Saturday, 29 July 2017

Flushing Toilets at Versailles

While Versailles was a palace of splendour it was also one of rather crude facilities. I have previously posted about this subject but thought I would elaborate a bit.

During the reign of Louis XIV the world was still relying on chamber pots; the toilet invented for Elizabeth I appears to have been temporarily forgotten. The toilets used by Louis XIV's courtiers would be little more than a chamber pot placed within a wooden box with a padded seat - and naturally a hole in the middle. It was necessary to manually empty the chamberpot after each use.

Yet, Versailles was inhabited in the age of enlightenment and was not completely unaware of the progress being made in the outside world. As early as 1710 Le Blond presented a modernised version of the closet stool. Whereas the task of emptying the royal closet stool had hitherto fallen to an unlucky servant there were signs of improvement.

Relateret billede
Design by Blondel - his works was later published in
the 1770's

Le Blond's version - the word "toilet" was still not applied - looked like the previous closet stools. The porcelain chamber pot was placed within a copper fixture. The novelty lay in the flushing. By the turn of faucet water would gush to the chamber pot thus clearing it of its contents. The water would come from a "tank" positioned above the stool itself. This was not all, though. If a second faucet was turned a small ray of water would spray up-wards - creating the effect of a basic bidet. 

This was a decided turning point. Naturally, the more well-off people of France saw the necessity for acquiring one for themselves. In 1728 it was already pronounced to be old-fashioned to use a closet stool rather than an "easy chair". The Regent, Philippe II d'Orléans, had one installed in his private retreat of Saint-Cloud.
Blondel was not alone in advancing these new "easy chairs". Another inventor, Neufforge, came up with a very similar contraption. They had one thing in common, though: both recommended that their inventions be placed in a room of their own. Previously, a bathroom had been for just that: bathing. A chamber pot would be found in the bedchamber where it was also used. Now, the idea was that such bodily functions were performed in private. 

The Regent was not the only one at court who rushed to install an "easy chair" in their private homes. The Grand Dauphin gave his orders for one to be installed at Meudon while the Duchesse de Bourbon (his half-sister) had one installed in her Hôtel de Bourbon. But what of Versailles itself.

Billedresultat for versailles toilet
The toilet Madame de Pompadour had to
make due with before her own was installed

When Louis XIV died in 1715 Versailles was temporarily abandoned. Although the aged king had died of gangrene it was custom for the court to remove itself to other royal residences while the palace was being cleaned up. Since the new king was a child of five the actual French court assembled around the Regent.
Louis XV as an adult was no less appreciative of the new advances in personal hygiene - and privacy. In 1738 he remodelled the king's apartment and installed a flush toilet in its own separate room. This new convenience was placed on a floor of marble and was surrounded by wooden walls. To accommodate the new pipes needed for the flushing the walls were opened and fitted out.

Billedresultat for versailles lavatory
Marie Antoinette's flush toilet
Madame de Pompadour caused quite an outcry when she insisted on having her own flush toilet installed in 1749. She had originally been denied permission to break open the walls of her apartment; consequently she had used an invention by Pierre II Migeon. It did not feature the desired flush but was made of mahogany which had certain odour-absorbing qualities. The mistress was not to wait for long, tough. In 1752 her apartment was slightly remodelled which made room for a new flush toilet; it was later updated in 1756.

Despite the advances made on the area it was not available to everyone at court. The majority of courtiers living at Versailles still continued to use the good, old chamber pot. Some could not afford the new luxury while others simply did not have the room for one in their apartment. In 1789 there existed nine flushing toilets at Versailles, the majority belonging to the royal family.


  1. I really like your writing style, great information, thankyou for posting. Flushing Toilet

  2. That is why it’s called the royal flush !