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"What is Pilgrim?"
Zodiac, signs of the
the Middle Ages
the origin of some of today’s sayings
Hathaway, for example, was the wife of William Shakespeare. She married at
the age of 26, which is really unusual for the time for most people
married young; usually around the ages of 11 to 14. Life was also not as
romantic as we may picture it. Here are some examples:
she was married, Anne Hathaway’s home was a three-bedroom house with a
small parlor, (which was seldom used, and only for company), a kitchen,
and no bathroom.
and Father shared a bedroom. Anne had a queen sized bed, but she did not
sleep alone. She also had two other sisters and they shared the bed, also
with six servant girls. They didn’t sleep like we do lengthwise, but
they all lay on the bed crosswise. At least they had a bed.
six brothers and ten field workers shared the other bedroom. They didn’t
have a bed; they just wrapped up in their blanket and slept on the floor.
They had no indoor heating so all the extra bodies are what kept them
warm. Within their house they had twenty-seven people living.
were also small people. The men only grew to be about five foot six inches
tall, and the women were four foot eight inches tall.
shows that June is the most popular month for weddings. Why? Most people
took their yearly bath in May, so they still smelled pretty good by June,
although they were starting to smell. The brides would carry a bouquet of
flowers to help hide their body odor.
equaled 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, the children, and last of all the babies. By then the water was
so dirty you could actually loose someone in it. Hence the saying, “Don't
throw the baby out with the bath water.”
thatch was used for the roofs of most houses. Thick straw piled high, with
no wood underneath. This was a great place for all the little animals to
get warm. So all the pets; dogs, cats, and other small animals; mice,
rats, bugs; all lived in the roof. When it rained it would become so
slippery that sometimes the animals would slip and fall from the roof.
Thus the saying “It’s raining cats and dogs”.
was nothing to stop things falling from the roof into the house. This
posed a real problem in the bedroom, where bugs and other animal droppings
could really mess up your bed. They found that making beds with big posts
to hang sheets from would prevent that problem; and that’s where those
beautiful big canopy beds come from.
you entered a house you would notice that the floor was usually just dirt.
Only the wealthy had something other than dirt, which is where the saying
“dirt poor” came from.
wealthy would usually have beautiful slate floors. In the winter they
would get wet and slippery. So they started to spread thresh on the floor
to help keep their footing (thresh is the remaining straw after beating
your grains to remove the grains or seeds). As the winter wore on they
would just keep adding more thresh. Eventually, when you opened the door
it would all start to work it’s way outside, so a piece of wood or stone
was added at the door to keep it from slipping outside. It was called a
cooked in the kitchen in a big kettle that always hung over the fire.
Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. This stew, or “pottage”,
was made of vegetables that they grew in their fields. Since human
excrement was used as fertilizer, the pottage was boiled for at least two
hours. Vegetables, like cabbage, were the primary ingredient, and they
didn't get much meat. They would eat this pottage leaving the leftovers in
the pot overnight, starting over again the next day. Sometimes the pottage
had food in it that had been in there for a month. The origin of the
rhyme: peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot
nine days old" comes from this.
the field workers would carry a dried version of the pottage them. When
they got hungry, they would break it up in a bowl, add some moisture to it
and eat it. Of course they didn’t use water for this, it was too dirty.
They used beer to mix with the pottage.
they could get a hold of some pork. They really felt special when that
happened, and when company came over they would bring out some bacon and
hang it on a rack in the parlor to show it off. That was a sign of wealth;
that a man “could really bring home the bacon.” They would cut off a
little bit to share with guests, and they would all sit around and “chew
many countries, people drank from shallow bowls or trenchers rather than
stemmed goblets. The idea of the latter came from contact with the Eastern
world through the crusades. When Eleanor of Aquitaine visited her uncle in
, she brought back many “new”
first, and later (with her
marriage to King Henry II) to
. Among these new ideas were
taking tapestries from the walls putting them on the floors (becoming
rugs), and stemmed drinking goblets.
you had money your plates were often made out of pewter. As you may know,
pewter of the period had a high lead content. Sometimes some their food
had a high acid content, which would cause some of the lead to leach out
into the food. They really noticed it that it happened with tomatoes, so
they stopped eating tomatoes for four hundred years.
people didn’t have pewter plates though, they all had trenchers. That
was a piece of wood or a board with the middle scooped out like a bowl.
