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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Historical Myths in Romance...Busted!

Am I going to crush everyone’s dreams today? I certainly hope not *smiles* but there are just some things I can’t keep to myself! History itself is romanticized a lot, and I’m not knocking it, I love to romanticize about history! I’m a historical romance author, guilty of all the things I’m about to reveal to you…

Why am I doing it? Mostly because its fun!

Myth #1—The heroine has smooth legs…Sorry folks but ladies didn’t shave their legs in medieval times! Nor in Regency either…And you can forget armpits! Waxed eyebrows or upper lips! And she certainly wouldn’t have a trimmed/waxed honeypot either, lol (for more info, click here)

Myth#2 – She smells of orange blossoms. Sure she might, right after a bath, but put all those clothes on, give it an hour or two, and her armpits might start a stinking… And as for the hero? I’m not sure I even want to think about it. I’ve ridden public transportation, lol

Myth #3 – They had pearly white teeth. First of all, the first tooth brush wasn’t even patented into the 1850s! Before that they used herbs, rags, sticks, and other odd remedies to clean their teeth. There are rumors that Elizabeth I had black teeth…not sure if that’s true or not…(for more info, click here)

Myth #4 – Fresh scents filled the air of the castle…Maybe a few select times of the year. But think about it. Not everyone bathed or cleaned their clothes and linens. The placed to do your business was a hole, that didn’t flush. You wouldn’t see me 100 feet in front of castle on a hot summer day. Don’t forget, a lot of times in the great hall, the people would simply toss bones behind them into the rushes for the dogs—and there were rats too…(for more info, click here)

Myth #5 – They married for love. Very rarely, and I mean like maybe 1 in a 1000, did this happen. Marriage was a contract, meant for bartering, whether that was money, lands, protection, or something else. Feelings didn’t play a part in it.

Myth #6 -- Kilts weren’t around until much later…Doesn’t that stink??? I love thinking about a medieval Scottish laird in a kilt! But unfortunately the kilt wasn’t popular until closer to the 18th century, although it has been documented that kilts were worn in the 16th century. They did have plaids though, and they were worn, so I think we can fudge it a bit *wink*

I’m sorry to spoil it for you. But don’t worry, you’ll never (well I certainly pray you never) pick up a romance novel where two smelly, hairy, people with bad breath make out on a bed full of lice and fleas while rats run around scurrying for scraps of food nearby.

Any more? What did I miss? Share with me!

Eliza Knight is the best-selling author or Regency romance and Time Travel Highlander erotic romance with The Wild Rose Press. She is the author of the award-winning blog, History Undressed. Eliza teaches various workshops online, including history, research and writing craft. Visit Eliza at www.elizaknight.com or www.historyundressed.blogspot.com

24 comments:

Francesca Hawley said...

Medieval men smelled like rust - they wore a LOT of metal. And a knight in shining armor wasn't doing his job - he was a slacker. Or he had brand new armor that hadn't been in a fight yet - plate armor and helms get dented. Knights wearing chain maille were forever repairing it.

The hems of skirts dragged in the mud - or worse. Smells? Oh yeah. And think about the extra weight of a wet hem around YARDS of fabric. Only the rich could afford to let their skirts "puddle" because of the cleaning issues and waste of fabric.

Oh, and fabric. You had to weave that yourself or you had nothing to wear. Hand-me-downs were the norm. Only the rich could afford new garments on a regular basis. Clothing was pieced for the most part.

And all that wonderful leather we want our heroes to wear? It had to be tanned. The tanning process stinks to high heaven so if you lived near a tanner, your eyes would water constantly. Either that or your sense of smell died.

LOL, I could go on and on.
Great post, Eliza!

Jody said...

I agree with you that men didn't wear what we call kilts until the 17th century but they did wear a plaide ( a long woven checkered or one with a color sett to denote the weaver), so they did get to show off their manly legs a bit amongst other manly parts.

What I find interesting in regards to the kilt it was a lowlander who was the first producer/seller/promoter of what is called a "heiland kilt" known to us today as most of the weaving industry was happening in the Lowlands of Scotland because of their sheep economy that goes back as far as David I. One of today's biggest weavers is Pringles and that is a good Lowland surname of a midlothian family.

Regencyresearcher said...

They are generally myths. They did have toothbrushes by the end of the 18th century as we have records of naval captains asking their wives to send some tooth brushes and tooth powder to them. I think they had had tooth brushes from at least the 1750s, or the middle of the eighteenth century.
People of the laboring class have always married for the same reasons as people do today. Those further up the economic scale married for affection when allowed to. Trouble was children were often married off quite young before 1754, when they didn't have a chance to be affectionate. left alone men and women married for all the reasons they do today, including Love. Affection between couples was quite common by the 18th century though there were exceptions.
The new washable materials of the regency period and an insistence on baths, helped with personal odour problem but it would have been overpowering still. Also, there are certain times of the month when female odour is intensified. And how many times have you read or written about the smell of sex?
Generally, they were used to the customary odours of their time, including open sewers and cess pits under the floor.

Tess said...

All I can say is thank goodness I live in this century!!!! I have a very sensitive nose (the scent of many things instantly gives me a headache).

Lord help me if I had to endure any of this.

Victoria Gray said...

Very interesting post, Eliza! I think it's ironic that people wore so many heavy, hot clothes before air conditioning existed. Ugh! I would imagine that people in those times actually grew accustomed to the scents around them and didn't notice them as much as we would. At least, I hope so :)

Jeannie Lin said...

Great post!

