Palace ofVsailles: What Were The Bathrooms Like?

I read that servants and guests would use the stairwells of the palace for bathrooms! That is gross…yet, were there any bathrooms? I imagine chamber pots were used-what was done with the contents? Were they emptied into the carp ponds?
Those stairwells must have been fragrant, on a hot day!

Nope, no bathrooms, or plumbing for that matter. People would indeed discreetly void themselves wherever they wished (though most often in the stairwells, behind tapestries/drapes or in the gardens) and leave it to servants to clean it up.
There were also chamberpots of course, which were presumably sent to the gardener for composting or emptied into pits dug for the purpose (cesspool/cesspit). But when you gotta go, you gotta go.

Note that none of this is/was Versailles specific. There were simply no dedicated bathrooms in the middle age & early Renaissance. People would routinely shit from their windows down into the streets below, over battlements into the moats etc… although the toffs usually had wardrooms in their bedrooms with holes in the bottom leading directly down to cesspools as well. The smell of months’ worth of excrement kept moths away from the clothes, apparently. There is even one English king (Edmund Ironside) who, quite notoriously, was killed by a man who climbed up such a shaft to lay there in wait and prod the Royal Backside with a spear. Shitty job.

Oh, forgot to address the smell : yes, you’d think the place must have stank… but not necessarily so.

You must understand of course that, beyond the shit, the inhabitants of Versailles were very… pungent themselves. At that time, bathing had fallen into disregard (contrary to popular belief, people of the Middle Ages were very much into bathing. The practice only “died out” or rather became an “only if you really must” measure temporarily, following the big plague epidemics which, it was theorized, could have been caused by people shedding their protective layers of grime). And of course most highborn people and their servants used horses for transportation. If you’ve ever been near a horse, you know they have a strong and more importantly clinging smell. Not necessarily a *bad *smell, but still pervasive.
Now multiply that by the 3 to 10.000 people who dwelled in the place, and yes, smell was an Issue with a capital I.

Which naturally people back then put their ingenuity at work to try and solve.
Firstly, most people carried gloves, handkerchiefs or fans soaked in perfume that they could put to their noses when the stank got eye-watery. For that matter, the nobles perfumed themselves enormously.
Secondly, they would put pots of water to boil in the chimneys or one braziers, and flower petals in the water to spread flowery scents. Fragrant powders were also thrown into open fires. This was done not only for comfort, but also because one of the big medical notions of the era was that diseases were carried by “miasma” in the air. Clear the air, fight the diseases.
Finally, there were also servants with incense burners and bellows, the job of which it was to make the place smell inhabitable.

Even so, the place quickly got overly grody - which is why the King and his Court never stayed for too long. Versailles was emptied and cleaned attic to cellar twice a week on average, while the court was at Marly or visiting some other toff (the privilege of hosting the royal court was, naturally, both extremely expensive… and ardently sought after since King Louis’ regime positively thrived on expectedly reciprocated favours).

If you want the dirt on this - read Katherine Ashenburg. Th Dirt on Clean.

“Your Majesty, you look like the piss-boy!”

The toilets were encrusted, but not with jewels.

Misspelled title? must be Ralphie!

In the days of hot and cold running water and central heating, we forget that some people spent the entire winter with just a fireplace. Washing was a luxury when a bath had to be filled from the pump, bucket by bucket, then drained the same way. Hot water meant boiling it on a fire (and you had to fetch wood). In the cold winter months, you could dry laundry by hanging it near the fire, but watch for when the steam turns to smoke… but that laundry had to be done by hand, so it’s not like you had fresh clothes every day, or every week, even if you could afford multiple outfits.

(Muslims were allowed to scour themselves with sand because in many places, washing water was hard to come by. Their thing about wiping with the left hand and shaking hands with the right - in the middle of the desert, there were not a lot of leaves, even if you were lucky enough to find some flat stones, who wants to touch that hand after, sand scour or not?)

It was a LOT of work to even stay partly clean in those days. Without running water, what was the point of indoor toilets? You used the chamber pot if it was handy - if not, you used the corner and hoped nobody caught you. Entitled nobility were not big on worrying about messes, they had plenty of servants to clean things up. Guys piss all over the place now, imagine what it was like when the nearest relief station was a long walk out into the cold.

One item I heard long ago, was someone reading a memoir about the dissolution of he monasteries by Henry VIII. The fellow mentioned that the massive libraries of the monasteries, were England’s biggest export for a decade, to “feed the jakes of Europe”. Presumably this indicates that toilet paper was very hard to come by at the time.

When I toured Versailles, the guide mentioned that those nice big galleries with stone walls - were filled with wooden two-story constructions full of apartments to provide enough accommodation for the hundred of courtiers and their even more numerous staff. Apparently it was like a maze in there, and not a lot of windows, but that part was torn out after the revolution.

Even in 1950s Britain bathrooms were a rarity. I grew up as a kid bathing in front of a coal fire, the bath being hung up in the scullery between uses. We didn’t have house with a bathroom until 1961.

I remember once seeing the movie that the British series, and then “All in the Family”, were based on. It had British small row townhouses (London? Manchester?) and IIRC one gag was being in the outhouse in the tiny, brick-walled backyard when the bombs started.

I remember staying in an old area of South London and noting the sewer plumbing retrofitted to the outside of the brick walls of the buildings. Hope they don’t have serious cold spells.

It’s pretty common for the soil stack to be fitted externally on older buildings. I’ve never known one to freeze up - after all, it doesn’t have water sitting in it for any length of time.

I can remember my Dad talking about it - he was in WW2 and was in Britain for several months as they got the invasion together. He was visiting a distant cousin and found the concept of not having a toilet or bath in the house odd - it was one of those rows of red brick townhouses with the toilet in a nook in a courtyard.

I recall Tony Robinson on The Worst Jobs in History series claiming there used to be a Royal ass wiper for the King.

I guess flinging royal turds out the windows was part of his job too.

But that wasn’t a “worst job” by any means. It was the most highly sought-after position in the Royal court. Society ran on influence, and to have the ear of the King (in this case Louis XIV) in his most private moments was priceless.

If you have his ear you’re doing it wrong.

[sub]Or he had hella diarrhea. Either way, not good[/sub]

Dire Ear?

Mrs. Pants: But what about the privies?
Blackadder: Um, well, what we are talking about in privy terms is the latest in front wall fresh air orifices combined with a wide capacity gutter installation below.
Mrs. Pants: You mean you crap out the window?
Blackadder: Yes.
Mrs. Pants: Well in that case we’ll definitely take it. I can’t stand those dirty indoor things.

@TreacherousCretin: ICWYDT