Category Archives: Fourteenth Century

Medieval Markets

Westgate Hall, Southampton

Last week we looked at medieval shops and I thought it would be interesting to take a look at medieval markets today. On average, most people in England in the fourteenth century lived just over four miles from their nearest market, which meant that both buyers and sellers could get there and back in a day. Often people were both buyers and sellers if they came in from outside the market town.

It wasn’t just merchants who had goods for sale; by the fourteenth century peasants were growing crops to sell and they sold them in the nearby market towns. Although grain was the chief crop and had to be sold and transported in bulk, they also produced poultry, eggs, fruit, vegetables, honey and wax. These were normally the responsibility of the women and it was their job to take them to market, usually on foot. Peasants also grew flax and hemp and dyestuffs all of which would be sold.

Markets weren’t just about local produce, however. You could also buy, depending on which merchants were there, luxury goods such as sugar, almonds, dates, aniseed, liquorice, sweetmeats, nutmeg, cinnamon, coriander, currants, raisins, figs, cloves, ginger, salt and rice, most of which had travelled a long way. Foreign foods weren’t the only luxuries, though. Cloths and threads from silk to linen, furs and leatherware could also be purchased.

Most market towns were small and they were controlled by the lords of the manor who founded them. They received the tolls, rents and fines from the market. Tolls were paid to enter the town and rents were paid for the stalls. By the mid-thirteenth century markets had to be licensed by the king and a century later about 1,200 had been licensed. There were undoubtedly many unlicensed markets as well.

The authorities of a market town were keen to see that buyers weren’t cheated, since there was usually another market town not too far away. Smaller market towns existed solely to enable trade. If buyers went elsewhere there would be no more tolls, rents or fines, so the market was overseen by a catchpole whose job was to look out for merchants who were breaking the rules of the market, mainly by cheating their customers. This is where the fines came in.

Markets in towns close to one another were held on different days, partly to reduce competition amongst them, but also to allow traders to travel around them. In larger towns there could be a market on every day of the week, except Sunday.

Markets were held in large open spaces, often in front of a church, and the roads around it were made as wide as possible to allow carts to pass one another coming and going. It was the bells of the church that told everyone when the market was opening and closing.

I mentioned last week that many market stalls were semi-permanent and some were even permanent. Many were housed in arcades of a building that had an enclosed top floor used to store items sold by the traders in the arcades below. Usually there was a requirement that certain goods coming into a town be stored in one place, regardless of who they belonged to. This applied particularly to wool and it made it much easier to tax the traders.

Westgate Hall, pictured at the top of the post, was built towards the end of the fourteenth century or the beginning of the fifteenth. Although you can’t see them now, there were arcades all around the bottom for stalls in the fish market. Relocated in the seventeenth century, it used to stand in the middle of the fish market, outside St. Michael’s church. The top floor was used to store wool.  I suspect that there was little point storing fish in a town where fishing was a major concern. There was, however, always the need for somewhere to store wool in a port from which it was exported.

In larger market towns, and large didn’t have to be very large in medieval England, there could be separate markets for different types of goods. There might be a cloth market or a fish market or a grain market where traders could buy in bulk, for this was another purpose of a market. It didn’t just exist to allow local people to buy and sell in small quantities. If an area specialised in a particular product, as Southampton did in fish, those who produced it didn’t necessarily want to travel long distances to sell their goods. It was better for them to continue to produce them while someone else sold their produce in distant markets. Traders with the resources to buy large quantities and transport them did so.

Sources:
England in the Reign of Edward III by Scott L. Waugh
Making a Living in the Middle Ages by Christopher Dyer
A Social History of England 1200 to 1500 by Rosemary Horrox and W. Mark Ormrod
The Time-Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Fiddleford Manor — A Bit About Britain

Last month I wrote a guest post for Mike Biles’ site A Bit About Britain. It’s a wonderful site, full of posts about places in Britain and British history, all accompanied by good quality photographs. If you go there to read my post, look around for a bit, as there’s bound to be something else that will interest you.