They rarely washed their boards or trenchers, and a lot of times worms
would get into the wood. People that would get cold sores and such would
be said to have “trench mouth”, especially if they ate from infested
trenchers or boards.
and Board”. If you were going traveling and wanted to stay at an
they usually provided the bed,
but not the board to eat off of.
bread was divided according to status, not sliced, as we know it today.
The workers would get the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family would get
the middle and guests would the top, or the “upper crust”.
is so old and small they started
running out of places to bury people, so they started digging up some
graves relocating the bones, and reuse the grave. When they started
opening the coffins they found that some had scratch marks on the inside!
One out of twenty five coffins were that way and they realized that they
had still been burying people alive! One solution was to tie a string to
the wrist of the deceased and lead it through the coffin, up through the
ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the
graveyard all night to listen for the bell, and the person that did this
was said to work the “graveyard shift”. If the bell would ring they
would know that someone was “saved by the bell”, or that he was a “dead
They also had lead pewter
cups and when they would drink their ale or whiskey the combination of
liquor and lead would sometimes knock them out for a couple of days. They
would be found by someone walking along the road, and thought to be dead.
So they would be picked up and taken home, where they were prepared to be
buried. It was realized however that not all of the people that were
buried in the past were actually dead. If they were too slow about
preparing someone for burial, the “dead” person would sometimes wake
up! So the suspected dead would be laid out on the kitchen table for a
couple of days while the family would gather around and eat and drink and
wait to see if they would wake up. That’s where the custom of serving
food and holding a “wake” came from.
is just some interesting stuff that we don't always realize about life in
the past. Sources for this data include, but are not limited to website
publications, radio and television broadcasts, and community faxes.
|In February 2006, I received an email from a
"concerned person" stating that most of this information was a
hoax. I had received a document called "Life in the 1500's" and
started adding other stuff to it to make what you read above. This person
informed me that the document "Life in the 1500's" was a hoax,
and referred me to two weblinks to prove her case. Here are the links;
I'll let you judge for yourself. Here is her email
a Hoax, check out this site for more information:
another site: http://www.traditioninaction.org/History/A_005_Myths1500s.shtml
the information is about 1/4 of the way down.
|What I've found out about this:
In a nutshell, this whole thing is a hoax,
someone's idea of an amusing leg-pull. It began its Internet life in April
As for a specific debunking:
That's just plain bull. Nearly the only ones who wed
that early were the progeny of royalty, and those unions were formed for
political reasons and thus were much more paper marriages than real ones.
A "bride" of tender years might be called upon to travel to her
new homeland, where she would take up residence with her husband's family
and live like their daughter until such time
as both kids were deemed old enough to advance the state of their union
into full-blown matrimony. To put it more directly, though the teens might
call each other "husband" and "wife," they didn't
begin cohabiting and having sex until their mid-teens at the earliest, and
only when both families agreed the kids were ready to take this step.
"Most people married young, like at the age
of 11 or 12."
A perfect example of such a union was the 1499 marriage between Catherine
of Aragon (Spain) and Arthur, eldest son of Henry VII of
England. They were married by proxy in their native lands when Arthur was
14 and Catherine was 15. Catherine did not arrive in England until 1501,
when the young royals were wed again, this time in person. Although
controversy exists as to whether they might have had sexual congress
before Arthur's death in 1502, if they had done so, they accomplished it
by sneaking behind everybody's back. Both sets of parents were of the
opinion the youngsters should not begin this aspect of marital life too
early, and they worked to prevent such a change in affairs by housing the
youngsters separately, as well as by charging Catherine's Spanish duenna
to maintain a watchful eye on the pair. It was said Henry VII's
mother, Margaret Beaufort, was ruined by early childbirth (she bore Henry
at age 13 and did not afterwards have other children though
she was married four times), and Henry was not about to risk the
succession of his line on another one-child mom. Equally as important was
the thought common to that time that early sexual excesses could fatally
weaken the health of young men. A teen prince who bedded too often, it was
feared, was digging himself into an early grave.
