The Comforts of the Throne • Rattling Attention-grabbing

In the days when hunting was more common than it is now, workers maintained a taxonomy for the different types of droppings they encountered and which they could use for tracking. Rather than just looking for feces, these stalking deer would keep an eye out for “few mets” or “few mistakes” while those willing to risk a boar hunt would hope for “brothers” and “waggys” to encounter the presence of fox.

However, hunters did not seem to have had a special word for a monarch’s droppings. When it comes to hunting history, this is unfortunate as it turns out that a king’s bowel movements can actually be very handy for tracking his other movements. Medieval monarchs and nobles wandered from castle to castle on a fairly regular basis, and knowing exactly where you were at any given time since diaries weren’t a big part of that time and official chronicles weren’t as detailed. This can be a problem for historians, as knowing where someone has been is often useful information for their research. Fortunately, a castle’s housekeeping books can help, as Ian Mortimer discovered while researching the life of the Englishman Henry IV. Among his discoveries, Mortimer noted that a servant of Henry’s family who wrote a book on running a proper aristocratic household insisted that the lord’s secret tip be “blanket, cotyn, or lynyn to wipe off the Nethur end” should be equipped. As Mortimer points out,

“Cotton […] was expensive – at 4½d or 5d a pound too expensive for common men to wipe the “bottom end” – so where we find payments for “cotton for the lord stool” or “cotton and urinals” it suggests that Henry did it was to be present (or expected to arrive soon) at the places where the cotton was purchased. This means that we follow the movements of the future king in the most unworthy of ways – like an animal through its feces – but biographers sometimes have to bow to such levels. “

Henry’s fondness for the medieval equivalent of the three-ply may have something to do with the fact that he was a well-known jouster and spent a lot of time on horseback, which may have left him with a suitably majestic case of hemorrhoids.

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