We’re not going to sugarcoat it – Hollywood has lied to us. Big shock, right? Seriously, though, think back to every movie set in the Middle Ages you’ve ever seen. Everyone’s always filthy, their teeth are somewhere between yellow and brown, and personal hygiene doesn’t seem to have been invented yet.
Well, we’re here to tell you that’s pretty much fabrication. Sure, people didn’t have hand sanitizers or antibacterial soaps, but they were fully aware that being clean was preferable to being dirty. Of course, standards were different, but people still did their best with what they had. Well, except some royals. These are the kings and queens of the Middle Ages, and their eccentric hygiene routines.
The secret to Queen Elizabeth I’s infamously white skin
Elizabeth I’s 45-year reign on the British throne was nearly cut short when the Queen contracted smallpox. She recovered, but was left with the disease’s distinctive facial scars. To cover up the scarring, and because tanned skin was synonymous with the lower class, Elizabeth sought a ghostly-white look. She achieved it using “Venetian ceruse.”
There was only one problem – this cosmetic was lead-based, meaning it could lead to lead poisoning. Even worse, the makeup was left on the skin for as much as a week and the available facial cleansers often contained mercury – just as bad as lead.
Anne of Cleves smelled really bad – according to her own husband
Henry VIII is perhaps best remembered for wedding six wives, but for now let’s focus on his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves. Anne developed something of a reputation when it came to hygiene. Henry had actually agreed to marry the German noblewoman based on a portrait alone, and when he actually met her he was reportedly horrified to discover she smelled bad.
On the morning after their wedding, Henry remarked that Anne had “very evil smells about her.” We don’t know whether she truly did, but Germans reportedly neglected to wash their hands before eating back then.
Bacon fat conditioner and lice combs
It’s interesting how little beauty standards from 500 years ago have changed. In the Middle Ages, blonde hair was considered the most desirable (some things never changed), so women bleached their hair using olive oil or onion skins.
If their hair was tangled, they’d use a conditioner made up of bacon fat – which would probably be popular today! However, only royals washed their hair regularly, with ashes and egg whites being used as shampoo. Lastly, high class ladies carried pins in their cleavage, which they used to scratch at the lice that often infested their real hair, or wigs.
King James VI was apparently disgusted by water
You know the King James Version of the Bible? It’s named after King James VI of Scotland, who was notorious even for the period for his atrocious hygiene. He’d reportedly wear the same clothes for months at a time, and was actually said to have an aversion to water, so he washed himself as little as possible.
He didn’t even wash his hands before eating, instead rubbing the ends of his fingers with a wet napkin. To top it off, one court lady complained that she and her friends were infested with lice after sharing a room with him.
Wiping the most royal of all behinds in the realm
Groom of the King’s Close Stool was one of the most coveted jobs in medieval England. The stool in question referred both to a boxed seat containing a fitted chamber pot and to the nature of the groom’s job.
Since it was unthinkable for a monarch to clean themselves after going number-two, a position was created whose purpose was cleaning the king’s royal behind. If that sounds like a job no one would want to do, think again. The groom would have the king’s confidence and could easily propel himself to greater positions within the court after finishing with the wiping.
Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand outlaw bathing
To Americans, Ferdinand and Isabella may be most well-known for financing Christopher Columbus’s trip to the New World. They could, however, be just as famous for being radically against bathing. Devout Catholics both, the pair believed that bathing was a corrupt and “unreligous” practice that could only escalate to other immoral acts.
After the royal pair finished conquering Spain from the hands of Muslims, they forced them to give up bathing, destroying and outlawing Muslim bathhouses. Isabella herself was said to have taken two baths her entire life – once when she was born and another before she married.
King Henry VIII’s flea barrier
By all accounts, Henry VIII was waging a battle against the dirt poor (pun a little bit intended) hygiene standards of his era – but it was one he sadly had no chance of winning.
For starters, he slept on a bed surrounded by furs to act as a barrier between his royal self and the hordes of fleas and lice infesting everything. He also had large red Xs painted on garden walls to prevent servants and courtiers from relieving themselves on them, but it reportedly only gave them something to aim for.
