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Vikings, the First Colonizers of North America: Part 3 – America Honors Leif Erikson


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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On October 9, 1825, the ship Restauration came into the New York Harbor with immigrants from Stavanger, Norway. It was the first organized official immigration of Norwegians to America.

Stories of Leif Erikson’s journey to Helluland (Baffin Island), Markland (Labrador coast) and Vinland (areas around the Gulf of St. Lawrence) in North America later helped the Nordic immigrants to the United States to identify themselves with pride with the great explorer of the new found land.

New England region of the Northeastern United States consists of the six states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. In the nineteenth century, the theory that Leif Erikson and his men visited New England gained popularity. Many believed that Cape Cod in Massachusetts could have been the Vinland of the Viking sagas.

Statue of Lief Erikson at Common Wealth Avenue, Boston (Source: wrightimages.com)
Statue of Lief Erikson at Common Wealth Avenue, Boston (Source: wrightimages.com)

In 1887, the first statue of Leif Erikson created by the American sculptor and poet Anne Whitney was erected on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, Massachusetts. It was followed by the erection of another statue of Leif Erikson in Milwaukee by Anne Whitney.

New England in the Northeastern United States consists of the six states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. In the nineteenth century, the theory that Leif Ericson and his men visited New England gained popularity. Many believed that Cape Cod in Massachusetts could have been the Vinland of the Viking sagas.

Norumbega Tower,  Weston, Massachusetts.

The Norumbega Tower, Weston, Massachusetts.

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In 1889, Eben Norton Horsford, a Harvard Chemistry professor, erected the Norumbega Tower in Weston, Massachusetts at the confluence of Stony Brook and the Charles River.  He built it to mark the supposed location of Fort Norumbega, a Norse fort and city. The tower is approximately 38 feet tall, composed of mortared field stones with a spiral stone staircase.

Horsford believed that the Algonquin word ‘Norumbega’, means the general region that is now coastal New England. Convinced that the word “Norumbega” was derived from “Norvega” meaning Norway, he believed Norumbega was Vinland.

In 1901, the city of Chicago erected the statue of Leif Erikson that was commissioned for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.

In 1925, during the centenary celebration of the first official immigration of Norwegians in America, President Calvin Coolidge told a crowd of 100,000 people at the Minnesota State Fair that Leif Erikson had indeed been the first European to discover America.to America,

Replica of Leif Erikson’s Viking ship in Duluth

Visitors to the Leif Erikson Park and Rose Garden in Duluth, a seaport city in the State of Minnesota, USA, can view the replica of a Viking ship built in 1926 in Norway by local boat builder Christian Overlier for Captain Gerhard Folgero. It is not an exact replica of a Viking craft, but a representation of the same class and style of boat likely used by Leif Erikson himself.

The ship on display is a 42-foot wooden fembøring vessel patterned after the traditional Norwegian working craft constructed of fir or pine. Medieval Norse adventurers, explorers, traders, and fisherfolk used this type of crafts. Architects consider the dragon’s head and tailpiece fitted on the ship to be masterpieces.

Captain Folgero and his crew sailed the fembøring vessel from Bergen, Norway, to the coast of Labrador and beyond, following much of Leif Erikson’s original sea route. From Labrador, they reached Boston, covering in all 6,700 miles in 50 days. During their voyage, they faced hurricane-like winds, icebergs, and fog.

From Boston, they sailed on to Duluth to take part in a national convention of Norwegian emigrants invited by the Norwegian-American immigrant and businessman H.H. Borgen.

The crew landed in Duluth on June 23, 1927.

Bert Enger, a Norwegian immigrant and West End furniture dealer along with the wife of his late business partner, Emil Olson, purchased the Norwegian boat and presented it to the city of Duluth. The ship placed on display in Duluth’s Lake Park was later named Leif Erikson Park. The boat was once considered Duluth’s second-largest tourist attraction after the Aerial Lift Bridge.

In 1929, the Wisconsin Legislature passed a bill to make October 9 “Leif Erikson Day”.

A few have speculated that Norsemen may have penetrated as far as Minnesota, either down from Hudson Bay or going west through the Great Lakes. Some researchers suggest that the Mandan Indians showed evidence of being culturally influenced by pre-Columbian explorers from Europe. A Runestone with carvings of a Scandanavian nature was discovered near Kensington, Minnesota, dating to approximately 1030.

Statue of Leif Erikcson near the State Capitol in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Statue of Leif Erikcson near the State Capitol in St. Paul, Minnesota.

On October 9, 1949, a statue of Leif was erected near the State Capitol in St. Paul, Minnesota.

In 1964, the United States Congress authorized and requested the president to proclaim October 9, of each year as “Leif Erikson Day”.

U.S. commemorative stamp issued 9 October 1968, Leif Erikson Day.
U.S. commemorative stamp issued 9 October 1968, Leif Erikson Day.commemorative stamp issued 9 October 1968, Leif Erikson Day.

On October 9, 1968, Leif Erikson Day, the United States issued a commemorative stamp to honor Leif Erikson, the first Viking colonizer of North America.

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← Previous: Part 2 – Leif Erikson

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Roger Bannister: Part 3 – Running the “Miracle Mile” with John Landy


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Myself  .By T.V. Antony Raj

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Blue plaque recording the first sub-4-minute mile run by Roger Bannister on 6 May 1954 at Oxford University's Iffley Road Track. (Photograph by Jonathan Bowen)
Blue plaque recording the first sub-4-minute mile run by Roger Bannister on 6 May 1954 at Oxford University’s Iffley Road Track. (Photograph by Jonathan Bowen)

Forbes named the significant feat of breaking the four-minute barrier by Roger Banister as one of the greatest athletic achievements in the history of athletics.

On June 21, 1954, at an international meet in Turku, Finland, John Landy became the second man, after Roger Bannister, to achieve a sub-4-minute mile. He clocked a world record time of 3:57.9, ratified by the IAAF as 3:58.0 owing to the rounding rules then in effect. That record held for more than three years.

Though Roger Banister had already created history on May 6, 1954, some felt the flagrant pacing tainted this achievement. They felt that world records should be created through pure racing as John Landy did. They said that Banister, Brasher, and Chataway had acted within the letters of the amateur rules, but not within the spirit of those rules. The Australians argued that Landy’s 3:58 in Turku was the first legitimate sub-4. But Roger Banister did not pay any heed to his detractors.

The face of John Landy in second place in the Fifth Empire games (30 July 30 to August 7, 1954) in Vancouver, Canada (Source: thebounce.co.za)
The face of John Landy in second place in the Fifth Empire games (30 July 30 to August 7, 1954) in Vancouver, Canada (Source: thebounce.co.za)

Roger Banister was pitted against the Australian in the Fifth British Empire and Commonwealth Games held at the Empire Stadium in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, from July 30 – August 7, 1954.

It was at these games that the “Miracle Mile” took place between Roger Bannister and John Landy on August 7, 1954. This was the first time these two, the only sub-four-minute mile runners at that time appeared in the same race. John Landy was still holding the world record. It was also the first time two runners broke four minutes in the same race.

Landy led for most of the race, building a lead of 10 yards in the third lap. Roger showed the highly acclaimed Landy that he was still the boss by dashing on the final bend of the fourth lap and winning the event in 3:58.8 with Landy 0.8 seconds behind him. Both Bannister and Landy have pointed out that the crucial moment of the race was when Landy looked over his left shoulder to gauge Bannister’s position and Bannister burst past him on the right.

A sculpture of Roger Bannister and John Landy by Jack Harman placed outside of the Empire Stadium to commemorate the Miracle Mile. (Photo: Paul Joseph)
A sculpture of Roger Bannister and John Landy by Jack Harman placed outside of the Empire Stadium to commemorate the Miracle Mile. (Photo: Paul Joseph)

In 1967, inspired by a photograph by Vancouver Sun photographer Charlie Warner, Vancouver sculptor Jack Harman created a larger-than-life bronze sculpture of the two men. In this sculpture, Landy looks over his left shoulder to see his rival’s position and Bannister sprints past him on the right.