A Bit About Britain is delighted to welcome author April Munday, as a guest writer introducing us to Fiddleford Manor. Fiddleford Manor, such a great name, is a small manor house in North Dorset. 17 more words

Fiddleford Manor — A Bit About Britain

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Medieval Staples

The French attempt to recapture Calais

To my immense shame, I have often come across the word ‘staple’ when reading about the Middle Ages and not bothered to find out what it really means. I knew it had something to do with merchants and trade, but I didn’t know the details. Today I’m putting that right.

A staple was, essentially, the only town through which a certain commodity could be imported or exported. There were some in England and some were on the continent. The practice was begun by Edward I in Dordrecht.

The main commodity for which this was important was wool, England’s largest export, but there were also wine staples. The wool staple was introduced in 1313 by Edward II. All wool had to be exported through a single continental port. Initially it was St. Omer, then Antwerp and then Bruges. Eventually it was Calais. The port chosen depended on the king’s political and diplomatic goals at the time.

The staple gave an advantage to English merchants, as foreign merchants couldn’t buy wool directly from the producers. All wool for export had to be taken to a staple town and sold to authorised merchants who then sold it abroad. It was also a way of making it easier for the government to collect duty, as only a limited number of people had the right to export certain goods.

In 1354 the Statute of Staples listed the staple towns in England and Ireland. They were Bristol, Canterbury, Chichester, Cork, Drogheda, Dublin, Exeter, Lincoln, London, Newcastle, Norwich, Waterford, Winchester and York.  At first I was surprised not to see Southampton on the list, but the combined blows of the French raid in 1338 and the Black Death in 1348 had almost destroyed the town by this point. Much later it was made the staple for various metals.

Calais became a staple town in 1363 which it remained until it fell to the French in 1558. In Calais there were twenty-six merchants permitted to trade in wool. The intention of the English government was to make Calais financially self-sufficient instead of being a drain on the country’s finances. Calais was a town in France held by the English after a year-long siege in 1346/47. As you can see from the picture at the top of the post, the French wanted it back and defending the town from them cost money. In theory, giving the town the wool staple would increase trade within Calais and, therefore, duty, which could be used to reduce the financial burden on England. The theory was good, but the practice wasn’t. Making Calais a staple town had a negative impact on the wool trade from which it took some time to recover.

England wasn’t the only country to use staples. Scotland used them and there were also staple ports on the Danube and the Rhein. They were unpopular and powerful foreign merchants often petitioned against them. Sometimes they ignored them entirely and took their goods to non-staple ports where, presumably, local merchants were happy enough to break the law.

Sources:
Power and Profit by Peter Spufford
A Dictionary of Medieval Terms and Phrases by Chistopher Corédon and Ann Williams
England in the Reign of Edward III by Scott L. Waugh
Making a Living in the Middle Ages by Christopher Dyer

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Holy Rood, Southampton

Unlike the church in last week’s post, Holy Rood, less than 200 yards away, didn’t survive the Second World War unscathed. On the night of 30th November 1940, it, along with most of the town centre, was destroyed. The ruin was dedicated to the Merchant Navy and there are memorials inside to seafaring Sotonians who lost their lives at sea, including one to members of the crew of the Titanic.

What’s left of the current building was built in 1320, replacing a church that stood in the middle of English Street. The tower is fourteenth century, but the nave, aisles and chancel were rebuilt in 1849-50. The Victorian rebuilding was a lot more sympathetic to the medieval original than many such projects and more people were able to fit inside the church and make use of the building, which was of benefit to the parish.