Some other "delayed consummation" marriages of that general era
As stated earlier, though early marriages were common
among the royals of that era, they were far from the norm among ordinary
citizens. Granted, there might have been a few such early unions, but the
practice was not as portrayed in this e-mail, which states
that "Most people married young, like at the age of 11 or 12."
- Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond, illegitimate
son of Henry VIII, was married off to Lady Mary Howard
when he was fourteen. The marriage remained unconsummated at his death
at age 17.
- Thomas, Earl of Surrey (Mary Howard's brother)
lived with Lady Frances Vere for three years after they were wed
before consummating matters when they were both 15.
According to Stephanie Coontz, who wrote in the 2005 bestseller Marriage:
A History, "In England between 1500 and 1700 the median age of
first marriage for women was twenty-six."
Anne Hathaway lived in a twelve-roomed, Elizabethan
farmhouse, as can be verified by a quick trip to this web site
(http://www.stratford.co.uk/prop3.asp), which displays a picture of the
home she lived in.
"Anne Hathaway's home was a 3
bedroom house with a small parlor, which was seldom used (only for
company), kitchen, and no bathroom."
"They had no indoor heating so all the
extra bodies kept them warm."
However does one explain, then, the chimneys on
That statement would hold true in 11th and 12th
century England when it was common practice for every member of the great
households to bed down on the reed-strewn floor of the main hall. (Some of
the more fortunate had flock mattresses to cushion them.) Northern Europe
was at that time experiencing warmer-than-usual temperatures, which made
such sleeping arrangements livable. The pendulum soon swung the other way,
with the coming of a "little ice age" at the beginning of the 13th
century. This startling turn of climatic events (which was to last
for the next 200 years) spelled the end to that style of
communal living and brought about major shifts in building styles to
better protect people from the horrendous cold. The advent of the chimney
made it possible to warm smaller spaces, which led to the concept of
sleeping singly or in pairs in bedrooms. All this is to say that by the
1500s one would have been hard pressed to find any homes that were not
heated, or where the inhabitants shivered piled up together in a communal
"Everyone just wrapped up in their blanket
and slept on the floor. They had no indoor heating so all the extra
bodies kept them warm."
Although the modern practice of full-immersion
bathing was a long way off in the 1500s (among other reasons because
filling a vessel large enough to hold a person with heated water was
rather impractical given the effort required to collect fresh water and
fuel for heating it), people did still "bathe" in the sense of
attempting to clean themselves as best they could with the resources at
"Most people got married in June. Why? They
took their yearly bath in May, so they were till smelling pretty good by
June, although they were starting to smell, so the brides would carry a
bouquet of flowers to hide their b.o."
Although today's brides carry flowers simply because it is now the custom
to do so, at one time bridal bouquets were symbols of sexuality and
fertility. Covering up anyone's bad smell played no part in why this
custom came into being.
Although the admonition against throwing the baby
out with the bathwater dates back to the 16th century,
its roots are Germanic, not English. Its first written occurrence was in
Thomas Murner's 1512 versified satirical book Narrenbeschwörung,
and its meaning is purely metaphorical. (In simpler terms, no babies, no
bathwater, just a memorable mental image meant to drive home a bit of
advice against overreaction.)
"Like I said, they took their yearly bath
in May, but it was just a big tub that they would fill with hot water.
The man of the house would get 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 pretty thick.
Thus, the saying, "don't throw the baby out with the bath
water," it was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it."
Mice, rats, and bugs definitely take up residence in
thatch roofs - to them it's a high-rise hay mow. Cats and
dogs, however, don't go up there.
"I'll describe their houses a little.
You've heard of thatch roofs, well that's all they were. Thick straw,
piled high, with no wood underneath. They were the only place for the
little animals to get warm. So all the pets; dogs, cats and other small
animals, mice, rats, bugs, all lived in the roof. When it rained it
became slippery so sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the
roof. Thus the saying, 'it's raining cats and dogs,'"
The saying it's raining cats and dogs was first noted in the 17th
century, not the 16th. A number of theories as to its origin exist:
- By evoking the image of cats and dogs fighting
in a riotous, all-out manner, it expresses the fury of a sudden
- Primitive drainage systems in use in the 17th
century could be overwhelmed by heavy rainstorms, leading to
gutters overflowing with debris that included dead animals.