This sculpture stood for many years at the entrance to Empire Stadium. After the demolition of the stadium, the  sculpture was moved a short distance away to the Hastings and Renfrew entrance of the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) fairgrounds. John Landy once quipped about this  sculpture:

“While Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt for looking back, I am probably the only one ever turned into bronze for looking back.”

On August 29, 1954 Roger Bannister won the 1500 metres, the so-called metric mile, at the European Championships in Bern in a time of 3:43.8, a championship record.

After the Bern meet, Roger retired from athletics to concentrate on his work as a junior doctor and pursued a career in neurology.

St. Mary’s Hospital (London), Imperial College School of Medicine have named a lecture theatre after Roger Bannister. It houses the stopwatch used to time the race on display, stopped at 3:59.

Later, Roger Banister became the first Chairman of the Sports Council, now known as Sport England. In 1975, Sir Roger Banister was knighted for this service. Under his aegis, there was a rapid increase in central and local government funding of sports centres and other sports facilities.

Sir Roger Bannister at the prize presentation of the 2009 Teddy Hall relay race. (© Pruneau / Wikimedia Commons)
Sir Roger Bannister at the prize presentation of the 2009 Teddy Hall relay race. (© Pruneau / Wikimedia Commons)

Now at the age of 85 Roger Banister suffers from Parkinson’s disease. It was one of the diseases he specialised as a neurologist.

By the end of 1957, 16 other runners also broke the four-minute mile barrier.

The International Amateur Athletics Federation, now known as the International Association of Athletics Federations recognized the first world record in the mile for men (athletics) in 1913. Since 1976, the mile is the only non-metric distance recognized by the IAAF for record purposes. Up to June 21, 2009, the IAAF has ratified 32 world records in the event.

Time Athlete Nationality Date Venue
4:14.4 John Paul Jones  USA May 31, 1913 Allston, Mass.
4:12.6 Norman Taber  USA July 16, 1915 Allston, Mass.
4:10.4 Paavo Nurmi  Finland August 23, 1923 Stockholm
4:09.2 Jules Ladoumègue  France October 4, 1931 Paris
4:07.6 Jack Lovelock  NZ
July 15, 1933 Princeton, N.J.
4:06.8 Glenn Cunningham  USA June 16, 1934 Princeton, N.J.
4:06.4 Sydney Wooderson  UK August 28, 1937 Motspur Park
4:06.2 Gunder Hägg  Sweden July 1, 1942 Gothenburg
4:06.2 Arne Andersson  Sweden July 10, 1942 Stockholm
4:04.6 Gunder Hägg  Sweden September 4, 1942 Stockholm
4:02.6 Arne Andersson  Sweden July 1, 1943 Gothenburg
4:01.6 Arne Andersson  Sweden July 18, 1944 Malmö
4:01.4 Gunder Hägg  Sweden July 17, 1945 Malmö
3:59.4 Roger Bannister  UK May 6, 1954 Oxford
3:58.0 John Landy  Australia June 21, 1954 Turku
3:57.2 Derek Ibbotson  UK July 19, 1957 London
3:54.5 Herb Elliott  Australia August 6, 1958 Dublin
3:54.4 Peter Snell  NZ January 27, 1962 Wanganui
3:54.1 Peter Snell  NZ November 17, 1964 Auckland
3:53.6 Michel Jazy  France June 9, 1965 Rennes
3:51.3 Jim Ryun  USA July 17, 1966 Berkeley, Cal.
3:51.1 Jim Ryun  USA June 23, 1967 Bakersfield, Cal.
3:51.0 Filbert Bayi  Tanzania May 17, 1975 Kingston
3:49.4 John Walker  NZ August 12, 1975 Gothenburg
3:49.0 Sebastian Coe  UK July 17, 1979 Oslo
3:48.8 Steve Ovett  UK July 1, 1980 Oslo
3:48.53 Sebastian Coe  UK August 19, 1981 Zürich
3:48.40 Steve Ovett  UK August 26, 1981 Koblenz
3:47.33 Sebastian Coe  UK August 28, 1981 Brussels
3:46.32 Steve Cram  UK July  27, 1985 Oslo
3:44.39 Noureddine Morceli  Algeria September 5, 1993 Rieti
3:43.13 Hicham El Guerrouj  Morocco July 7, 1999 Rome

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Hicham El Guerrouj is the current men’s record holder with his time of 3:43.13. And, Svetlana Masterkova has the women’s record of 4:12.56.

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← Previous: Part 2 – Breaking the Four-minute Barrier

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Roger Bannister: Part 2 – Breaking the Four-minute Barrier


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Myself  .By T.V. Antony Raj

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In 1948, Roger Bannister, then a 19-year-old student at Exeter College, was elected president of the Oxford University’s Athletic Club. He then wanted to replace the bumpy, uneven track with a new six-lane 440 yards (400 metres) track during his presidency. Two years later, in 1950, the new track was refurbished.

The year 1954 was Roger’s last year as a runner. He pondered on how to overcome the four-minute mile barrier. The first problem was to decide the venue for the race. He planned to break the four-minute barrier at the Oxford track he had helped build. Since the biggest gamble was the weather, he wished for a suitable day in April or May. The second problem was how to orchestrate the running.

The first problem was to decide the venue for the race. He planned to break the four-minute barrier at the Oxford track he had helped build. Since the biggest gamble was the weather, he wished for a suitable day in April or May. The second problem was how to orchestrate the running.

The second problem was how to orchestrate the running. He trained assiduously with fellow Oxbridge track mates Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway. Franz Stampfl, his Austrian coach, carefully coordinated their training. Roger realized that the two crises were the only pacemakers, he could rely on to help him.

The four of them evolved a strategy to achieve this ultimate athletic challenge. They used a mountaineering analogy. Their plan was for Brasher to take Chataway and Roger to “base camp” at the half-mile so that Chataway could then launch Roger into the attack itself on the last lap. This made both Chris Brasher’s pace judgment and Chataway’s strength and speed over the three-quarter mile equally crucial for success.

Then came the match between the university and the AAA. It was a run of the mill track meet like any other in Oxford. Yet, it was official enough to record history. Roger reckoned this event would meet their needs because there would be only six athletes in the race. Also, the small field would allow the trio to adapt the race to their needs. The Iffley Road cinder track was an ideal one. The only other factor was the weather over which they had no control.

On May 6, 1954, the wind had been blowing near gale force all day. Around 4:30 pm Roger Banister, Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway arrived at the track. At 5:15 pm there was a shower of rain. Afterwards, there was a strong gusty wind. Due to the chilly weather there were less than 1,500 spectators. As the trio warmed up, they knew the eyes of the spectators were on them.

The cinder track was wet.  There was complete silence on the ground as Roger Banister (#41) and his two running mates  Chris Brasher (#44) and Chris Chataway (#42) lined up along with other three runners from Oxford University. At that moment Roger saw the St. George’s flag on a nearby church drooping listlessly and decided that it was the moment to achieve.

The race did not start well as Brasher made a false start. After receiving a warning, when the gun fired a second time Brasher went into the lead as the first pacemaker and Roger slipped in behind him with Chataway in third place.

Roger’s legs seemed to meet no resistance as if propelled by some unknown force. He thought their pace was slow, so Roger shouted: “Faster!” But Brasher kept his head and did not change the pace.

Brasher (#44) leads Bannister (#41) upto the end of second lap . Chataway (#42) is behind (Source: racingpast.ca)
Brasher (#44) leads Bannister (#41) up to the end of the second lap . Chataway (#42) is behind (Source: racingpast.ca)

The first lap was fast enough at 57.5 seconds.

At one-and-a-half laps, Roger was still worried about the pace. Then, he heard his coach Franz Stampfl’s voice shouting “relax” above the noise of the crowd. Unconsciously, Roger obeyed.

Brasher’s halfway pace was perfect at 1:58 and Roger barely noticed the half-mile mark.