The site of the present church was given to St. Denys Priory by Thomas de Bynedone, probably the richest man in the town at the time. The old church was more or less exactly where the new water conduit needed to be to bring fresh water into the town from a spring outside. Thomas de Bynedone’s intention was that there would be a cemetery as well as a church, but the town’s mother church, St. Mary’s, objected. Burials of the town’s inhabitants were only to take place in St. Mary’s cemetery and none of the churches within the town’s walls had burial grounds. St. Mary’s was just a few hundred yards outside the medieval town and I’m not entirely sure how it came to be its main church. Perhaps we’ll visit some of the buildings outside the town walls later. The church was reached through the town’s East Gate. The gate is no longer there, but the road that led to it is still called East Street. Although Thomas de Byndone’s plan for a cemetery failed, he was given the right to be buried within Holy Rood itself.

At the height of the Black Death, three separate vicars were appointed to the parish on 12th March, 22nd April and 20th September 1349, their predecessors having succumbed to the plague. The whole town, which hadn’t even started to recover from a raid by the French in 1338, was badly affected by the Black Death and took a long time to regain its former wealth. For centuries it was thought that Southampton was the place where the Black Death entered England, but it’s now believed that this was Melcombe, a few miles round the coast in Dorset.

During the fifteenth century Holy Rood became the church of the wealthier inhabitants of the town, who tended to live in the southern part of the parish. At this time, the church’s bell was rung to wake the town and to announce the curfew each day.

Possibly the most important visitor the church has welcomed was Philip II of Spain. When he arrived in Southampton in 1554, he heard Mass here, then rode to Winchester to marry Mary Tudor.

Sources:
Historic Buildings of Southampton by Philip Peberdy
Collected Essays on Southampton edited by J B Morgan and Philip Peberdy
Medieval Southampton by Colin Platt

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Medieval Couriers

In the fourteenth century you couldn’t post your letters into the nearest postbox and expect them to be delivered within a few days. Postboxes and the postal service that went with them were nineteenth century inventions. If you wanted to send a letter, you had to pay someone to carry it. For most people, that didn’t really matter, since they lived near everyone they knew or might need to communicate with and could either visit them or send a servant. There were, however, some people for whom being able to get a letter to the other side of the country, or even the other side of Europe, was very important and some of them developed reliable means of doing so.

Probably the best medieval postal service was developed by Italian merchants. European trade was dominated by merchants from Florence, Venice and Genoa. This meant that their goods were transported all over Europe. Initially, they travelled with their wares, but around the middle of the thirteenth century the businesses of the great merchant houses got to be so large that that was no longer possible. As soon as they had to trust their goods to other people, the merchants needed to have some kind of courier service in place to carry messages back and forth about the progress of their goods, the cost of tolls on the route, and the prices the goods could be expected to fetch when they reached their destination. They also needed to be able to send messages to the people carrying their goods should their original plans change and to their customers.

The solution was to set up courier services made up of men and horses who could travel quickly up and down a single route. For about a hundred years each of the great merchant houses had their own messengers, but it was a very expensive undertaking. In 1357 seventeen Florentine companies joined together to provide a single service. Their goods were all following the same routes, more or less, so it made sense to co-operate in this one area. They set up the scasella dei mercanti fiorentini and it wasn’t long before merchants in other places followed suit.

This postal service was expensive because it required many couriers and even more horses. Each route had several couriers with changes of horses available to them along the way. There were thousands of letters to be carried each year, so the men were kept busy. The main routes from Florence went to Barcelona and Bruges. The latter could be by way of Cologne or Paris. From Barcelona the couriers could cross the Mediterranean by ship or cross Spain and go into Portugal. From Bruges they could cross the Channel to London.

Obviously, the length of time that it took for a letter to get from its sender to its recipient varied according to the time of year, the weather and the condition of the horses and riders. The merchants in Florence, however, expected to be able to get a message from Florence to Paris (700 miles) in twenty to twenty-two days, to Bruges (800 miles) in less than twenty-five days and to London (1,000 miles) in less than thirty days. This last didn’t really take into account the unpredictability of crossing the Channel at the best of times and these speeds were probably more wished for than achieved.

It wasn’t just merchants who needed a courier service for their letters. The church had one too. Letters were constantly going between clerics in England (and other countries) and the papal court in Avignon (later Rome). Letters also went between the papal court and the secular rulers of Europe. These also used couriers to carry letters between themselves and those of their subjects they wished to communicate with.

