The opulence and splendour of the Palace of Versailles isn’t a place you’d immediately associate with rank filth. But the three hundred year old royal residence was smelly beyond belief at its height.
Built by the so-called “Sun King”, Louis XIV, it was intended to bring the whole aristocracy of France together in one place – where the king could keep a close eye on them. But with all their servants and retinue – plus no toilets – it was soon coated in filth.
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Nobles waiting to see the absolute monarch were forced to relieve themselves behind the curtains, in the corridors or along the staircase. Meanwhile, servants carried buckets round allowing dukes and duchesses to take a pee and continue to wait.
One visitor said they felt like retching as they approached the palace. “The squalor inside was unspeakable”. The pervading odour even permeated wigs, cloaks and undergarments.
The reason for all this filth at Versailles was that as a working palace in a very centralised kingdom – with power concentrated around the king – the palace was a magnet for politicians, petitioners and ordinary people.
They flocked to Versailles to raise their concerns and questions with the king. And they came from all classes. The palace was surprisingly open by our standards so serfs, workers, merchants, soldiers and nobles rubbed shoulders – and spread their filth.
They queued for hours on end to see King Louis and were terrified of losing their place. So when nature called, the visitor to Versailles held their place in the queue by dropping their load there and then!
You may have seen the BBC drama series Versailles about the scandal and decadence revolving around King Louis XIV and his court in the late 17th century.
He built a vast palace at Versailles into which the French aristocracy were forced to take up residence so the king could keep a beady eye on them.
On a UKTV programme Private Lives of the Monarchs I detail what a stinking hellhole Versailles was. People and their pets relieving themselves while they waited to see the king – behind curtains and in piss pots.