Yes, we took care of hygiene under Louis XIV

Yes, we took care of hygiene under Louis XIV

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It is a commonplace to think that the people at the court of King Louis XIV were dirty, that the courtiers forgot themselves behind the tapestries and the recesses of the Castle of Versailles or that we perfumed ourselves excessively to hide bad body odor. These are just rumors, appearing in the 19th century with the birth of modern hygiene. But of course yes, we took care of hygiene under Louis XIV !

Water: rumors and its use in the 17th century

Rumor has it that the Sun King only took one bath in his life! What nonsense!

At that time, the medical profession thought that water was bad for the body during ablution, because it entered the pores and corrupted the internal organs, as Théophraste Renaudot mentioned in 1655 “the bath exterminates the body and fills the head vapors ”. Once the water had arrived and settled in Versailles and at the Court in 1682, analyzes were drawn up by the Royal Academy of Sciences, transmitted to Colbert, declaring the water safe to drink. Varin, in his thesis defense at the medical school also explained in March 1685 “the most solid argument which proves that Versailles is a healthy city is the flourishing health of its inhabitants; therefore the city of Versailles is healthy ”.

Water was already present in 1629 in Louis XIII's little house of cards, coming from the sources of Bailly and Rocquencourt. As Louis XIV wanted the best for his palace, he asked for the necessary amenities, starting with the arrival of water and the installation of running water. For many years, the king did everything, the fountains and water games testify. And concerned about the inhabitants of the city, he was also worried about the distribution of water to local residents so that they could perform their ablution. Thus in 1680, there were eleven fountains in the city.

Cleanliness at the Court of Versailles

To avoid using water for ablution, since the rumor is so persistent, many courtiers were adept at using the dry toilet, that is, washing their face and hands with a damp cloth. At court, cleanliness is manifested above all by the wearing of white linen, but the visible parts of the body had to be neat "take care to keep a clean head, eyes and teeth, the negligence of which spoils the mouth and infects those with who we are talking to, our feet especially in summer so as not to hurt the hearts of those with whom we converse ”. Thus, the locked room chests were filled with white linen, especially shirts, and we changed regularly, at least five times a day, to appear clean!

Forty years before, under Louis XIII, treaties of propriety and civility already existed, mentioning the neatness and cleanliness of courtiers, with a chapter on good breath. As we will remember, Madame de Montespan was renowned for her healthy and beautiful teeth, even though the king had many problems with her teeth: abscess, removal of the upper jaw, cauterization fourteen times with a fire button.

For the sake of cleanliness, the king, who in his youth loved to take baths in the river, had a bath apartment built between 1671 and 1680. The servants pushed a bathtub on wheels in his room, the water being heated first by the Officers of Pound and shed by a crowd of water carriers.

The courtiers staying at the castle had a study and sometimes a wardrobe "the little room, next to the place where one sleeps". In this cabinet, there was the convenience chair, a table covered with a canvas (hence the name toilet), with all the necessary utensils: creams, ointments, makeup, ointments, essences, flies, combs, etc. as well as the basins for washing hands and beards, mirrors, not to mention the fountain retaining the water needed for the day. The running water was still quite limited, the water carriers took care of filling the baths and fountains.

For non-residents, those known as galopins, the king authorized the creation of public baths in the city as early as 1671.

Places of ease

It is precisely because of the work undertaken by Louis Philippe that there is no longer any trace of these places and the Written Memoirs did not insist on these places! Having no remains, we therefore think of a dirty place, even if indeed some visitors give reason to the rumor, like the Bishop of Noyon, having a present desire, who began to urinate through the balustrade, in the room. old chapel. The Swiss guard was very surprised at the sound of a waterfall in this pious place and immediately informed Bontemps, the king’s first valet de chambre. Other characters were not left out, as the story goes princess palatine about the Duke of La Rochefoucauld or the Duke of Vendôme renowned for his rudeness, not hesitating to mix beard basin and commode, always entertaining in his business chair.

So while it is common knowledge that the king received in his pierced chair, it was to be accessible to his subjects. But to be at ease, he had had a secluded place set up for his natural needs in 1672, called the chair cabinet, with the finest materials "so that it would not have a bad effect." Concerned about the intimate comfort of his wife, he also had a private corner installed for Madame de Maintenon; it is the same for all the guests that the king received and had planned early enough these places, which already existed in the time of Louis XIII, obligatory for any owner of houses. But the number of visitors was considerable, and despite several places of convenience, it was well insufficient: visitors therefore abandoned themselves in the corridors.

The so-called "English-style" chairs appeared under Louis XV, with a flushing system from 1727. But until this time, the evacuation of wastewater was done by two business chair-holders in the service of the king, also taking care of the other princes and courtiers who transported the contents in a cesspool, created so that the castle and the gardens do not receive this droppings.

According to the Crown Furniture inventory, there would have been more than 350 business chairs between 1664 and 1705 as well as more than 34 cesspools, connected to a sewer system to evacuate this wastewater, flowing to the south into the Etang des Marais and to the north into that of Clagny, finally filled in 1736 due to bad odors. Thus, buckets were no longer poured out the window, as was still very often used in Paris.

It was only under Louis XV and Louis XVI that specific places were installed for the toilet: the bathrooms.

For further

- The Versailles of Louis XIV - Mathieu da Vinha. Perrin 2009

- The clean and the dirty, hygiene of the body since the Middle Ages - Georges Vigarello. Threshold, 1987.

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