The Navigations, Peregrinations and Voyages made into Turkey
Chamberlain and Geographer in ordinary to the King of France
Sundry Singularities which the Author hath there seen and observed.
This is the record made by Nicolas de Nicolay of his voyage to the Sublime Porte with Henry II's ambassador Gabriel d'Aramon in 1550.
On their journey they visited Malta, shortly after the Turkish attack that ended with the loss of Gozo. Sailing after the Turkish fleet the Ambassador tried to persuade them to abandon their assault on Tripoli, but was instead forced to witness its siege and fall before he was permitted to leave. They returned to Malta, taking with them the governor of Tripoli and the remaining knights, ransomed at d'Aramon's expense, only to find the Ambassador being blamed for the surrender. They then resumed their journey to Constantinople.
The ever-inquisitive Nicolay describes the places, dangers and curious customs they met on their long journey, then goes on to describe Constantinople, its people and practices, from wrestling to bathing —
after they have well sweated, and have well bathed themselves in a great vessel of marble or porphiry, which standeth ready at hand, the servants, which there are in great number, require you to lay yourself along flat upon your belly, and then one of these great lubbers, after they have well pulled and stretched your arms, as well before as behind, in such sort that he will make your bones to crack, and well rubbed the soles of your feet, mounteth upon your back, and so with his feet slideth up and down upon you, and upon your reins (kidneys) as if he would bruise them in pieces; and then again maketh you to turn on your back, pulling and removing your joints, as before is said, and nevertheless without doing unto you any harm at all, but on the contrary doth so comfort your sinews, and strengtheneth your members, that ye shall be after it a great deal more fresh, lively, and better disposed: and being thus dressed, ye enter into a little chamber, temperately hot, where again this great fellow cometh to rub you; and after that he hath well soaped and rubbed your body and your members with a purse of stammin or chamblet, which he holdeth in his hand in manner of a glove (instead of the Strigil which the Romans used) he washeth you with very clear spring water out of two conduits or fountains, the one being hot and the other cold, both which do fall into a bason of marble, within which he tempereth it, pouring out the same with a fair copper bason damasked; and also with a pounced stone he rubbeth and cleanseth the plants of your feet, and then cutteth your beard, and the holes underneath your arm pits: but as touching the privy member, they give you a rasor, or rather a psilothre, ( which they call Rusma) which is a paste, which being laid upon the hairy places, doth forthwith cause the hair to fall off; and of this paste the Turks, both men and women, do often use, for that they abhor to wear hair in those places
From the Children of Tribute to the messengers who ran, shod with iron, outpacing horses, —
running barefoot without any shoes, or any thing else on their feet, except that the soles of their feet were shod like unto horses, the skin under the soles of their feet being so hard, that easily they could bear the nails and irons, being but light; which was a matter so strange, that at the first I could scarcely believe it ... he caused me to see one in Adrianople, whose sole of his foot was so hard, that with a bodkin, how sharp soever it were, you could not easily pierce it. And, being thus shod, the better to counterfeit the horses, they did wear, in their mouths, a ball of silver, pierced and made with holes in divers places, like unto the bit of a bridle, and is for to keep their mouths fresh, and the longer to sustain their breath. Round about their girdle, which is very large, and well wrought of leather, they hang divers cymbals or bells, which by moving, and making in their running, makes a pleasant and delectable noise.
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The Dunnett connection:
Nicolas de Nicolay, and to a lesser extent, the Baron d'Aramon, are significant characters in book three of the Lymond series, "Disorderly Knights", much of which takes place during the attacks on Malta, Gozo and Tripoli. The Children of Tribute become important in the following book, "Pawn in Frankincense".