A question that I have seen comes up regularly in forums and chats is how did women cope with menstruation in the sixteenth century?
According to Ninya Mikhaila and Jane Malcolm-Davies ‘there is almost complete silence in the archival record on the practical business of dealing with menstruation’ (pg. 24).
Sixteenth century translations of The Bible (Isaiah, chapter3, verse 22) mention the use of menstruation cloths and further clues can be obtained from Queen Elizabeth’s household accounts where there are dozens of listings of long and short ‘vallopes all of fine hollande clothe’, along with other plain linen items (Mikhaila & Malcolm-Davies, pg. 24).
In The Tudor Tailor it is also noted that the v and w in English were often transposed and so the ‘vallopes’ that appear in the accounts were probably a reference to ‘wallops’, ‘a term for fluttering rags, which may have been used as sanitary towels or rolled as tampons’ (pg. 24).
What I have always wondered is how women in the sixteenth century kept the rags in place considering they didn’t wear underwear as we know it today.
Again, a clue lies in Queen Elizabeth’s household accounts where there are listed three ‘gyrdelles of blak Jeane silk made on the fingers garnished with buckelles hookes & eyes whipped over with silk’ possibly used as a ‘sanitary belt’ with the ‘vallopes’ (pg. 24).
I had heard of sixteenth century women using rags but did not realise that they also rolled the linen to make tampons.
Seventeenth century editions of earlier medical manuals mention the use of ‘medical pessaries of shorn wool, fine linen or silk bags containing herbs’ that were inserted into the vagina with the convenience of a string for removal.
Read about bathing in Tudor England.
Read about housework in Tudor England.
Mikhaila, N. & Malcolm-Davies, J. The Tudor Tailor: Reconstructing sixteenth century dress, 2006.