The Smelly Ages

Peter Lopez

Tags history

The Middle Ages could have been called, "The Smelly Ages". It was during the Middle Ages that European physicians were convinced that bathing would open up one's pores and expose the body to "bar air". It was believed that warm water was the absolute worst, and the protective secretions of the body would be removed leaving us poor humans vulnerable to all sorts of ailments and maladies. I guess they believed we needed that extra coat of grime that our mother's always accused us of having (at least mine did).


Frequent baths were an absolute no-no to maintain good health, and so it was the King Louis XIII of France didn't have his first bath until the age of seven. His son and heir to the throne was not much better in the personal hygiene department. This was common among the aristocracy, and even more so amongst the lessor classes (as they were thought of back then). A Russian ambassador visiting France had noted at the time, that "His Majesty [Louis XIV] stunk like a wild animal."

 King Louis XIV

About the same time in history was Queen Isabel of Spain, who once confessed that she had taken a bath only twice in her lifetime, when she was born, and when she married. It gives one pause as to what it may have been like to be in her court.


Perfumes, colognes and scented powders played and essential part of aristocratic life during the Middle Ages. Often replacing bathing with scented rags to rub the body. Men were known to wear small pouches inside their waistcoats, while women most often used fragrant powders.


For the most part, none of this was much noticed or written about, because as St. Bernard wrote, "Where all stink, no one smells.". Given that they all swam in an odorous sea of rank sweat and body odors, they must, for the most part, have been used to it.



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