Chataway (#42) takes Bannister (#41) into the bell lap at 3:00.7 (Source: racingpast.ca)
Chataway (#42) takes Bannister (#41) into the bell lap at 3:00.7 (Source: racingpast.ca)

Sensing that Brasher was beginning to feel the strain, Bannister signalled Chataway to take over. Chataway took over on the first bend of lap three and led Bannister through the third lap in 3:07. The crowd was roaring. Roger pounced past Chataway, 300 yards from the finish.Chataway to take over. Chataway took over on the first bend of lap three and led Bannister through the third lap in 3:07. The crowd was roaring. Roger pounced past Chataway, 300 yards from the finish.Chataway took over on the first bend of lap three and led Bannister through the third lap in 3:07. The crowd was roaring. Roger pounced past Chataway, 300 yards from the finish.

The moment that changed the world of track running forever - Roger in at 3:59.4 (Source: thebounce.co.za)
The moment that changed the world of track running forever – Roger in at 3:59.4 (Source: thebounce.co.za)

Time seemed to stand still. The only reality was the next 200 yards of track under his feet. When he was just over 200 yards from the finish, Roger took the lead with a final burst of energy. The noise in his ears was that of the faithful Oxford crowd. Their hope and encouragement gave him strength. He had now turned the last bend and there were only 50 yards more. His body must have exhausted its energy, but he still went on running just the same. This was the crucial moment. His legs were strong enough to carry him over the last few yards.

Roger later recalled:

“With five yards to go, the finishing line seemed almost to recede. Those last few seconds seemed an eternity. The faint line of the finishing tape stood ahead as a haven of peace after the struggle. The arms of the world were waiting to receive me only if I reached the tape without slackening my speed. If I faltered now, there would be no arms to hold me and the world would seem a cold, forbidding place. I leapt at the tape like a man taking his last desperate spring to save himself from a chasm that threatens to engulf him.”

Roger Banister sprinted to the line in record time and fell exhausted into the arms of a friend. His vision became black and white. He existed in the most passive physical state without being quite unconscious. He knew he had beaten 4:00 before the time was even announced.

Then the announcement came from Norris McWhirter, delivered with a slow, clear diction:

“Result of Event Eight: One mile. First, R. G. Bannister of Exeter and Merton Colleges, in a time which, subject to ratification, is a new Track Record, British Native Record, British All-Comers Record, European Record, Commonwealth Record and World Record… Three minutes…”

The roar of excitement from the crowd drowned the rest of the announcement. The record time was 3:59.4 and the trio had done it! The three runners from Oxford were just specks on the track that day in 4th, 5th and 6th.

Bursting with joy Roger grabbed Brasher and Chataway and the trio scampered around the track taking a lap of honour.

Thus, Roger Banister broke the elusive four-minute mile, a barrier “like Everest – a challenge to the human spirit”.

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Next → Part 3 – Running the “miracle Mile” with John Landy

← Previous: Part 1 – The Aspiring Four-minute Miler

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Roger Bannister: Part 1 – The Aspiring Four-minute Miler


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Myself  .By T.V. Antony Raj

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Until the early 1950s, no one believed it was possible to run a mile in under four minutes. No matter how hard athletes tried, they were not able to break the four-minute barrier. For decades, the record lingered at just a few seconds over four minutes. That was until 1954.

Roger Bannister (Source: odt.co.nz)
Roger Bannister (Source: odt.co.nz)

Sir Roger Gilbert Bannister CBE was born in Harrow, England in 1929. He went to Vaughan Primary school in Harrow and then went to the City of Bath Boys School and University College School, London. He went on to study at medical school at the University of Oxford (Exeter College and Merton College), Oxford. And then Roger went to St. Mary’s Hospital Medical School (now part of Imperial College London).

Roger first enjoyed success as an athlete while at Oxford at the age of seventeen. He won several races in his teenage years. He trained lightly. After three weeks of training, he showed his intrinsic talent when he ran a mile in 4:24. Though selected to compete in the 1948 London Olympics, he declined because he did not feel he was ready to compete at that level.

Sydney Charles Wooderson MBE, dubbed “The Mighty Atom” was at the peak of his career in the 1930s and 1940s. He was one of Britain’s greatest middle-distance runners and known for his amazing sprint finish. He was slightly-built and bespectacled, but had great reserves of strength and overwhelming speed. On August 28, 1937, Wooderson set the world mile record of 4:6.4 at London’s Motspur Park.

Swedish runner Andersson finishes ahead of Wooderson inGotheburg in their second 1945 Mile race (Source: racingpast.ca)
Swedish runner Andersson finishes ahead of Wooderson in Gotheburg in their second 1945 Mile race (Source: racingpast.ca)

The great Swedish runners Arne Andersson and Gunder Hägg surpassed Wooderson’s mile record only after eight years.

The great Swedish runners Arne Andersson and Gunder Hägg surpassed his mile record only after eight years.

In 1945, Wooderson regained his old form and challenged Andersson over the distance in several races. Though Wooderson lost to Andersson, he set a British record of 4:04.2 in Gothenburg on September 9, 1945.

Wooderson’s remarkable comeback inspired Roger Bannister.

John Landy, Runner May 21, 1956 (Photo credit: Mark Kauffman - staff)
John Landy, Runner May 21, 1956 (Photo credit: Mark Kauffman – staff)

John Michael Landy, an Australian Olympic track athlete. He was running 4:08 miles in training. On December 13, 1952, in the first race of an inter-club meet during the 1952-3 season, he made an amazing breakthrough with 4:02.1. He ran the last three laps on his own. It was the third fastest mile ever.

John Landy made two more attempts that season. On January 3, 1953 he clocked 4:02.8 and on January 24, 1953 he clocked 4:04.2.

Each time Landy raced everyone expected him to beat the four-minute barrier. However, he declared that the four-minute mark seemed a ‘physical barrier’. But the 25-year-old Roger Banister, then a full-time medical student at St Mary’s Hospital Medical School thought otherwise. He reasoned if Landy could run the mile in 4:03 then it was only a matter of time until someone could do it in 3:59.

The humiliation after the failure to win the 1,500 metres gold medal at the Helsinki Olympics in 1952, when he had been the favourite, was a huge knock to Roger’s pride. It also shattered the hopes of his family, friends and the British public. Roger felt it necessary to restore the faith of others in him after his defeat. He resolved to be the first 4-minute-miler.

Roger followed a simple physical routine. He would go to the track, during lunchtime. Without any warm-ups, he would kick a few times to loosen his legs. After that, he would run hard for about thirty-five minutes. Then, he would shower and take his lunch and just head back to his studies.

He carried on with his training along with his medical studies. Using his medical knowledge, he trained alone. He purposely avoided the coaches and the managers.

With this simple routine, he reduced his mile time to 4:03.6.

Roger did not set any date to break the four minute mile. He was always conscious of the fact that John Landy of Australia might beat him to it. Landy made no secret of the fact that the four-minute mile was his goal.

There were four essential requirements to achieve his goal: a good track, no wind, a warm weather and even-paced running. For many years, track coaches and physiologists had scientifically plotted the method to break the four-minute barrier. They predicted that it could be achieved in Scandinavia where it was called the “Dream Mile”, in a 68°F weather; on a hard, dry clay track; with no wind; and a large, enthusiastic crowd to provide the psychological boost. According to the pundits, the first quarter would be the slowest and the final quarter the fastest. Yet, on the day Roger broke the four-minute barrier things were the exact opposite.

The year 1954 was Roger’s last year as a runner. He trained assiduously with fellow track mates Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway. He did not set any date to break the four minute mile, but he was conscious of the fact that John Landy of Australia might beat him to it since Landy made no secret of the fact that the four-minute mile was his goal.

For many years, track coaches and physiologists had scientifically plotted the method to break the four-minute barrier. They predicted that it could be achieved in Scandinavia where they called it the “Dream Mile”, in a 68°F weather; on a hard, dry clay track; with no wind; and a large, enthusiastic crowd to provide the psychological boost. According to the pundits, the first quarter would be the slowest and the final quarter the fastest. Yet, on the day Roger broke the four-minute barrier things were the exact opposite.

Next → Part 2 – Breaking the Four-minute Barrier

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To Bathe, or Not to Bathe: Part 6 – Did the Kings and Queens of the Renaissance Period Bathe?


