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Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Bathing in the Middle Ages by Jenna Jaxon

Last month I took a look at bathing and bathtubs in the Regency period. This month I’m going backward in time to examine bathing during the Middle Ages.

The first thing to affirm is that yes, people did bathe during the Medieval period, using several different methods.

A lot depended on your status in life as to how often you took a bath. The lowest classes who did manual labor likely bathed the least. They would probably not have had the means or money to fetch buckets of water, heat the water, and purchase a tub and then bathe in it. Such laborers and the poorer people would have availed themselves of a dip in a pond, lake, or stream during the warmer months. Otherwise, they may have taken wash pan baths, washing as best they could during the colder months.

Middle class people may have had enough money to own a tub and employ a servant to fetch and heat the water. They might also have had the fees to go to public bath houses (a holdover from Roman times). These houses were very popular but had a reputation for lewdness. The sexes weren’t always separated, and prostitutes were known to frequent them.

The nobility would have had a tub for the household to use (perhaps more than one, depending on the

size of the family). Tubs were a status symbol for the wealthy. They would be lined with linen fabric to protect tender skin from splinters if the tub was wooden, or to protect it from seams if the tub was made of metal.

Royal households would certainly have availed themselves of the bath. Documents show that Charlemagne loved taking baths and not just alone. He’d invite relatives, guests, and sometimes servants and attendants to bathe with him. King John of England took a bathtub with him when he traveled.

One additional note of interest: men usually bathed naked while women wore a shift or chemise, whether for warmth or modesty is difficult to tell.

So bathing, in all its various forms, was definitely a large part of life during the Middle Ages.



Chase, Loretta. “Queen Caroline Takes a Bath.” Two Nerdy History Girls, July 11, 2011.

“Did People in the Middle Ages Take Baths?”, April 2013.

Peardon, Keri. “Bathing in the Middle Ages.” Vampires, Ladies, and Potpourri, June 14, 2012.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Bathtubs in Regency England by Jenna Jaxon


At the end of the 18th century, attitudes toward bathing began to change. Beau Brummel, a Regency fashion plate, was an advocate of bathing often and he was a major Regency “influencer.” About that same time, in 1791, John Wesley gave a sermon “On Dress” in which he made the acclamation, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.” People took these and other ideas on cleanliness into consideration, making the Regency period of transitioning into good bathing habits.

Basin and Ewer

Actual bathtubs seem to have been rare and in the lower classes--all but non-existent. Instead, they used a basin and  a ball of soap to clean themselves, rather than an immersion, although in summer lakes and ponds served as natural bathtubs. For the middle classes, the basin and ewer were also standard equipment, although the wealthier families who could afford a bathtub would likely have one of metal or wood.

The aristocracy would have certainly had bathtubs,

Shower-Bath at Scarborough

again of copper or wood, that could be set up in a chamber (often a bed chamber), filled by servants who would lug water from a well outside, into the kitchen to be heated, then lugged upstairs and poured into the bathtub. Little wonder none but the wealthiest could afford such a luxury. The tub was usually lined with linen fabric, to keep the bather from getting splinters from a wooden tub or keep from sticking to the surface of a metal tub. Water was often left near the fireplace to warm the water when it cooled or for rinsing off at the end of the bath.

Regency metal bathtub

Some members of the Regency upper classes actually possessed showers. The contraption was first noted around 1810, “around 12 feet high…a fancy bathing apparatus…[a] pump lifted water from tank

Regency Shower

at bottom through pipe to top tank, water could be used over and over again,” according to Life Magazine.

So during the Regency, people were beginning to take the business of cleanliness much more seriously and began to change their bathing habits accordingly.



Bourne, Joanna. “Keeping It Clean—Georgian and Regency Bathing Customs.” WordWenches Blog, August 3, 2011.

Chase, Loretta. “Taking a Shower in the 1800s.” Two Nerdy History Girls Blog, June 22, 2015.

Lahildin. “Staying Clean in Regency England.” October 17, 2014.

Life Magazine.

Vic. “A 19th Century Regency Era Shower.” Jane Austen’s World, November 11, 2010.


Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Joust in Time by Jenna Jaxon

Knights on horseback racing full tilt toward each other with lances fixed may be the most iconic image most of us have of the Medieval period, and for good reason.  Jousting was one of the most popular and dramatic entertainments people of all classes could enjoy at a time when life was uncertain.

Jousts were usually part of a tournament, held by royalty usually during the summer months of the year.  They were major events where knights were pitted against each other for honor, for glory, and for prize money.  They may had had their roots in Roman games at the Coliseum.

On the opening day of a tournament, which may have lasted from 3 to 5 days, there was a formal procession out to the lists (the barriers that defined the field of combat).  This procession could be quite elaborate.  In my medieval romance Time Enough to Love, the knights and their ladies are dressed in costumes as members of King Arthur’s Round Table and it was a great honor to be chosen to ride. I modeled this procession after an actual procession in which 25 ladies on horseback rode beside their knights who walked to the lists (at least a couple of miles) in full armor while tethered to the ladies by silver chains.  King Edward III, at whose court the major action of the first half of the book takes place, had in fact given a grand tournament in 1344, which gave me the idea for one in my book.

Once on the field, the spectators were seated in a grandstand called a berfrois, built a story above the lists. Knights were assigned to brightly colored tents called pavilions, where they rested, waited, and donned their armor, with assistance from their squire, in preparation for the joust.  As a side note, the armor typically worn weighed about 60 pounds, but was so well-articulated that the combatants had much more mobility than we would believe.

The horses used by knights were a special breed, called destriers, who could manage the great weight of knight and armor and still maneuver on the field.  The horses were draped with a cloth called a comparison that covered them from nose to tail, designed in the knight’s colors and emblazoned with his heraldic design.

Of course, as with any contact sport, the potential for injury and death in jousting was great. The most famous death occurred when King Henry II of France was killed when a lance broke on his helmet and a wooden splinter pierced his eye and brain.  Oddly enough, the almost exact same thing happened in January 2011 when a jousting re-enactor was killed when a lance splintered on his helmet and a large piece of it pierced his eye and brain. 

With such a rich heritage of jousting, is it any wonder that I incorporated a joust and as many details of it as possible into Time Enough to Love?  You’ll find the procession—which becomes a serious conflict in the first part of the book—the joust itself, and a stunning injury that threatens the happiness of the hero and heroine.

If you love the color and pageantry of the Middle Ages, you’ll love Time Enough to Love.

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Hard Day's Knight by Jenna Jaxon


My medieval novel, Time Enough to Love, is the story of knights in the service of King Edward III of England.  Knights are perhaps the iconic image most readers have of the period. The men didn’t, however, spring fully ready at birth for this way of life.  There were years of training and hard work that went into becoming a knight.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, old Roman families became rulers of their own land holds, usually a castle and a certain amount of land. These lords depended on the strength of their retainers, arms-bearing men who swore fealty them and lived within their households.  This is the beginning of the knightly social class who became defined as warriors on horseback.

In return for their service, the lord would usually give the knight a small parcel of land or fief, with authority over the peasants who worked the land. This authority led to the knight’s elevation into the ranks of the nobility.

Training to be a knight began actually at birth.  Male children who were not destined for Holy Orders, began learning at his parents’ home what is expected of a knight, good manners, and the code of chivalry. Most knights came from noble families as the training and equipping of a knight was expensive, but any free man could become a knight. At age seven, the young boy would be taken to a different castle and serve the liege lord as first a page and then by about age fourteen a squire.

Pages were considered boys while squires were young men who had arrived at puberty. Growing up in the service of the lord, these young men learned everything about becoming a knight from religion to manners to practical experience. At age fourteen they rose in rank to squire and tended to the knight directly.   They gained experience hawking and hunting by both watching and practicing these skills.  They were also taught to use knightly weapons such as the sword and the lance.

Usually at age twenty-one, although sometimes earlier, the squire, after learning how to comport

himself in both combat and chivalry, underwent the ceremony of Knighthood, and was knighted by having a sword tapped on either shoulder, and bidden, “Arise, Sir Knight.”

