Saturday, 19 November 2016

A Queen's Cleanliness: Marie Antoinette's Bathing Habits

Marie Antoinette was one of the somewhat rising number of people who firmly believed in regular bathing to improve personal hygiene. This was a remnant of her childhood in Austria where her mother, Empress Maria Theresia, had instilled the importance of personal hygiene in her many children. Back then the bath was usually followed by a harsh scrubbing with a cloth but this was thought inappropriate for a Queen.

The Queen's bathing routine was different than what most people today would recognise.
The bathtub was usually rolled into her bathroom by her servants and filled with water. Rather than being completely naked the Queen always wore a full-length linen gown. The gown was of English linen and buttoned up to the neck. The linen was not as much for hygienic purposes as it was for her own sake. Not even when bathing Marie Antoinette could be allowed to be alone and by dressing herself in even a sheer gown was somewhat a shield against the constantly watching eyes.

Relateret billede
The restored bathroom as it was during Marie Antoinette's time

Once she emerged from the bath the First Lady of the Bedchamber shielded her body with a sheet which was then thrown over the Queen's shoulders. It was then used to dry her after which she changed into an open chemise and further dressed in a robe and slippers.

Marie Antoinette enjoyed added perfume to her baths; when she chose to bathe in the morning she would usually have breakfast served on a tray. Besides perfume it is said that the Queen used a special herbal blend containing thyme, marjoram and coarse salt. This rather Spartan mixture was once in a while exchanged for a more suitable blend from the perfumer, Fargeon. He had been approached by the Queen who asked for something for her bath. In response he came up with sachets filled with sweet almonds, pine nuts, marsh mallow root and lily bulb.

Billedresultat for marie antoinette bath
Bathtub said to have been Marie Antoinette's - either way this is the type
she would have used (including linens)

The baths of Marie Antoinette are simplistic in their design with tiled floors and inlaid taps supplying both hot and cold water. The floor was slightly sloped to make it easier for the servants to empty the water after use.

Sadly, even such an innocent thing as taking a bath was used against Marie Antoinette once her popularity began to wane. Suddenly, her habit of taking regular baths was thought too "German" for a Queen of France - her Austrian heritage was frequently used against her. Eventually, the more lewd rumours began circulating; vicious tongues spread the rumour that the Queen often received her male guests while naked in her bathtub. None of this was true - anyone who knows the slightest thing about Marie Antoinette knows that - but nevertheless it was gladly gossiped about.

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