I am currently reading A Clash of Kings, the second book in the Song of Ice and Fire series. I’m loving it, of course. I loved A Game of Thrones, and I’m loving this one just as much – maybe even a little more, because there’s a little less getting-to-know-you awkwardness. There are a few new characters, but you’re also revisiting the old characters, and I know them, so it’s like meeting up with old friends. It’s extremely enjoyable and I don’t want to do anything but read. That’s not all that different from normal – I’d honestly usually rather read than most anything – but when the book’s good, I definitely have problems concentrating on other things.
I was thinking while I was reading – it’s set in an alternate world, Westeros, but it seems to be set in what’s comparable to our medieval times. People tend to romanticize medieval times, and there are people who think they lived previous lives and whenever you hear them talk about the past lives they supposedly lived in medieval times, they were always a pretty pretty princess.Which is very hard for me to believe because listen, there were a lot of commoners. Like, a LOT. I can’t believe every one of us walking around today has a soul that was once a medieval princess in a medieval tower or something. Because that would kind of be statistically impossible, right? So let’s just assume, because I am practical, if I had lived in medieval times, I would be the equivalent of what I am now, which is kind of a poor person. But probably totally still awesome, I mean, that wouldn’t change. Awesomeness of this magnitude crosses many generations.
As much as I enjoy reading about medieval times, they don’t tend, in these books, to concentrate on the commoners. Because that would be one boring and depressing-ass book. Commoners did not live lives filled with excitement and mystery back then. Also, today I did some research, and I could never, never have survived in medieval times for the following disturbing and disgusting reasons.
WEDON’T NEED NO EDUCATION
Common women were ignored in the educational process. This should surprise no one, as it’s only a somewhat recent development that women were even allowed to go on for higher education. But in medieval times, women weren’t educated. At all. There weren’t a ton of books to be read, which I guess was good? Because I wouldn’t have been able to read them. Due to not being able to get an education.
HOW ABOUT A COUPLE OF TOTALLY SEXY KIRTLES?
Medieval women wore a shirt, then a kirtle – a long tunic that hung to their ankles –and then another shorter kirtle over the longer kirtle. Then you put your hair up – you had long, long hair, which would totally not annoy me in the least bit and make me want to shave my head bald – into an intricate bun, or left it down, or braided it up tight, and wore a tight cap or a veil over that. So you were kind of all swaddled up and long-haired and wearing what, kind of a nightie? A series of nighties? All the time? This seems like a distressing outfit to be walking around in and completely uncomfortable. You see in movies people looking all sexy and laced up and such with mighty fine cleavage but that seems like it wouldn’t be the case what with these seemingly endless layers of kirtles.
Two things related to kirtles. One, I was in a play a couple of years ago when I had to wear a kirtle-like contraption, and do you know how many times I tripped over the damn thing? 4. IT WAS SO LONG YOU GUYS AND I AM CLUMSY. Also I looked like a nun, a weird cranky nun. Nothing about it was appealing. Second,I just want to add that in searching for information about kirtles I found a number of places that STILL SELL KIRTLES. I assume these are for medieval reinactors? Or plays? Or maybe if you want to be totally stylish at your office picnic, I don’t know.
THE SMELL PROBABLY WOULD BE ENOUGH TO KILL YOU DEAD 47 TIMES OVER
So here’s the thing. To take baths, you had to be a rich person. Because to heat the water, you had to be able to afford firewood. And firewood apparently was scarce. Also fires were a serious concern. So one website I read said that by the mid-1300s only the very wealthy could afford to bathe in the winter. Now,listen. This is the most upsetting thing to me. Last night I took the longest,most luxurious hot shower known to man. It was delightful. I was chilly, because it’s fall here, and I’m catching a cold, so I’m a little chilled and achy. And it was just like a big old warm hug. Also, can you just imagine how badly everyone must have smelled. Apparently in the summer, people collected rainwater and bathed in a family barrel. Well, that’s not at all restful or relaxing or gross. No, thanks, medieval times.
ALL THE BARTERING
I can’t barter, you guys. Totally can’t. If there’s not a price on something I want at a street fair or whatever, I convince myself I don’t need it because Ican’t even mentally imagine the nightmare that bartering would be. I would haggle the wrong way. They’d tell me $20 and I’d say no, how about $25. Bartering was how they bought EVERYTHING in medieval times. I would have starved to death in my stinky kirtle.
