By Madeline | May 18, 2010
Most history haters (inconceivable, I know!) out there think of the word kilt and (after giggling about how it’s a skirt for men) are immediately reminded of the movie Braveheart and the man who made looking pasty and dirty with a toilet-bowl-blue face sexy. As with all Hollywood made historical movies, there were obvious inaccuracies, but I won’t get into all of those as I don’t have nearly enough time and I’m sure I’d bore you to death.
I will, however, get into one of the hotter aspects of his getup: the kilt. (BTW, who knew a man baring his hairy knees could have such an effect on women?) First and foremost, I’d like to point out that the first sightings of a Scottish kilt were not recorded until the beginning of the seventeenth century and even the eyewitness accounts were incredibly vague. Therefore, the more common origination is dated closer to the late seventeenth century. Considering William Wallace was born in 1272, he certainly wouldn’t be anything we’d want to see in a kilt in 1790! *shudder* (well, maybe some people would…but that’s just creepy and not something I’d like to get into…)
The first kilts were a far cry from what we are used to seeing. They were not tailored to fit the wearer with fancy buckles and buttons, nor did they have the matching socks that rolled neatly up to the knee. No, primitive kilts were long strips of one-size-fits-all (better than the one-size-fits-none of today) wool, that were pleated around the wearer’s waist. After the kilt was secured around the waist, the excess was either draped over the body (yes, like a Snuggie minus those fabulous built in sleeves) or draped over the head like a hood. Contrary to popular belief, the pin adorning kilts was not to secure the loose fabric; it wasn’t even pinned through more than one layer of fabric. It was there to act as a weight to help the wool fall correctly either over the shoulders or across the head.
The historic kilts most often replicated by re-enactors are not the original kilts, but those worn around the time of the Battle of Culloden during the Jacobite rebellion (mid 1750’s). In that fateful and bloody battle, the British completely defeated the Scottish and banned them from wearing kilts. They said this was a way to keep the spirit of the Scottish down, but really it’s because they were probably jealous knowing their men could never pull off a skirt and manage to look good doing it - likewise, they probably thought action figures were really considered dolls (take it up with England, men - not me!). Fortunately the act was repealed about thirty years later. The contemporary kilt we all know (and still love!) was actually created during the Victorian era. They thought it was cool before Mel made it popular.
Now that I’ve already broken your fantasy of medieval barbarians slashing through enemies while wearing manly skirts, let me ruin another one. I know, I know - I’m cruel like that. The clan indicating tartan that all of us with a semblance of Scots’ blood flowing in our veins hold so tightly to was actually not clan specific until the late nineteenth century. Tartans were region specific and had to do with a completely functional purpose. The dyes used for the wool were taken from their own backyards and thus resembled the plants, berries and other miscellaneous dye-ables (see my article on woad dying under worst jobs in history review) in their immediate area. This was not only practical as it kept them from traveling great lengths to obtain the dying materials, but it also helped them blend in with their surroundings more easily; perfect for hunting…and fighting.
Onto the question now of WHY? Of all things to adopt, why would it be a skirt for men? Honestly, I have no definitive proof, but I can imagine it would be for comfort and ease of movement; kinda like how men nowadays like the freedom of boxers to briefs. I mean, they didn’t have jeans back then nor did they have the elastic type materials we have now. Their pants, trews, would have most likely limited their movement and been constricting. Even me, who wears spike heels, understands the value of comfort (oh comfy pants, how I love thee…).
So next time you hear someone call the kilt a skirt and make fun of it, you can spout off all this newly found knowledge and watch their eyes glaze over. You’re welcome.
P.S. Action figures are still dolls. That is all.
By Madeline | May 6, 2008
Since I was on vacation last week, I actually got to read another book and I finished it in my week of vacation. For most of you, this is probably not too terribly exciting, but for the over busy bookworm that I am who used to read two to three books a week and now only gets one every three or so months, this is awesome! At any rate, I do still have plans to finish my Worst Jobs in History piece, however, I wanted to do another book review while it was still fresh in my mind. I know I did one not too long ago and don’t want anyone to worry - this is not going to become a book review blog. ;) I promise I won’t read the other books nearly as quickly. LOL
While on vacation, I read Philippa Gregory’s The Boleyn Inheritance. I have to say that I was a little nervous about reading this book and took a long time to actually go out and purchase it as a result. I absolutely LOVED the Other Boleyn Girl (and have yet to see the movie - Ah! The life of a busy mom!) and was a little disappointed by the Queen’s Fool only to be disappointed further by the Virgin’s Lover and then utterly disappointed to the point of disgust with the Constant Princess. After I’d purchased all the other books I could possibly think of and desperate for a new book, I finally shelled out the cash for The Boleyn Inheritance and yet there it sat on my shelf collecting dust long before I started reading it.
Finally I grabbed it to read on the plane since my daughter would be inevitably watching Monster’s Inc. on her portable DVD player and I’d actually have more than an hour to sit uninterrupted to read. All I have to say is: Wow! Gregory has redeemed herself as an author in my eyes once more!! It was so captivating that I couldn’t put it down and read every spare second I had, even staying up a little later to read when I really should have been sleeping.
Everything about this book was exceedingly well done. The characters were well developed and were written in such a way that you could almost feel every emotion they felt and experiencing everything they experienced. The way it was written was so poetic and beautiful leaving a perfect mental image in your minds eye. The book was also written with painful attention to detail in regards to what really happened in history unlike some of her lesser (in my eyes) novels - with the exception of small instances like when Katherine spies the fresh heads of her lovers on spikes on her way to the chopping block when in history, they were both executed on December 10th and Katherine wasn’t killed until that following February. At any rate, I was glad to see she’d done more research and put more thought into this book than she had some of her previous works.
The only part I didn’t much care for as far as her writing goes was her forgetfulness. Occasionally, there would be certain points a character in the book would make and then two or three chapters later make the same point again, but with different wording as though Gregory made it a point to say that one specific piece and then forgot she’d already done it and put it in again. I noticed this about four times throughout the book. While it was a little distracting, the overall book still earns her five Tudor roses in my eyes. I highly recommend it!!!