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Myself  .By T.V. Antony Raj

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Information and opinions about the attitudes toward  bathing in the 16th century are quite mixed among historians. The general consensus seems to be that bathing was quite popular as a social ritual. In fact, the Catholic Church allowed bathing, but warned against excessive indulgence in the habit.

In the first volume of his “Geschichte des deutschen Volkes seit dem Ausgang des Mittelalters” (“History of the German people since the end of the Middle Ages“) the 19th century German Catholic priest and historian Johannes Janssen wrote details on the popular use of baths in Germany during the Middle Ages. According to him, German men bathed several times each day. Some German spent the whole day in or about their favorite springs. The mid 16th-century German merchant Lucas Rem wrote in his diary that in 1511, he bathed 127 times from May 20th to June 9th.

Queen Elizabeth I

Queen Elizabeth, c.1575-1578. Painting attributed to Nicholas Hilliard. Anglesey Abbey.
Queen Elizabeth, c.1575-1578. Painting attributed to Nicholas Hilliard. Anglesey Abbey.

Queen Elizabeth I (7 September 1533 – 24 March 1603) was Queen of England and Ireland from November 17, 1558 until her death. Sometimes called The Virgin Queen, Gloriana, or Good Queen Bess, the childless Elizabeth was the fifth and last monarch of the Tudor dynasty.

Queen Elizabeth I boasted that she bathed once a month, “whether I need it or not”?

James I, her successor, seems to have washed only his fingers.

King Louis XIV of France

King Louis XIV of France by Hyacinthe Rigaud (1701).
King Louis XIV of France by Hyacinthe Rigaud (1701).

King Louis XIV (September 5, 1638 – September 1, 1715) of France known as Louis the Great (Louis le Grand) or the Sun King (le Roi-Soleil), was a monarch of the House of Bourbon. He became King of France and Navarre at the age of four in 1643 after the death of his father, Louis XIII. His reign spanning 72 years and 110 days is the longest of any monarch of a major country in European history.

The palace of Versailles (French: Château de Versailles) was once the most lavish largest home in the world. It was the home of the French royal family along with hundreds of their courtiers and servants. It was created by Louis XIV (1638 – 1715) of France. The court of Versailles was the center of political power in France from 1682, when Louis XIV moved from Paris. For more than 30 years, the King’s obsession was to enlarge and enhance his residence. Now, three million people visit it every year, hoping to get a glimpse of the royal lifestyle of the 17th century.

Today, when looking at the gleaming golden palace, it is difficult to believe that life at Versailles in the 17th century was quite dirty. There were no bathrooms as we would know them. “Then how did…?”

Well, there were decorative commodes for the royalty and the courtiers in each room. The commoners simply relieved themselves in the hallways or stairwells. The royal dogs were not house-trained and the servants never bothered to remove the dog poo lying on the floors. The chimneys did not exhaust well and everything inside the palace was covered with soot.

I want to share the following excerpt from the interesting article titled “A History of Humanity’s Disgusting Hygiene” by Helen from Fife, Scotland writing under the pseudonym Seeker7.

‘Garde Loo’ and Other Toilet Habits

The romantic scene of a towering castle surrounded by the pristine sparkling waters of a moat is not strictly true. Especially when we talk about toilets from hundreds of years ago.

In Tudor houses they were called ‘privies’. Many were basically a bowl with a slab of wood and a hole carved in the top. This would be set into a recess or cupboard-like area called a garderobe.

The castles were not much better. The slab of wood often just covered a hole in the floor that took waste products straight into the moat – now you know why there are no picturesque paintings of some cute rustic fishing in a castle moat.

Peasants did not have the luxury of any form of toilet no matter how crude. They were forced to relieve themselves where they could and then bury any waste matter. Washing your hands after doing your business was not practiced by anyone.

Of course, rich or poor, neither had toilet paper. Poor people would use leaves or moss to wipe their bottoms. If you had a bit more money then you would use lambs wool.

However, if you were the King, then you employed someone to wipe your bottom for you. The position of royal bum wiper was officially called ‘The Groom of the Stool’ the more formal title would be read as ‘Groom of the King’s Close Stool to King (name )’. As disgusting as this job may seem to be, it was a much sought after position. Noblemen would fight hard and dirty – excuse the pun – to get their sons employed in this role, as it often resulted in, eventually, advancing to powerful roles such as Private Secretary to the King. The reason for the promotion was that the groom, who knew the King’s most intimate secrets, often became his most trusted advisor and friend.

A medieval toilet or garderobe (Source: "A History of Humanity's Disgusting Hygiene").
A medieval toilet or garderobe (Source: “A History of Humanity’s Disgusting Hygiene“).

Garderobe shafts for getting rid of waste products (Source: "A History of Humanity's Disgusting Hygiene")
Garderobe shafts for getting rid of waste products (Source: “A History of Humanity’s Disgusting Hygiene“)

A royal toilet - still on view at Hampton Court, London. (Source: "A History of Humanity's Disgusting Hygiene")
A royal toilet – still on view at Hampton Court, London. (Source: “A History of Humanity’s Disgusting Hygiene“)

 Old Edinburgh

If you ever find yourself transported back in time to old Edinburgh be prepared for the shout of ‘garde loo ‘. If you were not quick enough – or if you were disliked – you could find yourself being showered with the contents of chamber pots hurled from the tenement windows. Chamber pots were of course used to collect urine overnight.

The term ‘garde loo ‘ comes from the French garde L’eau which means ‘watch out for the water’. This is where the nickname – ‘loo’ – for the toilet may have come from. The resulting stench of chamber pot contents was ironically known as ‘the flowers of Edinburgh’ .

So what happened to all this waste littering the streets? There was, in theory, supposed to be some form of street cleaning, but this was seldom carried out effectively. The streets all year round were covered in faeces – human and animal – urine, rotting food, corpses of animals and so on. It wasn’t until the end of the 18th century that an effective street cleaning regime came into force.

Old Edinburgh's narrow streets showing the tenement buildings from which chamber pots were emptied out of the windows. (Source: "A History of Humanity's Disgusting Hygiene")
Old Edinburgh’s narrow streets showing the tenement buildings from which chamber pots were emptied out of the windows. (Source: “A History of Humanity’s Disgusting Hygiene“)
During the reign of Louis XIV people seldom bathed. They believed that a grimy layer of dirt would keep one healthy. The commoners fancied strong body odour, which they adduced gave them potent sexuality. They made up their own proverb:

The more the ram stinks, the more the ewe loves him.

To combat the smells, the royalty and the courtiers changed their linen wear often, but they still stank. So, they doused themselves with heady perfumes, oils, and scented powders to mask not only their own body odour, but also to avoid inhaling the stench emanating from other persons.

Opinions differ about the bathing habits of King Louis XIV.

It is often said that the physicians of King Louis XIV advised him to bathe as infrequently as possible to maintain good health and he had only three baths in his entire life.

A few primary sources say that King Louis XIV bathed only twice in his life, when his doctors prescribed a bath. Louis they say was usually powdered from head to toe with perfumed powder several times a day since he found the act of bathing disturbing.  But the King’s reluctance to bathe did not mean that he was covered in dirt.

As there was no running water inside the buildings servants brought hot water in pails or jugs for the King to bathe or wash.

According to one source Louis XIV had several bathrooms in his suite at Versailles, one of which contained two bathtubs. One tub contained all sorts of ingredients from bran to milk. A special valet called a “baigneur” applied soap brought from Marseilles, well-known for their abrasiveness, on the body of the king. So the second tub for rinsing and was necessary.

The King suffered from gangrene but refused an amputation. One day, one of his toes was found in his sock.

A Russian ambassador to the court of King Louis XIV of France said: “His Majesty [Louis XIV] stunk like a wild animal.”

The French historian Mathieu da Vinha explains in his book, “Le Versailles de Louis XIV,” that Louis XIV had sumptuous bathrooms built at Versailles, but not to clean the body. Valets rather rubbed his hands and face with alcohol, and he took therapeutic baths only irregularly.

“Louis’s washing consisted of rubbing his face with cotton soaked in diluted, scented alcohol and dipping his fingertips in a bowl – washing in water was considered dangerous to one’s health.”

