Di Letti e Giacigli : the modest sleeping soldier

How did people sleep in the late fifteenth century?
Is there any source material for this everyday activity in a military setting?

Without a doubt, these are questions we are asked very frequently,  both by visitors and by neophytes who for the first time participate in full-immersion re-enactments  promoted by FAMALEONIS.

Speaking of  "Equipaggiamento dell'uomo d'arme e del pedone” (Equipment of the army man and the pedestrian), the general Orso degli Orsini – who even served for Alfonso d’Aragona e Francesco Sforza – in 1476 in his Military government and army (Governo et exercitio della Militia; thanks to Luigi Battarra for his valuable highlighting) explicitly advised to:
«Vorriase ordinare che neuno homo d'arme potesse portare in campo lecto, lectère, casse, nè tavole, nè sproveri da lecto. Ma solo la tenda, una goverta et lenczuli, con uno paro de ceste per conservare la robba» [1].
This prohibition shows habits that, we can presume, were rather common between army men (the category of soldiers most well-off and used to comforts) and because of this they were to be absolutely repressed: carrying along bulky equipment would have required additional trunks, pack animals and means of transport, which would have clearly resulted in logistic hindrances and delays in movements.
The analysis of Orsini’s text allows us to deduce that the priority of the majority of people was sleeping well above ground, away from the humidity of the terrain.
In fact, the lectèra, also quoted as letìca or lectirola in its diminutive form, denotes very clearly wooden flooring placed upon tripods and trestles, over which was positioned the lecto, in other words a sack which was stuffed with chicken or duck quills/feathers, similar to our modern mattress.
Regarding the lectèra, the alternative to the overhanging wooden board were rush mattings and reed. Consider that in any case the beds could be simply made by setting down the lectèra on the pavement and laying over them the mattresses, which, according to the source documents, were made of linen, pignolato (wool blend and hemp) and accia (unrefined yarn of linen or hemp). In several houses of the county more “spartan” beds were a frequent occurrence and were improvised with straw placed on rush mattings.
Surprisingly, there is also evidence of other types of beds which were portable and foldable, very convenient in case of travel. They are reported in great quantity in the areas of Romagna, especially in the territory of Rimini, and were made of fir, walnut and larch.
It was also used the cariola, that is, a low bed that during the day, in houses with little space, was kept under the main bed and was pull out during the night (in fact, it had wheels).
Going back to the text quoted at the beginning, we also find sproveri, canopies made of drapes for both large and small beds.
At first, an army man’s desire to carry with him a canopy of curtains might be considered just cheesy, if not ridiculous, behaviour. However, if we think about the great number of mosquitos and annoying bugs that infested the woods and the swamps –especially during high season– this strategy proves itself to be a really smart trick to make sure you have a good night sleep!
About blankets (goverta, or more often coltre), Delucca points out that the ones “used in the houses of the fifteenth century in the county of Rimini were usually made of rough cloth, seldom of linen or lined with linen”. Regarding colours, for the exception of the rarer black or white, used only in middle-rich houses, the one which arrogantly prevails above all is the light-blue. In fact, dye-works used the most important essential oils produced right in the territory of the region (named guado), and these dyes ended up substantially “marking” the colour of domestic areas” [2].

I would like to mention that, in line with Orsini’s limitations, the Regulations of Associazione Culturale FAMALEONIS don’t include the use of lectera during camp, but of a simple sack of unrefined linen or hemp, to set down preferably on a rush matting:

FAMALEONIS – personal equipment

biographical references:
[1] P. PIERI (by), "Il Governo et Exercitio de la Militia" di Orso degli Orsini e i "Memoriali" by Diomede Carafa, Naples, 1933, par. X, p. 41;
[2] O. DELUCCA, L'abitazione riminese nel Quattrocento. Parte Seconda. La Casa Cittadina (vol. 2), Stefano Patacconi Editore, Rimini, 2006, pp. 1865 e ss.; O. DELUCCA, L'abitazione riminese nel Quattrocento, Parte Prima. La Casa Rurale, Stefano Patacconi Editore, Rimini, 1991, pp. 405 e ss.
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