By Matthew | April 23, 2008
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be briefly covering the histories of medieval weaponry; from their humble origins as tools to their implementations as weapons of war, I’m going to address one weapon type in each article.
This week, I’m going to cover the history of what is perhaps the most common and recognizable of all medieval weapons: the sword.
The first bladed weapons (recognizable as swords) were manufactured by ancient peoples as early as the Bronze Age. This generally indicates a period of time beginning around 3,000 B.C. In order to avoid covering too broad of a time span, this article will relate solely to those swords manufactured from steel, and will cover a period in Western history dating from around the 1100s through the late 1600s.
In order to understand the terminology of the sword, please refer to the diagram below of what is commonly referred to as an arming sword.
Figure 1: Image credit Wikipedia.
In the early 1100s, many of the greatest sword innovations came from the Normans who developed the crossguard (known as the quillion on rapiers). As armor improved, so did sword design and function. The most common of swords during the 1100s to the 1400s was the longsword, particularly the estoc (or “tuck” in English) type, due to its agility and ability to slide between armor plates. Rumor has it that the advent of the rapier (an offshoot of the estoc) began the steady decline of plate armor, due to its slenderness and ability to defeat both plate and chain armor in combat. Swords grew in length over the decades, finally reaching their ultimate size with the German “Doppelhänder” (two-handed sword) before their sharp decline as firearms became far more prevalent.
The most common sword types are as follows:
Arming swords (Katzbalger , Sidesword) – The arming sword is a weapon favored by Crusaders. It consists of a single blade with crossguard, forged to resemble a cruciform shape. It was used predominantly between 1000 AD and 1350 AD.
Backswords (Briquet, Cutlass, Falchion, Großmesser, Mortuary sword) –A Backsword identifies any weapon that has a single edged blade with a thick, dull back. Backswords were favored weapons of cavalry soldiers in the late 1600s AD.
Broadswords (Claymore, Schiavona) – Broadswords generally refer to the European design of a specific sword, namely a straight-bladed, double-edged, basket-hilted sword used from the 1600s through the 1800s.
Rapiers (Flamberge, Épée, Foil (fencing) ) – Rapiers are light, long, thin bladed swords, generally with complex and ornate hilts. They were designed primarily as dueling, piercing weapons. Some had sharpened edges, some did not.
Longswords (Bastard Sword, Estoc) – Longswords generally refer to those swords used between 1350 AD and 1550 AD. Longswords were most often wielded with two hands, had two sharpened edges, and were generally over 35” in length.
Shortswords (Bilbo, Falcata, Cinquedea) – Shortswords most often meant any sword that was larger than a dagger and smaller than a longsword.
Two-handed swords (Árije, Claymore, Executioner’s sword, Greatsword, Doppelhänder) – Two-handed swords simply refer to any sword that absolutely requires the wielder to use two hands.
Sabres (Karabela, Mameluke) – The sabre is a relative of the Backsword, and features a single sharpened, slightly curved blade (some are not curved) and is both a slashing and a thrusting weapon.
Forging the Blade
Historically, the best made swords were manufactured using hot-forged carbon steel . The amount of carbon added during the forging process would alter the material nature of the metal. A carbon volume of 2% would make the blades extremely hard but also brittle, while a 0.5% addition of carbon made the steel more malleable. In order to make blades both hard and malleable, a process known as wootz steel was created, which involved adding glass to a mixture of iron and charcoal. The glass would act as a flocculent, helping to separate out impurities thereby leaving a much stronger steel.
The steel was forged by hand, using a hammer and an anvil. The blacksmith would use a steel billet, heat it to red-hot in a forge, then carefully hammer the cooling steel into the proper shape over the anvil, periodically reheating the steel in the forge. Occasionally the blade would be fullered, which would create ridge or ridges down the blade (commonly and incorrectly referred to as a “blood groove”).
After the blade was forged, it would be normalized. The steel would be heated, then allowed to cool evenly, which allowed the stresses added to the steel during the forging process to release and even out.
The final step was to anneal or heat-treat the blade. This is sometimes referred to as tempering, which actually refers only to a part of the heat-treating process. In order to anneal the steel, the sword would be heated again, and then quenched usually in water, salt-water or olive oil. This quenching process would cause the crystalline lattices in the carbon steel to set, making the blade harder. The hardness also makes the blade more brittle, so, the sword is then tempered to make the lattices more fluid. Heat-treating is a painstaking process that can often ruin a blade by warping it.
Finally, the sword is sharpened and finished by polishing the blade, adding decorations (such as a maker’s mark) and a hilt.
Sword Myths Debunked
- Nearly all medieval swords were razor sharp.
- Not all swords should balance within 2” of the guard. Balance depends on function alone.
- Swords were not used as dueling weapons until the 1600s. Until then, sword battles were usually quick and one-sided, involving very little footwork or parrying.
- Japanese swords are not necessarily the best or strongest ever made. Damascus steel is widely recognized as the finest and most durable steel ever made, though the true recipe has been lost over the ages.
- Spring steel refers to steel used from the leaf springs of a car. It is a low allow medium carbon steel that allows it to return to its shape easily. Many “replica” weapons today are made from spring steel.
- The “blood groove” is actually called a “fuller”, and was designed to make the blade lighter without sacrificing strength.
- Folded steel is not the best in the world. Folded steel was actually used by Japanese sword makers to create blades from a very low quality iron ore.
- Swords were never tempered in blood or urine.
By Madeline | April 21, 2008
I recently finished reading The Secret Bride by Diane Haeger - a novel written about the terribly romantic relationship between Charles Brandon and Princess Mary, Henry VIII’s favorite sister and figured I’d write my first book review. I do still have intentions to finish the Worst Jobs in Tudor History, but the illness of my daughter and myself, and the massive amount of work that has accumulated on my desk at work as a result, have hindered my creative efforts. My readers are forewarned that I will also be out of town on vacation for the next week and so will not be able to write anything then. As a result, I will TRY to write two entries this week, but no promises.