Possibly the most famous courier of the fourteenth century (although not for being a courier) was Geoffrey Chaucer. In October 1360 he was paid nine shillings by Lionel of Antwerp, in whose retinue he was serving, to carry letters from France to England, presumably announcing Lionel’s imminent return. Doubtless he carried other letters while he was still a lowly member of Lionel’s household.

Sources:
Power and Profit by Peter Spufford
The Time-Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer
The Life of Geoffrey Chaucer by Derek Pearsall

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Medieval Lent

Saxon Rood

Since we’ve just entered Lent, I thought we’d have a look at what happened during this period in the Middle Ages. When we think about Lent as it was experienced seven hundred years ago, we tend to focus on the fasting aspect. Meat, milk (cream and butter), and eggs were banned, which, as I’ve said in other posts, probably wasn’t much of a change for most people who struggled to get meat much of the time. What we rarely think about is what Lent meant to a medieval person. Today many people think that Lent is just about giving up chocolate or television or something else that’s reasonably important to them, but people in the Middle Ages knew that giving up things was to help them to reflect on the meaning of Lent.

So, what was, and is, Lent? It’s the forty days before Easter and is a very sombre time in the church calendar. It leads to the despair of the Crucifixion and, ultimately, to the joy of Easter Day. Like Easter, it doesn’t have fixed dates. It takes as its model the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness and is a time of sacrifice and deprivation. It lasts from Ash Wednesday until the end of Holy Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday.

Before Ash Wednesday, there is Shrove Tuesday. In the Middle Ages this wasn’t a single day but a longer period known as Shrovetide, when people confessed their sins so that they could begin the Lenten fast having repented, received absolution and done penance. This is the meaning of the word ‘shrive’ from which ‘shrove’ is derived. Even in a small village it would probably have taken the priest longer than one day to hear everyone’s confession. Shrove Tuesday was the last day on which meat, milk and eggs could be consumed and in some countries it turned into a bit of a party – Carnival. That’s not the case in England, where it was a fairly serious day until the Reformation. That’s when the tradition of making pancakes to use the last of the eggs and the butter began.

The other thing they were supposed to abstain from during Lent was sex. Who knows now how strictly that particular injunction was observed? Since most people, even married couples, had no privacy, I suspect that it was … for the most part. No one could get married in Lent and it’s still something that many churches aren’t keen on. These days, though, it’s more for practical reasons than spiritual ones. Lent is an austere time and churches can’t be decorated as some couples might wish.

This many centuries later, it’s really hard to know what people thought about Lent, but they wouldn’t have thought it was just about what they couldn’t eat, or couldn’t do. The church was the centre of everyone’s life and everyone grew up going to church on Sundays and feast days. The parish priest was always there and there was probably a monastery or convent not far away. Mendicant friars might have visited the parish and preached. Parishioners heard sermons and, even if their priest didn’t have access to a Bible, they learned enough about the cycle of the church year to understand the meaning of Lent. They would have understood that it was a time of reflection and preparation. Fasting was only something that would aid this; it was not the most important aspect of Lent.

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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The Friar of Carcassonne by Stephen O’Shea – A Review

Published: 2011
Pages: 280

Although most of the events related in The Friar of Carcassonne take place in the fourteenth century, their roots stretch back into the twelfth and thirteenth centuries with the explosion of heresies in the Languedoc, an area of southern France. Stephen O’Shea has written about the origins of Catharism in the region in a separate book, The Perfect Heresy, and The Friar of Carcassonne is the story of a Franciscan who played an important role during its end.

Brother Bernard Délicieux, a Franciscan, took on the inquisition (very definitely lower case at that time) when no one else dared. There had been obvious abuses by the Dominican inquisitors in Carcassonne, a town in Languedoc, at the end of the thirteenth century. Some of the inquisitors, it turned out later, received financial benefits from identifying certain wealthy people as supporters of the heretics. Very little ‘evidence’ was required to condemn someone and many men spent decades incarcerated in terrible conditions, eventually dying in prison for supporting people they’d never heard of. This was the main incentive for Bernard to take on the inquisition.

