Back when the Palace of Versailles was a functioning home to the royal French family the palace was a hive of activity. Hundreds of maids, valets and other servants lived in-house to serve the dozens of courtiers who called the palace home. Moreover, the palace was an open house, meaning thousands of visitors were welcomed in to watch the royal family go about their day.
But where did everybody…you know…go?
Public Toilets Were Unheard Of In The 18th Century
In fact, flush toilets themselves were a new invention. There were only two or three in the palace and these were the private property of the king, the queen and the dauphin (the first in line for the throne).
Everybody else managed with a chamber pot under the bed which some poor maid had to empty. It is said that the maids were often so busy that they didn’t always get around to emptying them after every use. The contents of the pot would sit in a corner of the room, sometimes for days at a time! Worse still, they were emptied by simply throwing the contents out the window. Watch where you walk…
But, did you spot the problem? Chamber pots lived under beds. What happened if you didn’t live at the palace? Given the amount of visitors Versailles saw every day, and the fact that many of the servants who worked there lived off-site, the lack of public facilities caused something of a problem.
Visitors were rumoured to make use of dark corners and stairwells when they needed to go. Visiting nobles would bribe the servants of live-in courtiers to use their masters’ chamber pots
To make matters worse, dozens of courtiers owned dogs but had no desire to house train them. The dogs, too, contributed to the filth which many maids refused to clean.
Visitors would often complain about the awful smell that lingered about the palace – not even the gardens were free from the scent. The problem became so bad that Versailles was known across Europe as one of the filthiest palaces in the world, causing the king to put a new rule in place; hallways and stairwells were to be cleaned of…dirt…once a week.
There is a story. It goes; once upon a time, the Dauphine Marie Antoinette and her sister-in-law, the Comtesse de Provence, were going to visit the formidable Mesdames Tantes (her husbands aunts). They took a shortcut through one of the inner courtyards and stopped for a moment. As the tale is told, they were very nearly doused in the contents of Madadme du Barry’s morning chamber pot – their shoes were certainly splashed.
Everybody thought this was done on purpose – Madame du Barry and Marie Antoinette were not the best of friends; not in that time, nor ever after.