When I told one of my writer friends that I was working on a medieval she said..."Eww, gross, those people did not bathe!" My response was the characters in my book will not stink so I made sure to include a bathing scene in the story. And I also did some research.
The English did bathe during medieval times. They also enjoyed it. The Romans left behind many baths after their reign and the people of the age made good use of them. Until Richard came along. Richard broke the country with his crusades. He taxed his subjects into the poorhouse and left a bankrupt country behind for his brother, John. The landowners and their people had nothing. The king, however, had his forests and all that lay within. The penalty for stealing from the king was death. So the people were starving while there was food aplenty to be had. What has this to do with bathing? Not only were the people prohibited from hunting in the king's forest, they were also kept from gathering firewood and cutting down trees. So after they had exhausted their supply, they had no where else to go, unless they wanted to die. No firewood meant no hot baths, because who wants to take a cold bath in a hovel during the middle of winter?
Just a tidbit I found out while researching Breath Of Heaven. I was also interested to see it refered too in Robin Hood (a most excellent movie!) Just for fun I've included a bathing scene from Breath Of Heaven.
He had no more than wrapped a fur about his naked hips when the door burst open and a line of servants came in with a tray of food, steaming buckets of water and a tub made of hammered copper.
Mathias brought up the rear with a wide grin on his face. “Just as you requested Milord,” he said.
Rhys cocked a questioning eyebrow at the servants. There was one somewhat dusky wench who carried the tray of food but the rest were men. Unfortunately the wench placed the tray upon a table, dipped a quick curtsey, and left while the men arranged the tub in front of the fireplace and poured the steaming buckets of water into it.
“Is this not as you requested Milord?” Mathias asked innocently. He stuck his tongue sideways in his cheek to keep from laughing out loud. “Were your words not someone other than me?”
“I will beat you eventually,” Rhys said.
“Do you make a habit of beating your squire Milord?” A voice called out. Rhys turned to find a tall woman standing in the doorway holding a basket with soap, oils and towels. She seemed older than he yet her face was remarkably smooth except for a few lines around her mouth and her strikingly blue eyes. Her head was complete covered with a thick veil and a long blonde braid shot with silver hung down her back. Her clothing was simple, yet rich, a dark blue bliaut of velvet with an intricate silver embroidery on the sleeves that flared at her elbows to reveal a lighter blue sheath beneath. The sleeves of the sheath tightly hugged her arms, past her wrists and hooked in the opening between her thumbs and fingers. A wide silver chain belt with a small dagger rode low on her hips. The artistry of both was exquisite. The dagger held a large blue sapphire much like the ruby that rode in the hilt of his short sword.
The woman carried the basket past him, across to the tub and sat it on a small stool. She turned to look at Rhys with her hands on her hips. The look she gave him was appraising, as her eyes swept from the top of his head, down his chest, over his hips to slide down his legs where his toes curled into the thick pile of the rug beneath his feet.
“Which do you require first?” she asked as the serving men left the room. “To break your fast or bathe?”
Rhys dropped the fur. “A bath,” he said and strode casually to the tub.
She quirked an eyebrow as her sharp eyes took in every thing about him and Rhys graced her with a smile as he stepped into the tub and sat down in the warm water. He could not help but flinch as the heat seared his skin, especially the tender region between his thighs but he kept his gaze upon the face above him. She might be older but she was beautiful and he had found in the past that older women were most generous and ingenious in the art of lovemaking.
“Are you the lady of the castle?” he asked. He knew that Edward’s wife had died many years ago but had not heard if he had ever remarried.
“No,” she said. “I am but a simple servant.” She held out a bar of soap for his approval. He sniffed it. Sandalwood of course, with a hint of something else…pine possibly? He nodded his approval and she dipped it in the water along with a cloth and lathered them together. “My name is Madwyn,” she continued as she picked up his arm and began the process of scrubbing the days of travel and weather from his body. “My lord and lady both bid me to apologize for their lack of hospitality this past eve. My lord is not well and my lady and I were not present when you arrived.”
“Is your lady at home now?” His curiosity was once more piqued about Edward’s mysterious daughter. Mayhap she was hidden away in a convent where no one would see her.
“Yes,” Madwyn replied as she moved around the tub and scrubbed started on his other side. “My Lady Eliane and I returned early this morning. She is attending to the needs of Aubregate and her father. She will send word when he is ready to meet with you.”
Rhys reclined against the back of the tub with his eyes closed while Madwyn went about the business of washing his body. The heat from the water spread into his muscles and relieved much of the tension he’d carried with him through out his journey. The feel of the cloth sliding across the planes of his chest was pleasurable and Madwyn’s touch was firm, yet gentle. All in all it was quite an enjoyable bath and he had high hopes of it leading to more pleasure before he met Lord Edward. Still he was curious about the missing daughter. “Will the Lady Eliane be present when I meet with Lord Edward?” he asked.
The answer he got was a hot towel draped across the lower half of his face. He opened one eye to find Madwyn standing over his with a blade in her hand. “Shall I shave you?” she asked. The glint in her eye gave him pause and he heard Mathias smother a snort from across the room.
Rhys was not one to back down from a challenge. He nodded his agreement and laid his head back against the rim of the tub to allow her blade access to his neck. Her hands were deft and sure and he could not help but admire the closeness of the shave when she finished.
“Mathias,” he said after she wiped the remnants of the soap from his face. “Did you lay out my best clothes?”
“Yes Milord,” he replied.
“Then go attend to Yorath,” he instructed. “Make sure he is content.”
“Milord?” Mathias questioned. The squire knew full well that his master’s horse was well cared for in the Aubregate stables. Yet he needed to learn prudence, especially when his master wanted to be alone with a woman.
“Go,” Rhys barked. “Now.” He heard the door close firmly albeit somewhat loudly behind the squire as he left the room. “I shall surely beat him before the day it out,” Rhys sighed as he once more closed his eyes. Madwyn had given him a thorough cleaning from the waist up. He was now ready for her to proceed with the rest. More than ready. So ready that the tip of his shaft poked up through the water. His entire body tingled in anticipation as he imagined her hand, slick with soap, moving around it, grasping, squeezing, and pulling. Maybe she would even take him in her mouth.
His fantasy was quickly doused when she poured a bucket of icy water over his head and into his face then her hands grabbed his hair by the roots and pulled.
“I beg your pardon Milord,” she said in a somewhat innocent and breathless voice. ‘I fear I used the wrong bucket.”
Rhys shivered, coughed and sputtered and sat up, certain that he had lost more than a few hairs when she wrenched him back into place with her fingers firmly entrenched in his scalp.
“Did you not wish for me to wash your hair Milord?” she asked as he looked at her face, which was upside down above him. “Or should I take my leave now?”
He touched his head gingerly and was relieved to see that his hair was still attached although a bit soapy. “I can finish up on my own,” he said. “You may go now.” He watched her warily as she dried her hands and left room without a backward glance. He heard the tinkle of her laughter as she closed the door behind her.
“Wench,” he said as he leaned forward and finished lathering his hair. He slid beneath the surface of the water to rinse it. Luckily for him, his most pressing problem had gone away with the blast of icy water.