Lady Matilda’s Guide to Beauty Part 3: Lips, Teeth, Face

My darlings, I’m back from my continental travels and have much knowledge to depart, courtesy of our European cousins.

You’ll recall my previous articles on beauty, part one on face, hair, and blemishes, and part two on bathing. Today in part three of my well-received (so far!) series on beauty, I’ll impart my continental wisdom on common facial imperfections and other helpful cosmetic tips. (It would be a kindness to share this advice with Lady Aethel, the poor woman hasn’t any idea how much distress her freckles cause the rest of us.) And with the festive season upon us, who couldn’t use a little extra help preparing for the dances and feasts to come?

Francesco del Cossa Saint Lucy


Those of a poetical nature refer to the eyes as the windows to the soul. But who wants their soul viewed through imperfect windows? For those mornings when the effects of last night’s banquet at Sir Ralph’s are apparent, try these treatments to unpuff those peepers.

– Simmer snapdragon roots in water and bathe the eyes
– Pound a little rue well and lay it on your eyes
– Pound basil and add to some good wine then smear it on your eyes

Hair Removal

With hairlines so high these days, and eyebrows so thin, it pays to know the best hair removal secrets. And men, pay attention! My love Sir Godfrey has the eyebrows of a wild bear, and my dearest son Geoffrey shows signs of following in his father’s hairy footsteps.

– Dry and clean half a bowl of quicklime, carefully sieved through a fine cloth. Put the lime in a vessel of boiling water and stir. You’ll know it’s ready by plunging a bird’s wing into the mix – if the feathers fall off, you’re good to go. Spread the mixture on your eyebrows or hairline while it’s hot, wait a moment, then remove. Voila! The little hairy fashion faux pas are gone!

Rogier van der Weyden Portrait of a Lady

Facial Blemishes

Ah, whom among us hasn’t woken with an unfortunate mark or blemish on one’s face? Well, not your own Lady Matilda of course, my beauty regime is strict and effective. But many of my readers have complained to me of a wart or sore of some sort upon their visage. Allow me to share some easy treatments.

I know Sir Rodney says he loves his wife Lady Aethel ‘warts and all’, but really. Does everyone who comes into contact with her have to love her as much as he?

– Take a sharp needle and lift the area around the wart. Apply slaked lime to Beelzebub’s Blemish and gently remove the wart. Heal the remaining wound with an ointment, preferably one made with lily.
– Pound some agrimony with a little vinegar and lay it on the wart. After a few days that embarrassing blemish will fall right off.
– Mix milky sap from a caper with celery juice with a crow’s foot and apply to the wart – after the third day it’ll be gone.

Brown Blotches
Not to be mistaken with freckles (Note to Lady Aethel – please read part one of my beauty series, stating at public events that people should ‘take you as they see you’ just will not do), brown blotches occur more with my older readers.

– Mix filtered boiled honey with wild mustard flour, ginger power, and white incense. Let the mixture cool. Before bed, bathe your face in steam and cover it with the honey mixture. Wipe clean with a linen cloth the next morning. Your face will look fresh as a young tavern maid’s!

Nose/Cheek Sores
People of all ages can be afflicted by random facial sores, but they are so often the scourge of the young. These annoying sores can cause havoc in a household filled with blossoming men and women. As a mother, you want to help. But how?

– Wring plantain juice in soft wool and lay it upon the sore. Repeat for nine nights.
– Dry grind plantain seed and mix with grease. Add a little salt and soak in wine. Smear on the sore. This treatment is particularly good for nose pustules.

Miniature from the Hours of Catherine of Cleves, Morgan Library & Museum, MS M.945, f. 107r

As every smart woman knows, a mysterious smile can work wonders. As will a sweet compliment. Whether wandering the market or attending mass, a knowing grin and clever quip will attract admirers. But what use is that grin if framed by cracked lips? Or those words delivered in a miasma of foul breath? Just think about those poor people sitting in the front row during one of ‘Bishop ‘BadBreath’s’ sermons.

– To sweeten your breath, chewing a little cardamom and licorice is just the thing! Or aniseed, cumin, and fennel – this remedy is for the fairer sex!
– Take the powder from aloe, mixed with wormwood juice until a syrup is made. Take four spoons a day at sunrise with a bit of honey.

White Teeth
– For whiter teeth, take very clean barley flour, fine powdered alum, and heated salt. Blend with a little bit of melted honey and rub your teeth often.
– Take burnt white marble, burnt date pits, white natron, a red tile, salt, and pumice – grind together to make a powder, coat damp wool wrapped in fine linen and rub on the teeth inside and out.
– Wash daily with wine, rub dry with a new white cloth and chew lovage or parsley.

The Martyrdom of St Apollonia, Dunois Hours, Yates Thompson MS 3, f. 284v

Tough Teeth Stains
– To clean tougher stains on your teeth (those blackened/discoloured teeth so bravely tolerated by the servants), rub the teeth with walnut shells three times a day, then wash the mouth out with a little warm wine with salt mixed in.
– Another remedy for tough stains: grind together cinnamon, clove, spikenard, mastic, frankincense, grain, wormwood, crab foot, date pits, and olives and apply to teeth. Leave for a while and wipe off.

– For the smoothest and softest of lips, try beeswax melted together with a little oil.
– Another fine treatment for dry lips: add a little white bryony, red bryony, cucumber, and rose water to skimmed honey. Boil until reduced by half and anoint the lips.

Mouth Sores
Whether from overindulging at Lord Radley’s hunting lodge or punishment from satan, mouth sores are the scourge of modern society.
– Pound great water dock when it’s green, press out the juice and apply to the sore. It’ll be gone in no time.

Combs the Museum of Novgorod

Make or Buy?

For those of us fortunate enough, many if not all of the ingredients and remedies I’ve imparted can be purchased at your local apothecary. You can ignore the comments from the bishop, as long as your rouge isn’t applied so horrendously as to remind him of Mary Magdalene, you should be fine. But prepare yourself for a little ribbing, remember that monk of Montaudon who complained there was not enough paint left because of all the ladies who use rouge and cream!

Your local perfumer’s shop should be able to supply not only whitening cosmetics but also combs, scissors, tweezers, and pitch (for those tough eyebrow hairs).

That’s it for now, my darlings. I trust this advice will prove useful in all of your beauty endeavours!


A thirteenth century French song lists beauty items commonly used at that time: “razors, tweezers, looking glasses, toothbrushes, bandeaus, curling irons, ribbons, combs, mirrors, rosewater, cotton to rouge, whitening to white.”

All research is from:

James Cleugh, Love Lock’d Out
Ian Mortimer, Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England
The Ornatus Mulierum
The Trotula
The Old English Herbarium

Copyright © 2019 Kelly Evans

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