Monday, May 18, 2015

The Baths of Queen Caroline

From All Things Georgian:
The personal grooming habits of George II’s wife, Queen Caroline, were so unusual that they passed into legend and nursery rhyme. And while I have not found any proof that she used such a dangerous substance as turpentine for her hair, she was certainly washing it more often than the average Georgian woman at court.

In general the hair would be cleaned only by a thorough brushing, with washing in rosemary water taking place perhaps fortnightly, or at even greater intervals. And as far as the skin went, it was the hands, face, feet and personal areas that were cleaned every day. Full immersion in water was rare. Partly, this was due to the difficulty, not to mention the expense, of heating the amount of water required for a bath. You would also need to afford the help of servants to lug the water forward and backwards. But even those rich enough to obtain steaming tubs of water would use it sparingly. Medical science at the time considered it dangerous to overindulge in baths. The sudden changes of temperature when getting in and out of the water threatened chills, while opening up the pores made them susceptible to infections. This is not to say that every early Georgian had an unpleasant odour – the habit of brushing the skin, particularly under the arms, helped to carry away many impurities.

When Caroline arrived in England as Princess of Wales in 1714, she amazed the court with her regular bathing habits. She was always a progressive thinker, challenging opinions of science and religion amongst other subjects. She liked her skin and gowns to be clean and her servants well manicured – a feat which must have been quite difficult for those involved in the dirty work of running a household. At one point in her life, Caroline was separated from her children with only limited access to them. It is interesting to note that she insisted on bathing them and putting them to bed herself. While I imagine the heavy lifting of water would have been done by a servant, the main point is that Caroline considered it good practice to bath her children regularly – something which may well have earned her censure as a ‘careless’ mother. (Read more.)

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