1649: Scottish women smell of pottage, piss, pig turds


scottish women

Och, there’s no many bonnie wee lassies in Scotland, a 1649 pamphlet claims

On the day when the people of Scotland vote on independence from Britain, some might like to reflect on a piece of literature from the mid 17th century. A Perfect Description of the People and Country of Scotland was first published in London in 1649 and reappeared in various forms over the next decade. Its authorship is open to question. Some historians attribute it to Oxford graduate and minor writer James Howell, better known for coining the phrase “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. Others believe it was written by Anthony Weldon, a scheming courtier to Charles I. Whoever was responsible for its creation, A Perfect Description is unabashed propaganda, filled with anti-Scottish jibes and stereotypes. The people of Scotland, it claims, are lazy and incompetent farmers; they would “rather go to taverns” than cultivate the land around them. They are also coarse and uncultured and will “stop their ears if you speak of a play”. They fornicate as a “pastime”, laugh at blasphemy and wink at murder.

The writer reserves particular acrimony for Scottish women, of whom it claims “there are none greater [fatter] in the whole world”. Further, they have appalling personal hygiene and make terrible wives:

 
“Their flesh abhors cleanliness, their breath commonly stinks of pottage, their linen of piss, their hands of pigs’ turds, their body of sweat [while] their splay feet never offend socks. To be chained in marriage with one of them [is] to be tied to a dead carcass and cast into a stinking ditch.”
 


Source: Source: Author unknown, A Perfect Description of the People and Country of Scotland, 1649.

1666: Snow-packed codpiece saves post boy’s life


Philip Skippon (1641-91) was an English naturalist, traveller and parliamentarian. Skippon was born in Norfolk, the son of a respected Cromwellian general who had retained his position during the Interregnum. Skippon the Younger studied botany at Cambridge and, after graduation, became a member of the Royal Society. In 1663 Skippon embarked on a three year tour of the continent, accompanied by a group of fellow naturalists including John Ray, Martin Lister and Nathaniel Bacon (later the leader of Bacon’s Rebellion in colonial Virginia). Skippon kept a journal of their travels, which took in the Low Countries, Malta, the Mediterranean coast, Italy, Switzerland, France and the German states. This journal was eventually published by London printer John Churchill in 1732, four decades after Skippon’s death.

Much of Skippon’s journal is taken up with observations about the natural environment, agriculture, human industry and activity. But there are also frequent anecdotes and the occasional xenophobic judgement. Skippon wrote that the average Frenchman is fond of “shirking”, “stingy with his purse” and “strangely impatient at all games, especially at cards, which transports those that lose into a rage”. French women are “generally bad housewives”, prone to loose morals and “spotting and painting their faces”. One unusual anecdote recalls the exploits of a Dr Moulins, a Scottish physician resident in Nimes. At a time of considerable political and religious tension in France, Moulins volunteered to travel to London as an envoy. On the way he struck foul weather – and utilised his medical ‘skills’ on a travelling companion:

codpiece

An early modern codpiece (insert snow here and rub till virile)

 
“Dr Moulins immediately and privately rode away for Lyons in bitter snowy weather, and in eight days arrived in England… On this journey Dr Moulins rode post with a Frenchman. Seeing the boy fall down dead with the extremity of cold, [Moulins] opened his codpiece and rubbed his member virile with snow, till he recovered, which he did in a little time, and the boy was able again to ride post.”
 

Skippon left Paris in 1666 and continued his travels on the British isles. In 1679 he entered parliament, representing the Suffolk constituency of Dunwich. Skippon was later knighted by James I. He died of fever in Hackney.


Source: Philip Skippon Esq., “An Account of a Journey made thro part of the Low Countries, Germany, Italy and France” in John Churchill (ed.), Collection of Voyages and Travels, 1732.