Tag Archives: renaissance

“Sootikins”

The following passage is excerpted from “The Role of Cats in Nursery Rhymes,” by Sarah Hartwell–

Good Queen BessTHE CAT AND THE QUEEN

Pussy-cat, Pussy-cat where have you been?
I’ve been to London to look at the Queen.
Pussy-cat, Pussy-cat, what did you there?
I frightened a little mouse under a [her] chair.

One explanation of the origins of this rhyme goes back to 16th century England. One of the staff of Queen Elizabeth I (Good Queen Bess) was said to have had an old cat which tended to roam throughout one of the royal residences. On one occasion the cat apparently went underneath the throne (the “chair”) and its tail brushed against the Queen’s foot, startling her. Luckily Queen Elizabeth was amused and declared that the cat could wander through the throne room as long as it kept it free of mice!

Another suggested meaning of this relates to the poor hygiene of a different queen and is perhaps a cautionary tale about hygiene in general. Undergarments were uncommon among poorer women before the nineteenth century and dust, ash and general grime accumulated on the genitalia just as it did elsewhere on the body….

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In Days of Olde…

…the shit ran freely in the streets.

Gardy Loo!

An excerpt from Christine A. Powell’s excellent online essay, “A Matter of Convenience”

In Renaissance Scotland, the housewives threw their chamberpot contents and slops out the windows with the cry “Gardy Loo!” (This evidently derived from the French “Gardez l’eau,” meaning “Look out for the water!”) Unfortunately, the sound of the cry and the discarded material often arrived simultaneously. Woe to the one who looked up to see what was happening. It is believed that this may be the origin of the British term “loo” for a toilet (Pudney, 28-9). The high-rises of Edinburgh were hardly the only places in Europe to present a sanitation problem during this era.

Indeed, the period from 1550 to 1750 has been called the “two rather insanitary centuries.” When the court of Charles II spent the summer of 1665 in Oxford, the local diarist Anthony Wood observed they were “nasty and beastly, leaving at their departure their excrements in every corner, in chimneys, studies, coalhouses, [and] cellars.” Contemporary accounts and engravings frequently illustrate the morning ritual in English and Scottish cities of emptying one’s ordure out of upper-floor windows into the streets beneath (Wright, 75-8). It was not until the mid-1800s, when Dr. John Snow proved the connection between cholera and sewage-polluted drinking water, that cities began to control their waste (Colman, 46). There is no reason to suppose that Port Royal and other contemporary cities in the colonies were any cleaner than those in Europe during the “insanitary centuries.” (source)

Praise it

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