Some have contradicted the above and have said that in reality Louis XIV was an incredibly clean King and bathed regularly in a large Turkish bath in his palace. He disinfected his skin with spirits or alcohol because perfumes  gave him headaches. He changed his clothing, especially his underwear, three times a day and was so clean that he was almost fussy about it.

After 72 years on the throne, Louis died of gangrene at Versailles on September 1, 1715, four days before his 77th birthday.

Peter the Great

Peter the Great by Paul Delaroche.
Peter the Great by Paul Delaroche.

Peter I or Pyotr Alexeyevich (June 9, 1672 – February 8, 1725) was the Tsar of Russia from May 7, 1682 until his death on February 8, 1725. He gave himself the title “Peter the Great” though he was officially known as Peter I.

Peter the Great, was a widely traveled, educated, and cultured person in his own way.

Some writers say that, however educated Peter was he never understood nor followed a proper practice of hygiene. He did not find it wrong or embarrassing with urinating on the shiny palace walls.

According to these writers, Peter was not a regular bather. He washed himself on occasions using the natural mineral spring bath.

To end this series of “To Bathe, or Not to Bathe” articles, I list below “Ten Weird Facts About Grooming In The Past” which I came across in Seeker7’s article “A History of Humanity’s Disgusting Hygiene.

Ten Weird Facts About Grooming In The Past

  1. Eyebrows that did not look fashionable were often masked by tiny pieces of skin from a mouse.
  2. Ceruse was the foundation make-up of choice for both men and women, that gave the famous smooth, pale look. However, it contained lead that seeped into the body through the skin leading to poisoning. This make-up also tended to crack and had a strong odour.
  3. Although the men wore linen drawers, the women wore no knickers at all.
  4. The reason why so many marriages took place in June was that most people had their yearly bath in May so they were still fairly clean when June arrived. However, as a precaution brides carried bouquets of flowers to cover up any odious smells. June weddings and carrying bouquets are still traditional today but most wedding parties smell a lot nicer.
  5. When people took their bath it was the man of the house who had the privilege of the tub filled with clean water. The sons of the house were allowed next, then the wife, the rest of the females and the babies were last.
  6. Houses in the past did not have the protective roofing we have today. It was not unusual for bugs, pests and droppings to fall onto your clean bedding from the roof. So four poles and a canopy was invented to keep the bed clean and this is where the origin of the canopied and four poster beds come from.
  7. A 17th century publication by Peter Levens gives clear instructions to men on how to cure baldness and thinning hair by making the following mixture – a strong alkaline solution containing potassium salts and chicken droppings to be placed on the area to be treated. In addition if men wanted to remove unwanted hair from any area of the body they should make a paste that contains – eggs, strong vinegar and cat dung. Once beaten into a paste, this should be placed on the areas where the hair is to be removed. Why they didn’t just shave is not documented.
  8. When Mary Queen of Scots returned to her native Scotland from France she was astounded and not a little put out that the men continued to wear their hats while sitting down to eat at her banquets. It was then pointed out to the young Queen that this was not a sign of disrespect to her but necessity. The men kept their hats on in order to prevent not only their long hair from touching the food but head lice from falling into their plates.
  9. In the 16th century some members of the church condemned using forks to eat as against the will of god. One put out minister remarked: “God would not have given us fingers if He had wanted us to use forks.”
  10. The use of condoms goes back many thousands of years. They went out of favour after the decline of the Roman Empire but re-emerged in the form of linen condoms in the 16th century – perhaps due to the fear of the disease syphilis. The church condemned condoms as a way for the devil to encourage elicit sex. One incensed churchman raged that “the use of these foul things allows people to play filthy persons greater than ever.”

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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.”

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To Bathe, or Not to Bathe: Part 4 – Bathing in Medieval Europe


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Myself  .By T.V. Antony Raj

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We all stink. No one smells.
– Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1090 – August 20, 1153)

Antiquity, the Medieval period, and the Modern period are the three traditional divisions of Western history. In European history, the period 5th to the 15th century is known as the Medieval period or the Middle Ages. It began with the collapse of the Western Roman Empire and merged into the Renaissance and the Age of Discovery. The Medieval period is itself subdivided into the Early, the High, and the Late Middle Ages.

In European history, the Early Medieval Period (or Early Middle Ages) lasted from the 5th century to the 10th century. This period has been labeled the “Dark Ages,” due to the relative scarcity of literary and cultural output, especially in Northwestern Europe. However, the Byzantine Empire or Eastern Roman Empire, continued to survive. And, in the 7th century, the Islamic caliphates conquered regions of former Roman territories.

The High Medieval Period (or High Middle Ages) was the period of European history around the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries (c. 1001–1300). During this period, the population of Europe increased and brought about great social and political change from the preceding era.

The Late Medieval Period (or Late Middle Ages) was the period comprising the 14th and 15th centuries (c. 1301–1500). It preceded the onset of the early modern era and, in much of Europe, the Renaissance.

The great social and political change from the High Medieval Period in Europe came to a halt in the early 14th century. A series of calamities such as the Great Famine of 1315-1317 and the Black Death reduced the population to around half of what it was before. The prosperity and growth in Europe came to a halt. Along with depopulation came social unrest and endemic warfare. France and England experienced serious peasant uprisings: the Hundred Years’ War, the Jacquerie, the Peasants’ Revolt, as well as a century of intermittent conflicts.

The Hundred Years’ War was a series of wars waged from 1337 to 1453 between the House of Plantagenet, rulers of the Kingdom of England, and the House of Valois for control of the Kingdom of France.

The Jacquerie was a popular revolt by peasants in northern France in the summer of 1358.

The Peasants’ Revolt, also called Wat Tyler’s Rebellion or the Great Rising, was a major uprising across large parts of England in 1381.

To add to the many problems of the period, the Western Schism shattered the unity of the Catholic Church. By and large, these events are sometimes called the Crisis of the Late Middle Ages.

Despite these crises, the 14th century was a period of great progress in arts and sciences.

Icon of St. Gregory the Great by Theophilia (Source: theophilia.deviantart.com)
Icon of St. Gregory the Great by Theophilia (Source: theophilia.deviantart.com)

Pope Gregory I (c. 540 – 12 March 604), commonly known as Saint Gregory the Great, was Pope from September 3, 590 until his death in 604.

Jay Stuller of Smithsonian magazine wrote:

“Gregory the Great, the first monk to become pope, allowed Sunday baths and even commended them, so long as they didn’t become a ‘time-wasting luxury’… medieval nobility routinely washed their hands before and after meals. Etiquette guides of the age insisted that teeth, face and hands be cleaned each morning. Shallow basins and water jugs for washing hair were found in most manor houses, as was the occasional communal tub…”

Icon of St Bernard  of Clairvaux by Benedictine nun in England (Source: newclairvaux.org)
Icon of St Bernard of Clairvaux by Benedictine nun in England (Source: newclairvaux.org)

During the High Medieval Period (c. 1001–1300) the Europeans smelled terrible and they were used to it. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (born 1090), a French abbot and the primary builder of the reforming Cistercian order summed up the tolerance of the people to their stinking bodies thus: “We all stink. No one smells.

Saint Francis of Assisi
Saint Francis of Assisi

Saint Francis of Assisi (1181/1182 – October 3, 1226), Italian Catholic friar and preacher considered an unwashed body a stinking badge of piety.

In his article, “A History of Private Life,” the French historian Georges Duby, specializing in the social and economic history of the Middle Ages wrote:

Among the dominant class at least, cleanliness was much prized. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the Cluniac monasteries and houses of the lay nobility continued to set aside space for bathsNo formal dinner (that is, no dinner given in the great hall with a large crowd of guests) could begin until ewers had been passed around to the guest for their preprandial ablutions. Water flowed abundantly in the literature of amusement — over the body of the knight-errant, who was always rubbed down, combed, and groomed by his host’s daughters whenever he stopped for the night, and over the nude bodies of fairies in fountains and steam-baths. A hot bath was an obligatory prelude to the amorous games described in the fabliaux. Washing one’s own body and the bodies of others seems to have been a function specifically ascribed to women, mistresses of water both at home and in the wilderness.