I have to say that I’ve always been intrigued by books that are based on the lives of the lesser famed people in history, such as Mary. While reading books about Henry VIII and Elizabeth I are entertaining, it sometimes can get a bit tedious since you already know the events of their lives and are basically just reading over someone else’s perspective of how they perceive the infamous person’s reactions to such events. I like learning the new, small intricate facts about the lesser famous persons life that the author is able to uncover and consider the personality and conscience of those characters to be refreshing since there is not much else out there to counter it.
Sorry for the digression - back to The Secret Bride. The book follows Mary’s life from preadolescence to her marriage to Charles Brandon. It portrays Charles Brandon as a power-hungry ladies man who really deep down has a heart of gold and is really just looking for the right girl, which he finds in Mary. From Mary’s perspective, it portrays her as the dutiful daughter of the king and queen of England who knows her future, but still enjoys the freedoms Henry allots her once their parents pass on regardless. Included in this freedom is the poorly hidden flirtation with Charles Brandon, whom Mary initially hates and then falls head over heels in love with. While I’m sure it is difficult to portray the fickle nature of a young girls heart, I thought the author could have better portrayed the mental battle that would have ensued in Mary’s head. As it was, it seemed that Mary hated him one instant and then thought of nothing else but Brandon the next.
From a fact based perspective, it appears that the author really did her work in trying to ascertain all the points in the princesses life to guide her in the right direction for her book. One of my only complaints is that she focused often on Henry’s perspective. I don’t know if she did this because she was lacking researched guidance for that point in Mary’s life or if it was done to portray the ‘third person’ in the relationship between Charles and Mary. I found it distracting and a little boring though. I much prefer the vantage point of the story to be done from the main character’s perspectives.
I did, however, thoroughly enjoy the way the book was written and loved the attention to detail when it came to the gowns Mary wore. I know, I’m such a girl! I also thought the personality she attached to Mary worked very well based on the knowledge that she had of her. She came across as a spoiled child who knew her place in life, yet acted on opportunities as they presented themselves - a girl who enjoyed the court life from gossip and gowns to the basics of flirting and the power of obtaining masculine attention. I also enjoyed the opportunity to glimpse deeper into the lives of Mary and Brandon as they once lived and the passionate love they shared.
There was one more part that I didn’t much care for and, I have to admit, soured the ending for me. The entire novel painted these star crossed lovers that somehow manage to take fate into their own hands and find a deep and true love in one another. It is poetic and beautiful and definitely sigh-worthy where the couple ends up happy and together at the end of the book with their three children. Upon finishing the book, there is a final note stating when Mary dies in 1533 and Charles takes on another wife in 1534. Well, if that doesn’t shatter a well laid romantic tale, I know not what does. A year hardly seems a long time to wait to remarry after the one you love dies, especially when your fated partner has produced heirs for you. I did the additional research and was even more crushed to discover that the wife he chose to take Mary’s place was a girl who had just turned fifteen, Catherine Willoughby. She was initially intended for someone else, but Brandon, then 30, wished to marry her and so got her for himself. What a raw ending to such a sweet tale.
Regardless of reality getting in the way of romance, I still give this book 4 roses out of 5 for the attention to historic detail, the beautiful mental illustrations it evoked and the attention to detail in depicting such a strong woman, yet not so well known, woman in history.
By Madeline | April 10, 2008
We all know that infamous scene on the first season of the Tudors where Henry is whacking off in front of several servants - one unfortunate man, in particular, is set in front of him holding a silver bowl and a towel where Henry proceeds to alleviate himself of his overabundant “seminal” humors (those of you who read my previous articles on Sex and Marriage will get this) into the bowl the man is holding. The question was posed to me if there was any truth to this.
Well, I researched it and researched it and researched it, dead set on finding something that could give me better insight to the truth in this. Let me just say that I ran into some very, very interesting websites in my search, although I figured that considering I was typing in ‘Tudor masturbation’ etc. into the search engine, I was going to get some real winners - I think the worst were the results when I typed ‘medieval masturbation’… Yeah…
Anyway, while I was not able to find a lot of supporting information on this bizarre scene, I would like to put in my own two cents based on information I’ve accumulated on previous research for other articles. I think this is totally 100% feasible for several reasons. First and foremost, the king was never alone. He slept with servants in the room, he ate with servants in the room, he even crapped with servants in the room. In fact, there was one lucky high born noble that was hand selected by the king, as he was to be a very trustworthy man, to actually wipe the king’s rear after a bowel movement - this man was referred to as the Groom of the Stool. If a king had someone to wipe his butt, don’t you think he’d have a cum catcher too?
Additionally, during the long and painfully drawn out process of Henry attempting to get his divorce from Katherine, the church banned him from fornicating with Anne. This was taken very seriously by Henry because, despite his want to break away from the church to he could marry another woman (and the suggestion he gave that he be allowed to wed TWO women if a divorce were not granted), Henry was a very pious man and took God’s law into great consideration with almost all decisions. This, in addition to Anne’s steadfast determination to not become yet another mistress, meant Henry was not getting any to put it simply. For those of you who are familiar with this period in history, you will know that Henry and Anne’s fights were notorious as she had a short temper and a sharp tongue. Anne would certainly have not tolerated it if Henry slept with Katherine, which he would have considered a waste anyway considering Katherine was no longer having her monthly cycle, meaning she could no longer bear him heirs. I did find some accounts that alluded to a secret affair Henry continued with a woman as he continued forth with his efforts to dismiss one wife to marry another. I don’t know how much I believe that as I think Anne would have eventually found out about it, which Henry would have figured as well, and leashed an unholy Hell upon him for it.