Knights as the warrior class adopted a set of idealized behaviors known as chivalry to be followed both on and off the battlefield.  These behaviors included being a ferocious fighter, a devout Christian concerned with the well-being of the weak and helpless, a charmer who loved to dance and flirt with ladies, and a man who would allow no stain on his honor.

Although there was no standard of chivalry to which the knight was held, there did arise, in literature, a standard of sorts where the treatment of noble women were concerned.  A knight was expected to honor and serve his lady, whoever he might choose her to be.  She could be the lady of the castle where he received his training or a lady who he esteemed from afar but never met or a lady he was destined to marry.  Whatever their relationship, the knight was bound to do whatever the lady bid him do. Many stories of King Arthur and the Round Table, especially those with Lancelot as the central figure, illustrate this idea of devotion to the lady.

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Origins of St. Patrick’s Day by Jenna Jaxon

I seem to be writing about holidays all this year so far, but I love everything Irish, so I can’t resist talking about St. Patrick’s Day!

St. Patrick was a citizen of Roman Britain, born  on March 17, 387, who was kidnapped and brought to Ireland at about the age of 14-15 as a slave to work as a shepherd. After several years in captivity, Patrick escaped and fled back to Britain and was reunited with his family. He became a Christian and entered the priesthood. He was ordained a bishop and sent back to Ireland to preach the Gospel in a land of Druids and pagans. In this he was very successful, converting thousands in Ireland and establishing churches across the land. He wrote an autobiography called The Confessions in which he wrote of his life and his love for God. His only other writing is a Letter to Coroticus, a “denunciation of British mistreatment of Irish Christians.”

Patrick was a humble, gentle man who preached and ministered to the Irish for forty years, at last dying in Saul on March 17, 461. He is buried in Down Cathedral, Downpatrick where, in 1990, a grave marker was erected for him.

After his death, legends of Patrick’s miracles arose. First of these was that he drove all the snakes out of

Ireland and into the sea. Another is that he converted many people by explaining the concept of the Holy Trinity (three persons in one God) using the three leaves of the shamrock (three lobes on one stalk). He also claimed to have raised men from the dead (33 to be exact).

Beginning around the 7th century, Catholics in Ireland began venerating St. Patrick, although he was never formally canonized by the Catholic Church. In the 1630 the Feast of St. Patrick was added to the Catholic breviary or book of prayers. And by the end of the 17th century, Irish Catholics were celebrating the Feast of St. Patrick on March 17 by wearing crosses, ribbons, or shamrocks to honor him and his teachings of Christianity.

A small celebration of the day was first held in Boston, Massachusette in 1737. The first major celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, however, occurred in America, in New York in 1762 when Irish soldiers in the British Army marched in a parade on March 17, playing instruments and wearing their regimental colors proudly.

The color of St. Patrick, now traditionally green, was originally blue. It changed because the color blue became associated with English rule over Ireland and the color green became associated with rebellion, one symbol of which was the shamrock.

Today’s celebrations include huge parades in New York, Chicago, and Savannah. Chicago goes so far as

to dye their river green for the day. 

Traditionally, in Ireland, Irish bacon, cabbage, and potatoes are served. When thousands of Irish came to America in the 1850, they found the bacon in America to be very different from their native bacon. But they found the corned beef sold in delicatessens to be a cheap and delicious substitute, so today the meal for St. Patrick’s Day is Corned Beef and Cabbage with potatoes. I serve it (or at least eat it) every St. Patrick’s Day!

May the luck of the Irish be with you this March 17!



Catholic Online. “St. Patrick.” N.d. “History of St. Patrick’s Day.” March 16, 2021.

History Extra. “A brief history of St. Patrick’s Day.”

O’Raifeartaigh, Tarlach. “St. Patrick: bishop and patron saint of Ireland.” Brittanica. N.d.