“Bathing and grooming were regarded with suspicion by moralists, however, because they unveiled the attractions of the body. Bathing was said to be a prelude to sin, and in the penitential of Burchard of Worms we find a full catalog of the sins that ensued when men and women bathed together… Lambert of Ardres, the historian of the counts of Guines, describes the young wife of the ancestor of his hero swimming before the eyes of her household in a pond below the castle, but he is careful to indicate that she is wearing a modest white gown. … [Public baths] were suspect because they were too public; it was better wash one’s body in the privacy of one’s own home. Scrupulous, highly restrictive precautions were taken in… monasteries. At Cluny, the custom required the monks to take a full bath twice a year, at the holidays of renewal, Christmas and Easter; but they were exhorted not to uncover their pudenda.” (p. 525)

Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor

Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor
Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor

Frederick II (December 26, 1194 – December 13, 1250), was one of the most powerful Holy Roman Emperors of the Middle Ages. He was the head of the House of Hohenstaufen. Though based in Sicily, his political and cultural ambitions stretched through Italy to Germany, and even to Jerusalem. His admirers nicknamed him ‘Stupor Mundi‘ meaning ‘Wonder of the World’ while his enemies called him an ‘Anti-Christ whore of Babylon.’

Having enjoyed discussions with Cardinal de‘ Fieschi, Frederick II admired the Cardinal’s wisdom. On June 25, 1243, Cardinal de‘ Fieschi reluctantly accepted election as Pope and took on the name Innocent IV.

The emperor was always at daggers drawn with the popes. Following the election the witty Frederick remarked that he had “lost the friendship of a cardinal, but made up for it by gaining the enmity of a pope.

At that time, the Catholic Church considered bathing a sinful act. In 1250, Pope Innocent IV passed the verdict against Frederick II of being a heathen. The first accusation on his list was the King bathed daily.

Étienne Boileau is one of the first known provosts of Paris. In 1261, King Louis IX named him provost for 10 years.

"Trades and guilds of the city of Paris: the thirteenth century" by Étienne Boileau, Provost of Paris (1261–1271).
“Trades and guilds of the city of Paris: the thirteenth century” by Étienne Boileau, Provost of Paris (1261–1271).

Around 1270, Boileau brought together the regulations for the police, industry and the trades of Paris in his book “Les métiers et corporations de la ville de Paris: XIIIe siècle” (“Trades and guilds of the city of Paris: the thirteenth century”). This work was a faithful mirror reflecting the smallest details of the industrial and commercial life of Paris in the 13th century.

Here is an excerpt from the book on the regulations governing the Guild of Bathhouse Keepers:

1. Whoever wishes to be a bathhouse-keeper in the city of Paris may freely do so, provided he works according to the usage and customs of the trade, made by agreement of the commune, as follow.

2. Be it known that no man or woman may cry or have cried their baths until it is day, because of the dangers which can threaten those who rise at the cry to go to the baths.

3. No man or woman of the aforesaid trade may maintain in their houses or baths either prostitutes of the day or night, or lepers, or vagabonds, or other infamous people of the night.

4. No man or woman may heat up their baths on Sunday, or on a feast day which the commune of the city keeps. And every person should pay, for a steam-bath, two deniers; and if he bathes, he should pay four deniers. And because at some times wood and coal are more expensive than at others, if anyone suffers, a suitable price shall be set by the provost of Paris, through the discussion of the good people of the aforesaid trade, according to the situation of the times. The male and female bathhouse-keepers have sworn and promised before us to uphold these things firmly and consistently, and not to go against them.

5. Anyone who infringes any of the above regulations of the aforesaid trade must make amends with ten Parisian sous, of which six go to the king, and the other four go to the masters who oversee the trade, for their pains.

6. The aforesaid trade shall have three good men of the trade, elected by us unanimously or by a majority, who shall swear before the provost of Paris or his representative that they will oversee the trade well and truly, and that they will make known to the provost of Paris or his representative all the infringements that they know of or discover, and the provost shall remove and change them as often as he wishes.

Georges Vigarello, the French historian and sociologist, published his book “Concepts of Cleanliness: Changing Attitudes in France since the Middle Ages” in October 2008. In this lucid work he examines how attitudes to and perceptions of human cleanliness, health and hygiene manifested in the history of bathing. He says the use of water for cleanliness has been by no means constant in the Middle Ages. The medieval idea of visible purity, effectively meant the face and the hands only. On pages 21-22, Professo Vigarello says:

“A crier patrolled the streets of thirteenth-century Paris to summon people to the heated steam-baths and bath-houses. These establishments, already numbering twenty-six in 1292 [Riolan, Curieuses Recherches, p. 219], and with their guild, were a familiar feature of the town. They were commonplace enough for it not to be shocking to offer a session in a steam-bath as a tip to artisans, domestic servants, or day-labourers. ‘To Jehan Petit, for him and his fellow valets of the bedchamber, which the queen gave him on New Year’s Day to visit the steam-baths’… What they would find was a steam-bath, with in addition, according to price, a bath in a tub, wine, a meal, or a bed. Naked bodies sweated and were sponged down side by side in the steam from water heated by wood fires. Baths were taken in a room, often separate, crammed with heavy round iron-bound bathtubs. A steam-bath did not necessarily involve immersion, though a bath could be had. There were, for example, six bathtubs at Saint-Vivien in 1380, with three beds and sets of bedding. [C. de Beaurepaire, Noveaux Melanges historiques, Paris, 1904, p. 94]…”

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To Bathe, or Not to Bathe: Part 3 – Don’t Bathe Water Is Your Enemy!


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Myself  .By T.V. Antony Raj

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King Philippe VI of France  (1293 – 22 August 1350)
King Philippe VI of France (1293 – 22 August 1350)

In 1348, Philippe VI of France asked the medical faculty of the University of Paris to investigate the origins of the Bubonic plague. Their far-reaching opinion began with a disastrous conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars that 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.

Who were susceptible?

Some people susceptible to infection recognized in Greek and Roman times were: the obese, the intemperate, and the over-passionate. Now, the medical faculty added a new one that struck fear in the hearts of the medieval people – hot baths, which had a dangerous moistening and relaxing effect on the body. They said that once heat and water created openings through the skin, the plague could easily invade the entire body.

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.” Even so, some resisted the idea of refraining from bathing.

In 1450, during an outbreak, Jacques Des Pars, the physician to Charles VII, called for the closing of the Paris baths. This infuriated the bathhouse owners, and he fled to Tournai to avoid their wrath.

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

Thomas Moulton was a Dominican friar, who called himself a doctor of divinity of the order of friar preachers. Around 1531, he published a small octavo treatise in England titled “The myrrour or glasse of helth.” It was a manual purported to help avoid the pestilence and 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.”

Ambroise Paré (1510–1590) by Michiel Jansz. van Miereveld (Photo credit: The Royal College of Surgeons of England)
Ambroise Paré (1510–1590) by Michiel Jansz. van Miereveld (Photo credit: The Royal College of Surgeons of England)

Ambroise Paré (c. 1510 – December 20, 1590) was a French barber surgeon. He served kings Henry II, Francis II, Charles IX and Henry III. Paré is considered one of the fathers of surgery and modern forensic pathology. As an anatomist, he invented several surgical instruments. He pioneered surgical techniques, battlefield medicine and treatment of wounds. In 1545, Paré published his first book “The method of curing wounds caused by arquebus and firearms.”

In 1568, Ambroise Paré, warned about water coming into contact with an unsuspecting victim. He wrote, voicing a now common opi‭nion:

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.

This and similar statements caused the medical fraternity in Europe to unanimously believe that water and infected air carried diseases into the body through the pores in the skin. Hence, they advised people not to bathe.

The learned professors of the day said that even when a plague did not threaten, water posed a threat to the bather because of the pores in the body. Through water, one might contract syphilis or diseases, yet unnamed and unknown. They warned that women can even become pregnant from sperm floating in the bath water. Not only could spurious matter enter the body through water, but the all-important balance of the four humours – black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood – could become unstable through pores opened by moisture.

This resulted in lower class citizens, particularly men, to forgo bathing. They restricted their hygienic routine to rinsing their mouths, washing their hands and infrequent washing parts of their face. They believed that washing one’s entire face was dangerous as it would weaken the eyesight and cause catarrh.

