Medieval Trivia

currently playing on my iPod: Speed of Sound by Coldplay

Just for fun I thought I’d share some tidbits about English culture in the Medieval period.

1. Valentine’s Day was around back then. The Feast of St. Valentine celebrated love in general and all lovers. Many believed that the birds found their mates on St. Valentine’s Day and therefore lovers should do the same. Oftentimes, people would wear a heart on their sleeve as a symbol of their dedication to love. Lanterns were made from large vegetables similar to our jack o lanterns. Eggs were served at table as they were known to heighten emotion.

2. Women who had not yet married wore their hair loose and uncovered. Married women usually braided their hair and covered it with a headdress which evolved from a wimple (as seen on nuns today) and veil to a more loose version of the wimple and veil and even to more elaborate headpieces such as the butterfly henin as seen in perhaps Sleeping Beauty or what have you.

3. Some really important guys in the government sat on woolsacks during their Parliamentary sessions. Woolsacks are simply giant wool pillows. Seems too casual, doesn’t it?

4. The church renamed most of the old holidays. Samhain became All Hallows (Halloween). Midsummer became The Feast of St. John the Baptist. Ostara–the celebration for Eostre the Saxon Goddess of Fertility–became Easter.

5. During childbirth, a knife was often placed beneath the soon to be mother’s mattress to “cut” the pain.

6. Herbs played a big role. They were mixed into candles to release a favorable smell. They were thrown into the rushes on the floor to do the same. Certain herbs were known to promote fertility, happiness, peace, and so forth and so were held during various ceremonies.

7. Surcoats (those armless long tunic looking things) were worn not only over gowns and tunics for fashion and warmth, but were also worn over mail (that chain type armor that men wore during the early to middle medieval period) to keep the sun from heating up the metal and roasting the soldier within.

8. Medieval Englishmen did not have weekends to relieve them from the hard work of day to day living. Instead, they had feast days for a huge number of saints scattered throughout the seasons . The night before the feast day was supposed to be spent in reflection and oftentimes fasting, the actual feast day involved mass, a feast, and a great deal of drinking and dancing.

9. Fireplaces weren’t around in England until the late 13th century. Fires were built in open hearths, usually raised in some way, and a hole in the roof provided venting.

10. The only kind of formal dance was called a carole. It consisted of a large circle of people, perhaps holding hands, walking one way and then the other. I personally believe there were other types but I’ve yet to see evidence of it.

So there you have it. Fun medievally facts. And I have to say this–know that if you see something “medieval” in the movies or on the cover of a book–it is most likely inaccurate. I could write a whole other post on that problem…

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2 Responses to Medieval Trivia

  1. Ashley says:

    I love it! Great post. Eggs?? Who knew.
    You might have liked the Medieval lit class I took once. We had a banquet feast at the end with authentic food. I made a mean chicken dish with my prof – I’ll tell you about it some day.

  2. Thanks, Ashley. I know I would have liked that Med Lit class! I had a medieval banquet with a class of 5th grade students once. We were pretty authentic until the gummy bear castle cake arrived…

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