Medieval Monday: Washing Laundry

Whenever I’m tempted to gripe about doing piles of laundry, I remind myself that I really don’t have it all that bad. After all, the washer and dryer are really doing most of the work. I’m just moving the piles around and folding them. I don’t even have to move them that far—from one floor of my house to the next. Our medieval counterparts certainly didn’t have that luxury, or many others that we don’t give much thought to. So in honor of my growing laundry pile, I thought today’s post would answer the question of “how would I have done it back then.”

First, I would have needed a source of water. The most common source would have been a nearby body of water—preferably moving water, like a river or stream if there wasn’t a community wash house. Laundry would have to be hauled there and either beat against rocks, or with a washing bat or beetle. These were basically sticks used for moving cloth around in the water or for hitting it. In time, the fabric would come clean, even without the use of soaps.

Laundry was unquestionably women’s work. It therefore became a social event where women could exchange news, information, and plenty of gossip. Doing laundry was time consuming and labor intensive, so it was not something that was done every day, or even once a week. If you were wealthy, you might have an extensive enough wardrobe to change into clean clothes more often. The poor did not have that advantage. Laundry was saved up and washed once a month—maybe once every several months.

Undergarments were washed more frequently, sometimes in a wooden tub at home. Delicate fabrics and expensive garments would be soaked in tubs as well rather than being beaten against rocks or with beetles. A plant called soapwort or other herbs like marjoram could be used in the water to clean and deodorize fabric. To brighten white cloth, lye was used (a mixture including ash and urine). Plenty of advice and recipes still exist that tell how to remove stains, some as simple as soaking the stain in verjuice, others far more complex and involving many days-worth of work.

Washed laundry was dried on a pole in front of the fire, hung outdoors on bushes, ropes, or wooden frames, or laid out flat on the grass. The sun had a natural bleaching affect on white linens. If there was enough space, laundry would be dried indoors in poor weather.

Robes and cloaks were sometimes rubbed with wax to weatherproof them, but this process would have been too expensive for peasants who would have worn felted wool instead. Outer garments were not washed very often. They would simply be shaken or beaten with a brush or a bundle of twigs to get rid of dust and dirt, then re-worn until they could eventually be washed.

Here are some fourteenth century laundry instructions from A Medieval Home Companion, written down by an elderly Frenchman to his new young wife. (This is a fascinating book that I highly recommend if you can get a copy of it.)

“If there is any spot of oil or other grease, this is the remedy: Take urine and heat it until it is warm, and soak the spot in it for two days. Then, without twisting it, squeeze out the part of the dress with the spot. If the spot is not gone, have Dame Agnes the Beguine put it in other urine, beat in ox gall, and do as before. Or you can do this: Have fuller’s earth soaked in lye and then put it on the spot. Let it dry, and then rub it. If the earth doesn’t come off easily, have it moistened in the lye, let it dry again, and rub until it goes away. Or, if you don’t have any fuller’s earth, have ashes soaked in lye and put those well-moistened ashes on the spot. Or have very clean chicken feathers soaked in very hot water to get rid of any grease they have picked up. Wet them again in clean water, rub the spot on the dress well once more, and all the stains will go away.

To take stains out of dresses of silk, satin, camlet, silk damask, or other material: soak and wash the stain in verjuice and it will go away. Even though the dress is faded, the color will come back, although I don’t really believe this. Verjuice: At the time when the new verjuice is made, one should take a glass vial of it, without salt, and keep it, because it is useful for taking spots out of dresses and bringing back their color. It is always good, new or old.


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Medieval Monday: 900 Years Ago she was an Artist…

Monastic communities and illuminated manuscripts play important roles in my book series, so articles like this one always intrigue me. They give me glimpses into a reality that has long inspired my imagination and continues to fuel it. I can’t help but think, this woman could have been a real life version of my character Morganne, who loves and studies the ancient spiritual tomes of her world. The thought makes me want to read more history, look deeper…discover what life would have been like for someone like this woman who lived 900 years ago. I hope you are intrigued by this article too. Don’t hesitate to browse the Medieval Monday Index for more information about the real Middle Ages.


900 years ago she was artist – we know this because she has bits of blue stone in her teeth

A team of researchers examining the remains of a woman buried around the year 1100 AD have – to their surprise – discovered dozens of tiny bits of blue stone in her teeth. They soon realized that she was likely a painter of illuminated medieval manuscripts.

The discovery was made by an international team of researchers, including those from the University of York and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. They had been examining the remains of individuals who were buried in a medieval cemetery associated with a women’s monastery at the site of Dalheim in Germany. Few records remain of the monastery and its exact founding date is not known, although a women’s community may have formed there as early as the 10th century AD. The earliest known written records from the monastery date to 1244. The monastery is believed to have been home to about 14 religious women from its founding until its destruction by fire following a series of 14th century battles…

Continue reading: http://www.medievalists.net/2019/01/900-years-ago-she-was-artist/


 

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Medieval Monday: Game of Thrones and the Real Middle Ages

I will say up front that I do not watch Game of Thrones–I’ve seen enough of it from my husband’s binge-watching sessions to know that while the storyline is good, the visuals are just way too graphic for me. I found this article interesting anyway, because Game of Thrones is not the first book, movie, or TV series to paint an overly dark picture of the Medieval era.

That’s not to say that there wasn’t plenty of brutality and tragedy (as there is in any era), but there were also many peaceful days in between during which ordinary people lived out their lives, working the land, learning skills, plying trades, and raising families. European culture flourished, bringing us incredible architecture, art, music, scholarship, and other worthwhile things that have endured to the present day. With so much focus on the dark aspects of this time in history, it is my hope that in some small way I’m helping to bring a more complete picture into the light with my Medieval Monday series.

Anyway, enjoy the article, and don’t hesitate to browse the Medieval Monday Index while you’re here.


What The New Footage From Game Of Thrones Can Teach Us About The Real Middle Ages by Matthew Gabriele

HBO just reminded us that Winter is here. In its new trailer for 2019, fans of Game of Thrones were only offered a few seconds of what will happen in the coming season, the show’s final one. We see a meeting of fire and ice, dragons and wolves, as Daenerys Targaryen with Jon Snow meets Sansa Stark at Winterfell. From last season, we know what’s to come: the wallas with all walls, didn’t work and the great war between the living and the dead approaches.

Although none of us fans can know for certain what’s to come, it’s probably fair to guess that the season will be dark, that Westeros will be filled with violence, that there will be tragedy. How do we know this? For one, we’ve watched the show. But for another, the show plays off a popular conception of the medieval world as dark, treacherous, and violent. In other words, it uses our assumptions about the Middle Ages to help tell its story. And as a medievalist, and having taught a course on Game of Thrones at Virginia Tech since Winter 2015, I fight against these preconceptions whenever I teach.

How – and even if – to teach the relationship between a fantasy world such as Game of Thrones and the historical European Middle Ages has admittedly caused controversy among scholars. But to my mind, the fact that the show both reinforces and at the same time challenges our assumptions about the period is precisely what makes Game of Thrones so interesting.

The Middle Ages are known as the “Dark Ages” for a reason. It doesn’t have anything to do with the 12th century though. Instead, the idea came much later. During the Enlightenment, the medieval came to be known as the antithesis of the modern, a repository for whatever we considered “bad.” These thinkers built themselves up by tearing their medieval predecessors down. Basically, what they created was nostalgia, which can take 1 of 2 forms. First, it can believe that an ideal past has been lost and needs to be reclaimed. Second, it can say the past has no value and should be wholly discarded. The first is the friend of authoritarianism, while the second excuses modernity by placing all its sins in the past.

Game of Thrones relies upon that second kind of nostalgia, the one that my students so often bring with them to my courses. They have a set of preconceptions about what they’ll find in the Middle Ages…

Continue reading: https://www.forbes.com/sites/matthewgabriele/2019/01/13/game-of-thrones-real-middle-ages/#5b7aac4f43c7


 

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Medieval Monday: 10 Medieval Jobs that No Longer Exist

Today many people are concerned that their job or profession will become obsolete due to changing technology. In you go back to the Middle Ages you can find several occupations – some that involved a great deal of learning, and others that were a choice only for the desperate – that have disappeared. Many of these were also made redundant by technology. Here are ten of these jobs.

Alchemist

One of the main ‘scientific’ beliefs throughout the medieval world was that it was possible to change chemicals and metals. Scholars experimented with various processes and techniques to purify metals and convert them into new forms. One particular goal of medieval alchemists was to turn lead into gold or silver, but for others the objective was to create medicines to heal or sustain the human body.

Some of the leading scholars of the Middle Ages dabbled in alchemy, including Albertus Magnus and Roger Bacon, but by the 17th century the ideas behind alchemy were gradually dismissed, and the science of chemistry replaced it.

Alewife

In medieval England, the profession of brewing was often dominated by women. In towns and villages women could be found running side-businesses in brewing and selling ale. As Judith M. Bennett explains, brewing was “a small-scale, low-investment, low-profit, low-skilled industry – suited especially well the economic needs of married women. Because ale soured quickly and transported poorly, it was unsuitable for large-scale, centralized businesses. As a result, wives who sought to sell ale on a modest and ad hoc basis could compete effectively in the trade.”

By the 15th century this practice began to fade, as brewing became more commercialized and society sought to restrict the independence of women.

Cup Bearer

An important position in many royal courts was to be the person that served the monarch their drinks. It was widely feared that one could easily be poisoned, so this person was responsible for making sure the drinks were safe, even if that meant tasting the beverages themselves. A king needed to be very trusting of his Cup Bearer, so the person with this job could be very influential in court politics.

Click to read more of this post, shared from medievalists.net


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Medieval Monday: The King

Sadly, this is the last episode of Medieval Lives with Terry Jones of Monty Python fame, but you can find all of my posts with these videos in the Medieval Monday index.

In this episode he talks about English kings, focusing specifically on the three Richards as examples. It is interesting to see how political spin hasn’t changed much in hundreds of years–just the motives and the methods of delivery. Can you really believe everything written in the history books? Perhaps not…

One interesting update, though. Since this was filmed, Richard III’s body has been found beneath a parking lot in the English city of Leicester. It was finally proved that he did suffer from scoliosis and had a slightly curved spine, but he did not have a hunchback as portrayed by Shakespeare  and others.


