Gerald of Wales on Welsh grooming habits And hospitality. I have to say that when I stayed in Wales the hotel beds were very comfortable!
Taken from 'The Journey Through Wales and the Description of Wales'.
"Both the men and the women cut their hair short and shape it around their ears and eyes. Like the Parthians the women cover their heads with a flowing white veil, which sticks up in folds like a crown. Both sexes take great care of their teeth, more than I have seen in any country. They are constantly cleaning them with green hazel shoots and rubbing them with woollen cloth until they shine like ivory. To protect their teeth they never eat hot food, but only what is cold, tepid or slightly warm. The men shave their beards, leaving only their moustaches. This is not a new habit, but one which goes back to time immemorial. You can find it in the book which Julius Caesar wrote about his exploits, for there we read: the Britons ‘shave their whole body so that they can move more freely, for, when they run through the forest grove’s, they want to avoid the fate of Absalom. Of all the people I have seen the Welsh, are the most particular in shaving the lower parts of the body.
It is Julius Caesar, too, who tells us that, when they were about to fight a battle, the Britons used to daub to their faces with shiny war paint. They made themselves so bright and ghastly that the enemy could hardly dare to look at them, especially if the sun was shining."
Welsh hospitality and eating habits
"In Wales no one begs. Everyone’s home is open to all, for the Welsh generosity and hospitality are the greatest of all virtues. They very much enjoy a welcoming others to their homes. When you travel there is no question of you asking for accommodation or of them offering it: you just march in to a house and hand over your weapons to the person in charge. They give you water so that you may wash your feet and that means that you are a guest. With these people the offering of water in which to wash one’s feet is an invitation to stay. If you refuse the offer, it means you have only dropped in for refreshment during the early part of the day and do not propose to stay the night.
In Wales young people go about in groups and families, under their chosen leader. They spend their time in exercise and practicing with their weapons, with the result that they’re ready at a moment’s notice to protect their homeland. They enter an one’s house without asking permission, as if it were their own.
Guests who arrive early in the day are entertained until nightfall by girls who play to them on the harp. In every house there are young women just waiting to play for you, and there are certainly no lack of harps. Here are two things worth remembering: the Irish are the most jealous people on earth, the Welsh do not seem to know what jealousy is; and in every Welsh court or family menfolk consider playing on the harp to the greatest of all accomplishments. When night falls and no more guests are expected, the evening meal is prepared, varying according to what the house has to offer, and to the number and importance of the men who have come. You must not expect a variety of dishes from a Welsh kitchen, there are no highly seasoned titbits to whet your appetite. In a Welsh house there are no tables, no tablecloths and no napkins. Everyone behaves quite naturally, was no attempt whatsoever at etiquette. You sit down in threes, not in pairs as elsewhere, and they put food in front of you all together, on a single large trencher containing enough for three, resting on rushes and green grass. Sometimes they serve the main dish on bread, rolled out large and thin, and baked fresh each day. In ancient books you will find the same bread called ‘lagana’.
The whole family waits upon the guests, and the host and hostess stand there and make sure that everything is being attended to. They themselves do not eat until everyone else has finished and if there is a shortage of anything, it will be they who go without. Finally the time comes to retire to rest. Alongside one of the walls is placed a communal bed, stuffed with rushes, and not all that many of them. The sole covering there is a stiff harsh sheet, made locally and called in Welsh a ‘brychan’. They all go to bed together. They keep on the same clothes which they have worn all day, a thin cloak and tunic, which is all they have to keep the cold out. The fire is kept burning all night at their feet, just as it has done all day, and they get some warmth from the people sleeping next to them. When their underneath side begins to ache through the hardness of the bed and their uppermost side is frozen stiff with cold, they get up and sit by the fire, which seems more reasonable and soothes away their aches and pains. Then they go back to bed again, turning over on their other side if they feel like it, so that a different part is frozen and another side bruised by the hard bed."
Today's research photo Manorbier Castle South Wales, home of Gerald of Wales.