King Henry IV smelled of garlic and feet
France’s Henry IV, known by the common folk he presided over as Good King Henry, was remembered for many things. He raised the standard of living for the common Frenchman while enforcing religious tolerance.
He also smelled strongly of “raw garlic and feet,” according to one historian. Though he was married twice, Henry was quintessentially French, having numerous affairs and one-night stands – a feat he reportedly achieved without ever washing himself. His first wife, in fact, bitterly complained that his lack of bathing only made his raw garlic habit worse.
European royalty’s ‘bath phobia’
When the Crusaders left for the Middle East starting in 1095, they found tons of interesting things there, like Turkish baths, which they brought back with them to Europe. Still, medieval Europeans generally had pretty funny ideas about bathing. Specifically, they believed that submerging yourself in water was literally life-threatening.
The theory was that hot water opens the pores, and that doing that leaves you vulnerable to plagues carried by “bad air.” That air supposedly gets into your bloodstream through said pores, and so many kings and queens alike took no more than two or three baths a year.
King Ferdinand II of Aragon had two kinds of lice
Ferdinand II was known for many things, like bankrolling Christopher Columbus’s historic voyage. He probably would’ve preferred that one record of his, though, would remain unclaimed. When Ferdinand’s mummified remains were examined by scientists using an electron microscope and various chemico-analytical devices, they found something surprising.
Apparently, Ferdinand had suffered from two kinds of lice – head and pubic ones – marking the first time they’d been found in a monarch’s hair. Vast amounts of mercury found on his scalp attested that he’d sought treatment for the problem, but the solution probably shortened his life as much as solved it.
Linen – underwear before they were cool
In the Middle Ages, underwear as such weren’t a thing yet. Instead, royals and common folk alike wrapped themselves in linen – though the quality obviously varied greatly. These linen shifts, as they were called, were essentially, under-dress – what was actually touching their skin instead of the clothes.
The linen would be changed as often as the wearer could afford – multiple times a day for the king or maybe once a week or more if you were poor – and would be washed with fragrances and flowers… or just lye and vinegar.
Homemade bleach of just the worst kind
Staying on the topic of linen, they were actually a very good indicator of a person’s wealth and place in society. Clean linen was a sign of respectability, whereas white linen was elevated to being a sign of wealth.
The whiter it was, in fact, the richer the wearer could be presumed to be. To keep linen shiny white, bleach would often be used. The rich bought their linen ready-bleached, while the poor had to bleach it themselves. What was that bleach, though? Well, the Tudors, made famous in the Showtime series of the same name, used human urine.
The gross real reason canopied beds were invented
Don’t you just love period dramas sets? Royals always live in sprawling, opulent manors and all the furniture seems dreamy. And the beds? Don’t get us started. Beautiful four-poster things surrounded by a canopy that just classes it up.
Well, we’re about to ruin that little design detail for you. Those canopies weren’t there for decoration. In the Middle Ages roofs were a lot less sturdy, and it was pretty common for pests, bugs, and droppings to fall through onto the beds. The canopies were simply invented to catch all that junk before it fell on the clean bedding.
Countess Clara von Platen donated her milky bathwater
They say that charity begins at home, but have you ever heard about charity beginning in the bathtub? While she wasn’t a royal herself, Countess Clara von Platen WAS a noblewoman. Also, she was the lifelong mistress of Ernest Augustus, the ruler of several principalities of the Holy Roman Empire, so there’s that too.
Anyway, Countess Clara was apparently a big fan of taking regular baths in milk and then donating that milk to the poor. We have no idea what they did with it, but sincerely hope they weren’t desperate enough to drink it…
What kings and queens used before modern toilet paper
Modern toilet paper wasn’t commercially available until the mid-19th century, so throughout human history people have had to get creative when they wanted to clean themselves. If we’ll just skip right over earlier periods, when people weren’t above using their hands, we’ll get to medieval Europe.
