If you think that humble fragrance of lavender is only loved by aromatherapists and older ladies with a penchant for scented drawer sachets – think again. Lavender was officially the scent of elicit medieval sex, according to History of Sex author Kate Lister!
Lavender: N. Comes from Latin lavare meaning ‘to wash’
Unlike exotic and expensive perfumes, lavender grows wild and plentifully all over southern Europe and has always been readily and cheaply available.
Lavender has always been widely used for washing clothes.
Washerwomen were known as ‘lavenders’ in medieval Europe.
The word ‘launder’ derives from lavender.
Gabriël Metsu (1629–1667), Washerwoman (c 1650), oil on panel, 23.9 × 21 cm, Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie, Warsaw, Poland. Wikimedia Commons.
Meretrice: A medieval name for a harlot or lavender in The Legend of a Good Woman by Chaucer, c. 1380.
Envye (I pray to god yeve hir mischaunce!)
Is lavender in the grete court I.
For she ne parteth, neither night ne day.Chaucer here using the play on words for lavender meaning being at once dirty and clean. The Legend of a Good Woman by Chaucer, c. 1380.
Thou shalt be my lavender Laundress
To wash and keep clean all my gear,
Our two beds together shall be set
Without any let.Walter Hemingburgh ‘Ship of Fools’, 16th Century.
Read my review of A Curious History of Sex by Kate Lister
Be prepared to have your hair on both ends of you to blown back and rearranged into a merkin.