Wednesday, February 5, 2014

How to Survive Winter...18th Century Style

The Four Seasons, Winter, 1755 by Francois Boucher
Brrrrrrr, it's been a cold winter, so far, even down here in Edenton, North Carolina where we're still recovering from our six inches of snow and two degree (F) wind chills a few days ago. (Yes, I know for some of you in more northern climes, that sounds down right balmy, but it's all relative!) Living in a drafty old house made me wonder how our 18th century ancestors managed without central heat and indoor plumbing. Chills me to the bone just thinking about it!

Comtesse Tessin, 1741, by Jean Marc Nattier
So, let's say you are a woman who has time traveled back to the 18th century in the dead of winter and you need to warm! First of all, let's be sure you are properly dressed. If you are a highly fashionable woman such as the young lovely pictured above in her swan-decorated, man-driven sleigh, your choices are fewer than if you are of the lower-classed variety. Your silk gowns are low-cut in the bodice and the sleeves end right around your elbows. You can achieve some relief by wearing woolen stockings and quilted petticoats beneath your skirt and perhaps a woolen waistcoat over your corset and beneath your gown. You may keep your hands warm by tucking them inside a fur muff. During the 18th century, the size of your fur muff increases dramatically and becomes a status symbol. The wealthier you are, the larger your muff. As a matter of fact, some French women were known to carry small dogs inside their huge muffs. I suppose that would add another layer of warmth as well! Now, if you are still cold and must cover your beautiful gown, you might wear an elbow-length, fur-lined cape. A light scarf can cover your head but if you arrive in the latter quarter of the century, your formal wigs double
A Winter Landscape with Figures Skating on a Frozen River, early 1700s, by Dirck Dalens III
as head warmers. Of course, the flipside to that is the undesired heat they capture come summertime, but that's for another, more sultry day... If you are a less fashionable lady you have more latitude and may wear skirts of heavier, courser, warmer fabric and cover your less-than-vogue dress with a longer, hooded cloak. Think you might get by wearing long underwear? Think again, dear lady, no matter your class, women did not wear underpants or drawers of any kind in the 18th century.

Traveling? Be sure you have plenty of warm woolen blankets or furs, if you can afford them, to cuddle beneath while riding in your carriage or... your swan-decorated, man-driven sleigh.

How about something to warm your insides? You may have your choice of hot broth, hot chocolate, hot tea, hot coffee, hot toddy, hot mulled wine or cider. You see the trend here. A nice hot bowl of Brunswick Stew would go a long way to warm you up on an icy day! (See my blog post for 11-20-13 for an authentic Brunswick Stew recipe.)
Bed Warmer--  Algont at nl.wikipedia

Your home is heated by fireplaces and if your abode is a humble one, the kitchen fireplace doubles as the place to cook and as the source for heat. A single fireplace kept stoked with embers will warm your small home. If your time machine drops you into a large mansion, your bedroom will have its own fireplace kept glowing by the household servants. The servants may also have warmed your bed with a warming pan before you retire (lucky you!) The warming pan consists of a large round or oval metal pan, often copper, attached to a long wooden pole. The pan is filled with hot coals or ash from the fireplace and closed with its hinged top. Not only does the pan warm the bed linens as it slides from end to end, it helps eliminate dampness often felt before the days of dry, central heat.

Woman at her Toilet, 1660, by Jan Hacvicksz Steen
So, now you've survived your day in the cold and tucked yourself into a bed made toasty by a warming pan, or perhaps by the companionship of other inhabitants of your home, and with a tummy warmed by a bowl of hot stew and a mug of hot, mulled cider. Oh dear, perhaps you had a little too much of that warming liquid and Nature calls. What to do? Nothing to do but haul yourself out of bed and head for the unheated, outdoor privy or, perhaps on second thought, make use of the indoor chamber pot. Just be sure you've located it before the candles are snuffed out. It's mighty dark at night in the 18th century and you wouldn't want to trip over it or, worse yet, knock it over!

Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now! (And stay warm!)

Portrait of Princess Daria Galitzine - "Winter", 1756 by Jean Samsois II

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