Most of the population was poor, so they were forced to use whatever’s available – like moss or leaves. Of course, no random forest finds were good enough for blue-bloods. The higher classes used lamb’s wool or soft cloths to wipe, while kings employed someone with the express job of wiping for them.
Pregnant royals entered a ‘world of women’
For most of human history, childbirth wasn’t just dangerous but downright life-threatening, for the mother and the newborn both. With no antibiotics, modern monitoring devices or even basic hygiene, anything less than a picture-perfect birth carried disastrous potential.
To try and mitigate some of that risk, noble and royal women began “lying in” for several weeks before the expected due date, during which time they weren’t allowed to see any men whatsoever – not even doctors. Then, after giving birth (assuming they survived), they’d enter a 40-day confinement period, as they were said to be unclean after the birth.
Medieval castles were surrounded by human waste
Even though plumbing might be thought of as something of a modern concept, it definitely existed in the Middle Ages – although only in the residences of the very rich. Certain medieval castles, for example, had plumbing systems.
The garderobes, as lavatories were called at the time, protruded outside the castle walls and had an opening at their bottom. That opening was effectively a chute, directing all of the human waste into the moat that surrounded the castle below. And no, the crocodiles living there didn’t mind – because that’s an urban legend and there weren’t any.
They were also pretty bad from the inside as well
Before modern plumbing, waste disposal was a serious problem for medieval castles that would routinely house hundreds if not thousands of people. Popular culture has created an image of what a medieval castle was like back then, and it might more or less accurate except on one point – the smell.
Human waste, apparently, was everywhere, as people relieved themselves wherever they pleased. Staircases, hallways, and fireplaces were a favorite spot for whatever courtiers needed to do. A report on Paris’s Louvre Palace, for example, relayed “a thousand unbearable stenches caused by calls of nature which everyone goes to do there every day.”
Table manners were a thing
Medieval feasts as they’re portrayed in pop culture always seem like pretty lawless affairs, where everyone’s pigging out by just shoving food into their mouths. That’s not entirely fair, as even back then people were aware that proper hygiene and eating were a good combo.
One French guide for the upper classes from the 15th century, for example, recommended good table etiquette, like not returning food that’s been touched to the plate and not touching the ears and nose with bare hands. Not blowing your nose with the tablecloth was also included… We really thought that’d be a given.
But washing your hands before eating wasn’t
The nobility and of course the royal family were expected to exhibit proper dining etiquette and not just go hog wild on some roast chicken. Of course, the Middle Ages were centuries ago, so we can’t really expect their table manners to have been perfect.
Perhaps the biggest gross-out for modern diners was that everyone took their food from a common plate using their hands – although royals were more refined, using just three fingers. Forks existed in Byzantine society as far back as the 12th century, but wouldn’t appear in the West until the 16th-17th centuries. Hey, speaking of forks…
Forks were considered an insult to the Lord
Forks first made their way through the famed Silk Road to Venice, Italy, and were used in a Byzantine princess’s wedding to the ruler of Venice. Nice, except the God-fearing Venetians saw these utensils as slights against the Lord Himself, who created man with perfectly good fingers to eat with. We’re not kidding.
Benedictine monk Peter Damian wrote that, “God in His wisdom has provided man with natural forks – his fingers.” The aforementioned princess was also criticized, by the way, for using napkins. It’s a slippery slope from napkins to all out pandemonium, folks.
And then they were too girly
Oh, did you think we were done telling you how much medieval people hated forks with a passion? Not by a long shot, bucko. So we’ve established that they were widely considered to be an insult to God, but apparently they were also considered too feminine. As hygiene improved later in the Middle Ages, so did forks’ fortunes among the general population.
However, some men thought only girls used forks, and wouldn’t use them until they were adorned with ruffled cuffs. As strange as that sounds, just remember that high-heeled shoes and tights were also originally made for men…
Staying hydrated with a side of lead
There are tons of differences between life in the Middle Ages and life today, some of which are obvious. One of the less obvious ones, however, is also one of the biggest – people generally didn’t drink water.
