Haircuts

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Marcus Woodhouse
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Haircuts

Post by Marcus Woodhouse »

I have been reading a book, which although a work of fiction, is written by a former lecturer of medieval history in a Austrailian university (Sydney i think).
In it she describes the Earl of Westmorland being proud of his archers and then goes on to describe the archers themselves and what they are doing as background to the scene (they are garrisoning a town in France). In doing so she says that some of the men are having their hair shaved as this is a law to prevent the hair being tangled in the bowstring.
Now I have seen plenty of re-enactors with long flowing locks using the war bow without any mishap but I am not an archer, the story is set in the 14th century and i know that a lot of medieval laws, especially those to do with fashion were ignored.
As it is outside my expertise I wondered if anyone else had heard of such a law, namely that men using the longbow had to have the hair shaved back to stop it fouling the string?
(To me it doesn't sound true but i have been wrong before...)
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EnglishArcher
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Re: Haircuts

Post by EnglishArcher »

That's complete and utter rubbish. It sounds like a H&S mandate. If I remember correctly, the 14thC wasn't famous for its H&S legislation. Why would anyone care if an archer's hair got caught in the bow string, just as long as he hit the target? Let alone decree a LAW about it!

Long hair does NOT get in the way of shooting in the bow. It gets nowhere near the bow string. If it's that much of a problem, wear a coif or a hood - just like you see in the images from the 14th Century.

In fact, you're more likely to catch your stubble than your hair (just ask any warbow archer)

(Yes, I have long hair. And a patch of stubble missing. :) )
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Re: Haircuts

Post by Dave B »

It does seem quite a surprising idea, given that Hatwearing was the general practice, and well equiped archers would more than likely wear helmets in an actual battle. If a particular lord ruled that his archers should shave thier heads it would surely be because they were a dirty verminous lot, rather than concern for their safety.
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Re: Haircuts

Post by Marcus Woodhouse »

General consensus then is that its a crock of shite, excellent even though I am neither an archer or a student of 14th century history i still know more than a university don.
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Re: Haircuts

Post by EnglishArcher »

...they were a dirty verminous lot...
Ah! So you've met the English Warbow Society, then? :D
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Captain Reech
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Re: Haircuts

Post by Captain Reech »

I'd agree with the above, the only examples I can find of head shaving were for a)Punishment b)Medical reasons c) cleanliness. I can imagine a lord insisting of all members of a company of archers having their heads shaved if they were on campaign to tidy them up or to prevent infestation and I can also imagine it being a punishment for wrongdoing (marking them out as it were) but I can't find any evidence of this being recorded as actually happening. I usually shave my hair right down for events (Several periods) as it seems to be a style that you can find a good reason for throughout history until the arrival of effective anti lice treatments although Lavender oil may be authentic and effective but I worry about being followed home by Sailors (which is what my Grandad used to say would happen if he ever caught me wearing aftershave!)
Last edited by Captain Reech on Wed Apr 28, 2010 5:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Haircuts

Post by Elenna DeVargr »

From personal experience (being an archer since I was 14) you can get long hair caught in the bow string. It happened many times when I was younger partaking in field archery on a slightly breezy day. I was at the rebellious age and didn't like my hair tied back but I learnt my lesson with a compound bow one day :doh: but portraying a medieval person whether it be archer or not you should always have your head covered. Shaved heads, I would have to agree with Captain Reech.

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Re: Haircuts

Post by Captain Reech »

What were you agreeing with? The bit about me being followed home by Sailors? :P
Shouldn't have cut the doublet so short and the hose so tight then!
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Re: Haircuts

Post by Marcus Woodhouse »

Plenty of period illustrations of men without head wear, more so for the 15th century than the 14th, but enough even there for me to consider the wearing of hats as a must do thing as a bit of a myth.
Especially when combined with the claim that it was all down to scripture. I havn't read anything in canon law that says it was anything of the sort. The Acts of the apostles explains how Christians get to cope out of lots of the dietry, hygine and modesty laws of the Jews, gawd bless you St. Peter for having that dream so I can enjoy sausages with a clear conscience.
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Re: Haircuts

