Get ready to pinch your nose! Here are some of the shocking hygiene practices of Medieval times.No one had toilet paper, not even the wealthy. Poor people had to use leaves or moss to wipe their bottoms, while the rich used lambs wool.
If you were the King, you would appoint someone to wipe your bottom for you. The position was called the “groom of the stool.” This photo is the royal toilet, and still on view at Hampton Court, London.
Chamber pots were used for collecting urine during the night. It you weren’t quick enough, you’d find yourself being showered with the contents of these pots that were hurled from windows.
Because of the scarcity of firewood, taking a warm bath was expensive and not everyone could afford it. Family and friends would have to share bathwater. Men were first to bath, then women. Babies were always the last to get bathed, and that’s where the saying “throw out the baby with the bathwater” came from.
Ceruse was used as make-up by both men and women. It gave them the smooth, pale look everyone desired back then. Unfortunately, it contained lead and seeped through skin which caused poisoning.
Carrying a small bouquet of flowers or sachet of dried flowers was common. These were called nose-gays and kept the smells at bay while walking through large crowds of stinky people.
People used lye made from ashes and urine to clean their clothes. These were good degreasing agents and helped to remove stains.
Poor people didn’t have toilets. They just relieved themselves wherever they could and buried the waste. In Tudor houses, toilets were a slab of wood with a hole carved on the top over a bowl. Builders set the toilet into a recess area called a garderobe. In castles, a piece of wood covered a hole in the floor and took the waste straight into the moat.
The sewage system was not proper so people had to make do by burying much of their waste in a cesspit in the garden or cellar. Since the people didn’t empty them often enough, the stench was unbearable during summer months.
Houses had thatched roofs, so it was common for bird, bugs, and other pest droppings to fall onto the clean bedding and everywhere else. Poster beds with canopies were invented to catch the disgusting droppings and keep the beds clean.
People were fashion-conscious back then and if their eyebrows did not look fashionable, they glued on some mouse skin to make improvements.
The main water supply came from domestic pipes lined with lead and elm trunks. Water was stored in large lead tanks and often became stagnant.
Lice and nits were common back then. Most of the wealthy people shaved their heads and wore periwigs instead. But the periwigs were usually infested with bugs too, especially during plagues.
A 17th century publication by Peter Levens gave instructions on how to cure baldness and thinning hair. Men were told to combine chicken droppings with potassium salts, and then spread the mixture on the balding area. To remove unwanted hair from any area of the body, a paste consisting of cat dung, eggs, and vinegar was applied to the area.
Men often didn’t take their hats off for a meal, not because they were rude, but it kept the head lice from falling into their plates.
Some members of the church condemned using forks. They believed that God would not have given them fingers if He wanted them to use forks.
They used bread to wipe their face and fingers.
Straw and rush was used to cover up the natural dirt floor of homes and other buildings. This was one of the biggest sources of infection as people did not change the bottom of the rushes and just the top layer.
From accounts in history, even the wealthiest and most royal of people had brown teeth. They chewed herbs to freshen breath, rinsed their mouths with water to remove gunk and rubbed their teeth with cloth to wipe leftover food particles from their mouths.
King James VI of Scotland wore the same clothes for months. He wore the same hat 24 hours a day until it fell apart. He thought bathing was bad for his health, so he didn’t bathe either. See why nose-gays were all the rage back then?