It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Unless you are not fond of the cold and wet. There is a Swedish saying that goes, “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.” With that in mind, we offer you some quick tips and tricks to staying warmer out at faires or events during the cold season. This is a toolbox of options. What you will need will be entirely determined by your local climate. Are you expecting some light flurries? Is it below freezing in the morning and then warming to something pleasant in the afternoon? Use this as a checklist and you’ll be better off when you stop to watch the shows and listen to the music.
Tailor your wardrobe!
The first tip is to tailor your garb for the season. Go late Roman in the summer and bring out the full on Tudor for winter! Norse is great from a flexibility standpoint because it is all about layers!
Keep your noggin warm!
Really this should go without saying, but, just like in the warmer months we see a lot of folks skipping out on the headwear. First off, headwear really sells your garb and makes it look like you are wearing clothes as opposed to a costume, but aside from that it also keeps the sun off your skin and will keep you warm when it gets chilly out. Aside from coifs, veils, and hats, look into obtaining a hood. Liripipe hoods are great, because as the day warms up you can remove it and drape it through your belt (or put it in a pilgrim’s bag). Similarly, a London hood can be buttoned or unbuttoned as needed. Related to hoods, is the gollar seen in the Low Countries. A nice short mantle that keeps the shoulders and neck warm. Covering the neck and throat seals up one area where our bodies ventilate the most, holding in warmth.
Outerwear is what to wear!
In addition to keeping your head warm, keeping your core warm is an absolute must. From Medieval rectangular cloaks, to snuggy gardecorps, to sweeping mantles, choosing something that will add more layers to the bits between your head and feet will go a long way to creating heat pockets around your body and keeping the wind and wet at bay.
Don’t skip the undergarments!
In the summer you may ditch the shirt, smock, or chemise (boldly modern, but we’ve got modern laundry methods, so what the hey?!). This underlayer is key to creating warm air pockets around your body though. It is like the sheet under the comforter, helping to trap warm air between those layers. Layering is more than just stacking various clothes though, make sure to pick fabrics which have physics working in your favor. Ditch the cotton. It holds damp, and more than simply creating a cold feeling, wet can literally kill. Linen and silk are better options. Similarly, you can bust out some lined garments. Line wool with linen to make it warmer and avoid any undue scratchiness. Feeling bold and fancy? Fur line your garb like nobbies of the past!
Linen lining wool. Source: Sorores Historiae
NOW, think about your extremities!
To have effective winter garb, you need to first get your headgear and body layers sorted before thinking about hands, arms, and legs. This is because your body sends heat to those areas which are vital for survival – your organs – “heid and heart”. When dressing, you should think this way, too, because you want that heat to stay in. When it gets out your body starts to draw heat away from your extremities to protect your more needed areas. Gloves, are, a clear choice. The Medieval lobster claw option is always fun, but will make handling wallets and phones tricky. Think about layering fingerless gloves under more period appropriate gloves, so you can manage your modern mischief without exposing your whole hand. Detachable sleeves, such as pinned sleeves, (or semi-removable sleeves like those found on Maciejowski style garments or some doublets) give you options if the temps and weather are going to be variable.
Feet are the foundation!
While feet definitely count as an extremity, they require a bit more thought than hands, legs, and arms might. Breaking contact with the ground prevents wet and chill from creeping up through our feet. Pattens are the historical way to do this. They are wooden platforms which are secured around the shoe and lift the person off the ground an inch or so. Another historical method comes from our friends, the North Men. Simply drape a blanket or sheepskin over your shoulder and then when you find yourself standing still for an extended period of time, place it on the ground and stand on it. If you have thick soles, you are likely alright. But, aside from simply being off the ground, make sure you have thick, warm, DRY socks. Remember, wet makes you feel cold, so avoid cotton socks.
Source: Sorores Historiae
Consider your fabrics!
We have mentioned cotton being a not optimal choice a few times now. But, what about good options? Wool is, of course, great. Velvet (NOT thin panne velvet!) is a nice option especially for late period garb. Corduroy is a period fabric, but look for it in something not entirely cotton. Silk, lined and used in layers will also work. If you are not looking for accuracy, look for polyester. It is not as good as wool, but can be found at a cheaper price. You can find polyester flannels that have a similar look and feel to wool. Wool, real wool, has the added benefit of being naturally waterproof. Otherwise, you will want to waterproof your outergarmets. Remember, WET IS BAD!
It works for them and it will work for you!
Hide mundanes under layers!
Don’t have the time or ability to winterize your garb this year or all those layers and linings just not enough because you’re a lizard? Hiding mundane thermal wear under your garb works, too! Hand and foot warmer packs can easily be hidden – just remember to never place them directly next to skin!