EVERYONE WAS ALL UP IN YOUR BIDNESS
If you were born somewhere, you lived and died there. You knew everyone there, you married someone there, you raised your kids there, you farmed there, and I’m sure everyone would talk about you if your second kirtle was too short or if you weren’t keeping your husband’s clothing clean enough or if you spoke too loudly at the Winter Festival and you would never live that shit down. I would die in a small town. I grew up in one and I moved out the minute I was able. Everyone knowing my business gives me the hives. I like my relative anonymity. Also, if I had to marry someone I’ve known since childhood, I’d probably throw myself down a well. You don’t even know the winners I grew up with. None of them were potential mates, I can tell you that right now.
YUM, MORE POTTAGE PLEASE, EXTRA SCURVY
The most basic bread was rye. Well, I hate rye bread, so that wouldn’t work for me so much. They put honey in their water to sweeten it. That’s confusing and kind of gross, wouldn’t the honey just sink to the bottom? There was very little protein, and when they could, they added peas and beans to their bread (what? that is disgusting) or pottage (don’t know what that is? I didn’t either. It’s a thick stew of boiled vegetables and grains. I guess that’s not the worst thing I’ve ever heard of but it doesn’t sound the most delicious. Also, onions and garlic were almost always in it. YOU CAN’T BATHE SO LAY OFF THE ONIONS AND GARLIC, MEDIEVAL FOLKS.) Also, the diets were lacking in Vitamin C. You know what that means! Scurvy. Arr!
THEDORIC OF YORK WAS PRETTY ON-TARGET
Doctors (or barbers, same, really) thought pixies and trolls were real. That health was controlled by the stars. If you were sick, you had been cursed by God. There was bleeding, and leeches, and humours. If medicine didn’t work (sorry, “medicine”, it was usually a poultice of some sort, or cupping, or something), they’d get a priest in to exorcise your demons. Also? Black Death & leprosy. All the fun was being had in medieval times!
YOU BELONG TO ME
Women in medieval times? Property. Marriages among the lower classes were a business transaction and the participants had no say in the matter. So in other words, my father would have picked out my beau. Now, listen. I love my father. A great deal. But who he thinks would be a good match for me and who actually WOULD be a good match for me are two very different people. I absolutely shudder to think who he’d choose. Passion was considered sinful in a marriage. Well! That would certainly be a fun, loveless, and passionless marriage, with nothing to take up your time but waiting to die. The job of women in medieval times was to stay home, bear children so the husband had fieldhands, make food (and strangely enough, brew the beer? This was a woman’s job. I’m pretty sure some arsenic would have found its way into that beer) and keep quiet.
You would think the websites I was checking would talk more about the bathroom situation. I mean, I know there wasn’t indoor plumbing. Was it so disturbing they couldn’t talk about it? I mean, I’m disturbed just thinking about it but I wanted some internet research backup so I could reinforce my belief that the medieval bathroom situation would just about kill me dead. OK, further disgusting research led me to chamber pots. Kill me dead now please.
VERMIN VERMIN WHO’S GOT THE VERMIN
Oh, you do. You totally do. You’ve got rats and mice and body AND hair lice. Isn’t that spiffy? I mean, you’re not bathing, so of course you’re filthy and covered in tiny arachnids. I’m itching right now, Middle Ages, I hope you’re pleased with yourself. I also can only assume there were crabs running amok. And I don’t mean the delicious ocean type.
If you were a pretty pretty princess, none of the above holds true for you. You lived a charmed life in your pretty castle and all was well and birds probably landed on your damn hand chirping away, I don’t know, whatever, and knights jousted for your honor and you got to wear pretty dresses and jewels and such. And since everyone who’s ever done a past-life regression ever was totally a princess, well, bully for you all.
I would have been a miserable stompy smelly kirtled peasant with a demanding husband and too many kids and they probably would be bleeding me every third day for bad humours.
No, thanks. I’ll take now, please. Perfectly happy with it. Very few complaints. Shower – check. Flushing toilet – check. Education – check. Ability to speak my mind – check, check, check.
Although if medieval-me got to be with Tyrion Lannister…well, all bets might be off.