I know that in the late medieval times, masturbation was encouraged as it was seen that sexual frustration could cause an imbalance in the humors. I didn’t find much information on Tudor masturbation - at least not anything helpful - but can only assume that the belief that it is necessary to relieve pent up humors would still be seen as a necessity by doctors and recommended to their patients. Also, during this time, Henry was a young man who was in the prime of his life and was very active meaning I’m sure his libido was in agony at his celibacy.
The only reason I can think of that his masturbation would be frowned upon would be the ‘waste’ of his royal seed. However, with Katherine unable to produce anymore children and Anne being fertile but off limits and considering he already had a son who still lived, I doubt there was really any objection to the king spilling a few to get some relief.. I’m not sure why on the Tudor’s they showed Bessie Blount’s son, Henry Fitzroy dying of the sweating sickness at such a young age when he really actually lived to the age of 17. Additionally, Bessie Blount was an unwed virgin when she first met Henry and was only married off later when he lost interest in her - just another little misstep on the Tudors series I wanted to point out while I was on the topic.
If anyone has anything to add on this - perhaps some fact that I may have missed, please feel free to share as I think we are all curious about knowing for sure if this was common practice for the king.
By Matthew | April 7, 2008
Perhaps one of the more famous aspects of life in Medieval Europe was war. The Middle Ages was unable to pass even a decade without one bloody conflict or another raging throughout Europe. In fact, war permeated every aspect of medieval society so deeply that it affected everything from poetry and writing to the advance of technology and machinery. All was done in preparation for assault or defense from invasion.
In the 7th and 8th centuries it was the Muslim conquests of the Persian Empire, Visigoth Spain and the remainder of the western reaches of the Roman Empire. Later, it would be the Frankish conquest of Gaul and subsequent rise of Medieval France, the Burgundians ascension to power in Medieval Germany, and the Angles versus Saxons in Britain. The Merovingian and the Carolingian dynasties arose in what are now Austria, Germany and Northern France. Toward the High Middle Ages, the Vikings began raids on Britain, extending their arm of power all the way into France. Finally, what is probably the most memorable of the historical events, the Crusades, began in 1095 and ended with the lackluster 9th Crusade in 1292 lead by the infamous Edward I (the “Longshanks”). More wars would follow, such as the Hundred Years War between France and England (which really lasted 116 years), but the focus of this article is not on the wars, but on the tools employed to win them.
The catapult has been around since just after 400 BC, and was originally invented by the Greeks. It is one of a few of a small family of long-distance, non-portable projectile launching weapons that precede gunpowder, and, subsequently, the cannon. This family includes ballistas, onagers, mangonels and trebuchets.
The early catapult was not as it is most often depicted. It was actually a rather complicated mechanism, consisting of a composite bow, a launching ramp and two torsion springs. It was described by the Greek inventor Archimedes as a large bow mounted on a stock (much like a gigantic crossbow). It is believed that the ballista or spear-launcher was the actual predecessor of the catapult, and not until later did the device take on the more commonly recognized shape of the mobile cart, torsion spring, lever arm, fulcrum and basket in which the projectile was contained.
Figure 1: An early catapult. Credit University of South Florida.
Later versions of the catapult were sometimes mounted on four-wheeled carts, and contained a an axle, a spoke and a sling, and employed a single torsion spring mounted horizontally instead of vertically. These devices were referred to as Onagers, most likely getting their namesake the kicking action of an onager, or wild donkey, and were generally employed on the battlefield for closer range combat as the Onager had a much shorter range than it’s larger brethren.
The onager’s framework is made out of two beams from oak, which curve into humps. In the middle they have quite large holes in them, in which strong sinew ropes are stretched and twisted. A long arm is then inserted between the bundle of rope, at its end it has a pin and a pouch. It strikes on a huge buffer with a sack stuffed with fine chaff and secured by tight binding. When it comes to combat, a round stone (often clay balls with Greek fire in them, which explode on impact and burst into flames) is put in the pouch and the arm is winched down. Then, the master artilleryman strikes the pin with a hammer, and with a big blow, the stone is launched towards its target.” -Ammianus Marcellinus
Figure 2: A medieval Onager. Credit Société de l’Oriflamme.
The classic catapult as it is depicted in most modern fantasy, toys and drawings is more uncommonly referred to as a Mangonel. It was a heavy launch catapult employed primarily to defeat a castle’s walls. While mobile versions existed, the Mangonel was more likely assembled on the battlefield just within range of the walls of its intended target. The Mangonel featured a low, flat trajectory and an extremely high velocity, designed specifically for smashing through thick stone walls from short range. Mangonels were the thought to be some of the first catapults to employ flaming projectiles (such as oil pots). Mangonels were also utilized to launch corpses of fallen dead and animals over the walls of castles. The first recorded instance of biological warfare was penned by Gabrielle de Mussi during the Siege of Caffa (now Feodosija, Ukraine) in 1343 whereby the Mongols most likely used Mangonels to launch dead infected with plague over the walls of the city.
Figure 3: A Mangonel. Credit B. Ayers.
The final great advance of hurled weaponry before the advent of the cannon came with the trebuchet, which provided the greatest mechanical advantage and was able to launch projectiles further than any of its predecessors. The trebuchet was called by several other names such as “bricole” and “trebucket” and was often prefixed with traction-, counterweight- and counterpoise depending on the type of trebuchet. The design of the trebuchet was straightforward enough. A large counterweight was attached to the end of a long lever arm, and placed atop a fulcrum so the counterweight end was closer than the end of the lever arm. A long sling descended from the firing end of the lever arm, and rested in a trough under the entire apparatus. When the counterweight dropped, it forced the lever arm forward at great speed, dragging the sling behind it. When it reached the top of its arc, the sling would continue in a large arc, adding even more force to the entire equation. The result was the ability to propel projectiles with great accuracy and speed an extremely long distance.
Figure 4: A Trebuchet. Credit Société de l’Oriflamme.