Nowadays, we’re told to drink eight glasses a day, but back then water was pretty much undrinkable. The poor drank various spirits instead, or maybe milk, but the rich could afford to heat water up enough to make it safe. Just one problem – water was circulated in lead-lined pipes and stored in large lead tanks. It was only in the 19th century that lead was found to be toxic.
Emperor Charlemagne took 100-person baths
In the modern era, taking baths is something many people enjoy – but it’s usually a one-person affair. Well, sometimes two-person if you play your cards right. In the medieval era, though, baths were few and far between. As such, when royals did take them – it was a party. Throughout Europe royals were known to entertain guests while they bathed, but Charlemagne took the cake.
He would reportedly invite not only his sons to join in, but also his nobles, friends, and sometimes even soldiers. So when Charlemagne took a bath, there were a hundred or more men in the water with him.
King Louis XIV lost all his teeth by the time he was 40
Louis XIV, the Sun King of France, spent more than 72 years on the throne. A devout monarch, Louis nevertheless produced at least 16 illegitimate children. Slightly dirty though he was in his romantic liaisons, his mouth was even worse.
Louis was actually born with two teeth, but this promising start didn’t last. With an endless supply of sweet cakes and sugared fruit, the King suffered from dental problems for years before having all of his teeth extracted by the time he was 40. Then, for the next 36 years, he sucked all his food in with a straw.
Is that really the best place to keep clothes?
If you’ve ever watched even a single period piece, you know that royals and nobles owned extensive wardrobes. In fact, in the days of Louis XIV, the clothes totally made the man – more than one noble bankrupted himself trying to build up an ensemble that would wow the King. But where were all those clothes stored? Well, the answer’s a little gross.
Overgarments, meaning anything that wasn’t undergarments, were actually stored near the garderobes, or latrines. Why? Because of the smell. Royals believed moths hated the stink as much as we did, so they’d stay away. Solid theory…
Queen Jane Seymour needlessly passed after childbirth
Henry VIII was a legendary womanizer, but medieval ladies weren’t always lucky to catch the King’s eye – he executed two of his six wives. Possibly his favorite, though, was never crowned – and is the only one to produce a male heir. Jane Seymour married Henry in 1536, and was gone 17 months later.
The reason was both common and tragic – twelve days after giving birth, Jane passed due to an infection known as childbed fever. She’d been in labor for three days and the birth was complicated – and doctors’ habit of not washing their hands probably didn’t help either.
The Palace of Versailles was a like a ballpark toilet
Louis XIV lived according to the advice given to us in The Godfather 2: “Keep your friends close but your enemies closer.” In order to do just that, he decided to no longer travel from court to court, and settled down in the mega-palace of Versailles.
The 680,000-square-foot complex has 2,300 rooms, and all that space was needed – during Louis’s reign roughly 10,000 aristocrats, servants, and others lived there. As you might imagine, that led to… sanitation issues. Indeed, both men and women reportedly relieved themselves wherever they pleased, while the latrines sometimes leaked into the bedrooms below them.
King Henry VIII tries to literally outrun the grime
At some point, Henry VIII realized that having his palace packed with thousands of people was a recipe for disaster, especially for a borderline germaphobe like himself. His solution? Stay until the filth became unbearable, and then move someplace else.
And so, in 1535 King Henry and 700 of his subjects embarked on a four-month-long tour that would see them visiting 30 palaces, aristocratic properties and religious institutions in an ultimately futile attempt to not be drowned by human waste. Said waste, incidentally, reportedly reached grown man height by the time his court moved to the next location.
Queen Elizabeth I’s disastrous sweet tooth
The first bristle-based toothbrush was used in China in the 7th century, but it wouldn’t appear in Europe until after the Middle Ages. Still, it doesn’t mean that medieval folk were completely unaware of dental hygiene.
In fact, the state of most people’s teeth was a lot better than you’d imagine, as only the elite could afford sugar. Unfortunately for her, Queen Elizabeth I had a bit of a sweet tooth, leaving her teeth black and rotting, necessitating the use of dentures. When she did clean her teeth she used honey, and that probably didn’t help things any.
