To Bathe, or Not to Bathe: Part 5 – Did the Kings and Queens of the Early Renaissance Period Bathe?


. Myself  .By T.V. Antony Raj .

The term “Renaissance” is derived from French term “re-naissance” for “re-birth”, and from the Italian term “rinascere” meaning “to be reborn.” The Renaissance period spanned roughly from the 14th to the 17th century. It was the ‘Age of Discovery’. Historians say that this period was the bridge between the Middle Ages and Modern history.

The Renaissance began in Italy in the Late Middle Ages. Later it spread to the rest of Europe as paper became available along with the invention of metal movable types. However, the changes of the Renaissance were not uniformly experienced across Europe.

The Renaissance revolutionized many intellectual pursuits. It brought about a cultural, social and political upheaval. It is perhaps best known for its artistic developments. Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo and many other notable artists made their contributions during the Renaissance period.

On the cultural front, the Renaissance gave a new lease of life to Latin and the vernacular literatures. On the political front, it contributed to the development of the conventions of diplomacy.

According to historians, the Renaissance began in Florence, Italy, in the latter part of the 14th century due to various factors: the social and civic peculiarities of Florence at the time; its political structure; the patronage of the Medici family to the artists; the migration of Greek scholars and texts to Italy following the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks, etc.

King Philippe VI of France

King Philippe VI of France.
King Philippe VI of France.

Bubonic plague devastated Europe in the 14th century.  In 1348, King Philippe VI of France asked the medical faculty of the University of Paris to investigate the origins of the Bubonic plague. According to the learned professors a disastrous conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars caused disease-infected vapours to rise out of the earth and water to poison the air. They declared that susceptible people who breathed in the noxious air became ill and died.

Before the medieval period, people susceptible to infection were the obese, the intemperate, and the over-passionate. Now, the professors said that anyone who comes in contact with water was susceptible to disease. Hot baths, they said, had a dangerous moistening, relaxing effect on the body, and opened the pores in the skin which would allow the plague to enter the body.

From this, we can infer that King Philippe VI of France must have had infrequent baths.

Queen Isabel I of Spain

Isabella the Catholic, Queen of Castile and León.
Isabella the Catholic, Queen of Castile and León.

Queen Isabel I of Spain (April 22, 1451 – November 26, 1504), also known as Isabella the Catholic was the queen of Castile. She married King Ferdinand II of Aragon on October 19, 1469, and ruled both Castile and Aragon from 1479 with along with her husband.

In 1484, King John II of Portugal denied the request for aid sought by Christopher Columbus to cross the Atlantic. Two years later, Columbus was in Spain, asking for patronage from King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. After at least two rejections, Columbus obtained royal support in January 1492. Although we cannot accept  the story of Queen Isabella offering to pledge her jewels to help finance the expedition, Columbus secured a limited financial support from her.

Queen Isabella had once confessed that she had taken a bath only twice in her lifetime – when she was first-born and when she got married.

During the next two hundred years, whenever the plague threatened, the cry went out: “Bathhouses and bathing, I beg you to shun them or you will die.

By the first half of the sixteenth century, it was common knowledge that French baths would be closed during eruptions of the plague.

Around 1531, Thomas Moulton was a Dominican friar, who called himself a doctor of divinity published a treatise in England titled “The myrrour or glasse of helth.” It was a manual purported to help avoid the Bubonic plague and to maintain good health. The book became one of the best-selling medical books of the Tudor period. In it, he says:

“use no baths or stoves; nor swet not too much, for all openeth the pores of a manne’s body and maketh the venomous ayre to enter and for to infecte the bloude.”

In the 16th century and thereafter, people believed this and similar statements that water carried diseases into the body through the pores in the skin. Most kings and queens, the members of the royal households, the aristocrats, and the commoners heeded to this advice and refrained from bathing.

In 1538, François I of France had the French bathhouses closed. In 1546, Henry VIII of England officially banned all public baths in Southwark. In 1566, the States-General of Orléans closed the French bawdy houses, which included any operating bathhouses.

Some monastic orders made bathing in hot air and steam part of their regimen, while others forbade bathing except at Christmas and Easter. In certain instances, instead of tearing down the Thermae of old, the Catholic clergy converted them into chapels and churches. Many marble tubs became baptismal fonts, bathing chairs became pulpits, and the pagan springs metamorphosed into holy water.

Members of the upper classes, the aristocrats, and the royalty cut down their full body bathing habits to just a few times per year. As directed by their physicians they struck a balance between the risk of contracting a disease by bathing and emanating body stench. To combat body odour, they changed their linen wear often. Even then, they still stunk. So, they doused themselves with heady perfumes, oils, and scented powders to mask the stench emanating from their bodies.

Sadly, the best medical advice of the period doomed many people. Dirtier the people were, more were they likely to harbour Pulex irritatu, the flea now believed to have carried the plague bacillus from rats to humans.