With the discovery and application of gunpowder, the face of warfare changed forever. But the Greek Catapult’s design was so effective and powerful on the battlefield that it withstood the test of time for nearly 2,000 years. Few other weapons of the ancient world have been capable of as much destruction or engineering prowess as the catapult and its progeny. There are castles still standing such as the Romanesque Loarre Castle in Aragon, Spain whose massively thick walls were specifically engineered to withstand the assault of the catapults. Innovations such as fiery vessels of burning oil, disease infected carcasses and unbreakable iron balls made these projectile weapons some of the most feared weapons available in ancient and medieval times.
By Madeline | April 2, 2008
I recently read the article listed for Channel 4’s Worst Jobs in History and have my own input to add to this. We’ll start with the Medieval one first. Listed out, they are as follows: Fuller, arming squire, leech collector, barber-surgeon, stone worker, lime burner, treadmill worker, lance maker, chain-mail maker, royal falconer, purple maker, and shepherd.
I disagree with several of these. The barber-surgeon actually led a very good life. Though the job required a strong stomach as it required pulling teeth without anesthetics and bleeding people along with other small surgeries, the recipient of the torture was usually grateful and the barber-surgeon was usually paid well. The worst part about their job would be the excessive blood and the occasional bad patient. The lance maker and chain-mail makers don’t really seem all that bad, with the exception of the fumes the chain-mail maker had to deal with. Many artisans today deal with the same issues and enjoy their jobs. For instance, I’d compare a lance maker to a baker of wedding cakes and a chain-mail maker to a shark suit maker. Both professions are enjoyable for the person who does them and pay well for the tasks performed. I believe the royal falconer had a nice job as well as they were usually richly rewarded for their efforts with the falcons by grateful kings. A good falconer would never lose a bird, therefore, it one wasn’t a good falconer, he had no reason to be under royal employ and deserved the punishment he received. Lastly, I don’t see the shepherd’s job as being all that bad. Typically shepherd’s became such because their father was one, whose father was one, whose father was one - get what I mean? They usually didn’t really know any other way to live typically and enjoyed the freedom of open fields and were able to endure the solitude easily.
There were several that I do agree with based on what the article elaborates on and what my own imagination adds to it. However I couldn’t find a lot of research for some of these jobs so I will list the unresearchable ones and my opinion. The lime burner sounds like an absolutely awful and dangerous job that no one would really want. The treadmill worker just sounds like an exhausting job as I’m sure the fear of heights would eventually be conquered. An arming squire’s job makes my agreement list only because the poor kids faced the danger that the knight did without getting to revel in the glory once it’s done. The stone worker just sounds dangerous and exhausting and the purple maker sounds like they had to really deal with a very disgusting environment.
I was able to find some information on fullers and have to agree, it sounds like it definitely qualifies for the worst jobs list. Urine was used to help cleanse the wool of the oils that made it rough, however I didn’t find anything that indicated that the urine was actually stale. However, if large amounts of urine were used, I can’t imagine it’d always be fresh. One thing the article forgot to mention is that the urine was actually combined with a clay-like dirt referred to as Fuller’s Earth (for obvious reasons). Now you aren’t just dealing with urine, but muddy urine - and in the freezing region of Scotland. I cannot even imagine how cold and miserable it must have been to stamp down cloth in urine soaked mud when it’s 30 degrees outside. Additionally, often times the best way to stamp down on the cloth was to sit down and pound at it with your feet. I bet all those women had awesome lower abs!!! Probably the only benefit to that job - oh, and putting food on the table, which was pretty important. ;)
The leech collector was the job I also found a lot more information on. This was a job that was mostly referred to as being done in Scotland. The job itself was an easy one since all you had to do was wade around in water and let leeches attach themselves to your legs, however the removal of the leeches and what they could leave behind is what ultimately makes this job, well…suck. Leeches suck until they are sated - usually about 20-40 minutes and then fall off. As the leech collectors job was to collect leeches, they had to constantly stop to remove them from their legs lest they fall off. A leech has three rows of teeth that attach to the skin causing a Y shaped incision on the area. As they latch on and suck, their bodies produce a sort of chemical anesthetic that keeps the host from realizing they’ve even been bitten, so at least these hapless people didn’t have to deal with the sting of the leech attaching itself. Removing a leech by pulling hard at it will only succeed in causing the teeth to detach from the body, leaving the teeth imbedded in the skin that would ultimately fester and cause serious infection. The easiest ways to detach a leech are to use alcohol or heat to get them to loosen their grip and then carefully pry them off your skin. I can’t imagine having to watch my poor legs endure that multiple times a day on a daily basis. The water leeches usually hide out in is typically muddy and therefore usually dirty. This could very easily lead to an infection of the bite that could very easily lead to death as there were no antibiotics back then. Additionally, sometimes the saliva in the leech would cause ulcers to form where the bite had been. Ew. As if all of that weren’t enough, when a leech latches on, another chemical it produces keeps the blood from clotting. Workers who collected leeches for a living could very easily have suffered from a lowered red blood cell count and, I can only assume, anemia.