King Henry VIII ordered his cooks to stop making his food in the buff
While it’s definitely true that the Middle Ages have gotten a bad rap in the popular consciousness for their standards of hygiene, certain accounts show that maybe there’s a grain of truth to this ugly rumor after all. Take the case of King Henry VIII’s cooks, for example.
The King had to issue a special decree, ordering those working in the royal kitchens from working au naturel, as the French say, or from sleeping on the kitchen floors. To make sure this actually happened, his officials were told to buy “honest and wholesome garments” for the staff.
King Henry IV was horrified to learn a nobleman had taken a bath
Of course, many in the Middle Ages, monarchs included, believed that bathing was bad for you, as it opened the pores and could potentially let “bad air” into the bloodstream.
We can’t say for certain whether such weighty concerns were on Henry IV’s mind, but we do know he made it a habit to wear soiled linen, and people had to literally cover their faces when around him. Interestingly, when he once heard of a nobleman taking a bath, he sent him a message advising him not to leave home as it no doubt made him feeble.
King Henry VIII’s hot and cold baths
Henry VIII wasn’t only conscious of personal hygiene, but was actually something of a clean freak – at least by medieval standards. In fact, Henry installed baths in his many palaces, despite bathing not being a very popular activity among royals.
At Hampton Court, for example, he had a bath heated water pumped from a nearby stove. Later in life, he suffered from chronic leg ulcers, and used a mixture of herbs and civet musk to help. Civet, a cat-like animal, produces musk that smells strongly, so unfortunately Henry did smell… but it wasn’t because he wasn’t clean.
Using nose ornaments to ward off the ‘bad air’
Try to imagine when your average street in medieval Europe smelled like. Whatever you imagined, it was probably worse. Indoor plumbing simply didn’t exist except for the ultra-rich, and people routinely dumped their waste straight out the window, leaving the streets pretty… fragrant. So what’s a royal to do?
Simple: they used “nosegays,” literally meaning nose ornaments. These were satchels of dried flowers or herbs, or small bouquets of flowers, which the rich could hold up to their noses in an attempt to drown out the general stink – and avoid the “bad air” they believed caused diseases.
A solution for baldness that’s worse than the problem
We’re guessing that baldness is a problem that has worried men for a very, very long time. Unfortunately for most men throughout history, Rogaine and pricey hair transplants wouldn’t be around until the 20th century.
Instead, men of all classes – yes, even royals – were told to combine potassium salts with, um, chicken droppings and rub that on their heads. Not grossed out yet? Hair removal was also a thing in the Middle Ages, with people applying a paste of eggs, vinegar, and cat dung over the problematic area. What a time to be alive!
Medieval royals used perfumes – but not for smelling better
Europe didn’t actually have soap until it was brought over from the Orient in the early Middle Ages. That early soap didn’t do a very good job of cleaning, as it was made up of mutton fat. Better soaps would appear in the 12th century, made of olive oil and aromatic herbs.
Naturally, these were luxury items fit only for blue-bloods. However, the Tudor rulers in England also favored perfumes. Interestingly, and despite the general funk, perfumes were a flex – a way to flaunt wealth, as they were made of pricey imported spices – and not really a way to smell better.
Seriously unconventional medicine
Medieval medicine wasn’t exactly spectacular either. For starters, viruses were not known to exist, and so plagues and diseases were attributed to evil air. But what about cures? Well, medieval doctors would prescribe mumia, or human body parts. It was believed that some life force remained in the body, and so consuming body parts could transfer that force into the patient.
Multiple monarchs, from Charles II of England to François I of France, bought into the theory. When England’s James I came down with gout, his physician recommended taking a powder created by grinding an unburied human skull, herbs, and whey at the full moon.
Literal skeletons in their closets – or rather beds
The Middle Ages were a time when religion ruled supreme, as people could literally lose their lives from getting a wood splinter in their fingers and really needed something to fall back on. That’s perfectly fine, of course, but religion also blended with medicine. Oftentimes religious ritual, like praying, fasting, and confessions, was employed.
