Peasant Clothing • Peasant men wore stockings and tunics, while women wore long gowns with sleeveless tunics and wimples to cover their hair. Sheepskin cloaks and woolen hats and mittens were worn in winter for protection from the cold and rain. Leather boots were covered with wooden patens to keep the feet dry.
Outer and Under Garments • The outer clothes were almost never laundered, but the linen underwear was regularly washed. The smell of wood smoke that permeated the clothing seemed to act as a deodorant. Peasant women spun wool into the threads that were woven into the cloth for these garments.
Fur and Jewelry • Fur was often used to line the garments of the wealthy. Jewelry was lavish, much of it imported and often used as security against loans. Gem cutting was not invented until the fifteenth century, so most stones were not very lustrous. Ring brooches were the most popular item from the twelfth century on.
Love Conquers All • Chaucer's prioress in the Canterbury Tales wore a brooch with the inscription Amor vincit omnia (Love conquers all), not a particularly appropriate slogan for a nun.
Laws Governing Jewelry • Diamonds became popular in Europe in the fourteenth century. By the mid-fourteenth century there were laws to control who wore what jewelry , and knights were not permitted to wear rings. Sometimes clothes were garnished with silver, but only the wealthy could wear such items.
Health & Hygiene • As the populations of medieval towns and cities increased, hygienic conditions worsened, leading to a vast array of health problems.
Medicine • Medical knowledge was limited and, despite the efforts of medical practitioners and public and religious institutions to institute regulations, medieval Europe did not have an adequate health care system. Antibiotics weren't invented until the 1800s and it was almost impossible to cure diseases without them.
Myths and Superstitions • There were many myths and superstitions about health and hygiene as there still are today. People believed, for example, that disease was spread by bad odors. It was also assumed that diseases of the body resulted from sins of the soul. Many people sought relief from their ills through meditation, prayer, pilgrimages, and other nonmedical methods.
Four Humors • The body was viewed as a part of the universe, a concept derived from the Greeks and Romans. Four humors, or body fliuds, were directly related to the four elements. • Fire: yellow bile or choler • Water: phlegm • Earth: black bile • Air: blood. • These four humors had to be balanced. Too much of one was thought to cause a change in personality--for example, too much black bile could create melancholy.
Bloodletting • Medicine was often a risky business. Bloodletting was a popular method of restoring a patient's health and "humors." Early surgery, often done by barbers without anesthesia, must have been excruciating.