Learn more about the daily life in Middle Ages by browsing previous posts in the Medieval Monday Index.

Medieval Monday: Hallowmas–Saints and Sinners

All Hallows Eve is nearly here! As mentioned in last week’s post, if we were living in the medieval era today, it would be the start of Hallowmas—an important three-day event on the medieval calendar. We might be attempting to mock or scare evil spirits with costumes, lighting bonfires, or souling for the sake of those already departed. We would sincerely believe that by giving bread to the poor, we could redeem a lost soul from the fires of hell. On All Hallows Eve there is a sense that the veil between life and death is at its thinnest, and yet there is nothing to fear from the darkness, because Christ has already claimed victory over death. All Saints Day which follows is where the celebration of Hallowmas really gets serious. It is a time to honor the martyrs and saints of the Church, both known and unknown, many of whom died gruesome deaths for the sake of their faith.

St. Michael battling a demon

St. Michael battling a demon

All Saints Day was an occasion for feasting and sometimes great tournaments. It was both a holiday and a holy day, where special ceremonies and masses were held. Prayers to the saints were encouraged in order to help one’s journey through this life and into the next. On the night of All Saints Day, bells were rung. Their melodious tones were thought to bring joy to the poor souls suffering in purgatory—a concept first accepted as a doctrine of the Church in the 1200s that did much to shape medieval beliefs about the afterlife. In purgatory, the souls of “moderately bad sinners” would remain for a time of purification before they would continue heavenward. Purgatory would not permanently close until the very end of time, when “angels would rouse the dead from their graves to be judged by God,” and the souls within it would finally gain admittance to heaven, or be sent to hell, for all eternity.

death-and-burialFrom All Saints Day, the transition was made to All Souls Day on November 2nd. Again, there was feasting, but the focus shifted from the martyrs and saints to ALL of the faithful departed. Death was a very central theme of medieval life, which was always full of uncertainty. The child mortality rate is estimated to have been somewhere between 30-50%. Conditions were highly unsanitary as there was no understanding of germs, nor of their direct connection to disease. As such, medicines were largely ineffective, and most injuries and diseases could not be properly treated. Any minor ailment (by our standards) could end in death. The additional risks of famine and war were all too real, and public punishments were often physically brutal. It is no wonder that the medieval mind was so fixated on what would happen beyond death, and beliefs on the subject shaped the attitudes and culture of everyday life.

On All Souls Day, prayers were specifically directed toward helping those deceased who had not yet moved from purgatory to heaven. Medieval Christians were taught that the fate of a person’s soul was not only related to the manner in which they lived, but also the manner in which they died. Most hoped to die in bed, with a priest at hand to administer the Last Rites—the final forgiveness of their sins. A sudden, or “bad” death, was something to fear, since dying with unconfessed sin would likely lead to a long stay in purgatory, or worse.

Angels delivering souls from purgatory

Angels delivering souls from purgatory

All Souls Day provided reassurance for those too poor to pay indulgences, either for themselves, or on behalf of their deceased loved ones. It was common for people to visit the graves of their relatives and friends, and later on in the Middle Ages, candles or even bonfires might also be lit there. In Eastern Europe, it was not unusual for people to eat meals at the grave sites as well, though this was frowned upon by the Church. Men dressed in black would walk through the village or city streets, ringing hand bells, and reminding people to help those in purgatory with their prayers.

Medieval Monday: Hallowmas (Halloween)

“Soul soul for a souling cake
I pray you, missis, for a souling cake
Apple or pear, plum or cherry
Anything to make us merry…”

halloween1Halloween is coming! Now a fun night for costumes and treats, many say its origins go back to the pagan festival of Samhain, meaning “summer’s end.” It marked the end of the harvest, and the beginning of winter. According to the Celts, this was the time when “the veils between this world and the Otherworld were believed to be at their thinnest: when the spirits of the dead could most readily mingle with the living once again.” They believed that Saman, the Lord of the Dead, would come that night to take up into the afterlife the souls of those who had died that year. Like many pagan traditions, the holiday was eventually Christianized, and remained a time to honor the dead, especially the saints. All-Hallows Eve, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day together were referred to as Hallowmas–a three day event beginning the night of October 31st.

medieval-images-of-deathSome of our current Halloween traditions have their roots in the Middle Ages. People would dress in costumes intended to scare away any dark spirits that happened to be wandering about. Bells were rung, and there were processions and bonfires to scare away witches, ghosts, and evil spirits. Children and the poor went door to door, offering prayers for the household’s deceased relatives in exchange for small “soul” cakes.

soul-cakesThe video I included today is by Claire Ridgway, founder of TheAnneBoleynFiles and the Tudor Society. She demonstrates how to make “Soul Cakes” using a traditional Tudor recipe (which she reads from so you can hear the original version). If you’re feeling adventurous in the kitchen this week, or want to bring something interesting to that Halloween party you’ve been invited to, give it a shot!


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