Post by Tomsk »

Marcus Woodhouse wrote:gawd bless you St. Peter for having that dream so I can enjoy sausages with a clear conscience.
You may want to edit that :D
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Re: Haircuts

Post by Sophia »

Marcus Woodhouse wrote:gawd bless you St. Peter for having that dream so I can enjoy sausages with a clear conscience.
Nothing to do with your conscience, more to do with his yen for shrimp and bacon in cream sauce :wink: :devil:
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Re: Haircuts

Post by Marcus Woodhouse »

It works for me. :D
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Re: Haircuts

Post by Darren Mac »

Captain Reech wrote:[...] I worry about being followed home by Sailors (which is what my Grandad used to say would happen if he ever caught me wearing aftershave!)
I'm a sailor and I wouldn't follow you home because you were wearing aftershave. However, if you were wearing a dress you may have to keep looking over your shoulder :wink:
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Re: Haircuts

Post by Captain Reech »

I'll make a note not to take that up either!
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Re: Haircuts

Post by Fox »

Marcus Woodhouse wrote:Plenty of period illustrations of men without head wear, more so for the 15th century than the 14th, but enough even there for me to consider the wearing of hats as a must do thing as a bit of a myth.
Especially when combined with the claim that it was all down to scripture. I havn't read anything in canon law that says it was anything of the sort.
I sort of agree with you, but only sort of....

Hats are really very common in illustrations, when a hat is not worn a coif usually is, although as you say there are a sizable number of exceptions.
Up to about 1450 there seems to be a lot of coif wearing, then almost none until about 1500 when it starts again.
That seems to be the most common period for illustrations with no headwear at all, and generally these men a working.
Occasionally you see a hat placed to one side in those illustrations.

Likewise for women; usually wearing headwear of some sort, occasionally not, but usually when working.

I have seen no evidence to suggest that for that period having your head uncovered has anything to do with impropiety or immodesty.
Indeed young woman have their hair loose on festival days, the Virgin Mary is sometimes depicted bare headed and often very posh head-dresses are made to emphasis and display the hair.

All of which leads me to believe two things:
(1) It was fashionable [in the broadest sense of that word] to wear hats.
This shouldn't be a suprise, and look in photographs from the last century or so will show you periods when it was very fashionable to wear hats, and it seems almost everyone did, most of the time, unless they had a good reason not to.

(2) That the wearing of headwear might have a lot to do with cleanliness, hygiene and hair that thinned easily with age and bad nutrition. Indeed people are illustrated naked for bed, but wearing a coif, which rather points in this direction.
I suspect the reason girls are dipicted with hair down on occasion, but much more rarely for older women is much a kin to older women tending to prefer shorter hairstyles now; they're more forgiving if you're busy and hair your hair doesn't keep it's condition well.

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Colin Middleton
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Re: Haircuts

Post by Colin Middleton »

Fox wrote:(1) It was fashionable [in the broadest sense of that word] to wear hats.
I don't think that 'fashionable' is quite the right term; it's fashionable to wear your trousers round your bum, but there's a strong social pressure against it. I think it's more of a social convention thing. Kind of like the way that most men today don't walk around bear chested, unless they have a good reason to.

Is that what you mean by "in the broadest sense of that word"?
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Re: Haircuts

Post by Fox »

Colin Middleton wrote:Is that what you mean by "in the broadest sense of that word"?
Yes.

Fashionable as in, "it was the fashion of the day", the habit, common, what people did; not as in "the height of fashion" or trend setting.

Although the two are inevitabley linked.
For instance, the fashion for showing ones underwear is paralleled in the more general fashion for a low, round the hips 21stC waistline.

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Re: Haircuts

Post by Marcus Woodhouse »

There was a strong social preassure coming from the church not to wear "Cracow" shoes or doublets that showed off the bum, but it was still fashionable for the young and the not so young but want to look/seem/feel young.
Same goes for the baggy trousers and pants showing thing. I might not want to do it but it's far from being unusual around here. Its fair to say that while I think that they look like prats, they and their girlfriends think it makes them look like sexual panzers.
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