There are also a couple of jobs that are not on the list that I would like to add based on the findings of my own research. The soap maker and tallow chandler gets added to the worst jobs in history list - they get the same paragraph as both tasks were usually done by one person. First of all tallow is the fat of animals that is scraped off and delivered to the chandler, the tallow as then used either for candle making (chandler means candle maker) or added to lye, oils and ash to make soap with. The tallow had such a strong odor about it that tallow chandlers usually had to produce their wares on the outskirts of town. When tallow candles burned, they were smoky and released noxious odors, however, beeswax candles were very expensive and, as a result, were used only for churches and the very rich. As the chandler also manufactured soap with the tallow, they not only were around the disgusting smell of animal fat all day, but also had to deal with the risk of handling dangerous products, like lye, without the precautionary clothing that is available today to keep harm at bay. Honestly, I hate to even cut chicken because of that slippery, fatty feel, I can’t imagine having to keep my fingers covered in it on a daily basis. Blech…
Another occupation that stands worthy on this list is, I think, the 100% absolute worst on the entire list and I have expanded on. The tanner. As with many stench inducing jobs, the tanner had to set up the production of his goods on the outskirts of town by law. The tanner would purchase animal hides from hunters, though stripped of most of the gore, these stiff, dried hides still typically contained chunks of meat, fat and all the hair. The first process was to soak the hide in water to soften them to the point they could remove all meat and fat from it. Next came the pleasant task of removing the hair either by soaking it in urine, which was often times collected in cities, or letting the skin rot for a couple of months and then scraping the loosened hair off with a knife. After the hair was removed, the leather was soaked in a dung mixture that exactly what it sounds like: poo and water. Then it was kneaded to make it more supple - this kneading either occurred with the tanners hands or feet. Finally, the hide was stretched and dried creating the fabulous leather garments for the rich. I can’t imagine the stench of a tanner on a warm day with the tubs of urine, dung water and rotting skins. No wonder these men were sent to the outskirts of town to concoct their wares among the poor rather than in the cities where the delicate nosed rich resided.
I wish I could have found some more research on a lot more professions during the medieval times. I’m sure there are probably many more that I would have added to the list and probably some that are even more disgusting than what I have specified here. Check back later for my upcoming blog post on the worst jobs during the Tudor Era.
By Madeline | March 28, 2008
Sorry I have been slacking so bad and not posting a whole lot lately - even less than before and that was already infrequent as it was. I’ve been crazy busy at work and at home. Bleh…
At any rate, my new topic - Dentistry in the Medieval Times. Interestingly enough, there are many comparisons out there on the web likening today’s dentists to medieval torture chambers, though very few articles on dentistry. What I found though, I found very interesting.
One of the negative impacts on dental care was the discovery and wide spread use of sugar. Comfits were made from it, teas were sweetened with it, pastries were sprinkled with it and teeth were destroyed by it. Initially those holes in the teeth, which we now refer to as cavities or caries, were thought to be caused by tooth worms. Ew. There were many old world remedies for tooth worms like lighting a candle, placing it next to the jaw and leaving your mouth agape so the tooth worms could crawl out. I’m curious as to how many gullible suckers had their jaw lines singed with candle flames as they waited for the nonexistent worm to crawl from their teeth. Fortunately this ridiculous theory and the worm removal method it procured were tossed aside during the 13th century.
Dentists of today were not referred to as dentists during the medieval times, but as barbers. Barbers were as they are now, professional’s who cut your hair, trim your beard, shave your face, etc. However they also offered a dental service that consisted of pulling teeth. You did not go to the barber for a dental check-up or to have your teeth cleaned; if you went to the barber for dental reasons, it was to have the tooth extracted.
Though the theory was tossed aside, cavities still continued to be prevalent among the masses, specifically the wealthy due to their high sugar consumption. There are some theories that barbers became the ones to extract the teeth because they were the ones with the sharpened tools and the steady hands. Regardless of how they came upon their side jobs, they were the men people sought when a tooth pained them so terribly that it had to be removed. In thinking back on this, their teeth must have had to hurt something awful if they went to a barber, because a barber wouldn’t pump anesthetic into their gums, drill out the nasty part and fill it with a pretty match-to-tooth-color filling like now - no, they yanked that sucker out. Their anesthetic - alcohol, which was probably the best thing they could have used in those days from a sanitation perspective. The people who did not use alcohol to alleviate the primal pain of having their tooth ripped out ran the high risk of infection. I can’t help it - every time I think of someone having their tooth ripped out without anesthetic, I think back on that scene during Cast Away where Tom Hanks character pulls his tooth out using the ice skate blade and how I couldn’t even watch that scene - these barbers must have had some very, very strong stomachs. Not to mention the pain of having it ripped out - as it is, I complain about the ‘little pinch’ we feel when we get the shot of anesthetic only to be following by that oh so memorable sound of the tooth literally being ripped from your gums. *shudder*
Once a tooth was removed, regardless of how painful the removal process was, the area of infection felt better almost immediately (gotta love those endorphins, eh?) and left the sufferer permanently free of the pains caused by the cavity, abscess, etc. In many cases, having a tooth removed also alleviated one of physical ailments brought on by the bad tooth as well such as fever, headache, etc.
Despite popular belief, there was actually a conscious effort made towards dental hygiene during the medieval times. Records have been found with recipes for mouth washes, powdered tooth cleansers and evening whitening agents. Most of these recipes included herbs such as parsley, mint, sage and rosemary (primarily for their scents), vinegar, wine and (in some cases) alum. Rinses and rubs were usually advised for use in the morning upon waking. This actually makes some sense since teeth really don’t get that nasty feel to them until the morning when you wake up. Of course, we would feel gross if we went to bed with dirty teeth, but that’s because we have probably all been brushing before bed since we were old enough to remember. Unfortunately, if the rinse/tooth cleansing powder would have offered any benefit, the opportunity for it to do its work when it was most needed was missed out; when we sleep is when bacteria does the most damage to our teeth because all that food stuck between them remains stagnant, breeding pools for nastiness. I’m sure many of you are curious to know how they whitened their teeth in those times. It’ll make you cringe, but here it goes: they would file the teeth down with a metal file, stripping if of its protective enamel and then rub the tooth down with nitric acid which is highly corrosive and terribly bad for you. The patient would probably enjoy a few months of beautiful, white teeth (and certainly much discomfort!) before his or her teeth began to rot out of their heads as always happened in the teeth whitening cases. *shudder*
Being a barber was certainly a bloody job that entailed a good deal of bandages. As linen could get expensive and there was not the obsession with cleanliness and the avoidance of germs that there is today, the bandages used on patients were simply washed and hung to dry. Often times these bandages would whip around one another in the wind, twisting the blood stained bandages with the cleaner, white ones used for simple shaving and hair cuts creating a spiraled red and white effect. Hence the barber pole was born. I’d personally never actually wondered how the pole came about, but still found this fact interesting. Initially I didn’t believe it because it just sounds so…I don’t know…unrealistic, I guess. However, every article I found indicated its origins to this story and so I guess I’m a believer. A few articles mentioned the blue that is often seen swirled amidst the red and white and noted its addition was after America established its independence as a way of proclaiming its patriotism. Can you imagine, when trying to find a dentist, looking out for the blood stained rags to know where to go? And here I was complaining about how Delta Dental’s site is difficult to navigate…
Barbers initially started off their careers assisting monks who offered free medical care to the masses, yet were not allowed to draw blood from individuals. Though monks had basic medical knowledge, their understanding and application of the human body actually made them, more times than not, better doctors than the expensive ones hired by the wealthy. Meaning the poor actually received better medical care more often than the wealthy did. When they could make it to the monasteries, that is…
In closing, next time you need to go to the dentist and complain about how much you hate it and how uncomfortable it is, just think back on this article and know that it could be SO much worse! ;) Enjoy your beautiful smiles, everyone and take good care of them!
