A History of Everyday Life in Medieval Scotland, 1000 to 1600

A History of Everyday Life in Medieval Scotland, 1000 to 1600

Edited by Edward J Cowan and Lizanne Henderson

Edinburgh University Press, 2011
ISBN: 9780748621576

Publisher’s Description: This book examines the ordinary, routine, daily behaviour, experiences and beliefs of people in Scotland from the earliest times to 1600. Its purpose is to discover the character of everyday life in Scotland over time and to do so, where possible, within a comparative context. Its focus is on the mundane, but at the same time it takes heed of the people’s experience of wars, famine, environmental disaster and other major causes of disturbance, and assesses the effects of longer-term processes of change in religion, politics, and economic and social affairs. In showing how the extraordinary impinged on the everyday, the book draws on every possible kind of evidence including a diverse range of documentary sources, artefactual, environmental and archaeological material, and the published work of many disciplines.

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  • Introduction: Everyday Life in Medieval Scotland – Edward J. Cowan and Lizanne Henderson
  • Chapter 1. Landscape and People – Fiona Watson
  • Chapter 2. The Worldview of Scottish Vikings in the Age of the Sagas – Edward J. Cowan
  • Chapter 3. Sacred and Banal: The Discovery of Everyday Medieval Material Culture – Jenny Shiels and Stuart Campbell
  • Chapter 4. The Family – David Sellar
  • Chapter 5. ‘Hamperit in ane hony came’: Sights, Sounds and Smells in the Medieval Town – Elizabeth Ewan
  • Chapter 6. Playtime Everday: The Material Culture of Medieval Gaming – Mark Hall
  • Chapter 7. Women of Independence in Barbour’s Bruce and Blind Harry’s Wallace – Rebecca Boorsma
  • Chapter 8. Everyday Life in the Histories of Scotland from Walter Bower to George Buchanan – Nicola Royan
  • Chapter 9. Disease, Death and the Hereafter in Medieval Scotland – Richard D. Oram
  • Chapter 10. ‘Detestable Slaves of the Devil’: Changing Ideas about Witchcraft in Sixteenth-Century Scotland – Lizanne Henderson
  • Chapter 11. Glasgwegians: The First One Thousand Years – Edward J. Cowan
  • Chapter 12. Marian Devotion in Scotland and the Shrine of Loreto – Audrey-Beth Fitch

Excerpt: Medieval towns were not pleasant smelling, even to contemporaries. Dunbar complained about the reek of haddock and scaits (fish), while a treatise on plague in the later sixteenth century advised the Edinburgh authorities to take preventative measures through cleaning up the foul air which haunted the town from the ‘grait reik of colis without vinde to dispache the same, corruptioun of Herbis, sic as Caill and grownand Treis. Moist heveie sauer [smell] of Lint [flax], Hempe & Hedder [heather] steipit in Vater.’ Other causes of corrupt air included standing water, earth, dung, stinking privies, and dead unburied corpses, especially ones. Residents complained as well – when Walter Car rented a workshop in Dundee, he soon protested to his landlord about the reek from the adjacent house and asked to be moved somewhere else if the situation could not be improved. Many townspeople suffered from chronic sinusitis, a condition probably caused by dust and smoke polluting the air.

The records tend to be more articulate about smells and hygiene during outbreaks of disease because of the belief that foul air spread infection. But glimpses of common practices can be found in statutes directed at market sellers. Livestock was slaughtered in the town and fleshers often slung carcasses on to any convenient surface. In Selkirk the tolbooth provided a convenient place. Edinburgh furriers and skinners were in the habit of hanging their skins on the forestairs of houses. Fish were gutted on the street. Edinburgh fish sellers were taxed to pay for the cleansing of the High Street from the dirt which they had created.


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