Here are some
very interesting facts about medieval life back in the
pre-Renaissance period of English and European history...note how common
day expressions have been derived...
Lead cups were used to drink
ale or whiskey. The combination would
sometimes knock them out for several days. When found lying on the side of the
road they would be taken for dead and prepared for burial. They were laid
out on the kitchen table for a eat and drink and wait and see if they would
wake up. Hence the custom of holding a "wake."
England is old and small,
and they started running out of places to
bury people. So they would dig up coffins and re-use the graves. In
reopening these coffins, about one in 25 were found to have scratch marks on the
inside and they realized they had been burying people alive. So they tied a
string on the "deceased's" wrist and led it through the coffin and up through
the ground and tied it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard
all night to listen for the bell. Hence on the "graveyard shift" they would
know that someone was "saved by the bell" or he was a "dead ringer."
Most people got married in
June because they took their yearly bath in May
and were still smelling pretty good by June. However, they were
starting to smell, so brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the b.o.
Baths were a big tub filled
with hot water. The man of the house had
the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men,
then the women and finally the children. Last of all the babies. By then the
water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it. Hence the saying,
"Don't throw the baby out with the bath water."
Houses had thatched roofs,
thick straw, piled high with no wood underneath.
It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the pets, dogs, cats
and other small animals, mice, rats, bugs lived in the roof. When it rained
it became slippery & sometimes the animals would slip and fall off or even
through the roof. Hence the saying, "It's raining cats and dogs."
There was nothing to stop
things from falling into the house. This
posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs & other droppings could mess up
a clean bed. They found that if they made beds with big posts and hung a
sheet over the top, it addressed that problem. Hence those beautiful big four
poster beds with canopies.
Beds consisted of a frames
with ropes strung from side to side on which
a "mattress" was supported. The ropes were twisted with a wooden key
to tighten them to better support the big mattress. Hence the phrase
often made of leaves and small brush, which could
hold bugs, fleas and ticks. Thus the term "Good night and don't let the bed
Floors were dirt. Only the
wealthy had something other than dirt,
hence the saying "dirt poor." The wealthy had slate floors which
would get slippery in the winter when wet. They spread thresh
on the floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on they
kept adding more thresh until, when they opened the door, it would
all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed at the
entryway to keep the thresh in, hence the term "threshold."
They cooked in the kitchen
in a big kettle that hung over the fire.
Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They mostly ate
vegetables and didn't get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner,
leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight, and then start over the
next day. Sometimes the stew had things in it that had been in there for
a month. Hence the rhyme: "Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas
porridge in the pot nine days old."
Sometimes they could obtain
pork and would feel really special when that
happened. When company came over, they would bring out some bacon
and hang it from the rafters to show it off. It was a sign of wealth that a
man "could bring home the bacon."
They would cut off a little
to share with guests and would all sit around
and "chew the fat."
Those with money had plates
made of pewter. Food with a high acid content
caused some of the lead to leach onto the food. This happened most often
with tomatoes, so they stopped eating tomatoes... for 400 years.
Most people didn't have pewter
plates, but had trenchers - a piece of wood
with the middle scooped out like a bowl. Trenchers were never washed and
a lot of times worms got into the wood. After eating off wormy trenchers,
they would get "trench mouth." Bread was divided according to status.
Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle,
and guests got the top, or the "upper crust."
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