When you think of medieval women, what image comes to your mind? Perhaps you imagine a fair maiden with long blonde hair, a high forehead, plucked eyebrows, and a pale complexion. Or maybe you picture a pious nun with a modest veil and a humble demeanor. Or perhaps you envision a fierce warrior woman with braided hair and a sword in hand.
But how accurate are these stereotypes? How did medieval women really look like? And what were the beauty standards that shaped their appearance and self-I mage?
In this facts-packed video, we will explore some rare images that reveal how medieval women really looked like in different regions and periods of the Middle Ages. We will also discuss some of the scientific discoveries, art, reconstructions, and historical sources that shed light on what the beauty ideals were during this fascinating era, how they differed from today’s standards, and how they influenced women’s lives.
Facts Verse Presents: Rare Photos Show How Medieval Women Really Looked
The Windsor Beauties
If you want to see what the most alluring and powerful women of the 17th century looked like, you should take a look at the Windsor Beauties. These are a set of portraits by Sir Peter Lely, who is the official court painter of King Charles II after he restores the monarchy in 1660. The portraits depict some of the king’s mistresses and some of his noble relatives and friends. They hang at Windsor Castle, but now they are on display at Hampton Court Palace. They are among Lely’s best works, and they show his influence by Anthony van Dyck and Italian Baroque art.
The portraits not only capture the women’s beauty but also their stories and personalities. They show them in elegant outfits and poses, with accessories that have symbolic meanings. For example, Barbara Palmer, who is one of the king’s most loyal and influential mistresses, holds a pearl necklace that he gave her. Frances Stuart, who was one of the king’s unrequited loves, is wearing a dress with orange blossoms that represent her chastity. Elizabeth Hamilton, who is one of the king’s cousins and a witty conversationalist, depicts holding a fan that shows her sophistication.
The portraits also reveal what the beauty standards were at the time. The women have fair skin, long hair, plucked eyebrows, and small teeth. They also have slender necks, narrow chests, and low shoulders. Some of them have prominent stomachs as a sign of fertility and wealth. Additionally, they have soft expressions and graceful gestures that convey their charm and intelligence.
The Windsor Beauties are a remarkable collection of portraits that show us how medieval women really looked like in the Middle Ages. They also show us how they influenced history with their beauty and power.
Another example of how medieval women really looked like is Tora, a woman who lived 800 years ago in Trondheim, Norway. Unlike the Windsor Beauties. Tora was not a noble or a courtesan, but rather she was an ordinary citizen who lived in a medieval city. Her skeletal remains are there during an archaeological excavation in 2019.
Researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology used her bones to create a realistic-looking 3D model of what she may have looked like when she was alive. They used computerized tomography or CT scans to analyze her skull and facial features and then used computer-generated imagery to reconstruct her skin, hair, and eyes.
Tora At 65 Years Old
Also, they used historical sources and archaeological evidence to estimate her age, height, weight, health, and clothing. They found out that Tora was likely about 65 years old when she died, which was quite old for her time. She was about 5 feet 3 inches tall and weighed about 143 pounds. She also had osteoarthritis in her spine and hips, which probably caused her great pain and limited her mobility. From what we know about her background, it’s safe to say that she probably wore a woolen dress with a linen apron and a shawl over her head.
The researchers also gave Tora a vibrant personality and an immersive backstory based on their interpretation of her bones. They named her Tora after one of the most common female names in medieval Norway. They imagined that she was a widow who lived alone in a small house near the river. Furthermore, they created a narrative in which she had three children who had moved away from home. She worked as a seamstress and made clothes for herself and others, and she also liked to go to church and socialize with her neighbors.
The model of Tora is now on display at the NTNU University Museum as part of an exhibition called “Medieval Trondheim”. The model is large and shows Tora smiling and holding a walking stick. The researchers hope that the model will help people connect with the past and see what medieval women really looked like.
Cold Case Whithorn
One of the most fascinating projects that used CGI and other scientific means to reconstruct medieval faces was Cold Case Whithorn, an initiative led by The Whithorn Trust, a Scottish nonprofit that maintains Whithorn Priory, one of Scotland’s first Christian settlements. The project aimed to revisit the archaeological archive of over 42,000 items excavated from Whithorn since the late 19th century and apply scientific techniques such as radiocarbon dating, stable isotope analysis, and facial reconstruction to shed new light on the lives and deaths of medieval Scots.
One of the most remarkable outcomes of the project is the reconstruction of three individuals buried at Whithorn Priory: a cleric from the 13th century, a woman from the 14th century, and a man from the 15th century. The facial reconstructions were done by experts from Face Lab at Liverpool’s John Moores University using 3D scans of their skulls and historical evidence such as clothing and hairstyles.