It was believed that seeing their piety, God would surely cure the sick person. The Spanish royal family, meanwhile, took things a step further by removing body parts of saints – or sometimes entire cadavers – from churches and placing them in bed with the sick royal.
Why bathing in wine was recommended
Given the enormous luxury which the kings and queens of this era enjoyed compared to the common man, you’d think that bathing in wine would be a display of status. However, the real reason behind this odd practice is much more disgusting.
Bathing was still fairly uncommon at that time, but some people smelled so bad that the only apparent way to get rid of the smell was using wine. In fact, it was recommended that they wash their bodies using a cloth dipped in wine with either boiled leaves of billberries or bilberries themselves.
“It flushes when it rains”
The first modern flushable toilet was first thought of in 1596. This raises the question of how cities managed waste in the medieval ages. While larger cities had public facilities that everyone could use, it’s no surprise that the odor of feces was an enormous issue at these places.
What’s really disgusting, however, is that most people would simply “dump their dump” out on the street until it was washed away by the rain. This photo, which shows the private bathroom of the Master Mason, shows how even rich people weren’t better off.
A history of washing clothes
Compared to how people washed clothes in the medieval ages, we’d like to see how they’d react to 21st century washing machines and dryers. We wouldn’t be surprised if they thought it was magic or just the work of the devil.
In fact, people would go to a stream or the river to wash their clothes. Only the rich would have enough water to fill out the tubs. Given that people during this era used urine as bleach, it’s also interesting that they’d use stale urine or wood ash mixed in the water as detergent.
Medical procedures that could kill you
Back in the medieval era, even the most eminent doctors had neither the knowledge nor the tools needed to actually help with more complicated conditions such as epilepsy. In fact, physicians commonly used a procedure called “trepanning” which sounds more like torture than treatment.
Doctors would drill a hole in a patient’s skull to expose the outer membrane, which they thought would relieve the brain of the pressure that was causing the illness. Most patients, however, would simply bleed to death because the procedure was conducted without any sedation or anaesthesia. We wonder why.
Their floors were absolutely disgusting
Considering that most people threw their sludge on the streets and rarely bathed, it’s no surprise that most people would be incredibly dirty and smell horrible when they came back home from work. Of course, any effective form of sanitation was centuries away so it’s no wonder that the floors of homes were also incredibly dirty.
In fact, many people brought rushes in their home to keep the dirt away. Rushes are marsh plants that absorb some of the dirt and grime. We doubt you’ll be surprised when we tell you they were ineffective.
When it rained
Back in the medieval ages, even the richest kings didn’t have effective methods of waste disposal. Most peasants dumped their chamber pots on the streets so it’s safe to say that overall, everything was pretty disgusting.
Is it any wonder then, that when it rained, it would only make things a whole lot worse? While many of the larger towns had ditches to prevent flooding, they were barely adequate and most of the water would spill out spreading the waste all over town.
They wore wigs to fight off lice
The menace of lice was so unbearable that it wasn’t uncommon for people to just shave their heads back in those days. In fact, many people would opt to wear wigs so they wouldn’t have to constantly deal with the urge to scratch their head.
While wigs took care of the itching, they were just as likely to attract lice as real hair which meant that lice would often fall off people’s wigs and in their meals. This is why many people would often take off their wigs during mealtime.
Fighting off the pain of childbirth
For most of human history, the act of giving birth has perhaps been one of the most dangerous events for women. The lack of medical equipment or knowledge coupled with the fact that doctors didn’t take precautions to avoid infections meant it posed a risk for both baby and child.
Of course, it’s no surprise that people used very inefficient and downright ridiculous ways to protect themselves. For example, it was common practice for women to rub a mixture of rosewater and eagle dung on their thighs to reduce the pain.
