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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Regency Hygiene, or the Lack Thereof, Part II: Beau Brummell

George Bryan "Beau" Brummell (1778-1840) almost single-handedly brought frequent bathing into vogue in the Regency. The son of a clerk, he was not particularly distinguished for his good looks, education or connection. But he was always very neat, his clothes were a masterpiece of simple elegance, and both his garments and his body were always spotless.

Brummell insisted that a gentleman be clean--clean as in total body immersion in water. His efforts succeeded in part because he had gained the favor of the crown prince, George, later the prince regent. When Brummell converted the prince, the upper classes followed, with the lower orders not far behind.

Brummell turned personal hygiene into an art form. He was famous for his daily three-hour regimen of scrubbing every part of his body, removing all the hair from his face, and then wrapping himself in immaculate, simple clothes that were the antithesis of the male fashions of the previous fifty years. Although his manner of dress was at first called "dandyism", Brummell created the standard of masculine attire we still use today: shirt, tie, jacket and trousers, all well-tailored, on a meticulously clean body.

When he was born, the standard of male beauty consisted of a wardrobe of costly, brightly-colored fabrics, powdered hair or wig, makeup (yes the men wore makeup) and high-heeled shoes. All over a dirty body and filthy hair, both heavily doused with perfume in an attempt to mask, usually unsuccessfully, massive body odor due to infrequent bathing. See previous post.

As an example, these stills from the 2006 BBC production Beau Brummell: This Charming Man show (left), the Prince of Wales before Brummell's influence, and (right), afterwards.

Brummell was not the first proponent of cleanliness. The return to bathing had started before he was born. In the mid 1700's, Philip Stanhope, the fourth Earl of Chesterfield, wrote a famous series of letters to his son emphasizing personal hygiene. In France, Jean-Jacque Rousseau extolled cleanliness in his novel, Emile, or On Education (1762), although he personally was not that fastidious.

But the English considered anything French suspicious, and they turned to copious amounts of soap and water only when the consummately British Brummell arrived on the scene.

Brummell's story did not end happily. He fell out with his patron, the Prince of Wales. Afterwards, his gambling debts forced him to flee to France, where he spent the rest of his life. His gambling debts increased as his health declined. He died at sixty-two due to the complications of tertiary syphilis.

Today, we remember Brummell as a male fashion plate. In time, advances in science and the wider availability of soap and hot water cleaned up a world mired in dirt. But Beau Brummell hastened that day by making cleanliness fashionable.

Thank you all,

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Medieval Trade Fairs

The European trade fairs, which thrived in the 12th and 13th centuries, linked the economies of the north with those of the Mediterranean. Especially popular in France, these fairs were held annually, in cities located along ancient land routes, and were governed by an established set of rules known as “merchant laws”.
Textiles, leather, furs, and spices were sold at the fairs, and traders came from all over Europe to display their wares. There were six fairs throughout the year. Each fair lasted six weeks. The schedule, while not firm, generally reserved the first eight days for vendors to set up their sites. The final days, about four, were needed to settle accounts.
From Genoa, it took a month to reach the fair cities. Pack mules crossed the Alps loaded with wares. From Spain, merchants traveled the well-worn pilgrim route from Santiago de Compostela. Well-to-do merchants might hire freight handlers to move the goods to the fair location.
In my October release from Five Star, titled The Tapestry Shop, Catherine visits the Colde Fair in Troyes, where she shops for household goods and visits a fortune teller.
One of the images (above) is of the lower floor of a medieval warehouse in Provins which was rented by merchants during the faire. Goods were stored here, and the displays would have been on the upper floor. In Provins, visitors can see a permanent exhibition (top image) depicting a medieval market.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Ersebeth (Elizabeth) Bathory

Mirror mirror on the wall...

