My darling readers, I apologise for being away from you so long! Like you, my dearest love, Sir Godfrey, and I have been stuck inside and keeping safe while the plague rages outside of our very doors. While it’s been a joy to be with my husband and treasured children, Geoffrey and Edith, I will admit only to you, dear reader, that sometimes my own nerves are stretched to breaking. Children are indeed a blessing but, as they say, into every field a little rain must fall.
So, with the pub padlocked, the baker bunkered, and the barber-surgeon dead, what can you do to entertain yourselves and your children during these trying times? As always, your own deliverer of truth has done the research so you don’t have to!
Board Games or Bored Games?
Board games had fallen out of fashion until very recently. And how can you blame them? Planks with pieces of wood to move around. Sounds terribly dull, compared to the heady new games of the fourteenth century like ‘Who gets to hold the knife next?’ and ‘Prank the Bishop’. Now that we’re all hidden inside, however, bored games are now back to being board games!
Not everyone’s cup of tea but has been around for donkey’s years so all should know the rules. Expert tip: make the game EXTRA fun for the family by naming the pieces after actual villagers and shop keepers, especially Master Smythson the apothecary who you’re certain overcharges for fresh snail slime. Checkmate, Master apothecary.
Nine Men’s Morris
This complicated game of strategy dating back to the Romans is for two players, perfect for smaller, less aggressive families.
Like chess, Backgammon has been around for centuries and dates back 5,000 years, if you believe the tavern owner. He DOES enjoy partaking of his own ale so caution is advised when taking any advice from him.
A new game lately arrived upon our shores, courtesy of our French cousins. From what I understand of the rules, one person ‘acts’ out a passion play or line from scripture and the others trapped in the room with that person must guess correctly before they’re permitted to exit.
“Is it that new Chaucer’s poem? A bird? The apocalypse? The cat has coughed up another hair ball into my boots?”
Practical Jokes You Can Play at Home
- Replace husband’s personal wine supply with water – drop hints throughout the day that you feel God’s anger and wonder if there’ll be any further retribution
- Offer your family who have the pestilence crushed green glass instead of real emeralds as a treatment. They won’t be cured but they’ll have a good laugh!
- Hide a toy wooden snake (every child owns one) in the turnip bucket to frighten the maid.
- Replace your husband’s badger fur belt (according to the lovely Hildegard von Bingen ‘dangerous illness will not fall upon you’ when badger is worn) with one made from a less efficacious animal, like a hamster or a mouse. (Sometimes a good wife can use a prank to also send a message…
- Create fake buboes using bread dough and put them on your family’s underarms as they sleep (honey works a treat as an adhesive). Wake your family and wait for the laughter! (Extra laughs can be had by putting too much black pepper in your family’s food and convincing them the inevitable sneezing is actually the pestilence. Or use an emetic to induce harmless vomiting!)
Not just for All Hallowed Eve’s! Instead of discarding your old clothing, or donating it to your maids, why not let the kids dress up and pretend to be someone else’s problem for the day. Here are some ideas to inspire you:
A Plague Victim
- easy costume to prepare:
- use beet juice rubbed on your face to create a flushed look
- buboes can easily be made from bread dough – use honey to attach to your underarms
- wear an old dress you don’t mind getting dirty – this way you can fall to the floor groaning dramatically
- you can take advantage of the conflicting theories about the black death and, when caught eating, claim an enormous appetite is a common symptom
- you can throw your ‘buboes’ at people, both delighting them at your humour and disgusting them at the same time!
- if your costume is TOO accurate, you may be mistaken for a real plague sufferer, wrestled to the ground, and a live plucked chicken forcibly rubbed on you
- you may be locked in someone else’s house with other sufferers
- there is a possibility that excrement may be thrown on you to protect you from further plague ravages
Hildegard von Bingen
There are so few costumes for women; us ladies are stuck with the usual wise women, maids, and tavern wenches, hardly decent role models for the younger generation of ladies. Hildegard is a great alternative.
- a nun’s habit may be easily obtained – everyone has a sister or niece in holy orders
- this is a chance to really show your acting skills – rolling your eyes, gazing skyward, and suddenly falling to the ground are all essential in order for you to pull this costume off
- if your acting is TOO convincing, you may be accused of witchcraft and thrown out of the house
- attracting lightning bolts and the fires of Heaven is difficult – try making them a part of your costume by using carrots for bolts of light and a felt pillow for a cloud
Always a popular option, favourite creature costumes are deer, dogs, cats, and unicorns.
