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I am currently reading up on Tudor times, I cannot find much on hygiene. I have only found (so far) that they would not bathe much due to the fact that it was a difficult and long process, and that they were scared of getting ill. Also that they used perfumes and oils to mask body odor. Getting to my question, what did they use to brush their teeth with and what did women use during their menstrual cycle (no undies)? Hope you can help:P Thank you Claire!

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In "The English Housewife" by Gervase Markham (1615) there is advice for how to make teeth white, as well as recipes to help ease toothache, "to draw teeth without iron", "for teeth that are yellow" and "for teeth that are loose". To make teeth white:-
"Take a saucer of strong vinegar, and two spoonfuls of the powder of roche alum, a spoonful of white salt, and a spoonful of honey; seethe all these till it be as thin as water, then put it into a close vial and keep it, and when occasion serves wash your teeth therewith, with a rough cloth, and rub them soundly, but not to bleed."

Lucy Worlsey, in an article for History Today, see http://www.lucyworsley.com/if-walls/oral-history-article-on-false-teeth-in-history-today-may-2011.html, writes "I also discovered that Tudor teeth-cleaning methods were remarkably effective. Health manuals and conduct books reveal that teeth were cleaned with water, salt, rosemary or even cuttlefish, rubbed on with cloths, twigs or sponges."

As far as menstruation is concerned, we just don't know how they dealt with as there don't seem to be any records mentioning it. They did not wear undies apart from a chemise so perhaps they wore a type of sanitary belt, like the ones that were used up until the 1960s/70s, to hold a rag in place.

A friend of mine, Bess Chilver, an expert in Tudor costume and hygiene, believes that the idea that the Tudors were unclean and smelly is a fallacy. They may not have had baths or showers (Henry VIII actually did have plumbed in bathrooms at Hampton Court Palace and Whitehall) but they did have tubs that they could use for washing and their chemises were made of linen so that they could be washed regularly. Tudor streets, however, with their open sewers, were smelly, hence the use of pomanders. There were recipes for scented toilet soap and scented washing water which could be used for general bathing and also for washing hands at meal times between courses. Gervase Marham's book from 1615 recipes for scented water, perfumed gloves, "to perfume a jerkin", scented washing balls, musk balls, perfumes to burn, pomanders, "sweet bags" and "sweet water". It is a wonderful book and can be ordered from Amazon - "The English Housewife".

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One Response to “I am currently reading up on Tudor times, I cannot find much on hygiene. I have only found (so far) that they would not bathe much due to the fact that it was a difficult and long process, and that they were scared of getting ill. Also that they used perfumes and oils to mask body odor. Getting to my question, what did they use to brush their teeth with and what did women use during their menstrual cycle (no undies)? Hope you can help:P Thank you Claire!”

  1. Rachel says:

    Thank you Claire!! An issue of “The English Housewife” is on my list of must have Tudoe books among others! Thanks agian!!

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