- In Northern European mythology, it is believed
cats influence the weather and dogs represent wind.
- The saying might have derived from the obsolete
French word catadoupe, meaning waterfall or cataract.
- It might have come from a similar-sounding
Greek phrase meaning "an unlikely occurrence."
Canopied four-poster beds were the province of the
well-to-do, not the ordinary folk. Possibly their origin had to do with a
desire to display wealth conspicuously by showing off rich tapestries and
fabrics. Beautifully thick wall hangings were likewise a way of dressing
up a room while at the same time putting on the dog a bit. (The hangings
also served to keep the warmth of a room in.)
"Since there was nothing to stop things
from falling into the house they would just try to clean up a lot. But
this posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings
from animals could really mess up your nice clean bed, so they found if
they would make beds with big posts and hang a sheet over the top it
would prevent that problem. That's where those beautiful big 4
poster beds with canopies came from."
Such fripperies were not the norm in lesser households where available
funds would more likely be directed to keeping people fed and clothed than
to decorative flourishes.
Dirt poor is an American expression, not a
British one. Claims that the saying grew out of British class distinctions
as measured by style of flooring are just plain silly.
"When you came into the house you would
notice most times that the floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had
something other than dirt, that's where the saying 'dirt poor' came
As mentioned briefly above in the "everybody slept on the floor"
discussion, floors were never bare dirt anyway. Fresh reeds were laid on
them every day and thrown out every night, with another fresh set brought
in for sleeping on. In the summer months, aromatic herbs might be added to
this vegetative underfooting.
As stated above, the reeds were changed daily.
Besides, who ever heard of calling reeds, rushes, or sheaves of grass
"threshes"? One threshes plants to separate stalk from
seed, but no part of the plant is called the "thresh."
"The wealthy would have slate floors. That
was fine but in the winter they would get slippery when they got wet. So
they started to spread thresh on the floor to help keep their footing.
As the winter wore on they would just keep adding it and adding it until
when you opened the door it would all start slipping outside. So they
put a piece of wood at the entry way, a 'thresh hold'".
The "thresh" part of threshold apparently comes from a
prehistoric source that denoted "making noise" and is related to
the Old Church Slavonik tresku, meaning "crash." By the
time it reached Germanic (thresk-), it was probably being used for
"stamp the feet noisily" (something that's a good idea to do in
a doorway if you're wearing muddy boots).
Even some cooking practices of today call for tossing
whatever's on hand into the stewpot, with new ingredients added each day
to whatever is left over. French bouillabaisse, for instance, is sometimes
made this way, as are any number of 'peasants stews'.
"In the kitchen they would cook over the
fire, they had a fireplace in the kitchen/parlor, that was seldom used
and sometimes in the master bedroom. They had a big kettle that always
hung over the fire and every day they would light the fire and start
adding things to the pot.
Mostly they ate vegetables, they didn't get much meat. They would eat
the stew for dinner then leave the leftovers in the pot to get cold
overnight and then start over the next day. Sometimes the stew would
have food in it that had been in there for a month! Thus the rhyme: 'peas
porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days
"Sometimes they could get a hold on some
pork. They really felt special when that happened and when company came
over they even had a rack in the parlor where they would bring out some
bacon and hang it to show it off. That was a sign of wealth and that a
man 'could really bring home the bacon.'"
Surprisingly, one authority states the saying
predates the 16th century, asserting it comes from the 12th and refers to
a time when a slab of bacon was awarded to the happiest married couple. A
man who therefore "brought home the bacon" wasn't showing how
good a provider he was but rather the success of his marriage.
Another authority believes the "bacon" refers to the pig used in
the greased pig chase common to many local fairs. The winner's prize was
the pig itself, thus the skilled pig catcher got to "bring home the
The term chewing the fat doesn't seem to have
been around prior to the American Civil War. One theory links it to
sailors attempting to chomp on the tough rind found in salt pork sea
rations. As Richard Lederer puts it, "What seems clear is that
chewing the fat, like shooting the breeze, provides little sustenance for
the amount of mastication involved."
