I'm busy preparing a piece about the many duties and tasks of the royal Marshal. What did the position mean for John Marshal and his sons and their sons? What did it entail? I have all the information in my head and dotted around various books, but I want to bring it together.
Anyway, that's what will be going on in the future, either the next blog or a couple of blogs down the line depending on my work schedule.
For the moment though, I thought I'd have a quick drop in to talk medieval latrines.... more specifically what a couple of castles have had made of theirs by the powers that be. I have to say that my mind (and eyes!) have boggled (pun intended!) at both of these portrayals of the medieval privy.
Joanne Mcauley, a reader from Northern Ireland visited Carrickfergus Castle and sent me this photograph she took of 'King John' ensconced on the privy. For some obscure reason his braies and hose are down around his ankles and almost off his legs. Ummm...how about no?
King Saul demonstrates quite neatly how it's properly done here in a piece from the Maciejowski Bible. Although at the time he is in a cave and David is sneaking up behind him to steal a piece of his cloak!
I understand that a scene like this might serve to entertain children and giving them an interest, since all things scatalogical appear to fascinate them - and many adults too. 'Oh look this is where King John did a poo!' But is it necessary? Is it respectful? Is it accurate? To me the answer to all three would initially be absolutely not. The further back in the past we go, the easier it is to belittle it. But then on second thoughts, the thirteenth Century Maciejowski Bible has no qualms about portraying a king involved in his necessary business, so one could argue that the portrayal is part of a long tradition. You pay your money and you take your pick - although of course one has to take mindset into consideration. That's not something I have time to discuss here and now, but I'm saving it up for a future blog.
Meanwhile, at Old Sarum, English Heritage has tarted out their thirteenth century placard reconstruction of the privy with paintings from the Bayeux Embroidery. Eh?
Just take a look at the naked couple above the toilet door. (click on the image to enlarge it). You will find the exact same couple in the border of the Bayeux Tapestry - see below. Speculation about them is rife, but it appears to allude to a sexual scandal of the day. So what are they doing decorating the walls of a thirteenth century garderobe. In fact what are any of the panels doing there? Did they put pictures of sexual scandals on their privy walls? Especially copied from a three hundred year old embroidery? Since Old Sarum is administered by English Heritage, you would think they'd strive to get it right.
It's interesting that an attendant is holding out the necessary wipes to the chap sat on the privy. There is evidence that nobles used to take their servants into the privy with them and have them on standby to hand out the medieval equivalent of toilet paper. I have heard people say that hay was used and moss but have never seen any primary source provenance for this myself - although doubtless it existed. I would think hay would be a bit awkward myself, but I haven't actually tried any experimental archaeology in this area it has to be said! However, I have read in primary source that rags were used as bum fodder. The King of France, when talking to William Marshal about traitors, says that in the manner of rags, they are to be used, and then thrown away down the latrine. I wonder if that's how scraps of material come to be found in cess pits when archaeologists are digging around. Was the privy the final destination of garments that had been used until they were threadbare? I suspect so.
P.S. and not connected with any of the above, but has anyone realised the pun in Harry Potter concerning Moaning Myrtle who hangs out in the toilet? There's a well known little plant called the 'Bog Myrtle'. - Get it?
The medievals used it for flavouring their beer. :-)