O’Shea goes back in time at the beginning of the book in order to set the scene. By the end of the thirteenth century Catharism had begun to die out, but there was renewed persecution in the last two decades of the century. This resulted in unrest in a region that had only recently become part of the kingdom of France. Eventually what was going on there caused concern both to the pope and to the king of France.

Brother Bernard is presented as charismatic, intelligent and persuasive. O’Shea shows how he managed to gain the support of both highly-placed churchmen and counsellors of Philippe IV, king of France. He also shows how easily Bernard made enemies in equally high places, including kings and popes. Bernard, it turns out, could also be a bit of a rabble-rouser when he wanted and he wasn’t above lying to further his cause or to save his life.

Unusually for something that happened in a remote corner of the world to someone who wasn’t terribly important beyond that corner, the events are well-documented. The reasons for this become very clear as the tale progresses. O’Shea makes good use of these records in his presentation of the friar and his activities.

I enjoyed the book, but found it quite disjointed. Of necessity, O’Shea has to explain a lot of background before he can write about what Bernard did in a particular situation and why it was significant, and that breaks up the narrative, since it’s necessary in almost every chapter. There are also copious notes at the end of the book, citing sources for those who want to find out more. If you’re interested in the heresies that erupted in the twelfth century, you will probably want to read this book.

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Medieval Pins

Mike Walker, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In a comment about last week’s post Shaunn Munn mentioned pins, because you can’t think about needles without thinking of pins. I couldn’t find any references to pins being used in making clothes, although I assume that they (or something similar) must have been. It’s difficult to imagine someone sewing long seams (and some of them were very long) without something to hold the two pieces of fabric together. What I did find, though, was something interesting about fourteenth-century fashion.

Pins were originally large, ornamented and very visible. Their large, decorated heads drew attention and they were used to fasten outer garments in the same way as brooches were. In the twelfth century a development in metal production (please don’t ask me what it was, as I have no idea and wouldn’t understand it if I did) meant that drawn wire was available and pins with narrow shafts could be made. By the fourteenth century they had become very fine, which was useful, as women of fashion needed pins that were next to invisible.

Women used pins to keep the folds of their headdresses in place, or to attach their veils to their hair or the front of their gowns, and they wanted the shafts to be more or less invisible. What was the point of having a veil that was more or less transparent if you only had thick pins with large heads to attach it? The veil and the headdress were supposed to be the stars, not the pins holding them in place.

The use of pins took off in the fourteenth century. When Joan of England, a daughter of Edward III, set sail to marry Pedro of Castile in 1348 she took 12,000 pins for her veils with her. Sadly, the groom was never to see the veils or the pins or his bride, for she caught bubonic plague in Bordeaux and was one of its first English victims.

Even when used in headdresses and veils some of the pins had decorative heads, a coral bead, for example, or basic geometric designs. Most pinheads, however, were either solid metal or made of wound wire. They could be formed into a variety of shapes, although most of them resembled the pins of my youth in that they had heads shaped like tiny mushroom caps. The heads were beaten into shape by a hammer. Some formed spheres, others were flattened, both vertically and horizontally to the pin.

No one’s quite sure whether pins were manufactured in England, but there’s plenty of evidence that they were used here in their hundreds of thousands.

Source:
Dress Accessories 1150 – 1450 by Geoff Egan and Frances Pritchard

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Making Medieval Clothes

Last week we had a look at what went under the clothes and this week we’ll take a look at the making of the clothes. The fourteenth century was a time of fast-changing fashion. It wasn’t quite as fast as it is today, with clothes being out of date almost before you’ve bought them, but there were noticeable changes over the years. And the women were as bad as the men.