Henry IV of France

King Henry IV of France by Frans Pourbus the younger.
King Henry IV of France by Frans Pourbus the younger.

Henry IV (December 13, 1553 – May 14, 1610), also known by the epithet “Good King Henry,” was the first French monarch of the House of Bourbon.

In 1568, when Henry IV was a teenager, Ambroise Paré, the French royal barber-surgeon warned about water coming into contact with the human body. He declared:

“Steam-baths and bath-houses should be forbidden because when one emerges, the flesh and the whole disposition of the body are softened and the pores open, and as a result, pestiferous vapour can rapidly enter the body and cause sudden death, as has frequently been observed.”

Thereafter, people believed this and similar statements that water carried diseases into the body through the pores in the skin. Most kings and queens, the members of the royal households, the aristocrats and the commoners heeded to this advice and refrained from bathing.

Members of the upper classes, the aristocrats, and the royalty cut down their full body bathing habits to just a few times per year. They struck a balance between the risk of contracting a disease by bathing, and emanating body stench. To combat body odour, they changed their linen wear often. Even then, they still stunk. So, they doused themselves with heady perfumes, oils, and scented powders to mask the stench emanating from their bodies.

During the reign of Henry IV, bathing, and certainly in hot water, was considered a veritable health risk.

The king did not believe in bathing or using perfumes to mask his body stench. He usually wore soiled linen, and people had great difficulty in not closing their nostrils against the stink that emanated from his person. His body odour has been described as “stinking of sweat, stables, feet and garlic.”

He usually wore soiled linen, and people had great difficulty in not closing their nostrils against the stench that emanated from his person. His body odour has been described as “stinking of sweat, stables, feet and garlic.” He did not believe in bathing or using perfumes to mask his body stench.

One day when the King heard that the Duc de Sully had taken a bath, he turned to his own physician, André du Laurens, for advice. The physician told the king that the poor man would be vulnerable for days. So Henry IV sent a message to Sully informing him that he should not venture outside his residence, or he would endanger his health. Sully was told that the king would visit his home in Paris so that he would not come to any harm as a result of his recent bath.

The veritable womanizer, the ‘Good King’ Henry of Navarre had many mistresses outside wedlock such as: Charlotte de Beaune Semblançay, Marie Touchet, Diane d’Andoins, Gabrielle d’Estrées, Catherine Henriette de Balzac d’Entragues, to name a few.

Gabrielle d'Estrées
Gabrielle d’Estrées

Once, he sent a billet-doux (sweet letter) to Gabrielle d’ Estrées, one of his many mistresses. The letter conveyed the following: “Do not wash yourself, my sweetheart, I’ll visit you in three weeks.”

King James VI and I

King James VI and I. Portrait by Daniel Mytens, 1621.
King James VI and I. Portrait by Daniel Mytens, 1621.

King James VI and I (June 19,1566 – March 27, 1625) was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots and a great-great-grandson of Henry VII, King of England and Lord of Ireland. James succeeded to the Scottish throne at the age of thirteen months, after his mother Mary abdicated in his favour.

King James sponsored the translation of the Bible named after him: the Authorized King James Version.

Sir Anthony Weldon (1583–1648) was an English 17th-century courtier and politician, purported to have authored: “A Description of Scotland” and “The Court and Character of King James I.” However, this attribution has been challenged and so it is unclear whether Weldon was the author of either of these works.

The label “the wisest fool in Christendom,” is often attributed to Henry IV of France, but it was possibly coined by Weldon, to describe the paradoxical qualities of King James.

In “The Court and Character of King James I,” Weldon wrote:

“A very wise man was wont to say that he believed him the wisest fool in Christendom, meaning him wise in small things, but a fool in weighty affairs.”

It is said that the wisdom of King James did not include personal hygiene. The king wore the same clothes for months on end, even sleeping in them on occasion. He also wore the same hat seven days a week, until it fell apart. Moreover, King James refused to wash or bathe because he believed it was bad for his health.

King Louis XIII of France

King Louis XIII King of France and Navarre by Philippe de Champaigne.
King Louis XIII King of France and Navarre by Philippe de Champaigne.

Louis XIII (September 27, 1601 – May 14, 1643) was a monarch of the House of Bourbon.

According to meticulous notes kept by Jean Héroard, the French court physician, King Louis XIII of France born in 1601, was not given a bath until he was almost seven years of age.

He boasted, “I take after my father, I smell of armpits.”

.

Next → Part 6 – Did the Kings and Queens of the Renaissance Period Bathe?

← Previous: Part 4 – Bathing in Medieval Europe 

.

RELATED ARTICLES

. .

Advertisements

6 thoughts on “To Bathe, or Not to Bathe: Part 5 – Did the Kings and Queens of the Early Renaissance Period Bathe?”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s