History of 1500s: Authenticity Uncertainty

The information for this post was sent to me by a friend to run on Rob’s Megaphone. 

I thought it was really interesting, so I dug a little.  I discovered that this post had made the rounds in the blogosphere – more than once. What I found most interesting was that more than 200 sites ran this history from the 1500s without verifying its accuracy and with no credit given to the original source. As it turns out some of the post’s claims are factual and some of are fictitious.

Have a look at the post, and be sure to check out My Point at the end.

Here’s the post:

  The next time you are washing your hands and complain because the water temperature isn’t just how you like it, think about how things used to be.

  Here are some facts about the 1500’s:

  Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May, and still smelled pretty good by June. However, they were starting to smell, so brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odor. Hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting married.

 Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, then the women and finally the children. Last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it.  Hence the saying, ‘Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.’

 Houses had thatched roofs-thick straw-piled high, with no   wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof. When it   rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and off the roof. Hence the saying ‘It’s raining cats and dogs.’

 There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could mess up your nice clean bed. Hence, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top afforded some protection. That’s how canopy beds came into existence.

The floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt. Hence the saying ‘dirt poor.’ The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they added more thresh until when you opened the door it would all start slipping outside. A  piece of wood was placed in the entranceway. Hence the saying a ‘thresh hold.’ 

  In those old days, they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get  cold overnight and then start over the next day. Sometimes stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while. Hence the rhyme, ‘Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old.’ 

 Sometimes they could obtain pork, which made them feel quite special. When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show off. It was a sign of wealth that a man could ‘bring home the bacon.’ They would cut off a little to share with guests and would all sit around and  ‘chew the fat.’

 Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing  lead poisoning  death. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years or  so, tomatoes were considered poisonous. Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the  burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or ‘upper crust.’

   Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. The combination would sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road take them for dead and prepare them for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up. Hence the custom of holding a ‘wake.’

  England is old and small and the local folks started running out of places to bury people. So they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a ‘bone-house’ and reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, 1 out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realized they had been burying people alive. So they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the  graveyard all night (the ‘graveyard shift’) to listen for the bell; thus, someone could be ‘saved by the bell’ or was considered a ‘dead ringer.’

My Point: There’s clearly a market for information that may or may not be true. Ripley’s Believe It Or Not and the National Enquirer come to mind as publications that print both fact and fiction. I have no problem with these publications; we know their mission from the outset. My objection is when fiction is presented as fact. As far as I’m concerned no information is better than misinformation unless it is presented as “true to the best of my knowledge” or some similar disclaimer.

In a myth-busting article “Facts” About the 1500s?”  published in History-Magazine.com, author Halvor Moorshead sought to separate the popular post’s fact from fiction.  Have a look at some of the busted myths. Moorshead clear debunked a few claims, but it turns out that more than one of the original claims may be true; the problem seems to be less with the popular practices than if the practice started in the 1500s. 

Considering the pervasiveness of recycled information together with the credibility given to published print, fact checking is an indispensable step for those who want to be more than another rumor rag. I have posted about an urban legend or two, but always with a disclaimer as to the uncertainty of the claim’s authenticity. For more myth busters, check out   http://www.snopes.com and http://urbanlegends.about.com,

Also check here for more information on urban legends.

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  1. This is why God in His infinite wisdom and mercy chose to have me be born now!!! I am soooo thankful.

  2. Thanks for the informative article Robert. I enjoyed reading it. I have a very strong background in history. With so much information available to us in 2008, it is astounding that so few of us choose to uncover it.

  3. Some people I’ve met still seem to only wash themselves yearly.

  4. I really had a good time reading this one. Although I have always known it, it is really nice to verify the fact that I would not have lasted during any era other than the present. Someone in their infinite wisdom knew what They were doing – Nards