In which cleanliness is next to neighborliness, and might also be next to the charcuterie.
Are you one of those people who enjoys a long, relaxing bubble bath? Perhaps, after a hard day at work, you like to sink into a tub for, as Calgon puts it, “uniquely exhilarating bath and body experiences that stimulate the senses, restore the spirit and take you on a special, fragrant journey to the place you want to be.” Granted, where I want to be is seldom my small, not exactly operating-room-clean bathroom, but I can certainly identify with the sentiment.
Contrary to the popular image of people in the Middle Ages filthily grunting their way through life, there were those who could indulge in a private bath. Eleanor of Castile, for example, not only enjoyed heated bath water scented with fresh herbs, but also had a wooden tub enclosed in a canopy with sponges for seating (common features for chic medieval bathrooms), and the tub itself was even covered in fine linen to prevent splinters in the royal bum.
Such luxurious facilities were usually reserved, however, for people wealthy enough to afford them. It took a team of servants to heat the numerous buckets of water and carry them up the stairs to the bath, as well as assisting with the bathing itself and providing clothing and additional grooming afterwards.
For the average Geoffrey and Margaret, then, bathing more closely resembled showering after gym class: a public gathering to sweat and cleanse. Public bathhouses were a thriving industry, with many people crowding into a bath room—and frequently even sharing bathtubs themselves—to bathe and socialize. Because some of these bathhouses allowed males and females to bathe together, thus generating concern in some quarters about the activities this might (and sometimes did) inspire, civil laws were created to prevent (or at least regulate) prostitution and church laws prescribed fasting for those who might have felt the urge to put the “squeak” in “squeaky clean.”
Bathing in both private and public facilities became so popular as an opportunity to socialize that it was considered a grand affair to eat a meal while soaking in the tub. This, of course, is a significant difference between medieval and modern bathing: modern—and certainly school—locker rooms are far more likely to inspire purging than gorging.
If you don’t have your own clown to entertain you during your dip in the tub, you can at least follow Ernie’s lead: