Thursday, August 05, 2010

Question from Robin - Cleanliness of the palaces

How clean were the palaces? I've read that Henry VIII ordered Prince Edward's rooms to be scrubbed three times a day, yet I also read that there were rushes all over the floors in the palaces and that people would urinate on them, the rushes not being changed often but simply more put on top. What is the truth?


Lara Elyse said...

The palaces were very, very unclean. The things you have read about the rushes are factual. In summer, the English king or queen went on progress from place to place to escape the stench they created in the summer heat. After the court had been at one place for awhile, the moat and the rushes would both reek to high heaven.

Where did you read that about Henry VIII have Edward's rooms cleaned three times a day?

Robin said...

In Robert Hutchinson's The Last Days of Henry VIII

Jacque said...

Lara Elyse is right that the palaces were generally very unclean, however Henry VIII himself was very concerned about cleanliness. He often issued ordinances with regard to hygiene practices, but these were rarely obeyed by most of his court and so his palaces continued to be very filthy and generally unhealthy places.

Probably one of the main reasons Henry VIII was so concerned about cleanliness was because it was understood at the time that there was some connection between dirt and disease. Because of this Henry VIII, being especially concerned for the health and life of his son, imposed strict rules for keeping Prince Edward's rooms clean. In Alison Weir's book "Henry VIII: The King and His Court" it is mentioned that the walls and floors of Edward's rooms and the areas surrounding had to be swept and scrubbed three times everyday, so that would appear to be true. Members of the prince's household also had to adhere to strict personal hygiene rules.

So, in general, yes, the court was quite a filthy place, despite the fact that Henry VIII was deeply concerned with cleanliness, particularly where it could have impacted the health of his heir.

Liz said...

As Lara Elyse said, the court did go on progress to escape the stench. But they also went on progress to get out of the palaces so they could be throughly cleaned after the court was stuck inside all winter.

Henry VIII was very concerned about cleanliness and hated anything smelly, so I imagine it didn't get that bad between cleanings.

kate said...

The court went on progress in the summer months to excape the disease and unclenliness of London. At that time the palaces were freshened, reeds were removed,the places were scrubbed, new rushes were laid. Henry and the court used a privy or stool room, hense the need for the groom of the stool, however not everyone was so fortunate or fastedous.
Henry was very concerned with the well being of his son and several accounts report his demands for cleanliness in regard to him. It must also be observed that Edward kept an independent household and was infrequently at court.I doubt Henry would tollerate uncleanliness in the persons around him since part of his marragie vows included that his wives be buxom and bon airre at bed and board, which basically meant to be lusty and to smell good, even commenting that Anne of Cleves smelled badly. For a 16th century guy, he was ahead of his time

Jacque said...

Bit off topic, but, Kate, where did you hear that "bonair and buxom" meant being lusty and smelling good? As far as I have been able to find out, the word "buxom" originally meant "obedient" and I have never been able to find a solid translation (so to speak) for "bonair", but from what little I have been able to gather, it sounds like it might have meant something like "cheerful.". I don't think the marriage vows had anything to do with smelling good, correct me if I'm wrong.

Kate said...

Buxom from old English actually means, obediant, lusty, pliable. Bon air I have heard as sweet smelling or having a sweet countenance, albiet 2 very different definations. If memory serves the reference is from Allison Weir's book on Anne of Cleves, but I will investigate as it was some time ago, I remember the defination as it stuck with me upon reading as I hadn't heard it before. I also believe it is French in origin and may be written bonaire or bon airre as in good air, depending on usage, prehaps this is the cause of confusion

Scarlet said...

Henry had an absolute horror of disease & I've read he wouldn't suffer rushes in his palaces because of how quickly they got revolting. He supposedly started the trend of putting carpets on the floors & not on the walls.

He also built a 3-story high loo on the Hampton Court grounds for the courtiers' use, so there's the 1st public toilets. I believe it was found a while back on a dig there. These were like a communal outhouse, and they were common indoors; chamberpots & close stools were used when Nature called in the middle of the night for most people. They did periodically require "sweetening", which I assume means some poor band of laborers had to shovel them out & hose them down & sprinkle some sweet-smelling herbs round the place to dampen the smell.

The court in Henry's time actually went on summer progress for the hunting, as there were several palaces in the vicinity of London from which to choose if one got too stinky & even in the winter the court would remove from, say, Greenwich to Eltham for the Christmas season. They didn't stay in just one for months. It wasn't as if the common folk were cuddled up to the royal residences.

Henry's festering leg likely didn't help with the palace smells, either, as the stench if it supposedly permeated his apartments. Once he got too fat to put all his weight on it & had difficulty climbing stairs, he basically invented the chair lift. Imagine having to be the muscle for pulling on ropes & hauling Henry up the stairs!