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.

In the medieval periods, worries about the body’s vulnerability affected fashion as well as hygiene. According to the professors, since the pores might be vulnerable even when dry and not heated, clothing should be smooth, tightly woven and fitted. Taffeta and satin for the wealthy, oil-cloth and jute or hemp sacking for the poor. Cotton and wool were too loosely woven. Fur offered too many places for poisons to lodge. People wore shifts, shirts, collars, coifs, kerchiefs, etc., made of linen. They thought that linen worn next to the skin enabled it to absorb sweat, and remove dirt from the body.

To combat body odour, the men and women belonging to the royalty and the aristocracy 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.

In 1526, Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus, a Dutch Renaissance humanist and a classical scholar wrote:

Twenty-five years ago, nothing was more fashionable in Brabant than public baths. Today there are none, the new plague has taught us to avoid them.

Before the medieval period, water had furnished comfort, pleasure, companionship, temptation, and cleanliness. Now, during the medieval period, on much of the Continent, water was considered an enemy to be avoided at all costs. The two centuries that followed Erasmus’ lament would be among the dirtiest in the history of Europe.

As the plagues recurred somewhere in Europe almost every year, the fears about a too permeable skin lasted until the beginning of the eighteenth century.

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.

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

In most of Europe, the complete lack of personal hygiene lingered until around mid 19th century.

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To Bathe, or Not to Bathe: Part 2 – The Bubonic Plague


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Myself  .By T.V. Antony Raj

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In the 13th century, Mongol conquest caused a decline in farming and trading in China. However, by the beginning of the 14th century, China recovered on the economic front. Starting in 1331, many natural disasters and plagues led to widespread famine. A deadly plague arrived soon after. It killed an estimated 25 million Chinese and other Asians in the next 15 years before it reached Constantinople in 1347.

Map of the spread of the Black Death.
Map of the spread of the Black Death.

The disease may have travelled along the Silk Road with Mongol armies and traders or it could have come via ship. In his book “The Epidemics of The Middle Ages,” J.F.C. Hecker says that by the end of 1346 reports of plague had reached the seaports of Europe:

“India was depopulated, Tartary, Mesopotamia, Syria, Armenia were covered with dead bodies”.

Jani Beg was a khan of the Golden Horde from 1342 to 1357. He commanded a massive Crimean Tatar force that attacked the Crimean port city of Kaffa in 1343. In February, an Italian relief force lifted the siege. In 1345 Jani Beg again besieged Kaffa. His assault was again unsuccessful due to an outbreak of the Bubonic plague among his troops. The Mongols catapulted their infected corpses over the city walls to infect and weaken the defenders.

The Genoese traders and sailors fled Kaffa, taking the plague by ship into Sicily. From there, according to the traditional theory promulgated by historians, oriental rat fleas living on black rats that infested merchant ships carried the disease. The plague spread throughout the Mediterranean and Europe. It invaded Italy, Spain, France, England, Germany, Austria and Hungary, sometimes travelling two and a half miles a day.

In the 14th century people called the catastrophe either the “Great Pestilence”‘ or the “Great Plague”. Contemporaries to the plague referred to the event as the “Great Mortality”. Swedish and Danish chronicles of the 17th century described the events as “black” for the first time; perhaps to refer to the sense of gloom or dread that accompanied the plague. The Latin phrase “atra mors” meaning “black death” first appeared in a book on Danish history by J.I. Pontanus published in 1631. He wrote about a disease that occurred in 1348: “Vulgo & ab effectu atram mortem vocatibant.” This may have been a mistranslation as atra can mean black, brooding or terrible. Even so, the name “Black Death” spread through Scandinavia and then Germany. In England, it was not until 1823 that the medieval epidemic was first called the Black Death.

Illustration of the Black Death from the Toggenburg Bible (1411)
Illustration of the Black Death from the Toggenburg Bible (1411)

However, in the late-stage of the disease, the festering lumps in the groins, armpits and necks of its victims blackened due to subepidermal hemorrhages. And, the extremities would darken with a form of gangrene, acral necrosis.

The disease arrived in London in the fall of 1348 and took a catastrophic toll. According to a report from the time, one cemetery in East Smithfield alone received more than 200 bodies a day.

The disease is commonly believed to be Bubonic Plague, a bacterial infection marked by pain, fever, swollen lymph nodes called buboes. The plague was the most catastrophic pandemic the world has yet known. It peaked in Europe in the years 1346–53. It killed at least one out of every three Europeans. During the time of its first visit, an estimated 75 to 200 million people had died – almost 30 to 60% of Europe’s total population. In total, the plague reduced the world population from an estimated 450 million down to 350–375 million in the 14th century. It is clear that several existing conditions such as war, famine, and weather contributed to the severity of the Bubonic Plague.

Boccaccio the author of The Decameron has described the plague’s attack on individuals and society shortly after it devastated Florence. He gives a dispassionate, almost clinical account of the disease. In spite of prayers, processions and last-minute attempts at sanitation, it spread through Florence unchecked. The doctors and priests stood helpless. Patients died on the third day after the appearance of the fatal swollen lymph nodes, some of which were as big as apples. Anyone who had so much as touched any object handled by the sick person risked infection.

The plague’s effect on the able-bodied members of society confounded Boccaccio. He watched as a panic-stricken populace rapidly sloughed off the civility. And, something worse than barbarism took its place. Brothers fled from sick brothers, wives from their husbands and even mothers from their own children.

The women did not observe the time-honoured lamenting in the houses of the dead persons. The men would not congregate at the threshold of the houses of the dead persons. En masse burial of corpses in common burial pits took place without ceremony or attendants.

Another Florentine observer, Marchionne di Coppo Stefani, wrote that every morning, when the burial pits held a fresh influx of dead bodies, the gravediggers shovelled more earth on them. Next morning they added more corpses and then more earth, “just as one makes lasagna with layers of pasta and cheese.”

The governments of Europe were in a quandary. The medical fraternity was at a loss to explain what caused the disease or how it spread. Many believed only God’s anger could produce such horrific calamity. People resorted to astrologers. People considered the earthquakes and the poisoning of wells by Jews as possible reasons for the emergence of the plague.

Pope Clement VI sought the insight of astronomers for an explanation for the occurrence of the plague. Johannes de Muris, a French astronomer, mathematician, was among the team of three who drew up a treatise explaining the plague of 1348. They said the conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars in 1341 caused the plague.

The Pope’s physicians advised him that surrounding himself with torches would block the plague. However, he soon became skeptical of this recommendation and stayed in Avignon supervising sick care, burials, and the pastoral care of the dying.

Even though there was so much death around him the Pope never contracted the disease.

The cities ran out of ground for cemeteries. So, Pope Clement VI consecrated the entire Rhone River for the bodies to be thrown into it and considered as buried in holy ground.

Renewed religious fervour and fanaticism bloomed in the wake of the Black Death. People blamed various groups such as Jews, friars, foreigners, beggars, pilgrims, lepers and Romani, for the crisis.  They singled out lepers and other people with skin diseases such as acne or psoriasis, and exterminated throughout Europe.

When popular opinion blamed the Jews for the plague and pogroms erupted throughout Europe, Pope Clement VI issued two papal bulls on July 6, 1348 and on September 26, 1348. The second bull named Quamvis Perfidiam, condemned the violence and said those who blamed the plague on the Jews had been “seduced by that liar, the Devil.” He urged clergy to take action to protect Jews as he had done.

Even after the papal bulls, there were many attacks against Jewish communities. In February 1349, the citizens of Strasbourg murdered 2,000 Jews. In August the citizens of Mainz and Cologne the exterminated Jewish communities. By 1351, the Christians destroyed 60 major and 150 smaller Jewish communities.

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Next →  Part 3 – Don’t Bathe Water Is Your Enemy!

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To Bathe, or Not to Bathe: Part 1 – That Was the Question in Europe!


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Myself  .By T.V. Antony Raj

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Around the world, the need for cleanliness gave rise to public centres for bathing. According to the historians, the Indus Valley Civilization had the earliest public baths.