In Whithorn Priory
The female subject is intriguing because she buries on a bed of shells in a stone-lined grave near the high altar of Whithorn Priory. This suggests that she was a person of high status or importance in her community. She more than likely died between 1300 and 1370 AD at around 45 years old. Her facial reconstruction shows that she had a round face with prominent cheekbones, a small nose and chin, brown eyes, and dark hair. She wore a white linen veil over her head and a blue woolen dress with red trimmings.
The project also revealed some information about her lifestyle, diet, and health based on her bones and teeth. She probably grew up locally in southwest Scotland and had a mainly terrestrial diet with some marine resources such as fish or shellfish. Evidence shows that she suffered from dental decay, abscesses, and tooth loss, which may have caused her pain and discomfort. She also had osteoarthritis in her spine, which may have affected her mobility.
Beauty Standards Of Medieval Scotland
The beauty standards of medieval Scotland were different from those of today. According to historian Eleanor Janega, medieval people valued a high forehead, which women plucked their hairlines to achieve, bright eyes, which they used drops made out of various plants for, rosy cheeks, which they pinched or rubbed with herbs, and white teeth, which they cleaned with a cloth or chewed herbs to maintain. They also preferred natural hair colors such as blond or brown over dyed hair, which was seen as dishonest or immoral.
The female subject from Cold Case Whithorn may have met some of these standards but not others. For example, she had bright eyes but not a high forehead. She had white teeth but also dental problems. She had natural hair color but also wore a veil that covered most of it. However, these standards were not fixed or universal across medieval Europe. They varied depending on social class, region, culture, and personal preference.
Cold Case Whithorn is an example of how modern technology can help us understand more about medieval people’s appearance, identity, and culture. It also shows us that medieval Scots were diverse and complex individuals who had their own unique sense of beauty and style.
Beauty, Health, and Hygiene
Medieval women cared about their appearance and well-being as much as modern women do. They had their own standards of beauty and hygiene that were influenced by their culture, religion, and social class. They also had access to various sources of knowledge and advice on how to maintain their health and beauty, such as medical treatises, herbal manuals, recipes, and cosmetic guides.
One of the most influential authors on female health and beauty in the Middle Ages was Trotula de Ruggiero, a woman physician and obstetrician who lived in Salerno, Italy, in the 11th century. She was part of the famous Medical School of Salerno, which was the most advanced institution for medical education in Europe at that time. She wrote several works on women’s diseases, childbirth, cosmetics, and skin care that were widely circulated and translated throughout Europe.
Her most famous work was the volume Passionibus Mulierum Curandorum (The Diseases of Women), which is also known as Trotula Major. This work consisted of 63 chapters that covered various aspects of female health, such as menstruation, conception, pregnancy, delivery, infertility, abortion, contraception, breast-feeding, menopause, and sexual pleasure. She also discussed common ailments such as headaches, fever, worms, warts, and corns. Additionally, she gave practical advice on how to diagnose and treat these conditions using herbs, drugs, or surgical procedures.
De Ornatu Mulierum (On Women’s Cosmetics)
Another important work by Trotula was De Ornatu Mulierum (On Women’s Cosmetics), also known as Trotula Minor. This work contained 36 chapters that dealt with various aspects of female beauty, such as hair care, skincare, makeup, perfumes, baths, depilation, dental care, and body shape. In that work, she gave detailed recipes for making various cosmetic products such as creams, lotions, oils, powders, dyes, and fragrances using natural ingredients such as plants, fruits, flowers, and animal products. She also gave tips on how to apply these products to enhance one’s appearance according to one’s complexion and facial features.
Trotula’s works reflect her expertise and experience as a woman physician who cared for women’s health and beauty in a holistic way. She combined scientific knowledge with empirical observation and practical wisdom. Also, she showed respect and empathy for women’s needs and desires regardless of their social status or age. She advocated for women’s autonomy and dignity in matters of reproduction and sexuality in a way that was arguably centuries ahead of her time. She likewise challenged some of the prevailing stereotypes and prejudices about women’s bodies and minds that were held by male physicians or theologians at that time.
The Beauty Standards And Hygiene Practices
The beauty standards and hygiene practices of medieval women were different from those of today but not necessarily inferior or less sophisticated. They were based on a different understanding of nature, health, and aesthetics that suited their context and culture. They also reflected their personal preferences, creativity, and resourcefulness. Trotula de Ruggiero was one of the pioneers who contributed to this rich legacy of female health and beauty in history and her many contributions can still be seen in culture and society to this day.
Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed going on this eye-opening trip back in time with us. Were you surprised to learn how the beauty standards of the Medieval era compared to today’s standards, and do you think that it was more difficult to be a woman back in those days? Let us know in the comments, And as always, thanks for watching!