooms are also located in the library on the west, just across Wood Avenue from the park.
Dates: October 26th and 27th
- The faire goes from 10:00 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sat, and 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday.
- We are an all-volunteer event. Those who work for the faire as staff, make no money on the event. They simply have a love of the time period and a desire to share that love with others within the community.
- Our faire is way smaller compared to most smaller events, but what we lack in size we more than make up for in atmosphere and good downhome southern hospitality.
- We are a community event, and actively encourage the local community to get involved. We have several entertainment acts that are local to our area, and even host a free costume workshop where we make simple basic outfits that folks can take home and “dress up”. We have many who show up in costume and create characters and interact with us as faire performers and the general public.
- We are a not-for-profit event, founded upon education through entertainment about life and times in the medieval/renaissance period. We know that we can’t be 100% authentic to history 100% of the time. We’ve made peace with that, but we do strive to reach it when we can.
- Because we are founded on education, we regularly do interactive demos in public schools, libaries, community orgaizations, etc. We bring an assortment of weapons, armor, books, music, and other period artifacts, and more than enough trivia to go along with them. We teach simple medieval/renaissance dances, and even engage in some simple improv from time to time.
- The opening ceremony of the faire is Saturday at 12:30 p.m., at this time we have the current Monarch open with a speech, along with the Mayor of our city Florence.
- For story purposes, one of our volunteers created a backstory where our Kingdom was put under a curse many years ago, that allows our Monarchs to only reign one year. Each time we change, the hope is that they will be the one to break the curse. However that has yet to happen of course.
- At 12:30 is the opening ceremony. After some speeches and the like, we have a parade around the faire site and invite anyone who would like to join in. The King & Queen then hold court afterwards, and folks can seek an official audience with them at that time. They are free to do so, at other times as well, but we publically advertise this one for folks who might not otherwise know that they could be granted an audience.
- On Sunday at 2:00 p.m. we hold an awards ceremony for kids who won in contests for sonnet writing and art. As we were founded on education, this is something done through the local schools. The winners come to the faire and the Monarchs present them with books as awards for their efforts.
- Sunday at 3:00 p.m. is the Coronation Ceremony. This is where the current King and Queen lose the crowns and whomever found the coin at the previous feast takes over as the new Monarch(s) of the faire. Each Royal has left the throne in different ways, and we strive to make it fun, lively, and full of drama, with action in some years as well.
This YouTube video was sent to members of the Alabama Renaissance Faire’s Roundltable Committee. It is from a BBC show known as Horrible History.
This guide was circulated to the Roundtable via email. In order to view the file, all you need do is click on the link and it will open into an online pdf file. This guide is 35 pages long and looks to cover everything from the proper underwear (briefs not boxers) to how to make doublets and what style hose to wear as well as the type of materials that are considered proper for medieval costuming and of course how to put it all together in order to make a proper appearance.
For our 25th Anniversary, which occurred in2011, Lady Janet (who is with Renaissance Magazine) came to our weekend long event and took pictures of our Faire. This year (2013), we are included in Renaissance Magazine as a 12 page pictorial. And it turned out to be quite a spectacular pictorial that caught the essence of what the Alabama Renaissance Faire is. The Roundtable will have copies for sale at the Feast and the Faire. If you cannot get a copy at these events, you can also find the magazine at Books-A-Million as well as Barnes and Noble.