- fur from your lord’s latest kill can be used for fur – deer, sheep, boar, almost anything (just keep in mind, the smaller the pelt, the more sewing your maid will have to do)
- animals are cute, friendly, and non-threatening, perfect for the easily-startled of your guests
- there are a small set of unsavoury persons who may try to engage in amorous activities with you, especially after a few glasses of spiced wine
- for your faint-of-heart friends, seeing a six foot sheep may send them into a fit – keep a remedy of ribwort, polypody, agrimony, solsicle, and yarrow mixed in water with black pepper on hand
- a particular disadvantage of dressing like a unicorn is you may find yourself part of someone’s dinner
Take a Bath
There are so many opinions and theories by respected scholars about both the benefits and dangers of bathing, it’s almost impossible to know who’s right. But fear not, for your own Lady Matilda has done the research and asked the tough questions so that you don’t have to. (Note: if you send your children with messages for me, my dears, please ensure they’re clean, or at least freshened with lavender and wearing a face mask).
While many of you enjoy personal basins and water jugs for your ablutions, there may still exist a hesitation about using a bath. And who has time to read all 1500 words written by Magninius Mediolanesis on bathing (nor his 57 bathing prescriptions. 57!) So here are some Dos and Don’ts, selected from only the wisest of scholars, for those of you prepared to give public bathing a try.
DO BATHE! As our learned teacher, Magninius, reminds us: “The bath cleans the external body parts of dirt left behind from exercise on the outside of the body.” Or, if not exercise, then strenuous socialising.
DO bathe in the Spring and in the Winter.
DO listen to our Italian cousin, Pietro de Tussignano, and bathe every day for 15 days, for an hour each day. The benefits will last for months! Just imagine the envious looks you’ll get from Lady Stanburh at your next banquet when the lockdown is finally over!
DO hang clean sheets around the tub, each one festooned with fresh flowers and herbs.
DO ensure your servants have provided a large sponge for you to sit upon, as well as 5 or 6 smaller sponges for additional comfort and general leaning.
DO remember to close the door! You never know WHO is peeking in or listening. You don’t want to experience a similar incident as Lady Agatha did, involving her son’s dog, their pet cat, and her husband’s falcon.
DO have a basin on hand with hot water and fresh herbs with which to wash. Rinsing with rose-water will leave you feeling refreshed and your skin glowing.
DO have your servants add boiled herbs like chamomile, breweswort, mallow, and brown fennel to the bath for any aches and pains you or your lord may have.
DON’T engage in conjugal relations TOO much before bathing. But don’t abstain either! For a more help it would be best to seek the advice of your parish priest. Or Lady Agatha.
DON’T eat before bathing. If you absolutely must nibble something, a little wine with no more than two spoons of raisins should be your limit. (Our Italian cousin, de Tussignano, does NOT say, however, how large those two spoons should be – in this case, you are your own best judge).
DON’T pour water over your head if unless you are clean-shaven. The hairs may impede the beneficial effects of the water.
DON’T bathe in the summer, or bathe as little as possible. While full immersion is frowned upon during the summer months, continued bathing at your wash basin is positively encouraged.
DON’T linger too long in a bath. Overlong baths can lead to fatness and feebleness.
What About the Dog?
Don’t forget to include the family pets in your lockdown fun! Dress them up, use makeup on them, or even teach them to play music!
Teaching man’s best friend to play the pipes is surprisingly easy! With only a few lessons, even the silliest dog will be playing a recognisable ‘Te Deum’.
Not many people are aware of just how intelligent rabbits actually are. With their compact feet and long claws, they’re well suited to playing the organ, as many monasteries have discovered. Next time you’re at church, take a quick peek at who’s sitting at the cathedral organ. You may just be surprised.
Cat are clever and want you to believe they cannot be trained. This is utter nonsense. With the right coercion, any feline can be persuaded to exhibit his exceptional musical ability.
Imagine the concerts you’ll be able hold once the plague has passed! And how impressed your neighbours will be with how wisely you’ve spent your time inside!
My darlings, that’s it for now. I hope you found my tips useful and practical, and I hope you are all keeping safe and healthy. Until next time, adieu dear readers. Adieu.
The game of Charades did NOT exist during the Black Death of 1348/49. It WAS invented in France, but in the 18th Century.
Copyright Kelly Evans 2020