We wonder how old time story tellers got their ideas. When the Brother's Grimm told the story of snow white the nemesis was a beautiful queen with a vanity issue. Determined to be the most beautiful in the land, the queen consulted her magic mirror to confirm her status. If the mirror gave another name, the girl was history, even when the girl was her own step daughter.
The queen ordered the murder of snow white and wanted her heart in a box.

In a time where the misspoken word could be your last, could the brothers have used stories to hide the truths about current rulers?

The Countess Bathory (born in 1560) was not your typical renaissance woman. She was engaged at age 11 and married to Fenrec Nadasdy at age 15.
She was a tomboy, she insisted on the same education given her male cousins.
She spoke several languages: Latin, German, Hungarian among them and she was well read. Highly intelligent she maintained seven castles while her husband was away at war.

Violence was an everyday part of her life. She witnessed the rape and murder of her sisters, and she witnessed a peasant sewn into the body of a horse as punishment for stealing children. ( no trial just an accusation). The nobles meted out harsh treatment and peasants had no recourse. In order to bring a noble to trial, you had to be a noble yourself.

Her husband was known as the black knight for his ruthlessness in battle. It is rumored he had a whip with steel hooks embedded into the leather, he brought it home one day and decided the hateful weapon was too cruel for his use. The countess adopted it as her own. He was gone for the first ten years of her marriage, when he died in 1605, she became prolific at torture and murder.

Her sadism is verified in court documents with tales of flagellation. Some say she derived sexual pleasure from sadism, while others maintain she held orgies where violent sex play took place. Like snow White's queen, Bathory was vain, prone to temper tantrums, and willing to resort to cruelty and murder.
Despite being considered one of the most beautiful women in the land, or perhaps because of it, Bahtory grew terrified of losing her beauty. She felt her beauty would allow her into the good graces of men while her superior intellect would defeat any opposition to her eventually sitting on the throne of Poland. When her cousin was put on the throne instead of her, she flew into a rage. Certain she must maintain her beauty to regain power, she consulted witchcraft to assure her youth would stay intact.

Peasant girls by the score were found dumped along the roads and in the forests. After a while, she saw no change in her appearance. Legend has it her advisor told her the blood of peasants was no longer potent enough. she must have the blood of virgin noble women.
Bathory started a finishing school for young girls to lure them to her castle. here, they were tortured and bled for Bathory's youth elixir.

The legend of bathing in blood originated 100 years after her death, but it is believed she rubbed the blood of victims over her body and face like lotion. When she was arrested she was found hovering over the body of a dead girl frantically rubbing the girls' blood into her skin.

80 deaths are confirmed, but legend has it she killed 650. At trial there was mention of a journal where the countess kept the names of her victims, but no journal was ever found. One servant girl questioned in court was asked why no harm came to her. She explained that she was not attractive enough to use for the ritual. The trial is reported to have been a chaotic mess, notes taken are confusing as dozens of witnesses testified against the Countess and her three henchmen.

Bathory never stood trial herself, though she asked to take the stand. Her lackeys were burned at the stake after having their fingers ripped from the hands. the youngest lackey, the only male, was beheaded.

Bathory was walled up in her bedroom only a hole in the wall so food could be passed was provided. she died five years later, and was buried in Cachtice.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Regency Hygiene, or the Lack Thereof, Part I

Regency England was a dirty place--and not only because of the large amount of horse manure around. Although the proverb "cleanliness is next to godliness" was known at this time, its meaning was different from today's interpretation.

For most of the era, cleanliness meant the daily washing of hands, face, and neck and wearing a clean shirt (for men), or a clean chemise (for women). The notion of immersing the entire body in water was anathema in Western Europe, and had been for the previous several hundred years.

Such an attitude did not exist in the ancient world. In the days of the Roman Empire, everyone--men, women and children, free and enslaved--visited the public baths every day. The Romans built baths in every corner of their far-flung empire. Even chilly Britannia, at the outer edge of their rule, had baths. Aquae Sulis (The Waters of the Goddess Sulis), now known as Bath, received its Roman name from the hot springs located there.