The 'Great Bath', Mohenjo-daro, in Sindh, Pakistan. (Source: studyblue.com)
The ‘Great Bath‘, Mohenjo-daro, in Sindh, Pakistan. (Source: studyblue.com)

In 1926, archaeologists found the “Great Bath” among the ruins of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization at Mohenjo-daro in Sindh, Pakistan.  Housed inside a large, elaborate building the public used it for bathing. It had stairs leading down to the water at both ends. Archaeological evidence indicates that the Great Bath was built in the 3rd Millennium BC.

Ancient Bath in Dion - ΑΡΧΑΙΟ ΛΟΥΤΡΟ ΣΤΟ ΔΙΟΝ (Source: panoramio.com)
Ancient Bath in Dion – ΑΡΧΑΙΟ ΛΟΥΤΡΟ ΣΤΟ ΔΙΟΝ (Source: panoramio.com)

The history of public baths in Greece begins in the sixth century BC. The Greeks used small bathtubs, washbasins, and foot baths for personal cleanliness. The earliest such findings were in the palace complexes at Knossos, Crete. Luxurious alabaster bathtubs excavated at Akrotiri, Santorini date from the mid-2nd millennium BC.

The Greeks built public baths and showers in their gymnasiums for relaxation and personal hygiene.

Bathing in Greece grew into a ritualized art. Cities in ancient Greece honoured sites where “young ephebes (adolescents) stood and splashed water over their bodies.”

In Greek mythology the gods blessed certain natural springs or tidal pools to cure diseases. The Greeks established bathing facilities around these sacred pools for those desiring healing . Supplicants left offerings to the gods and bathed at these sites hoping for a cure.

The Roman Baths (Thermae) of Bath Spa, England. The entire structure above the level of the pillar bases is a later reconstruction. (Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0)
The Roman Baths (Thermae) of Bath Spa, England. The entire structure above the level of the pillar bases is a later reconstruction. (Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0)

In ancient Rome, the need for cleanliness gained much importance. One of the daily activities practiced across a variety of social classes was bathing. In many contemporary cultures bathing was a private activity conducted in the confines of one’s home. But in Rome, bathing was a communal activity that took place mostly in public facilities called the Thermae (Greek: θερμός thermos, meaning “hot”) and the balnea (from Greek βαλανεῖον balaneion, meaning “baths”) for bathing.

The state-owned large imperial bath complexes called Thermae filled the need for communal cleanliness. In some ways, these resembled modern-day spas. The largest of these, the Baths of Diocletian, could hold up to 3,000 bathers. Fees for both types of baths were quite reasonable, within the budget of most free Roman men.

The balneum was a small private bathhouse. But some balnea were public in the sense that they were open to the populace for a fee.

Although wealthy Romans might set up a bath in their own houses, they often frequented the Thermae, because they were not only facilities for bathing, but were also centres for meeting and socializing as well. A catalogue of buildings in Rome from 354 AD documented 952 baths of varying sizes in the city.

During the 1st century BC, a Roman architect, and civil engineer Marcus Vitruvius Pollio discussed the design of baths in his multivolume work “De Architectura” published as “The Ten Books on Architecture“.

The Romans built their public bath around three principal rooms: the caldarium (hot bath), the tepidarium (warm bath) and the frigidarium (cold bath). Some Thermae also featured the sudatorium (steam bath), a moist steam bath, and the laconicum (a dry steam), bath much like a modern sauna. An aqueduct, stream, or an adjacent river supplied water to the bathhouses built in forts, town houses, and private villas. A log fire heated the water channelled into the hot bathing rooms.

Before the Middle Ages, public baths were common in Europe. The public bathed regularly. During the 4th and 5th centuries, the Catholic Church advocated bathing to keep oneself clean and healthy. At the same time, the Church forbade people from attending public bathhouses for pleasure. It also condemned women going to bathhouses that had mixed facilities.

Saint Ephraim, metropolitan of Kyiv and All Rus', Bishop of Pereyaslav (modern Ukraine). (Source - Kyiv Caves Lavra, Ukraine)
Saint Ephraim, metropolitan of Kyiv and All Rus’, Bishop of Pereyaslav (modern Ukraine). (Source – Kyiv Caves Lavra, Ukraine)

Before he became a monk, Saint Ephraim II of Pereyaslav, was the treasurer and steward of household affairs (1054–1068) at the court of the Iziaslav Yaroslavich, the Grand Prince of Kiev. Weighed down by the noisy and bustling life at that time he became a monk. After the year 1072, Ephraim appointed as bishop in Pereyaslav built stone walls around the city like the Greek. He adorned the city with many beautiful churches and public buildings. He also constructed free hospices and public bathhouses for the poor and travelers.

During the Early and the High Middle Ages, the Catholic Church imposed more restrictions. It discouraged bathing naked on moral grounds and disapproved excessive bathing. Eventually, the public bathing culture of antiquity fell into disuse in Europe.

In the 11th and 12th centuries, the returning Crusaders, from Turkey and the Arab world, who had enjoyed warm baths in the Middle east, reintroduced Roman style public baths in Europe. Once again, the public baths became popular in medieval Germany, Switzerland, Italy, France and to a lesser extent in England. During the reign of Henry II, from 1154 AD to 1189 AD, bathhouses, called ‘bagnios were set up in Southwark on the river Thames.

In due course, most of these public baths degenerated into brothels and were closed down at various times. The Medieval Catholic Church proclaimed that public bathing led to immorality, promiscuous sex, and diseases.

The disease “Black Death” was the most catastrophic pandemic the world has yet known. It claimed an estimated 75 to 200 million people and peaked in Europe in the years 1346–53. The plague killed at least one out of every three Europeans. The aftermath of the plague created a series of religious, social, and economic upheavals, which had profound effects on the course of European history. It took 150 years for Europe’s population to recover. The plague recurred occasionally in Europe until the 19th century.

In 1538, François I of France had the French bathhouses closed.  In 1546, all public baths were officially banned in England by Henry VIII due to their negative reputation.

Ambroise Paré (c. 1510 – December 20, 1590) was a French barber-surgeon. He served kings Henry II, Francis II, Charles IX and Henry III. Considered as one of the fathers of surgery and modern forensic pathology, he pioneered surgical techniques and battlefield medicine and treatment of wounds. He was also an anatomist and invented several surgical instruments. In 1568, Ambroise Paré, warned about water coming into contact with an unsuspecting victim:

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.

This statement caused the medical fraternity in Europe to unanimously believe that water and infected air carried diseases into the body through the pores in the skin. Hence, they advised people not to bathe.

This resulted in lower class citizens, particularly men, to forgo bathing. They restricted their hygienic routine to rinsing their mouths,  washing hands and infrequent washing parts of the face. They believed that washing one’s entire face was dangerous as it would weaken the eyesight and cause catarrh. Members of the upper classes 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.

During the reign of Louis XIV people believed that a grimy layer of dirt would keep one healthy. They thought the grime would clog the pores on the skins and help to keep away the water from entering one’s body. Throughout the 17th century, people washed little. They wore shifts, shirts, collars, coifs, kerchiefs, etc., made of linen. It was thought that linen worn next to the skin had special properties that enabled it to absorb sweat, and remove dirt from the body. Working class people used cream, grey or beige linen not having the resources to keep their linen white.

To combat body odour, the rich used scented rags to rub the body and heavy use of perfumes to mask their stench. The royalty and the aristocracy changed their linen wear often. Men wore small bags with fragrant herbs between the shirt and waistcoat, while women dusted fragrant powders over their entire body. Even then they still stunk. So, they doused themselves with heady perfumes, oils, and scented powders to mask the stench emanating from their bodies.

A wardrobe full of fine linen smocks or undershirts to enable a daily change was the height of hygienic sophistication. Jean Racine (1639 – 1699), the French dramatist, Molière (1622 – 1673), the French playwright actor, owned 30 pieces each.

This complete lack of personal hygiene in most of Europe lingered until around mid 19th century.

Russians were not so fastidious about bathing. The Europeans considered them perverts. The Russians took regular baths at least once a month.

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Next →  Part 2 – The Bubonic Plague

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