The Toilets (or Lack of) of Versailles

The first flushing toilet was created by Queen Elizabeth I’s Godson. She had many godchildren who tried to impress her. This particular godson creating a flushing toilet just for her. She used it once, and it made such a loud noise, she could not stand having it in her own room. She didn’t want people to know or hear when she was relieving herself! 


The toilet made for Elizabeth I. Photo credit:

More than a hundred years later, these flushing toilets kept in small rooms, called English Places, were present in Versailles, but only for the Royal Family (plus of course Louis XV’s mistress, Madame du Barry). These toilets were incredibly hygienic and clean, so much so that apparently cats would sleep in them. One day, Louis XVI went to use his toilet, and sat down, start going, and felt clawing and biting! He jumped up off of the toilet started ringing bells for servants and realised a cat had situated itself in the toilet.

 The rest of palace definitely did not have the cleanliness and hygiene found in the Royal apartments. What did the other thousands of people of Versailles use for their toilets? One option was of course the major hallways where people would squat in the dark corners and use as their toilet. At one point, the dauphin and dauphine were housed in apartments off of the major hallway, and a gate was put up around their door to ensure people would not use that area as their toilet. 


Even worse than poo in the hallways, one Princess d’Harcourt obviously thought she needed no toilet at all, and just relieved herself while walking! Her dresses were disgusting, and she always left a trail wherever she walked. Apparently, this habit was an old French habit. They really needed diapers!  

A bit more civilised than just walking around pooing and peeing or using the hallways as toilets, Versailles had privies, or private latrines for the court and servants. Usually one toilet was placed in each major area or group of apartments, and the people closest to it were given keys. The toilet consisted of a wooden seat with a cover to try to trap the smell. A waste pipe was connected to it and the waste fell to a cesspit. 

Certain rooms really smelled because they were so close to the privies. Pipes would leak regularly, certain privies would be closed (leading to more people using the hallway as their toilet!), and on one occasion the pipes above Marie Antoinette’s kitchen leaked. They leaked all over the kitchen making it a disastrous mess!

Chamber pots were also still widely utilised, and they were sometimes still emptied out in courtyards. Marie Antoinette was one day walking outside under the windows of Madame du Barry, and had the contents of du Barry’s chamber pot thrown onto her. Versailles definitely was not the cleanest palace!  


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