Royalty Stinks

by Don Boudreaux on July 17, 2009

in History, Standard of Living

The typical medieval monarch and his (often very sizable) retinue routinely roamed his country, spending time at the castle of one of his lords, then a few weeks later going on to grace with his majestic company the castle of another of his lords — and then moving on yet again to yet another lord's castle.

No doubt such itinerant living served several royal purposes.  The historian Thomas Cahill explains one of these:

Plumbing was unknown….  Because individual bathing in a copper basin in a drafty castle could lead so easily to chill, then to fever and death, kings and queens seldom bathed more than once a month, those with neither washerwoman nor ewerer at their command scarcely more than once or twice a year.  Despite their silks and linens, their frequent changes of costume, their liberal burning of Arabian incense, the royals stank, as did their retinues.  More than this, the chamber pot was the sole device for receiving human waste.  A small castle – or even a large one – might become downright uninhabitable after many weeks of residence by such a throng.

This quotation appears on pages 123-124 of Cahill's very enjoyable Mysteries of the Middle Ages (Anchor Books, 2007).


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