Women used Belladonna to look more beautiful
In everyday life, it was also really common for women to use extremely unsafe products to look more beautiful. Belladonna, which translates to “beautiful lady” in Italian, was often used because women believed it would make their skin more radiant. However, the plant has another translation “nightshade” which highlights the risks they were taking for the sake of their beauty.
Belladonna is known to cause hallucinations, stomach ulcers and other dangerous infections upon ingestion. That didn’t stop women from using it. It was used mainly to dilate the pupils and put color on the cheeks.
Thank goodness for toothpaste
In the 21st century, when most people wake up, they’re going to clean their teeth using a toothbrush and some toothpaste. This simple, everyday act which we all do shows just far along we’ve come as a society. Back in the medieval days, most people didn’t even think about dental hygiene.
In fact, people consider rinsing sufficient for all their dental hygiene needs. Occasionally, they’d even use a rag to clean up. What’s even scarier is how dentists removed teeth back in those days. They’d literally pluck the teeth out without any anaesthetic. Ouch!
Before we had ophthalmologists, we had needles
Is it any surprise that most medical procedures in the medieval days were grossly ineffective and even unsanitary by modern standards. It’s common knowledge that doctors didn’t use any anaesthetics and the surgery was often more harmful than the disease.
If you’re wondering how doctors tried to cure cataracts back in the day, you’re only going to be more glad that you’re alive in the modern era of science. Doctors poke a needle in the patient’s eye to move the lens down into the eyeball. At best, it didn’t make things worse.
They thought was moss was antiseptic
One of the most bizarre medical practices followed during the medieval ages was the use of moss by women during periods. Many physicians considered moss to be an antiseptic and would even use it in battles to stem the flow of blood. In addition, it was readily available and reusable as long as you squeezed out what you had previously absorbed.
We don’t have to tell you just how unhygienic and unsanitary that is by modern standards. Yet, that’s how most women managed their time of the month for much of human history.
Leech the illness away
Bloodletting is by far one of the most well known and frequently used medical practices from the medieval days. It was used so often because physicians thought removing the bad blood would help restore balance in the body. What’s so disturbing is that it was used for most medical conditions.
In fact, it was so commonplace that many people would do it by themselves without calling for a doctor. Sometimes, doctors would just make an incision and at other times, they would let the leeches suck out the “contaminated” blood.
Surgery must have been a nightmare
We’ve already mentioned how most surgeons didn’t wash their hands before surgery or use an anaesthetic agent when performing surgical procedures.
Just imagine what a nightmare it must have been being operated on back then. As you can see from the picture, this often meant surgeons needed the help of others to keep the patient under control and to make sure they didn’t bleed out during surgeries. Handwashing didn’t become a common thing until the middle of the 19th century. What’s worse, doctors didn’t wash tools between surgeries.
Miracles in Saint Thomas’s blood?
Lice, roundworms, tapeworms and other parasites were such a nuisance that people would go to any length to get rid of them. In fact, it wasn’t uncommon for the snake-oil salesmen of the day to trick people into buying their miracle cures which almost never worked.
However, what’s really interesting is that some people were so desperate they even turned to religion to cure them. In fact, there is even evidence of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury curing two worm-infected children by making them drink his blood.
The clergy embraced worms
What’s really interesting is that while most people were simply sick of worms — especially lice — the more devout Christians in the medieval ages embraced them as reminders of the impurity of the flesh.
In fact, many of them even viewed them as a challenge by God to test their faith. For example, John of Gaddessden said that they were more prone to lice because of their lack of grooming. Literature from the era is littered with examples of people from the clergy complaining about lice.
‘I see dead people… teeth’
Growing up, virtually every American has heard about George Washington and his wooden teeth. While Washington did suffer from dental problems, his dentures were made of ivory and gold. However, going back a few centuries, medieval doctors used something more obvious – human teeth.
When scientists examined the family tomb of the Guinigi family, which ruled the Italian city of Lucca in the 14th-15th centuries, they found something startling. Namely, lower gum dentures composed of five teeth linked together by a golden strip of metal. The kicker? Those teeth weren’t volunteered – they came from people who’d already passed. Yikes.