Happy Holidays and stay warm out there!
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Archaeologists can tell you that dogs hoodwinked humans into feeding and housing them at least 14,000 years and our entwined histories likely go back a bit farther.
These days our doggos are primarily pets. But, in the Middle Ages dogs played important roles. For instance, they played musical instruments, battled rabbits, joined monastic orders and preached to prairie fowl, became doctors, and were generally epic.
Okay, not really. But dogs WERE primarily working dogs and bred specifically for their needed tasks.
There were not the number of breeds we have today, but a 15th-century work, Boke of St Albans, lists common types of dogs. Some are breeds we would recognize today, others seem to be groupings based on their appearance or their function. For instance, the list includes mongrels, greyhounds, terriers, spaniels, and mastiffs, as well as lymers, kennets, and raches, and further includes dung-heap dogs and butcher’s hounds.
What could Medieval doggos do? On English Dogges is a 16th-century book by John Caius which mentions work like messenger and water-drawer. He also mentions tinker’s curs who helped carry buckets. And turn-spit dogs (probably my personal favorite) who ran in a wheel to turn large spits in manor house kitchens.
“Defending-dogs”, or guard dogs, were very common. And for the aristocracy, hunting dogs were a must. On farms, doggos helped out with livestock wrangling.
SAD SIDENOTE: Some of these Good Boys (and Girls) were used in dog fighting and bear baiting rings. Luckily, these are no longer common sport. Doggos have been good to us, we should be good to them!
While there were loads of working dogs, lap dogs did exist, especially among women of the aristocracy, as well as monks and nuns (who also kept cats and birds…add toads in there and monasteries were practically Hogwarts).
In the 14th century, the Archbishop of York felt forced to declare that those who had taken orders should quit bringing their pets to service. (Apparently no 3rd grader had gleefully explained to him that Dog is God spelled backward – a thing that happened to me just last week)
But, of course, there were those folks who felt that dogs should only be working animals and wrote snitty-grams about how having dogs as pets kept the good and Godly folks of Europe from proper noble pursuits (we can only assume these were cat people). One author referred to pet dogs as “instruments of follie to play and dallie withal, in trifling away the treasure of time…” I imagine the OG poster also likely had a permanent scowl.
In the Middle Ages, doggos were very much a symbol of loyalty because DUH!
We are regaled with stories of loyal dogs protecting their owner. For instance, the dog of a murdered man spotted the murder is a crowd of onlookers and attacked the man, biting and pinning him until he confessed. Similarly, a Berber king in the early middle ages was captured, but hundreds of his hounds attacked those responsible and were able to secure the king’s freedom and escape.
He snac, he trac, he attac, but most of all he got your bac!
Even in the Islamic regions, where dogs were categorized as unclean animals, people totally kept them as pets and even wrote advice on proper care. Because THAT FACE!
How good were the good boys and girls of the Middle Ages? Let me introduce you to Saint Guinefort.
Illustration of Saint Guinefort
Everyone remember the bit in Lady and the Tramp where Lady protects the infant from rats but then gets blamed for upsetting the child? Image that, but a snake instead of rats, the infant is thought dead instead of startled. And, the heroic dog is killed instead of put out in the yard. Once the infant was found very much alive, the family buried the dogs with honours and then apparently the dog produced miracles after death and was beloved enough by the folks of Lyon, France that he was (temporarily) sainted.
The “faithful hound” mythos is found throughout Medieval literature, all telling similar stories around the same theme as Guinefort.
Elaborate tombs containing pet remains were en vogue amongst the wealthy in certain places. And you can find dogs as part of effigies pretty commonly through the time period and across Europe.
The knight’s crossed legs reportedly mean he was a crusader and the dog at his feet is said to mean he died at home.
What did folks name their canine companions? Anne Boleyn has a pupper named Purkoy (a pun on the French “pourquoi”).
Here is a non-exhaustive list of names referenced in Medieval and Renaissance literature and documents:
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Happy Halloween-een All!
Let’s get spooky, shall we? What with aspects of Halloween (and related celebrations) being tied to the dead (see our last blog post), we figured that is exactly what we would dig into (see what I did there?). Your treat today is a look at bizarre burials.
Throughout the middle ages there have been a number of funerary practices. From ship burials, cairns, cremations, in the church yard, under the church floor, to the elaborate effigy-topped tombs, and more, there were a lot of customs across medieval Europe over time. But, some burials were just plain odd.
The first group of burials we’ll look into are collectively referred to as “vampire burials” or “anti-vampire burials”. Now, to be clear, historians are not entirely certain that imagined vampirism was the impetus behind such burials, but there is clearly some fear of the dead returning that seems to have played a role in these odd burial practices.
