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Life in the 1500s...
people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May and were
still smelling pretty good by June. However, they were just starting to smell,
so brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odor. Baths equalled a
big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the
privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, then
the women, and finally the children. Last of all were the babies. By then the
water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it. Hence the saying,
"Don't throw the baby out with the bath water."
had thatched roofs. Thick straw, piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the
only place for animals to get warm, so all the pets ... dogs, cats and other
small animals, mice, rats, bugs, etc. lived in the roof. When it rained it
became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof.
Hence the saying, "It's raining cats and dogs."
was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This posed a real
problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could really mess up your
nice clean bed. So, they found if they made beds with big posts and hung a sheet
over the top, it took care of the problem. Hence those beautiful big four poster
beds with canopies.
floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt, hence the saying
"dirt poor." The wealthy had slate floors which would get slippery in
the winter when wet. So they spread thresh on the floor to help keep their
footing. As the winter wore on, they kept adding more thresh until it would all
start slipping outside when you opened the door. A piece of wood was placed at
the entry way, hence a "thresh hold."
cooked in the kitchen in a big kettle that always hung over the fire. Every day
they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They mostly ate vegetables and
didn't get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner leaving leftovers in
the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day. Sometimes the
stew had food in it that had been there for a month. Hence the rhyme: Peas
porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old.
Sometimes they could obtain pork and would feel really special when that
happened. When company came over, they would bring out some bacon and hang it to
show it off. It was a sign of wealth and that a man "could really bring
home the bacon." They would cut off a little to share with guests and would
all sit around and "chew the fat."
with money had plates made of pewter. Food with a high acid content caused some
of the lead to leach onto the food. This happened most often with tomatoes, so
they stopped eating tomatoes ... for 400 years. Most people didn't have pewter
plates, but had trenchers-a piece of wood with the middle scooped out like a
bowl. Trenchers were never washed and a lot of times worms got into the wood.
After eating off wormy trenchers, they would get "trench mouth." Bread
was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the
family got the middle, and guests got the top, or the "upper crust."
cups were used to drink ale or whiskey. The combination would sometimes knock
them out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road would take them
for dead and prepare them for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table
for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and
wait and see if they would wake up. Hence the custom of holding a
is old and small and they started running out of places to bury people. So, they
would dig up coffins and would take their bones to a house and reuse the grave.
In reopening these coffins, one out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch
marks on the inside and they realized they had been burying people alive. So
they started tying a string on the deceased wrist and led it through the coffin
and up through the ground where is was tied to a bell. Someone would have to sit
out in the graveyard all night to listen for the bell. Hence on the
"graveyard shift" they would know that someone was "saved by the
bell" or he was a "dead ringer."
Just in case you have believed all this you might like to read below.
Initially it has to be assumed that the “facts” about the 16th Century offered here apply to the whole of Europe unless otherwise specified. However, since the author is using an exclusively English vocabulary, this needs to be revised to just the 16th Century in places were English was spoken and the culture of the English.
Most people did not bathe only once a year. Regular bathing is recommended in many medieval books (example: Constantinus Africanus, Opera Domestica, 1536). Paintings and drawings of the time show people of both peasant and aristocratic classes with washed hair and (for men) shaved faces. Most towns had several public bathhouses that were in operation all year around and the source of much documented moralizing on how people should behave when using them. Basic hygiene, while not as rigorously practiced as it is today, was a normal part of 16th Century life. Regarding flowers as a means of hiding body smells, the practical consideration of how a small amount of flowers could mask the smell of a room packed with (supposedly) unwashed people is just not credible. Flowers were then as they are now, symbols of fertility and love. The tradition of “June Bride” has no origins in bathing habits.
Bathing was not conducted this way
in the 16th Century. As noted above, there were public bathhouses,
as few homes had the means to heat a substantial amount of water at one time.
There is no literature stating that people bathed in the manner of
man-of-house down to baby and the practical considerations of keeping that
much water warm during such a ritual are not plausible. Lastly, children of
the 16th Century were bathed far more often than adults (see
numerous works by J. Brundage, F. Braudel, M. Block, and many others) and
anyone who has ever been charged with the care of an infant knows personally
the obvious requirement to clean them daily. The notion that a mother of any
century would lose her child in a bath of clouded, cold, and filthy water is
laughable. The idea that this was part of a yearly infant cleansing ritual,
as suggested above, is simply nonsense.
Anyone who has spent time in a thatched
structure knows that cats and dogs could not have lived in the thatch itself.
As in all homes today that have a fireplace, medieval domestic cats and dogs
stayed by the fireplace or with people to keep warm, not in the roof thatch.
