|By Shamus||Aug 18, 2006||17 comments|
The phrase “It’s good to be the king” has always struck me as odd, because the idea of being a king is not appealing to me at all. I know the phrase is supposed to mean, “getting your way all the time is good”, but honestly I would never want to be a king, particularly during their heyday when kings really did get their way at all times.
Let’s compare two people and figure out who lives a better, longer, more comfortable and productive life: A poor modern American or a King in the middle ages. By “poor” I don’t mean someone who’s destitute, I’m just talking about someone stuck in a low-middle class life at a dead-end job or jobs. I’m sure I’m not the first to point this out, but I still find the comparison fun:
|Joe Hardluck||His Majesty, King Fancypants|
|Housing||Small, but well-heated in winter. Screens and fans allow airflow in summer without letting clouds of bugs in. Electric lights allow illumination anytime without heat or fire hazards. A bit noisy and run-down, though.||Spacious. Freezing in the winter. (Unless his majesty is near the fire) Insects and pests / vermin are a constant nuisance and hazard. Drafty.|
|Sanitation||The toilet caries away the waste and odors. Toilet paper is handy too. Soap and hot running water make it easy to avoid any number of nasty, dangerous infections.||His majesty must take a dump in a (wonderful and ornate) bronze pot and cleanup with something rough and uncomfortable. His servant will come in and take the pot away when he’s done. Wipe hands on pants and hope for the best.|
|Personal Care||Cheap, disposable razors that can shave a beard clean off without risking a scratch. Toothbrushes and floss make teeth last decades longer. Plus: deodorant, acne medicine, Q-tips, band-aids, hairspray & gel, shave cream, foot powder, mouthwash, hand lotion, sunscreen…||None of those personal care items are available. (At least, none that really work.) Plus, the Queen doesn’t have tampons and can’t shave her legs or armpits. Her makeup is very simple, limited, and made from substances you don’t want to know about.|
|Food||The grocery store offers a massive kaleidescope of food that encompasses some of the most popular foods from around the world. Joe can’t afford steak, and must do most of his shopping in the generic / store brand aisle. Even at that he can have tacos on Monday, pizza on Tuesday, hamburgers Wednesday, etc. Food is clean and safe.||Basic breads, simple meats and fresh veggies only in season. A limited selection of spices. It is a constant battle for the cooks to minimize contamination from insects and vermin.|
|Clothing||While his clothes are out of style, Joe can still wear lightweight and warm fabrics in winter. Lightweight and breathable fabrics in summer. Clothing is comfortable and varied. Joe can wear a different pair of jeans and outdated t-shirt every day of the week.||Wool. Silk. Items adjust to fit using drawstrings instead of elastic. No pockets. His majesty’s wardrobe is made up of clothing that is cold in winter, brutal in summer, and heavy year-round. Clothing traps and soaks up sweat so that the odors can be enjoyed for days.|
|Medicine||Antibiotics are cheap and plentiful. So are simple pain medications like aspirin. While the very best medicine is not available to Joe, he can still get help for life-threatening stuff. He doesn’t need to worry about dying from a burst appendix or gangrene.||Painful and counter-productive. The very best “doctors” of the middle ages are quite a bit worse than no medicine at all. There is no real painkiller outside of steady drunkenness. Even assuming the King doesn’t die of a chance infection, he’s likely to live at least a decade less than Joe.|
|Transportation||Joe has a beat-up car that looks awful and breaks down every few months. It’s noisy and the air conditioning hasn’t worked in years. However, it is still faster, smoother, and more comfortable than…||A fine carriage pulled by smelly horses. No smooth paved roads and no suspension mean that the King gets to feel every chuck-hole in the road in all of its teeth-shaking glory. The lack of a decent road system or bridge-building technology means that trips are quite long.|
And let us not even consider going overseas.
|Entertainment||Cable television. Radio. Movie theaters. Joe might even be able to afford a game console. If he doesn’t own a computer, he can usually go to the library and get ‘net access. While he’s at the library he can also read, for free, thousands of works of fiction.|
This is to say nothing of numerous sporting events at varying levels of sophistication and professionalism, from little league baseball to Wrestlemania.
|Stage plays enacted by an all-male cast.|
Handwritten books, almost none of which are fiction.
Very few of the “sports” of those days have survived until today, which says a lot about their entertainment value. The king could watch a little Jousting now and again, for what that’s worth.
|Sex||Joe and Mrs. Joe have numerous means of contraception to choose from. If they do something foolish and pick up a disease, penicillin is easily available.|
If Joe can’t land a wife (or if the comforts of marriage are not to his liking) he can always turn to dirty movies, strippers (depends on how poor he is), and internet porn. By contrast…
|As long as he keeps the Queen from finding out, his majesty can have unprotected sex with all of the smelly, unshaven women he likes.|
Note that I made the comparison between males. The difference would have been even more extreme between females of those same eras.
So who would you rather be, Joe Hardluck or one of the richest and most powerful men in the middle ages? I imagine very few people would actually find being the king all that “good”.