Guest Author - Laura A Zennie
There are many myths floating around about how often, or infrequently, people bathed in Renaissance times. Most of these myths are false. Some people think that the people in the Middle Ages and Renaissance only bathed once a year, or at least very infrequently. This is not so. People often bathed weekly, and they were very hygiene conscious. Most people would wash before meals. They knew that cleanliness was important. Soap was in use since before the time of Christ, and was like our liquid soap. Hard cake soap was invented in the twelfth century.
There were public baths from at least as far back as the times of the Roman Empire. These baths would at various times be gender segregated, and at other times be combined. The Romans brought the baths to Britain when they occupied it; hence, the city of Bath in Britain, founded in 43 A.D. The city of Bath was once a spa resort for the Romans because of its hot springs, the only naturally occurring ones in the United Kingdom. Public bath houses became popular in the Late Middle Ages and early Renaissance all over Europe. There are many paintings, woodcuts and tapestries of people enjoying baths in the Renaissance times. There was even a guild of bathhouse keepers at one time.
It has been speculated that they probably bathed more in medieval times than they did in the 19th century. The church discouraged the public mixed gender bathing. People would use the baths to socialize, sometimes having feasts at tub-side. There are several pictures of this also. The church did have rules for some monasteries that bathing was required at least once a week.
Most homes had shallow basins and water pitchers or bowls used for washing of hands and faces. There were even books of etiquette in the Renaissance stating that one should wash one’s hands, face and teeth daily. The rules of hospitality also stated that guests should be offered water for washing. Bathing was even incorporated into many rituals of the time, such as when someone was knighted
Bathing in homes was carried out with a wooden tub or barrel. The water was heated and added. Usually most of the water was added cold, and a few kettles would be heated and added when boiling to warm the water, especially in the winter months. Bathing rooms were found in many medieval castles. Some of these included rough plumbing.
In all, the people of the Renaissance were not as backward as some would have us believe.