01 January 2010
Eight Maids A Milking
Finally after all the gift giving, the true love is getting around to his actual goal: SEX!!!!
Until refrigeration, milk was not a common drink because it spoiled quickly. However, milk based products that did not spoil, such as cheese, sour creme and custards were prized treats. The maids, of course, are the women who would milk the cows to obtain the milk in the first place. However, the term maid is also the shortened form of maiden which is a young, unmarried, woman. By combining the images of maiden and milk (which can also bring to mind a woman's breasts), it is easy to get the idea that this particular gift has more to do with sex and romance than with cows.
While the people of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were not as prudish as the nineteenth century Victorians, it was still considered advisable for women to be at least somewhat chaste in public. Young upper class (both merchant class and nobility) women were usually chaperoned when in public and when being courted by young men. However, during the Twelfth Night celebrations not only were many of the rules of behavior relaxed but the environment in which the parties were held provided opportunities to escape watchful eyes. Masked and costumed balls increased the opportunities for secret liaisons as well as providing additional means of denying your actions the next day. The opportunities offered for some passionate time alone with a lover or a quick one night stand with a stranger were a major attraction of these parties.
Further evidence is the fact that during this time period in England the term to "go a-milking" had romantic and sexual connotations. Asking a woman to go a-milking was a code used by men to test a woman's response to their intentions. Now if one of those milkmaids was named Susan, there might have been a price to pay for being a wee too generous with her favors and we are back full circle to the birds with "The Lark In The Morning".