In 5th-century Rome, a 10-yr-old child who suffered and likely died from malaria, was buried with a stone in its mouth. Another burial, of a 3-year-old girl, was found with stones on top of the hands and feet. At this time, malaria was responsible for the deaths of many Italian children. But, these are the only two burials at La Necropoli dei Bambini to be buried with stones. So, why were these children singled out? It remains a mystery.
More famously, 14 anti-vampire burials were found in a cemetery in Kaldus, Poland dating to around the 11th century. They exhibit a number of “anti-vampire” mythos options in the style of their burials such as decapitation, being buried face down, and the classic, weighted down with stones technique. Another anti-vampire group dated to the 17th century was found in Drawsko, Poland. A late medieval burial in Sozopol, Bulgaria was of a man who was pinned through with a rod.
A late medieval anti-vampire burial in Poland.
A subset of anti-vampire burials are of a type sometimes termed “live burials”. It actually is not clear that these women were alive when buried, but they each share commonalities. An Anglo-Saxon woman buried in Sewerby in Yorkshire, England was discovered face down, arms and legs akimbo, with a large stone on her back and another across her shoulders. Similarly, a woman buried in Plovdiv, Bulgaria sometime around the 13th or 14th century was buried face down, this time with her hands bound behind her.
Sewerby Burial – image from strangehistory.net
Our next four graves, may fall into the anti-vampire category as well. They were discovered in the Yamal peninsula area of Siberia. At first glance they may not seem odd, but the fetal position three of the four were found in was very unusual for the time and place. All of them showed signs of extreme illness, injury, and malnutrition. One of the burials, a woman, had her grave robbed out at some point leaving behind only 1 bone. The one man turned out to have been burned postmortem before being buried. One woman likely died in childbirth. But, all of them were buried with fairly nice objects, adding to the mystery of why they should be buried in ways differing from the usual practices of the time and place.
Let’s step away from vampires and take a peek at some weird Viking stuff. Norse who were Vikings were buried typically in elaborate ways meant as sendoffs to the afterlife. It was not uncommon for a person to be buried with things like horses, a chariot, dogs, as well as food, weapons, and household goods. But, one out of the ordinary Viking burial in Derbyshire, England contained 4 children, aged 8 to 18, buried tightly together with a sheep jaw at their feet. Based on the injuries it appears they were killed immediately before inhumation. While there are a spattering of contemporary accounts of human sacrifice as part of Viking burial, this is the only evidence that upholds those accounts.
Hundreds of bog bodies have been discovered across Europe. With so many one may be fooled into thinking that we understood why they exist. But, nope. Less than 50 of the bodies are intact and they range drastically in their timeframe and place for deposit so there is not likely to be one unifying reason. (Also check out our blog post on Bog Butter! )These really exist before our time frame having primarily occurred during the Iron Age, but who can pass up a bog body, really? Bogs have the benefit of being just downright creepy places which adds to the shiver factor here. Most of the bodies clearly met a violent end, some being subjected to many types of murder before being deposited (throat slit then hung, for example….I think he’s dead, Jim.) Were they sacrifices? Were they criminals? Murder victims? In a few cases hair sampling revealed that women travelled just before ending up in the bogs. Mysteries abound with the bodies and there is likely no one answer.
Back to the Middle Ages we go, to a cathedral of bones. At the Basilica of St. Ursula in Cologne in a room called the Golden Chamber, the walls are covered with thousands and thousands of bones. A myth is told about 11,000 virgins travelling with Ursula, a Romano-British princess in the early Middle Ages, who were then killed by Huns in Cologne. While a bizarre and thrilling tale, it seems that the bones may actually be from a disturbed mass grave of plague victims.
Speaking of Saints, this brings us to relics. Relics were big business in the Middle Ages. From pendants and vials purporting to hold milk from the Virgin Mary to splinters said to be from the True Cross. But, more commonly they were bones, skin, and fingernails (and other bits like foreskin and tongue) of Christ and the saints. These were (and still are) housed in elaborate reliquaries. Sometimes, like with St. Francesca Romana, a whole person was displayed. There are 6 “incorrupt” bodies at the Vatican (bodies which ostensibly do not decompose, although most have decomposed at this point)
Skull of St Valentine
And, now we leave you with what may be the most bizarre and baffling burial of the Middle Ages. So mysterious. So strange. The Guernsey Porpoise. You read that right. Sometime during the 15th century, for some reason some person cut up a porpoise and buried it on Guernsey island. Okay, it might not be wholly mysterious. The popular thought is that it was buried in a casing of brine to be prepared for eating and then for some reason was never retrieved. Like when you warm something up in the microwave then forget about until the next day. I mean…I assume other people do that?
