Rosalie Gilbert (author of The Very Secret Sex Lives of Medieval Women) brings us a medieval recipe for removing unwanted hair.


It’s no real surprise that medieval women liked to look their best, much as we do today. Among the herbal handbooks and other writings from the middle ages, we can learn a surprising amount about some of these practices.

One of these is the medieval woman’s feelings towards body hair.
 

Woman at Her Toilet, early 16th-century copy by an unknown Netherlandish artist, 27.2 x 16.3 cm. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, MA. After Van Eyeck.
Woman at Her Toilet, early 16th-century copy by an unknown Netherlandish artist, 27.2 x 16.3 cm. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, MA. After Van Eyeck.


We may not know everything there is to know about feminine hygiene, and certainly trends might have varied from country to country and time to time, but what we do know, however, is that a great many ladies cared deeply about their hair and ways to lighten it, darken it or in the case of her privvy body hair, remove it altogether.

Many of the recipes we have today from the middle ages contain ingredients which are quite caustic, like the arsenic and quicklime mentioned in the recipe above.

Most recipes are a little more mysterious in their amounts and instructions, but this one is quite happy to offer amounts, a method and a dire warning not to leave the solution on for too long or things will end badly for you.

It often amazes me that some recipes include ingredients which, to me, seem not easily accessible to the everyday housewife. These ladies might like to consider hair removal the old-fashioned way- with tweezers.

Medieval tweezers from England
Medieval tweezers from England


The tweezers shown at right are dated to the medieval period and are from England. They compare in size to our modern ones at 72mm long and weigh 7.66 grams. Unlike modern tweezers, they have a folded loop of wire to keep them closed when not in use. This style of tweezers can be seen the world over as early as Dark Ages and later into the Renaissance. These belong to The Gilbert Collection

In Chaucer’s The Miller’s Tale, we learn that the Miller’s wife doesn’t remove her pubic hair like many other women. It seems as an older lady and of coarser breeding, perhaps she might not follow the trends of the richer women, or it just may be that since she has already married her husband, these niceties are completely unnecessary.


The Very Secret Sex Lives of Medieval Women

An Inside Look at Women & Sex in Medieval Times

An inside look at sexual practices in medieval times. Were medieval women slaves to their husband’s desires, jealously secured in a chastity belt in his absence? Was sex a duty or could it be a pleasure? Did a woman have a say about her own female sexuality, body, and who did or didn’t get up close and personal with it? No. And yes. It’s complicated.

Romance, courtship, and behind closed doors. The intimate lives of medieval women were as complex as for modern women. They loved and lost, hoped and schemed, were lifted up and cast down. They were hopeful and lovelorn. Some had it forced upon them, others made aphrodisiacs and dressed for success. Some were chaste and some were lusty. Having sex was complicated. Not having sex, was even more so.

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