The desire to be fashionable meant plenty of work for those who made clothes for the wealthy. Only they could afford both to follow fashion and to have their clothes made for them. Philippa of Hainault, Edward III’s queen, was a woman who liked clothes and spent a lot of her husband’s money on them. For the majority of women, though, making and maintaining clothes for the family was something they did themselves.

As today, clothes were made with needle and thread, but they were made, obviously, without the aid of a sewing machine. A few years ago, before I owned such a marvellous object, I made a very simple garment by hand and it took forever. Even as a beginner, I could have done it much faster with a sewing machine, but there was a certain amount of fun, and satisfaction, in managing without one. There are and were, however, people able to sew very quickly and neatly by hand. Like everything else, it’s a matter of practice.

Thread could be silk or linen, both of which could be died to match the colour of the cloth used.

Simple needles were made of copper alloy or iron and the eyes were punched or drilled, occasionally both. Drilled eyes were rounder and punched eyes were longer. I’m afraid that the needle in my photograph is not against a contrasting background, so it’s impossible to tell what kind of eye it has. I’ve included a photograph of the part of the display cabinet where it lives so that you can get an idea of its size.

Another necessity for hand sewing is a thimble. By the fourteenth century metal thimbles were used all over England. There is some debate as to whether or not they were in use before that, but that need not worry us. The thimble shown at the top of the post is on display in Winchester City Museum. Each of the dimples would have been drilled by a thimbler as in the picture above. I’m not sure who he’s making them for, though, as they’re rather large.

As you can see from the finished objects on his table, not all thimbles were rounded on top. Some were more like rings that would sit above the top knuckle on a finger. Since I tend to push a needle from the tip of my finger, such a thimble would be little help to me, but practice would probably make it less dangerous.

Sources:
The Medieval Household by Geoff Egan

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Medieval Underclothes

I’ve been doing some dressmaking this week and it made me think about what people wore in the fourteenth century and how it was made, not that I’m not thinking about such things all the time.

Everybody, whoever they were, wore some woollen garments. It was England’s largest export and items woven from English wool were highly prized all over Europe. Tunics, cloaks, dresses and stockings were all made from wool. The wealthiest people in the country also wore silk. Wool and silk were only what they wore on the outside, however. Everyone, regardless of how rich or poor they were, wore linen next to the skin.

Forget what you think you know about how filthy people were in the Middle Ages. They liked being clean as much as you do and they liked wearing clean clothes as well. Clothes get dirty, though, even if you’re not particularly active. If you are active, clothes get even dirtier. Bodies sweat, which isn’t too much of a problem for wool, but silk doesn’t always wash well.

Whilst you can wash wool, which actually copes quite well with some kinds of dirt, it soaks up a lot of water and takes forever to dry. You’ll know that if you’ve ever washed woollen socks or a jumper. If you have several items of woollen clothing and have to wash one of them, it’s not necessarily a problem, even in winter when the whole process of washing and drying takes longer. If you only have one, or even two, sets of clothes, it’s a real problem if you need to wash something.

The way in which people coped with this was by wearing linen next to the skin. The linen soaked up bodily fluids and could be washed and dried fairly easily and quickly. Outer layers could be shaken or brushed to get rid of the worst of the dirt.

Whilst the woman at the top of this post is, rather immodestly, naked, and has her hair uncovered, she would normally have worn a chemise just as the man fleeing (or perhaps approaching) her bed is. Unlike the man, however, she would not have worn anything beneath it. Men could also remove their chemises for more physically demanding work, something that a woman could not do. These undergarments were also made of linen. They were easy to wash and dried quickly.

Whether a man or a woman was wearing it, a chemise was long, about knee length on a man and calf length on a woman. It had sleeves.

This second woman is more demurely dressed. You can see that her chemise is tied at the neck and has long sleeves. The woollen gown that she’s removing wouldn’t touch her skin anywhere and could be taken off at night, shaken and hung over a rail, while she slept in her chemise. The gown would eventually need to be washed, but it could be at a time of her choosing, probably in the summer, when it would dry quicker.

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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