By Madeline | March 20, 2008
One of the most breakthrough aspects of marriage during the Tudor era was the fight for clergy to wed. In the past as I’ve detailed in previous articles, all clergy were to remain celibate. However, time and time again, the clergy were driven to the point of sin by their overwhelming biological need for sex, which ultimately resulted in the use of prostitutes and even sodomy amongst one another. During the Tudor era, there were three separate religious groups battling for and against the marriage of the clergy. The Reformers and the Protestants were in favor of the marriage considering the wedded bed of a member of the church a far less sin than the sins created by the natural lust of man, while the Catholics were adamantly opposed to marriage stating that if such greats as Joshua and Daniel in the Bible could maintain celibate states then so could all men of God. As the battle for marriage for the clergy ensued, some brave souls decided not to wait around for the outcome and married willing women. However, in 1536 Henry VIII decided to put an end to the argument and declare marriage among his clergy illegal and had his bishops secretly discover who was wed. These men were to be punished with death, however, the punishment was lessened to life imprisonment in most cases. Some men who were married were forced to choose between their wives and death; the wives who were abandoned for the church were often left penniless and shamed and were any children produced in the union.
Once Edward took the throne upon Henry’s death, he passed a law allowing the clergy to marry. At least 1000 men took advantage of this during Edward’s brief control of the crown before he died. Despite the legalization of marriage, many people looked down upon not only the clergy, but especially their wives and children, still considering the marriage invalid and sinful in Gods eyes. Many wives were regarded as whores and many times refused the services of midwives leading to death. Men who were allowed to marry were given the stipulation that if the wife were to perish, he would not be allowed to wed again, nor was he allowed to wed a woman how had been previously married or previously a prostitute. Many men of the church who married were destitute as the church paid very little and what little was paid was never increased despite the growth of their families. Additionally, the crown did not make any promises to assist the widows of clergy who were almost always left impoverished and owing massive debts which, of course, the crown still expected to be collected. Once Queen Mary entered into power, marriage was again forbidden only to be brought back again by her more open minded sister, Elizabeth upon her succession of the crown. However, the potential wives had to be approved by the bishops as well as have the approval of the woman’s parents. Again, widows were not granted any rights and were often left penniless.
As with centuries before, the church placed significant restrictions on the actions of married couples behind closed doors. It was thought that a women committed a lesser offense to God to copulate with a male relative, even as close as a brother or father, than it was for her to practice any other sexual position with her husband aside from what was deemed appropriate by the church. There was only one position the church approved of and that was the missionary position as it was thought to result in a higher chance of a boy being born, which was every woman’s ultimate goal. Deformed children born were considered the result of a child produced by unauthorized fornication as God’s punishment for disobeying him. As soon as children were born, every tiny little inch of them was looked over to ensure the child contained no birth defects caused by the sins of his or her parents.
The biggest sexual crime of this period was sodomy, although not for what you may think. I’m so excited because I found this utterly fascinating and totally unexpected. During the Tudor era, a sudden fear of witchcraft became rampant. Many men claimed to have been bewitched by their wives and forced into marriage or other ‘destructive’ acts and even blamed such ailments as erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation on witch craft. Sodomy was the way the devil entered the body in order to communicate with his followers. Therefore sodomy was one of the ultimate sexual sins one could make as it meant they were speaking to the devil. Side by side to sodomy was bestiality for the reason that witches often took on the form of animals and to perform sex with an animal meant you were fornicating with a witch who was under control of the devil and the union could produce a hybrid being that was a tool for the devil to use against Christians. Sodomy was considered such a vile sin against God that Henry VIII actually passed the Buggery Act of 1533. Buggery was slang for sodomy, so now when someone tells you to Bugger Off, well, you know what they are really telling you to do… ;) The Buggery Act was to prohibit not only sodomy, but also bestiality in an effort to decrease the devil’s communication with his followers. The punishment was death, although there are few reports of this actually being carried out and those that were often had additional political agendas. The Buggery Act was repealed by Mary in 1553, which I find interesting considering she was the most vicious and God Fearing of most rulers during this era, and reinstated once more by Elizabeth in 1563, not to be lifted again until 1828.
As with other previous eras in history, adultery and fornication were still frowned upon, especially upon women. For centuries the church tried to get such acts punishable by law. Their pleas were finally answered in 1650 when the Puritans finally convinced the crown to pass a law that made adultery punishable by death and fornication punishable by three months imprisonment. In the late 1400’s and early 1500’s when the pox (syphilis - see my article for more details) was rampant, the church and all of its followers considered the disease as God’s punishment for lust and fornication. Again, prostitution was frowned upon, not only by the church, but also by the crown. In 1546, Henry VIII declared all brothels to close their doors. Of course, this did not abolish prostitution (which aided significantly in the spread of the disease) and merely put the women on the streets rather than inside establishments. Soldiers and scouts who were assigned to seek them out and destroy them were often bribed with money and ’services’ to turn their heads while the business ran as usual. As I stated in my article on prostitution and brothels, brothels often times were well fortified buildings built with the goal in mind of keeping out intruders, primarily under the crown’s orders. While the fortifications didn’t always prevent the establishment from being shut down, it often lent the women and their customers enough time to flee the building unscathed.
