Keeping Warm in Medieval England

With Home Modifications

His lop-sided smile broadened, his eyes crinkling merrily. “I’m Leoric of Rensweald.” He chuckled. “And, I assure you, I’ll plunder none of your finery tonight.”


I giggled. “You’re only saying that so I’ll pull my golden ewer out of hiding. Then back into the storm you’ll go to leave me ewer-less.”


“I’d wait until the storm was done.”


He turned toward the door, where the deluge breached every crack to soak the rushes on the floor. Each hard rain had me gathering fresh rushes for that spot, though I’d tried to seal the threshold a dozen different ways.


“You just might drown in here if you’re not careful. You’d be drier in a tree.”


Excerpt from THE TAKING

This scene does two things quite well:

  1. Shows that Amarys and Leoric click with one another despite their striking differences. Maybe opposites do attract.
  2. It clearly illustrates just how impoverished Amarys’ family is without overtly stating as much.

Leoric is a man of wealth and position, but Amarys comes from a impoverished family. In fact, this dichotomy reflects life in medieval England–the haves and have nots. Most buildings and homes that people inhabited had compact earth for flooring. Sounds dirty and cold, huh? Well, consider this:

A great deal of historic literature references the use of rushes on the floors of medieval homes and buildings. Rushes are an herbaceous evergreen plant that could have been available year round. Mixed with herbs, these rushes provided a sweet smelling insulation for buildings and would keep you cleaner than walking on the dirt every day.

In 1515 Desiderius Erasmus wrote in a letter that, in England, “The floors are too generally spread with clay and then with rushes from some marsh, which are renewed from time to time but so as to leave a basic layer, sometimes for twenty years, under which fester spittle, vomit, dogs’ urine and men’s too, dregs of beer and cast-off bits of fish, and other unspeakable kinds of filth. As the weather changes, this exhales a sort of miasma which in my opinion is far from conducive to bodily health.”

There is some debate about whether loose rushes as describe above were used or whether the rushes were sewn into a mat. Although there does not appear to be a definitive answer, as there is some supporting evidence for each method, it does seem plausible that the majority of people (or poorer people) may have used loose rushes while the wealthy may have used both loose and woven rushes.

Either way, Erasmus likely had good cause for concern about England being “beset by continual pestilence and in particular by the sweating-sickness.”

Surely, the practiced use of rushes was was one born of necessity at the expense of health. Can anyone say mouse poo?

So on this Christmas day, I wish you all good tidings and well wishes–and may we all be thankful that we do not sleep among strewn rushes infested with insects and rodents, however toasty and dry the flooring may be.

Part Of The

Tales of Malstria Monday


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