And, again, anyone who as spent time in a structure with open fires and no
chimney, as was the case in most (meaning peasant) medieval homes, knows that
choking smoke and soot would drive an animal as large as a cat or dog out of
any elevated place. Lastly, dogs would not have been able to navigate the
interior beams and other structures supporting the roof. Dogs in general were
nearly all large animals and no more inclined to be on roofs than dogs today
are. It is true that mice and insects regularly inhabit thatched roofs. The
rain of small particles of straw and roof dust is part of the reason bed
covers were invented, but not canopy beds. The reason for canopy beds was the
retention of heat (always a problem in medieval homes of all classes) and
privacy as all canopy beds of the 16th Century were enclosed on all
sides. This total enclosure kept the occupant warm and secluded during a time
when servants and other domestics were prone to enter rooms to keep fires
going or for other tasks. This is also born out in numerous paintings of the
time and surviving examples of medieval furniture. Additionally, canopy beds
were, for the most part, highly valued property exclusively of the aristocrats
and not the peasantry. Aristocratic homes were not thatched, but had slate
roofs, which considerably lessens the argument for formal canopy beds being
the result of falling debris from thatch .
Wealthy people did not have slate floors. Wooden
floors from the 16th Century are normal in nearly all structures of
the time with the exception of great palaces. The phrase “dirt poor” first
appears in literature from the mid-1800. It is generally construed to mean
having no possessions other than dirt to farm. Anyone with a home, dirt floor
or not, was not poor by 16th Century standards. “ Threshold” is not
derived from thrashed straw on the floor. The Oxford English Dictionary shows
that the term was in use several centuries before the 16th Century
and is actually from a term meaning to tread, step, or trample. A threshold
was the board that was a step into a home or structure and had nothing to do
with straw being held down.
A simple experiment will suffice to deflate this
claim. Cook some peas and leave them unrefrigerated, as they would have been
in medieval times, for nine days. The result will be a stinking mass of moldy
paste that no right-minded person would eat without suicidal intent. The point
of the rhyme is humour, not actual taste preferences.
There is no literature to support this. “Chewing the fat” simply means to sit about a table, as in a meal, and talk with the jaws going as much as they do when chewing fat. Impressing visitors with pork fat has no place in any European tradition. Additionally, bacon was never hung up as a display item in any medieval home. In one-room peasant homes bacon was kept in a dry place away from insects and in aristocratic homes it was where bacon is now, in the kitchen and out of sight (see F. Braudel, Capitalism and Material Life). There are no paintings or drawings from the 16th Century showing bacon as a symbol of material wealth in any domestic setting.
Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with a high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning and death. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.
The facts around lead poisoning are that lead
kills with a slow accumulation in the body that affects the nervous system.
Food in lead-soldered cans was responsible for many deaths in 19th
Century armies and navies, but the reason was not known until late in the
century. Considering the amount of time an acidic food like a tomato is on a
dinner plate, perhaps 10 minutes at most, the amount of lead leached from
pewter would be wholly inconsequential. Also, acidic foods were popular in
the Middle Ages as shown in the copious use of vinegars and other sauces (see,
again, F. Braudel). Tomatoes were considered a poison because of their
relationship to the nightshade family, as shown in the shape of their leaves.
Another trip to the Oxford English Dictionary
shows that “trench mouth” comes from the Old French “tranchée” meaning a
sickness or pain from inflammation or worms, in original context specific to
horses. It is not derived from “trencher”. Also, trenchers were not scooped
out like a bowl. Authentic trenchers were flat and absorbed juices from the
meal and were often eaten as part of the meal. Lastly, people of all classes
quit using trenchers somewhere in the 15th Century.
No one at any time has ever cut a loaf of bread horizontally or served it so. Bread was never eaten this way. Workers in the 16th Century were often paid in loaves of bread and this meant the whole loaf and not the supposedly burned bottom part. Bread was not cut with knives until the later 19th Century and always taken, as in France today, as chunks torn from the loaf. This simple is a false statement.
Lead cups were used to drink ale or whiskey. The combination would sometimes knock them out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up. Hence the custom of holding a "wake."
Another trip to the Oxford English Dictionary
shows that “wake” derives from the ancient Irish tradition of watching over
the dead through the night. It comes from a Celtic custom originating well
before the supposed advent of lead cups and has nothing to do with waiting to
see if someone would awaken from a near-lethal dose of lead poisoning. This
custom is practiced in many cultures. Additionally, ale or whiskey were never
drunk from lead cups as lead was a highly valued and rare metal that, as
anyone who has worked with lead knows, is far too soft to be used for cups or
other high-impact daily functions.
The absurdity of this claim is not worth much
comment. There are no statistics as to the number of 16th Century
coffins with scratch marks. Graves were never violated in this manner. There
are no bells or bellhouses in graveyards. There are no examples of the
supposed apparatus described here. All “bell” references have other
derivations, as a look in any reputable dictionary will show.
This is not the truth. This is a collection of false and misleading conjecture. - Sol Squire