Have a safe and happy Halloween!
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Halloween is upon us!
Now, you could do what everyone else is doing and go the zombie, vampire, scary movies, and candy route, or you could add a little medieval-European flavour to your celebration.
Just your basic American Halloween.
First, a brief-ish history lesson.
It is commonly said that Halloween has its roots in Celtic tradition. But, saying this is a bit hinky. One, there was no monolithic Celtic culture. Two, what we do know is almost solely through a Roman lens. Basically, there isn’t really contemporary documentation to support any of the claims. It’s more a case of guesswork.
That being said, it does seem that the changing from summer into fall was at least noted by the Western European cultures that the Romans encountered. But, we’re going to jump ahead to our timeline and dig in with what we DO know. By the time the Romans opt to give up the ghost (as it were) on continuing to hold their Westward empire, marking the beginning of fall in much of Europe was a Roman affair laid over Celtic, Gaulish, Germanic, and British traditions. Like they do.
The Romans had a festival, Feralia, held in late October during which the dead were remembered. They also had a holiday on November 1st to celebrate the Roman goddess of fruit and trees, Pomona. Her symbol is the apple, not coincidentally.
She seems a right peach!
Bede, writing in the 8th century, refers to October as “winter moon” (Ƿinterfylleþ) and to November as the “blood month”, the latter perhaps relating to the Anglo-Saxon tradition of herd culling ahead of winter. By Bede’s time Europe is fairly well Christianised, but pastoral ways were still prevalent. Whatever blend of pre-Roman celebrations rolled into the Roman celebrations remained was not a big enough deal for historians to be recording at this time.
Later medieval historians make reference to bonfires and celebrations like Samhain and Calan Gaeaf. But, these celebrations do not necessarily match up to the romanticised visions we have constructed since the Victorian era (when the jack-o-lantern first gets a mention…in fact, most modern American Halloween aesthetic was birthed in the Victorian age).
But back to the Middle Ages. In the 8th century, Pope Gregory III moved a holiday established by his predecessor, Pope Boniface IV, from May 13th to November 1st. That holiday celebrated saints and martyrs and was called All Saints’ Day. The following day, meant for EVERYONE’S souls, was known as All Souls’ Day.
There’a a lot of them.
The English gave the holiday the name All Hallows. The night before, then, was All Hallows Eve which became the word Halloween. So, Halloween is Oct 31st, All Saints’ or All Hallows is November 1st, and All Souls Day is November 2nd (when the release of souls from purgatory to heaven is celebrated).
On All Saints’ Day people dressed up as angels, devils, and saints and paraded through towns and large bonfires were erected. Professional actors known as mummers would dress up in elaborate costumes and put on plays, typically of mortality sort (because everyone needs beast-headed creatures telling them how to be better humans.).
Mummers – basically the Big Bird and Snuffleupagus of the Middle Ages.
On All Souls’ Day, inspired by the Roman tradition of Lemuria (the sending away of the dead), people prayed to help guide the soul’s of their recently departed to heaven. This was sometimes accompanied by food.
These are still celebrated across Europe in various ways, whether La Toussaint, or Día de Todos los Santos, or Halloween, or Halottak Napja. Soul cakes, allerseelenbreze, and other related breads find their history in the Middle Ages. Wheat seems to play a big role, probably because of recent harvests. Across Europe celebrations on November 1st and 2nd incorporate visits to cemeteries, flowers (chrysanthemums are big, for example), offerings, and feasts featuring fruits and nuts. All these elements likely have their roots in the Middle Ages or further back.
Throw your own modern Allhallowsmas!
So, back to the beginning of the blog. If you want to snag some throwback flavour and host something different and culturally rich this Halloween, take a page from medieval European history. Celebrate from the evening of October 31st through the evening of November 2nd. Dress up like angels, saints, and devils or go more Roman and chose nature related guises like dryads or Pomona. Or be inspired by the mummers. Make a trip to the cemetery to commemorate your lost loved ones or to generally respect the dead. Bring chrysanthemums and light candles and dedicate them to the dead. Host a feast featuring meat, fruit (especially apples and pomegranates), nuts, and seasonal bread like soul cakes. Make it about remembering those who are no longer with us. Bring in some modern flare with songs like “Health to the Company”, “The Parting Glass”, and “A’Soalin’”.
Whatever your choices, just be safe and have a hallowed evening! Oh, and remember what the mummers taught about being better human beings and don’t desecrate anything or engage in cultural appropriation!
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How the Queens of Sass set an Allhallowsmas table!