"They would cut off a little to share with
guests and they would all sit around and 'chew the fat.'"
Tomatoes were generally shunned by many Europeans
until the 19th century, but not because they had discovered
that tomatoes were acidic and lead from pewter plates therefore leached
into them. Many people believed tomatoes to be dangerous to eat because
they resembled other plants known to be poisonous, such as henbane,
mandrake, and deadly nightshade. For a long time the tomato was considered
primarily an ornamental plant; eating its fruit was considered to be
distasteful and potentially harmful.
"If you had money your plates were made out
of pewter. Sometimes some of their food had a high acid content and some
of the lead would leach out into the food. They really noticed it
happened with tomatoes. So they stopped eating tomatoes, for 400
Trencher is a medieval word that comes from
the French trancher, "to slice," which shouldn't seem all
the remarkable when viewed in the light of the earliest ones being made
from sliced bread and used at banquets to receive morsels taken from a
central dish and for soaking up any dripping sauces. Food that needed to
be pierced or cut was not placed on a bread trencher. Trenchers started to
receive pewter or wooden underplaques (also called trenchers) in the 14th
century. Though these underplaques were sometimes used as plates to
eat from, by custom the more common use called upon them to support a
bread platform for food until sometime in the 16th century.
"Most people didn't have pewter plates
though, they all had trenchers, that was a piece of wood with the middle
scooped out like a bowl."
By the mid-16th century, what had been the wooden
underplaque was coming to be viewed as dinner plate in its own right.
Wooden trenchers that could hold both solid and liquid foods came into
vogue, with some having separate hollows to house diners' salt. Wooden
trenchers were washed after every use, though.
"They never washed their boards and a lot
of times worms would get into the wood."
Trench mouth wasn't a term until 1918,
according to the Oxford English Dictionary, and the "trench"
part of the term referred to the trenches of World War I.
Trench mouth is a bacterial infection of the mouth called "acute
necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis." Soldiers sharing water bottles
(as they did while cooped up for months at a time under enemy fire in the
trenches of World War I) passed the disease to each other in
record numbers, hence the simpler name this disease came to be known by.
"After eating off the trencher with worms
they would get 'trench mouth'".
Worms never played any part in this.
No matter how you parse "board" in the
previous sentence, inns were in the business of providing it. Travelers
paid extra for their meals, but food was to be had at any place that
deemed itself worthy of the name "inn." (Those that wanted only
a room could get just that too.) As for the notion that travelers were
expected to provide their own plates and utensils, that too is silly.
"If you were going traveling and wanted to
stay at an Inn they usually provided the bed but not the board."
The "board" in bed and board (or room and board)
refers to the board table or sideboard where food was laid out. Common
usage came to shift this meaning away from the furniture itself to
encompass the food served from it.
Even a blind squirrel can find an acorn once in a
while, and that appears to be the case here — the wag who
thought up this e-mailed leg pull accidentally stumbled onto
an actual origin.
"The bread was divided according to status.
The workers would get the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family would get
the middle and guests would get the top, or the 'upper crust'."
"Kutt the upper crust (of a loaf of bread) for your soverayne
[sovereign]" was good manners in 1460. The custom at the time was to
slice the choice top portion off a loaf and present it to the
highest-ranking guests at the table. Centuries later, this practice led to
calling the elite who ate the upper crust "the upper crust."
The rest of the bread was not apportioned out by rank, though.
Waking the dead is an ancient custom that extends
around the world and has existed in Europe for at least the past thousand
years. The term refers to the practice of watching over the corpse during
the period between death and burial. Partly, this had to do with making
sure someone was always around in case the corpse woke up, but the
watchers were also there to make sure household animals and assorted
vermin were kept off the deceased.
"They also had lead cups and when they
would drink their ale or whiskey. The combination would sometimes knock
them out for a couple of days. They would be walking along the road and
here would be someone knocked out and they thought they were dead. So
they would pick them up and take them home and get them ready to bury.
They realized if they were too slow about it, the person would wake up.