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Victorian Valentines by Jenna Jaxon

As with many things, the Victorians gave us most of the traditions we use in our celebration of Valentine’s Day. The most prevalent tradition, sending and receiving Valentine’s cards, can be laid at the doorstep of a member of the British postal system, Rowland Hill, who came up with the idea that letters or cards should be charged by their weight rather than by the distance they traveled. Thus the penny post was born and mailing letters and cards suddenly became affordable for all classes.


The first penny stamp was created in 1840 and with it the tradition of sending Valentine cards was born. By 1841 more than 400,000 Valentine cards were sent in England; by 1870 the number had grown to 1.2 million.

Victorian Valentine’s Day cards were originally full sheets of paper, decorated with pictures and messages, then folded and sealed with wax in order to mail them. (Remember, envelopes did not come into practical use until 1845 when they could be mass produced.) Victorians could purchase ready-made cards or they could create their own.


The DIY Valentine cards were made with different materials that could be purchased at the stationer’s:  paper, bits of mirror, seashells, lace, silk or foil appliques, ribbons, seeds, and paste jewels, as well as ready made sentiments like “Be Mine” or “True Love.” Ladies and gents would take the materials home, assemble the cards, and send them out to arrive on Valentine’s Day, February 14. They grew to be more and more elaborate as the century progressed.

Here are some pictures of Victorian Valentines:



I hope you have a very Happy Valentine’s Day!


5-Minute History. “Valentine’s Day in the Victorian Era.”

Gilbert, Sarah. “Victorian Valentine’s Day cards—in pictures.” The Guardian, February 13, 2014.

Letter Jackets. “The History of Envelopes.” July 14, 2016.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Gaming Clubs and Gaming Hells during the Regency Era by Jenna Jaxon


Readers of Regency romances will swiftly acknowledge the frequency with which these historical novels have scenes set in gaming clubs or gaming hells. The aristocracy, gentry, and common workers alike enjoyed gambling and did it with some frequency during the period. It has been hypothesized by Author Pitt in his master’s thesis on gambling during the Regency period, that gambling, and wagers in particular, were a means of fighting boredom. So there is little wonder that both gambling clubs and gambling hells were frequented often by people of all walks of life in Regency London.

Gaming clubs were establishments frequented by the aristocracy, exclusive and with strict guidelines for behavior. The most exclusive of the time were The Cocoa Tree, White’s, Brook’s, and Almack’s. They were located in St. James and were considered the poshest of the gaming establishments. These were called “golden hells” and catered to the upper crust. These were in direct contrast to the gaming hells or “copper hells” patronized by the lower classes. The “golden hells” were just as apt to use gambling and outrageous wagers. The wagers were entered into a “betting book” so the participants didn’t forget the terms and amounts wagered. One remarkable wager found on the books states, “April 2nd, 1809. Mr. Howard bets Mr. Osbon Ten guineas that Lord Folkestone does not marry Miss Taylor before this day twelve month."

Gaming hells were for the lower, less genteel clientele. Their likes frequented clubs in a rougher part of London, which admitted people of all walks and stations of life, and both genders in some cases. Ladies were not allowed in the gambling establishments of the wealthy, as they were considered gentlemen’s clubs and off limits to ladies.

The types of games played were split down class lines as well. The aristocratic clubs played card games that required some skill to win, such as Whist (the forerunner of Bridge), piquet, Vignt-et-Un (which we know as 21), and Faro. Gaming in the “copper hells” relied mostly on games of chance, such as Hazard, a dice game that was an early form of Craps which required no skill and lots of luck.

Next month I will follow this post on gambling in general with a specific look at one of the more notorious gambling houses of the later Regency period: Crockford’s.



Gaston, Diane. “Gambling in Regency England.” Harlequin EverAfter, Feb. 14, 2011.

Pitt, Arthur. “A Study of Gamblers and Gaming Culture in London, c. 1780-1844: emerging

strategic reasoning in a culture of conspicuous consumption.” M.A. Thesis, August 2012.

Rees, Luke. “Gambling in London’s Most Ruinous Gentlemen’s Clubs.” London’s Historians’

Blog, June 5, 2014.

Regency Reader. “Regency Hot Spots: Hells for Gaming Part One.” September 17, 2009.