I hope you have all enjoyed the articles on sex and marriage that I’ve written. I learned a lot of very interesting facts and thoroughly enjoyed writing and sharing all of my juicy finds with all of you. Thanks for your patients in reading the articles too - I know they were a bit lengthy. ;) Hey, I don’t write often, I have to make it worthwhile when I do!
By Madeline | March 13, 2008
After the sexual repression encouraged by the church in the early Medieval days, the people must have finally started to rebel as the mid to late Medieval times were rampant with sex, especially in the country where the people were free of the tight laced social rules prevalent in larger cities. In fact, most boys had lost their virginity by the age of 15 during this time. The church finally agreed that that sexual repression was harmful to ones person, though their theory was that it offset the bodies humours by an overabundance of the seminal humor, which threw all of the bodies humors out of whack leading the person susceptible to illness and death. They actually recommended their patrons have sex on a regular basis to release these seminal humors. They also realized that there were many people did not have a spouse with which to copulate, primarily members of the church and so it was recommended that masturbation be enforced. Interesting how only several centuries before, one who masturbated was burned in the fiery pits of hell and now you were having to masturbate to keep healthy. I’m sure they encountered no complaints about it! ;) Additionally, because sex was so very important and was so strongly encouraged, brothels were opened and maintained, often times by the church itself as it was seen as a necessary evil. Women who plied this trade were often times women who actually worked other trades that either did not support them or required additional support during the slower seasons. Additionally, the women who acted as prostitutes were oftentimes required by law to wear specific colors and attire to avoid confusion and accidental insults.
Back to the topic of virginity, though, because it truly played such an important role during this period in history. The sole purpose of marriage was to ultimately produce heirs and a man wanted to ensure that the child his wife bore was indeed his and this is why virginity was so highly prized. As if that weren’t reason enough, fathers of virgins paid out higher dowry’s (as they expected more from the men in return for the offering of their daughter) so a man who married a ‘fallen woman’ would be shorted on a questionable paternity of a child conceived (if the woman became pregnant immediately) and also was shorted on the dowry. There were many ways that were enforced to determine if a woman was indeed a virgin, one way was to take a urine specimens to smell/taste. Ew. Well, at least urine is sterile… If a woman did lose her virginity and wanted to still pass for a maiden, there were many ways she could go about this, all of which are ridiculous and include such things as making herbal teas to bathe her privates with several times a day, then her virginity would magically be restored and others including pushing herbs up into the vagina and leaving them there - ugh, this last one makes me shudder (as well as, I’m sure, every gynecologist or doctor). There were pamphlets written for potential grooms warning them of these women who were attempting to pass for virgins and cautioned them not to be fooled by excessive tightness or difficult entry as it could be due to the woman using trickery to pull the wool over his eyes. While the church did not disagree with marriage so much now as they did before, women were still encouraged to take the cloth and become nuns. The reason, however, was purely monetary. Rich women who decided not to wed and decided to devote their lives to God relinquished their dowries to the church upon taking their vows. Most parents did not push their daughters in this direction because the church would not pay them back in land, favors, wealth and the formulation of powerful unions the way a woman’s husband would. Sex that occurred before marriage for the wealthy usually resulted in the men being pushed strongly to marry the woman they deflowered, if not they were usually fined. The reason for this was not to make the government more rich, but usually to assuage social embarrassment and make an honest woman out of the girl.
Obviously virginity in the daughter of a noble was worth more financially than the virginity of a common woman, therefore, the daughters of rich men were encouraged to maintain their virginity. For commoners who didn’t have to dabble in the mess of dowries, it was not uncommon for couples who intended to wed to share beds to ensure they were sexually compatible. As I’ve stated before in previous articles, fertility was a very important aspect of a woman, some men took the women to bed to ensure she would produce children before they agreed to marry them. While I’m sure virginity was important still to common men to ensure the whole paternity thing, it was certainly not as strictly enforced the way it was for rich men. This is why the country people were usually so much more free sexually than in the cities where the rich influence permeated people of every class.
While the church did encourage sex, they encouraged it under the right circumstances - you know, like with one’s spouse… Adultery was still frowned upon by the church, although more so for women than for men. If a man found his wife with another man and killed the other man, there was seldom, if any, punishment given to the husband for his actions. The woman, however, was harshly punished for shaming her husband with her lust. Typically, the woman’s head would be shorn, their dowries would be taken by their husbands and they would be paraded through the streets where everyone could witness their humiliation. Men, however, were almost always let off easily. If a man cheated on his spouse once, it was easily forgivable because men possessed more passion and lust than women did (this is just laughable - in a sad kind of way) however, a man who engaged in adultery, essentially took on a girlfriend or mistress, was committing a grievous sin as it was going against their initial marriage vows as the repeated union could lead to bastards and the sole purpose of marriage was to produce legitimate heirs. Additionally, younger men were punished much less often than older men as younger men were often times consumed by lust and the act of taking another woman was usually not really his fault.
The final point I wanted to make about this time in history was that women were finally relieved of their ‘evil’ reputation. They were no longer seen as devices of evil spreading lust and ultimately pestilence wherever they tread, but were now placed on pedestals in art, poetry, writing, etc. Women were seldom depicted as average women in these forms of expression, however. For example, a woman was either an unattainable Venus or an easily had woman; a virgin or a whore, and usually, she was all the more beautiful for it. This was the basic fundamental of the famed courtly love that spawned centuries of sonnets and poetry that are still used today. I think these expressions only encouraged virginity in women more and had a deep impact on society not just during this period, but for the centuries that followed.
Next I will discuss sex and marriage during the Tudor era, although I haven’t started on the research yet, so it might not happen until next week…
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