As the Empire waned, so did its legacy, including baths and bathing. Public baths acquired the seedy reputation of encouraging licentiousness, although they remained fixtures in European life for centuries after Rome's demise.

The death of bathing occurred as a result of another death--the Black Death.

The Black Death (bubonic plague) was the worst pandemic the western world has ever seen. 30-60% of fourteenth-century Europe's population perished in agony due to this scourge. Panicked physicians, unaware that fleas transmitted the terrible disease, made a frantic search for any method of prevention.

The standard explanation blamed the planets for causing noxious vapors to rise from the earth and enter the body through the lungs. A new theory arose that skin softened by hot water became porous and provided the infection another entry. In terror for their lives, people stopped bathing. Bath houses fell into disrepair.

From the Black Death to the Regency, Western Europe grew dirtier and dirtier. Clothing, often tightly woven as another barrier to disease and made of hard-to-clean materials such as wool and silk, went unlaundered. The rich wore strong perfume to mask the often-overpowering stench of their neighbors' unwashed bodies. The poor just stank. Lice and fleas were rampant on everyone, regardless of class. The title of this 1638 Georges De La Tour painting is Woman Catching A Flea.

Dirtiness reached its peak--or nadir--in the Georgian era. By the time of the Regency, England had begun to clean up its act. The single person who was most influential in the resurgence of personal cleanliness was George "Beau" Brummell.

Next time—Beau Brummell.

Thank you all,

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Gang warlord turned hero

We think on 1950's America as an idyllic, simpler time. A beautiful slice of life immortalized in the paintings of Norman Rockwell. Ignored in these nostalgic pictures are life among the poor in the ghettos.

Nicky Cruz was a teenager in 1958. A native of Puerto Rico, his parents sent him to live in New York with his brother when he was fifteen. It was difficult adjusting to a new culture, and a new language in a city that had little care for those who didn't fit the Rockwell portrait.

Nicky had a hard time in school, and was thrown out. He later joined a gang called the Mau Maus. Named after an African tribe, they prided themselves on ruthlessness. Over time, their membership grew and Nicky became president. War was waged on the police, and neighborhoods lived in fear.

In his book, "Run, baby run" Nicky recounts how he was driven by hate. A hate so palpable, he sensed it everywhere he went. He combated the hate with violence. His gang committed robbery and rape among the citizens while waging war on other gangs in the streets. No drug, no rumble, no sexual encounter was enough to quell the hurt inside him that hate firmly planted.

His life was changed when he met a minister named David Wilkerson. After three years of running the Mau Maus, Nicky met a slight, odd looking man who found the right words to reach him. The word of God. Nicky recounts restless nights when Wilkerson's simple message turned over in his head. He had to do something about this preacher. Wilkerson threatened all he built, his only family.

The Mau Maus went to the preacher's rally with intent on disrupting it. Instead, Wilkerson asked Nicky and three Mau Maus to take up a collection for the church.
Was he crazy?
It was the first time Nicky felt trusted and though he knew stealing the money was the "right" thing to do, something stopped him. He took the money to the preacher instead.

He was changing.
It was scary to change. He was in control as president of a gang, and he had a degree of respect. When God began to impact his heart, he had something he never had before.
Self respect.

Hate began to die as he learned more about God. The change in him sparked a change in others.
Imagine the shock when Nicky and his fellow gang members went to the police station to turn in their weapons!

Nicky went on to Bible college and married a sweet girl named Gloria. Together, they have dedicated their lives to youth all across the world. Nicky has given talks in Denmark, England and all across America.
His book is required reading in at least three countries.