I have to hope that after a while, you just got used to the smell. Otherwise, how did these people ever get together? Thank goodness for romance. I can get a touch of historical detail without having to take a big whiff of it.

Oh, about the plucking. It was a beauty practice to pluck eyebrows in ancient Greece. There's also a reference in Lysistrata to certain...um...nether parts being plucked. Beauty practices must have taken a step back after that. :)

Eliza Knight said...

Thanks Francesca!!! :) I can't remember if I saw this on Dirty Jobs or The Worst Jobs in History, but one of them had the guy experiencing a tanners job, and he was gagging!!! I bet it was really disgusting!

I couldn't imagine my hem dragging through mud...and whatever else! I can't stand it when my jeans get a little wet in the rain!

Thanks for sharing :)

Eliza Knight said...

Jody, you've made my dreams come true! My favorite part is thinking of their many legs...and other things, lol. Thank you for sharing!

And how interesting they came about in the Lowlands, but everyone thinks they are a Highland thing.

Eliza Knight said...

Thank you RegencyResearcher!

Glad we don't deal with women's "things" or odors in romance! Could you imagine??? Shudder, that wouldn't be to romantic!

You're so right too! They probably didn't even notice the smells because it was normal.

Thanks for sharing about the toothbrushes too!

Eliza Knight said...

I'm with you Tess! I have a very sensitive gag reflex related to scents. I start gagging at the simplest smells! Its pretty ridiculous, lol

Eliza Knight said...

I think you're right Victoria, they probably were used to it. Do you think they wore heavier clothes because the smells couldn't permeate as strongly through all the thick fabrics?

Eliza Knight said...

I agree Jeanni! Yes it did seem that the world around most of Europe was plucking and waxing...glad it came back into style! I somehow managed to acquire my grandfather's eyebrows, and let me tell you, it ain't pretty if I don't pluck and wax!!!

Evangeline said...

On the armpit note, Edwardian men found the slight smell of sweat erotic.

1) I blogged about a prevalent, glaring historical mistake: the phrase "Upper Ten Thousand." It's an Americanism first written in the 1840s.

2) Heroes weren't tanned. Tanning wasn't popular until after the Great War. Prior to that, the only tanned individuals were laborers and lunatics (sun cures were thought to help with insanity).

3) Corsets were uncomfortable. Not if worn correctly. And there were many different types of corsets--for example, the ribbon corset.

4) Afternoon Tea! What we know as afternoon tea (scones and all that) wasn't invented until 1840s. And "High Tea" is not an extremely formal tea time, as Americans think, but an early evening meal between dinner and supper.

5) Men sleeping naked. Nope! Esp in the Victorian era. They slept in nightshirts. And for that matter, men had union suits beneath their clothing--they didn't just pull on their shirt and trousers.

Evangeline said...

Ack, the link for point 1 is here

Eliza Knight said...

You rock Evangeline!!! Thanks for sharing all those!!!

No nude sleeping? Boohoo!!!! I like to think of my heroes sleeping nude :)

I've worn a corset before, on my wedding day--mom tugged the strings tight behind me and everything! I didn't notice it was uncomfortable until I took it off that night, and I was like, wow I didn't even know I couldn't breathe! lol

Susan Kelley said...

I guess that's why it's called fiction. One of the things I wonder about is the odor from riding a horse all the time. Horse smell isn't as unpleasant as some of the aforementioned things but riding all day, camping out at night, no showers, no antiperspirant, how exactly fragrant was it around those cozy campfires at night?

Virginia said...

I think you hit on about everything and I am so glad I live in this century, although I can say as a child I did use the tolets that didn't flush, yes we had an outhouse and we carried water in the house in buckets and heated it on the stove for our baths and we used a round wash tub to bath in.

Virginia said...

Sorry I forgot to leave my addy

lead[at]hotsheet[dot]com

Eliza Knight said...

Good question Susan! I love the smell of horses, but you're right, that was probably not too good of an odor...perhaps the campfire smoke sort of masked it though.

Eliza Knight said...

I'm glad too Virigina! We had a bathroom in our house, but my dad was really into camping, so we did A LOT of smelly, no showers, using nature as a bathroom trips...Now when I go camping with my hubby, which I still really enjoy doing, there is always a shower house and bathroom :) I know that's cheating!

Susan Macatee said...

Great post! I've read many a medieval romance and am sure glad the author glossed over those things. After all, we read romance to escape reality! LOL.
I set my stories in the mid to late 1800s and there were still a lot of things, like hairy legs and bathroom facilities that modern readers, don't really want to know.

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Anonymous said...

Regarding Elizabeth I's black teeth, I read an ambassador's account of her in the 1590s when she would of been in her sixties. He claimed that her teeth were black and her hair was of a color not found in nature (she was obviously wearing a wig by that time). So the claim that she had black teeth is probably accurate. I have also read accounts that she tended to eat sugary desserts because she believed that they sweetened the breath. This would have been the road to those black teeth. I've also heard she was the cleanest monarch in Europe because she made sure to bathe every three months. That's just a rumor, but I've read it in several biographies.

Anonymous said...

Regarding Elizabeth I's black teeth, I read an ambassador's account of her in the 1590s when she would of been in her sixties. He claimed that her teeth were black and her hair was of a color not found in nature (she was obviously wearing a wig by that time). So the claim that she had black teeth is probably accurate. I have also read accounts that she tended to eat sugary desserts because she believed that they sweetened the breath. This would have been the road to those black teeth. I've also heard she was the cleanest monarch in Europe because she made sure to bathe every three months. That's just a rumor, but I've read it in several biographies.