Saturday, December 26, 2015

What a Drag It Is Getting Older . . . Aging Gracefully in Tudor England

Nobody aged gracefully in sixteenth-century England.
Father Time to the left of me, Death to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with you . . .
The first struggle for people born in Tudor times started the minute the midwife whacked their backside; infant mortality claimed huge numbers of live births.

Once past infancy the next hurdle was getting to age five alive.
After that, age ten.
As kids grow more independent, opportunities with mortal consequences were all around; by the time the kid was past the crawling out the window phase, the fell into the water bucket or the well phase it was on to the kicked in the head by a horse phase, the fell from a tree phase, or the phase where a cold turned into an ear infection that, unchecked by antibiotics, raged through the victims body til he or she died with the worst earache on record. 
Heartbreaking, isn't it?
And it wasn't like anyone could relax then; the teen years brought their own new opportunities for Death to come calling.

Young mothers chanced deadly infection at the hands (literally) of a birth attendant who hadn't washed prior to their hands being up in the business of the laboring mother.
Skeeve factor: 100%

The incidence of infection among young women was distressingly high; women died horribly, racked by fever, delirium and agonizing pain - and that shit went on for days.
Again, heartbreaking.

Young men dropped from infection as well; ear infection was the cause of death of Mary Queen of Scots first teen-aged groom.
Prince Arthur, elder brother of Henry VIII, died of a lung ailment - but likely what killed him was an infection. 
Henry Fitzroy and Edward VI, both of whom were sons of Henry VIII, also died young; infection played a front and center role in their deaths.
Hi! I was the answer all along. JK, I hadn't been invented yet.
 Infections make no exceptions; royal or commoner, you were in a very bad place indeed once your white blood cell count was elevated.
With fever came the painful beginning of the end. 

Adults had to survive plagues (bubonic plague - just NO. So gross) and 'the sweat' - English sweating sickness.
That one was probably the worst; the "English sweat" killed with ruthless efficiency.
Fine at breakfast, not feeling so good by mid-day, and dead by tea-time.
Not an exaggeration.
I don't feel so good. . . .
Here's the bed for your imminent dirt nap. . .
By age forty, Tudor-era citizens were getting on in years. 
After a lifetime diet heavy on the meat (for the gentry) and ale, gout liked to move into the feet (with a focus on the toes) and take up residence.
Have a look at this:

Diet and Gout: Purines in Food - What to Eat and ... - WebMD
Sep 9, 2014 - Recommended Related to Arthritis. Organ meats, such as liver, kidneys, sweetbreads, and brains. Meats, including bacon, beef, pork, and lamb. Game meats. Any other meats in large amounts. Anchovies, sardines, herring, mackerel, and scallops. Gravy. Beer.

The list of 'problem foods' is pretty much exactly what Henry VIII (and his courtiers) ate all day, every day.
So old people with gout faced swollen and painful joints - especially in the ankles and feet; gravity, don't you know.
They hobbled around.
It hurt a lot.

They might or might not have teeth; the common people ate less organ meat, more vegetables (those were good things!) but the less money you had, the coarser the bread you ate.

Grinding up all that chaff and oat bran eventually wore down an old person's choppers.

Once their teeth were gone the amount and type of food they could gum down was limited.
Over time, the poor(er than usual) diet furthered the ill health of the toothless, who were already susceptible to infections of the tooth socket(s) and gums.
No dental floss? No worries; no teeth!
Arthritis crippled the wrinkly folk, making a simple act like standing up from a chair into a complex, painful,
 v  e  r  y  s  l  o  w process.  
Other than herbal remedies and warm clothes, there were no remedies.
No ibuprofen, no aspirin, no nothing.

And as for looking as young as they felt?
Uh, nope.

No hair dye, no face creams, no potion to bleach the liver spots on the back of their hands, no teeth (lol) whitening.
Indeed, the reward for having survived infancy, childhood, and childbirth was looking forward to becoming decrepit. 
Harsh, no? 

To paraphrase Indiana Jones, it wasn't the years; it was the mileage.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Ew, That Smell - Can't You Smell That Smell?

The smell of fresh Tudor in the morning . . . 
It may not have been as bad as all that; Tudor England had standards for personal hygiene.
When Henry VIII first voiced his 'misliking' for Anne of Cleves, his quickly jettisoned fourth wife, he said she had evil airs about her.
"Why did my new husband the king not touch me? Was it my B.O.?" - What Anne of Cleves never said.
The 'evil airs about her' must have been pungent indeed as they were competing with the tang of urine-sprayed straw and rushes underfoot, the whiff of rotting skin emanating from the king's own ulcerated leg wound, and the pong from the armpits of courtiers fresh off the tennis court or tilt yard.
That bad? Indeed.
Standards for personal cleanliness in sixteenth-century England were more of the 'change your undies and your underduds as often as possible, a quick dash of water with some cleaning agent is just exactly like a bath except not at all and try to rinse the mouth of ale-breath and onions. 
Changing undies was mandatory.
Not everyone could afford snowy-white underwear linens, but everyone's (discolored) underwear linens could at the very least be CLEAN.
Tub baths had the problem of hauling water inherent to them; hauling water from whichever supply was grueling, back-breaking (or back-strengthening) work, and work was something most people back then had enough of already, thank you very much.

What was used to clean the teeth varied depended on social class.
Poor people sometimes used soot, which they wiped on their choppers with a rag.

People with more money used herbs: cloves in particular, but any aromatic herb would do.
Chewing on the end of a stick until it frayed made it a dandy toothbrush substitute. 

Given the lack of daily submersion, or at the very least, a shower, as well as a Tudor-era enthusiasm for cheating on spouses, it makes me wonder: did people get so used to the smell of pong that they didn't even notice when their wife/husband smelt of someone else?
"And you SMELL!"
Certainly Henry VIII (he of the olfactory sensitivity around Anne of Cleves) was aware that his own large and rotting from the inside out body gave off evil airs of its own.
In his last few years, the smell of his never-healed leg ulcer was said to smell from three rooms away.
Must've been the fish, your Majesty. . .  apologies. . .
His son, Prince Edward had a daily wash, his rooms were cleaned daily, anybody showing any signs whatsoever of sickness were NOT allowed anywhere near the son who came so late in the king's life.
Henry VIII either had an instinctive grasp of cleanliness being not only next to Godliness, but also a plague deterrent, or he'd been advised by someone who knew.
Fortunately for the future Edward VI, the King insisted on keeping his legitimate son and heir's quarters clean - it is almost certain that the baby's mother died as a direct result of dirty hands on someone attending her after she'd delivered. 
Henry VIII's most famous child, the entirely fabulous Elizabeth I, was likewise concerned with cleanliness around her royal person.
The floors under her royal feet were cleaned and strewn with fresh herbs waaaaaaayyyyyy more often than had been done for her predecessors on the throne.
She bathed; she didn't suffer the stink of those in close proximity gladly, and she famously greeted a courtier who, seven years previous let one rip$_35.JPG
while making his bow to the queen and who then fled court out of mortification, "My lord! I had quite forgotten the fart!" 
Way to make him feel better, your majesty. 
And kudos for your awesome memory! 
Shame about the farter.