I got to hear him speak last Saturday.
His words were not those of a polished orator, but of an honest man with heart.
He was able to reach out to both teens and parents with a positive solution that would better their lives forever.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Fifteenth Century Ladies' Headwear

During the 15th century, the hennin, a cone-shaped hat, became fashionable. They were worn primarily by royalty and upper-class women, in England, France, Burgundy (which was then a separate duchy and not part of France), and most of northern Europe. They never gained popularity in Italy.
The cones ranged in length from 12 inches to as long as 36 inches. The cones ended in a point, or sometimes a flattened end, from which a veil emerged. The veil cascaded over the lady’s shoulders, and sometimes, to the ground.
The hennins were usually worn at a backward tilted angle. Some paintings from the period show a forehead loop, probably attached to the hennin. It must have been used to pull the hat forward, or to hold it secure during a strong wind.
Hennin wearers frequently plucked their brows and the edge of the hairline, so that no hair escaped from beneath the hennin. Other paintings, though, show the hennin worn over long flowing hair. Illustrations of royalty show queens and princesses wearing crowns, either around the brim of the hennin, or at the top.
Hennins gradually lost their appeal, and were replaced by more wearable hats of the 16th century. What the 16th century hats lost in height, they more than made up for in elaborate design, as demonstrated in Renaissance art.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Regency Dancing and the Quadrille

Dancing was an important part of British society. Most everyone, from lower gentry to upper aristocracy considered dancing as an indispensible form of courtship. Almack’s was famous for hosting gatherings of the Beau Monde. One of these popular dances was called the Quadrille.

In his memoirs, Captain Gronow recalls its first appearance within the fashionable ballroom at Almack's:

"In 1814, the dances at Almack's were Scotch reels and the old English country-dance; and the orchestra, being from Edinburgh, was conducted by the then celebrated Neil Gow. It was not until 1815 that Lady Jersey introduced from Paris the favourite quadrille, which has so long remained popular. I recollect the persons who formed the very first quadrille that was ever danced at Almack's they were Lady Jersey, Lady Harriet Butler, Lady Susan Ryder, and Miss Montgomery; the men being the Count St. Aldegonde, Mr. Montgomery, Mr. Montague, and Charles Standish."

Within a few short years, dozens of sets of music for quadrilles were being published and new sets of figures composed. The opinionated Jane Austen, however, was less than impressed with this new dance:

"Much obliged for the quadrilles, which I am grown to think pretty enough, though of course they are very inferior to the cotillions of my own day." Jane Austen to her niece Fanny Knight, February 20, 1816

Every fashionable Regency ballroom must include at least one quadrille, which is actually a set of five shorter dances. The most highly fashionable dancers might even indulge in some of the brand-new dance forms of the very end of the 1810s that adapted the formation of a couple facing a couple, and figures of the quadrille into country dances and recreated the idea of "improper" dances, in which the leading couple in a set started off on the opposite gender's side. Scandalous!

Dances were not started with everyone moving simultaneously. Instead, the first couple, or head couple, began a set. The rest watched to see what the dance would be. This was a position of honor and responsibility, an opportunity for that couple to show off the excellence of their steps and set the standard for the other dancers. In Mansfield Park, Fanny found herself in this honored position:

"...and she found herself the next moment conducted by Mr. Crawford to the top of the room, and standing there to be joined by the rest of the dancers, couple after couple, as they were formed."

As the couple worked their way down a long set of dancers, which could take ten minutes or more, the other dancers joined in, until the entire set was moving. Once the lead couple reached the bottom, they stood out briefly before rejoining the dance to assist the other couples progressing down the set. This time was a great opportunity for private conversation with one's partner. It also had the additional advantage of allowing time to catch one's breath after such vigorous non-stop dancing.

In my newest Regency Romance Novel, The Guise of a Gentleman, the hero, Jared, knew attending balls and dinner parties in the country was his best way of getting to know the other members of the aristocracy to help him discover the leader of the pirate ring he'd been steadily tracking down. Such gatherings were also a place where the heroine, Elise, went when she decided to cast of her mourning dress and reenter society. But, unbeknownst to them, they'd already met...