Also, maybe not all of the people they were burying were dead. So they
would lay them out on the kitchen table for a couple of days, the family
would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would
wake up. That's where the custom of holding a "wake" came
Some so feared the possibility of live burial that they left instructions
for special tests to be performed on their bodies to make sure they were
actually dead. Surgical incisions, the application of boiling hot liquids,
touching red-hot irons to their flesh, stabbing them through the heart, or
even decapitation were all specified at different times as a way of making
sure these people didn't wake up six feet under.
Burying the dead in previously-used graves happened
with some frequency throughout Europe, both before, during, and after the
1600s. It didn't have to do with any particular country being too small to
hold all the dead bodies, though — it had to do with the
shortage of space in established cemeteries. The family of the deceased
would habitually look to inter the loved one in the graveyard attached to
their parish and, like any other piece of land, graveyards were finite —
they could only be used to house so many before they filled up and
older tenants had to be moved out.
"Since England is so old and small they
started running out of places to bury people. So they started digging up
some coffins and would take their bones to a house and re-use
Sometimes remains were dug up, and sometimes what was left was pushed
aside, with the newcomer loaded in on top of whoever was already there.
Most folks accepted this practice, provided the old bones remained near
the church. When bones were disinterred, they were taken to a charnel
house, in a process termed second burial.
English common law states a grave is held only temporarily (not owned) and
its use terminated "with the dissolution of the body." Grave
inhabitants are granted "the right of appropriation of the soil to
the body interred therein until its remains shall have so mingled with the
earth as to have destroyed its identity." In other words, once you're
bones, you've lost your rights.
Modern cemeteries in many countries routinely rent graves for two to
thirty years. At the end of that period, the bones are disinterred and
reburied in accordance with that country's cemetery laws. Vancouver, BC,
successfully uses a 30-year-renewable lease for its graves. In London,
England, the wealthy have for many years obtained 99-year
leases on their graves in prestigious cemeteries. (Graves for purchase,
though, are scarce.)
Scratch marks have been found on the inside of some
coffins and tombs. Such marks, however, were a relatively rare find,
certainly nothing on a level even remotely approaching the "one out
of 25" figure given in the e-mail.
"They started opening these coffins and
found some had scratch marks on the inside. One out of 25 coffins
were that way . . ."
Premature burial signaling devices only came into
fashion in the 19th century; they weren't around in the 15th.
Some of these 19th century coffins blew whistles and raised
flags if their inhabitants awoke from their dirt naps.
". . . and they realized they had still
been burying people alive. So they thought they would tie a string on
their wrist and lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and
tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all
night to listen for the bell."
The earliest documented use of the phrase graveyard
shift comes from a 1907 Collier's Magazine. However, graveyard
watch was noted in 1895, with that term referring to a shipboard watch
beginning at midnight and lasting usually four hours.
"That is how the saying "graveyard
shift" was made."
Saved by the bell is a 1930s term from the
world of boxing, where a beleaguered fighter being counted out would have
his fate delayed by the ringing of the bell to signify the end of the
round. Need we mention that although fisticuffs were around in the 1500s,
the practice of ringing a bell to end a round wasn't?
"If the bell would ring they would know
that someone was "saved by the bell" or he was a 'dead ringer'."
Likewise, dead ringer has nothing to do with the prematurely buried
signaling their predicament to those still above ground — the
term means an exact double, not someone buried alive. Dead ringer
was first used in the late 19th century, with ringer
referring to someone's physical double and dead meaning
"absolute" (as in dead heat and dead right).
A ringer was a better horse swapped into a race in place of a nag.
These horses would have to resemble each other well enough to fool the
naked eye, hence how the term came to mean an exact double.
To sum up, though it's entertaining to toy with mental images of cats and
dogs falling through thatch roofs and shudder deliciously over the thought
of our forbearers dining off wooden platters that had worms waving out of
them, that's about as far as one should take this craziness. No matter how
many inboxes this popular e-mail has landed in, it never once
enlightened anyone. Indeed, it probably left more than a few looking like
utter fools when they tried to pass this "knowledge" along to
friends better versed in phrase origins.
As always, the bottom line is to take such missives with a grain of salt.